Apr 19, 2014

A Pilgrimage to Mecca

When I was a kid, I kept looking for a "good place," where boys held hands and kissed, and lived together throughout their lives.  In eighth grade, my boyfriend Dan and I somehow decided that Saudi Arabia  was a good place.

So we checked out the three books on the Middle East available at the public library, and spent our allowance on others at the Readmore Book World.  We ate olives and drank coffee, and sat cross-legged on the floor (since one of our books said that no one in Saudi Arabia used chairs).  We sent away for an Arabic textbook.  And we planned a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The holy city of Islam, forbidden to non-Muslims, remote, mysterious.






It's not mysterious anymore.  There are thousands of photos and videos on the internet to show you every inch of the city. Trip Advisor offers suggestions on hotels, attractions, shopping malls, and restaurants (including the commonplace Hardees Hamburgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken).

But 40 years ago, before the internet, in a small town in the Midwest, we found only sketchy, outdated information:
The tale of explorer Richard Burton sneaking into Mecca in disguise in 1853.
A two-paragraph description of the pilgrimage (hajj) in Hitti's Islam: A Way of Life.
Some photographs in a National Geographic article.
Nothing else.

The lack of information made Mecca even more attractive.  It could be whatever we wanted it to be, so we imagined date palms, camels, scimitars, labyrinthine walkways, towering minarets, and men, their dark hard muscles gleaming against the white linen of their ceremonial robes.

Or out of their robes.

And, most important, freedom from the mind-control chant of "what girl do you like?  What girl do you like?"

How were we going to get to Mecca?

I suggested that we become missionaries, and win all of the Muslims in Saudi Arabia for Christ. Surely it wouldn't take more than a year or two, and then they would welcome us into Mecca.

But then, Dan pointed out, it would be open to everyone, no longer forbidden, not safe anymore.

In the fall of ninth grade, we decided to move to Jiddah  to work as engineers, then cross the desert  by camel (about a two day trip) and sneak into the city. If we wore Arab costumes, we would certainly be undetected.

Once we reached "the good place," we would never want to leave.

But sometime in the spring, Dan suddenly abandoned our plans to call a girl and ask her for a date!  He had been taken over by the tripods.  He was lost.

I know now that Saudi Arabia is one of the more vehemently homophobic countries on Earth. But I still remember the dream of Mecca that kept us warm and happy during a cold Midwestern winter 40 years ago.

For more stories of junior high, see: Getting Phil to Sin; and a Naked Man for Christmas.