Hajj News Roundup
Thanks to the schedule set by Saudi authorities, was unable to log on for any meaningful blog updates during the last few hours of the Hajj, right up until now. Part of it also had to do with my own schedule. Trying to participate in the Hajj while also covering it definitely has some drawbacks. If I had to do it again - and boy do I hope I get the chance - I'll come here strictly as a journalist. Generally, I believe in reporter involvement - that the reporter is part of the story whether he/she likes it or not. But during the Hajj, it's impossible to participate in the Hajj and also cover it - and expect to do justice to both.
The last day of the stoning ritual was Thursday - which marked the official end of the Hajj. Most pilgrims returned to Mecca that night to perform a final "farewell" circuit around the Ka'bah. At one point, it was so crowded (imagine 3 million people all trying to do it on the same night) that Saudi police advised pilgrims to stay away from the Great Mosque. They even closed it at one point, positioning police in barricades around it's main entrance. The scene was slightly reminiscent of the G20, except these police had no weapons. Neither did the crowd, for that matter.
Now that the Hajj is over, Saudi officials are in full self-congratulatory mode. Some of it is, in fact, deserved. More than three million pilgrims came this year, including 1.8 from outside the Kingdom - marking a new record. For the most part, despite worries about flu epidemics, stampedes, terror alerts, and unmanageable gridlock, things went off without a hitch.
At its heart, the Hajj is a spiritual journey. But this year, it's becoming clear that Mecca is starting to look a lot like Manhattan. At least according to this
ArabNews also has a great photo recap, covering the entire Hajj period.
The BBC also has a series of good profiles on people with disabilities who performed the Hajj this year. Would make a very interesting TV story.
And in the "that's bizarre" category, sales of animal skins, including those of endangers species, seems to be picking up now that the Hajj is over.
Moving forward, am going to be stuck at the airport tomorrow for at least 4-5 hours. Apparently, getting OUT of Mecca can be just as length as getting in. The plan is to post a few more updates - one about Canadian honeymoons in Mecca, the other a personal look back at how the trip was, and another about all the stories journalists SHOULD be covering here, but aren't - myself included.