Africa has always been a travelling destination for me. I remember the days in my early youth, standing in front of the world map and day dreaming of the villages, wild animals and unspoiled landscapes of Africa. Towards the end of 2009 this dream slowly started becoming reality. When I stepped into my friend's, Imtiyaz Ahmad Haron, room he made me aware of his intention of going for hajj on a bicycle. 'Impossible' were the first symbols that raced through my mind. However, after carefully studying his plan that he had on paper and doing some research on the internet, I increasingly became convinced that we, with the help of God, could achieve this.
The next two months we tried to put things together. We got our bicycles, made special pannier bags, purchased all the basic and essential necessities (tent, sleeping bag, medical kit), saw the relevant authorities in our country (government, hajj and Umrah council, religious bodies) for endorsements, got overdosed with information regarding the mechanics of our bikes and medical advice and increased our physical training. Many were skeptical about this historic journey in our country, especially it being Africa that we were to travel through. 'What are you going to eat? Please, don't drink the water. Where are you going to sleep? Do you have any protection?' These were a few of the many concerns that were raised by our families and people in our country. One comment that seemed to have stuck in my mind is one gentleman who eloquently blurted out 'this plan is beyond the scope of logic and reason and hence, it will not be successful' Despite the negative remarks and criticism we received from most people, we were set in achieving this goal. Of cause, there were many too who encouraged us. 'You have been especially selected for this mission, by Allah himself.' 'This is a calling, so you must respond.' 'Did you have a dream?'
We were going to cycle all the way through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Mecca and perform the Pilgrimage. We left our beautiful city, Cape Town, and families on the seventh of February 2010 in a grand farewell from the Muslim community and a few bicycle clubs who escorted us about 80km to our first destination. They sat down with us that afternoon highlighting some of the mistakes they saw us doing and imparting very valuable information to us.
My legs felt like jelly the next morning. South Africa and beyond was waiting for us. The Imam of the masjied organized us some 'padkos' (food for the road) and soon we were back on the road having to familiarize ourselves with a seat that inflicted an incredible degree of discomfort. 'It will mould to the shape of your backside after a while' one of the professional cyclist told us. We have travelled this mountain valley many times by car. However, that morning it seemed as if it was the first time we saw that magnificent mountains on our way to Worcester. Awaiting us was a warm reception. This was the general welcoming we received from the Muslim communities throughout our country and it was something that kept us motivated in our first few weeks. We spend just over thirty warm days in our country, discovering towns and places we never knew existed and witnessing firsthand the Muslims’ situation. 'Our country has allot of potential for the future of Islam', remarked my companion on his bicycle while cycling into one of the small towns. We tried to secure all our visas before we left but were told we could get them on arrival. Just before we crossed over to Botswana, we met some local scholars who were successful in using public transport from South Africa to Mecca. They connected us with some contacts in East Africa and shared some of their experiences. 'Africa is safe boss. You'll have lots of fun. Just be alert.'
One of the first things we saw as we entered Botswana was a huge majestic elephant, standing peacefully along the road between the bushes. About 50km away we entered Gaborone, the capital, where we met Imtiyaz's father, Dr. Mohammed Haron. He pulled so many strings for us whilst we were on our journey. Botswana's a very peaceful country, its Muslim community's very small and helpful and its terrain was much easier to cycle then South Africa. As we rolled closer to the Zimbabwean border we met up with three South Koreans, who were prim and proper kitted with gadgets and cycling gear. They were on their way to Uganda via Zambia. We teamed up, enjoyed each other’s company and experienced the Muslims’ hospitality. They were very impressed. 'I am very touched by the Muslim peoples' behavior towards strangers. Really, I have not experienced this in my life.' We slept in a rundown hospital, mosques and along the road as we made our way to the capital. We grew quite attached to each other in that short space of time and felt very sad when we went our different ways in Harare. 'Inshallah, we will meet again,' said one of the Koreans. After a few days in the capital we continued northwards. Zimbabwe has a very beautiful country side. When we cycled through this region we could understand why the locals told us the place was like paradise during the 80's. I remember when we stopped at one point some local were trying to sell us gold he dug out of his backyard for an incredibly low price.
Mozambique was quite challenging, due to its many steep hills. The villages that are surrounded by Bowa-Bowa trees are a remarkable sight. One of our nights were spend in one of them, with the chief, his three wives and about three thousand of his subjects and learned a little Portuguese. Their school was outside under a tree. When the kids saw us leaving they all shouted and waved. We learned numbers from them and taught them English numbers in return. In Tete, we stayed at a madressa. One kid was very useful. Whenever I called Saeed, he would come and sit in our room until we return. After six days in Mozambique we moved onto Malawi. At night, we would fall asleep with our legs raised against the walls. They said this would help to get all the lactic acid out our legs. To a degree it helped, but we preferred using arnica oil.Fortunately for us, our strategy of networking as we progressed through Africa worked very effectively. This helped especially at the borders. The borders were very vibrant and like small cities. We could find just about anything, including currency, simcards, professional con-artists, vocabulary, etc. Soon we found ourselves eating sima (pap) and chambo (famous local fish) with the locals in Malawi and impressing them with the little Chichewa that we learned. Generally, they're very passive people, extremely gifted with their hands and have a very high opinion of South Africa. They found it strange that we travelled on bicycles and eating what they were eating. 'You have the football world cup in your country. What you doing over here? Are you preachers?' Malawi is saturated with Christian missionaries who are flashing the Euros and Dollars everywhere. Even the remote villages, which could only be accessed by bout, had young 'azungus' (white people) walking around. Lake Malawi is a beauty. It fitted perfectly into the tranquil and tropical environment of the 'Warm Heart of Africa'. We spend so much time with the boys in their wooden hand carved canoes in that crystal clear water. Malawians could carve a wooden Petra with those talented hands of theirs. As we came closer to the border we were transferred from Malawian hands to Tanzanian hands, who quickly gave us a crash course on what we needed to know about Tanzania and some contacts for the first few towns we’d go through. The scenery became more greener and tropical and we had a ball with all the bananas. Food was never a problem, nor was accommodation. Tanzania's many heels and misty mountain valleys had us groaning with pain much more then what we experienced in Mozambique. Slowly but surely we made our way through the mid-northern province, hanging at the back of trucks whenever the opportunity came pass and scaring the monkeys with our bells. Dares salaam was a very interesting city. We were stopped from entering the Ismailia’s prayer room because we weren't members, made Jumua with the Ishna Ashari, got introduced to Ibadism, couldn’t keep our eyes off the colorful Bahora womenfolk and men's gold embroider fezzes, tasted the infamous mir'a and discovered the greedy negotiation skills of the local policemen who said, 'Ok, let’s solve this problem here. Give me 400tsh and you can go.' The Indian Ocean was a real pleasure to see again. On Zanzibar she looked much more beautiful. I cycled around the island in two days. The beaches are jewels but most people are very poor and struggling to make ends meet. Despite this, most of them whom I met are very happy to be there but, very displeased with the azungus visiting. 'They bring their bad manners with them when they visit our island. Our woman sees this and wants to imitate them.' We sailed to the neighboring island, Pemba, spend three days with some Tabliegh brothers from Egypt and Oman and continued to Kenya with one of the locals and his dhow that was powered by wind. Mombasa's streets were filled with veiled woman and its eastern coast with hotels owned by Europeans. The men enjoy their holidays with the black woman of their fantasies and the woman with the black beach boys of theirs. The further north we moved the more the Kenyans started looking like Somalians. Their behavior displayed a higher degree of modesty and the rich believed that true wealth was the possession of herds of cattle. At the Kenyan-Ethiopian border we were refused a visa and directed to the embassies in Nairobi. We met with an Ethiopian woman with the cross tattooed on her forehead, neck and wrist who scarcely understood a word of English, an Ethiopian man who asked us if we're going to preach in his country and the receptionist of the embassy of Sudan. They all refused entry visas into their countries. Ramadan was drawing near and we reluctantly flew from Kenya, after one last session of interrogation at the airport, to the European Capital of Culture. We could see Turkish flags almost everywhere dancing in the wind as we touched ground again. It was the first time that we fasted in temperature that reached 45 degrees. The Turks' nature of striving to impress and entertain their guests with their rich history, vast food menu and beauty helped us to feel more comfortable in their developed city. We were fortunate to spend some time with the best calligraphers of Istanbul but our limited Turkish deprived us from acquiring valuable knowledge. This was gained however when we met with the students and teachings of Budiuzamman Said Nursi in Konya, Gaziantep and Urfa. 'If you want to understand Ustath (teacher) you must study his life and not the students of today', one of the students advised us. Whilst spending time with our American brother and his family in Ankara we applied for our Syrian visa. However, before entering Syria, we encountered a problem exiting Turkey due to overstaying the thirty days that was given to us. We got to meet many Iranians at that border, who were on their way to ziyarah some of their shrines. 'I think the woman around Prophet Mohammed dressed like them,' was a remark passed by one of men at the mosque that we stayed at that night. Syria is well known to most long distanced cyclist for honoring guest. This is especially true outside of the cities and we quickly got use to strangers coming up to us saying 'ahlan' (welcome) and 'tafadhal'. On one occasion tho, an overweight shop keeper said both of these words but we had to pay him above the normal price for things. He must have thought that we had Euros because of the Spainian and Argentinean cyclists that accompanied us. They have been cycling for more than seven years, on and off. 'I cycle because I feel I must' said the one, 'I cycle because...' said the other. I pray that they accept Islam as their way of life one day. After we visited the mosque of Khalid bin Waleed they continued to Lebanon and we carried on to Damascus. This is a city that one has to spend some time in, to really appreciate it. The variety of food is cheap, its inhabitants speak a sing song flowing Arabic and it possesses a lake of knowledge. The young people are not influenced by western ideas, even though most of them who speak English have an American accent. One of those youngsters, wearing a skin tight jeans, Gucci pointers, a polo shirt and had his hair gelled to the far back confidently replied that 'we are simply trying to keep up with the rest world.' Another youngster told us that he was named by Sheik Nazeem of Cypress while in the womb of his mother. He was so blessed that doing dodgy business didn't seem like a sin. We spend some time with the Naqshibandi and the Shadeliya Jammat and got invited by one of the mureeds(followers) to his village about seventy kilometers south of Damas. He took real pleasure in imparting the linage of his Sheik to us and in talking about mystic Sufi stories. We derived pleasure from seeing a sixty five year old man doing summersaults using no hands and who kept on reminding us to 'fear the God' with the few English vocabulary he still remembers since high school. That night we sang melodious divans (Arabic poems) under the night sky of Dara. The following night we were under the stars of Jordan. At first they gave us three days in their country but when they saw our bicycles they without any hesitation added a zero. The hot still standing sun and endless curving steeps really tried us. We have ascended many heels before, so this was not going to get us down. We even ascended higher when we heard that the cave of Prophet Nuh was within our vicinity. After spending just over a week in Amman, we descended to the lowest point on the earth and then visited Jerusalem. We had an opportunity to see how hardworking the Jews are and got to meet so many of them from security. One has to work twice as hard to lower the gaze when around their woman. They even taught us to recite Sura Fatiha before we entered Al Aqsa, in which we performed all our five prayers. What a blessing it was to stand in that front row. After one day we were back in Jordan swimming in the Dead Sea, drinking weak tea with some farmers and watching the sunset. We wanted to visit Petra and were asking locals route. One local said, 'if you didn't look like Muslims, I would have sent you in the other direction.' We ended up having lunch with him and his sons. Before we stopped over to hear 'wows' and 'O my God' of the tourist at Petra, we had to keep the sound of machine gun fire out our ears. We attended a wedding ceremony and got overdosed with Arabian coffee and sweets. Wadi Musa's a nice little place. I spend some time with the Bedouins of that area. 'My grandfather was born in a cave, my father was born in a cave and I was born in a cave,' one of them told me, 'and I will die in it.'
They wanted us to stay with them for one night but we had to decline because time was catching up. The southern part of Jordan was dry and scorching. The only things we saw were camels with their herders from time to time and a few trucks and busses that passed us now and then. Finally, we saw a sign board reading 'welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.'
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