The pilot announces that we will be landing in Madina in a few minutes and that the temperature on the ground is 41 degrees. I hastily look out of the window to see if I can get a glimpse of the city, and maybe of the minarets of the Holy Mosque.

I couldn't really see much. Or rather I could see, but I didn't know what I was looking at. I decide to rather prepare for the landing and immigration procedures to follow. Fadeelah and I had been warned of the abruptness and sometimes rudeness of the Saudis, especially towards women. Some of them don't even speak to women if they don't have man with them. So I expected a very unfriendly welcome at the airport. We landed at 15h30. It was hotter than Qatar was, but didn't feel nearly as uncomfortable.

We got through immigration quite swiftly, buit more suprisingly, we actually received a friendly welcome. When the man behind the desk asked for my passport, he asked... "South Africa?" When I answered yes, he gave a warm smile and said "Welcome to Madina, welcome to Saudi Arabia". Jeepers, even my dad was shocked. A few steps after that, we also received friendly and swift service. By this time I am assuming that the unfriendliness is more prevalent in Jeddah, and maybe not so much in Madina. Fadeelah had a bit of a tiff between herself and an official that collected her passport, and eventually he just grabbed the passport out of her hand. She was not impressed...at all!

We didn't wait that long for the bus that was to take us to the hotel. It was less than an hour's wait. The staff from Yusra Tours (our travel agent) was there to meet and greet us at the airport. We were only 11 people, so each one could get their own window seat. I again looked out of the window to see if I could maybe get a glimpse of any of the historical places, or minarets. It was a long time and a long drive before I did. But it wasn't a glimpse!

As the bus entered the area near the haram, I started recognising some of the names of the hotels. Fascinated, I was keeping my eyes peeled for anything and everything. Then, suddenly and without warning, we drove past the road of the main gate and I got a full-on view of the haram. I got all excited, but neither my Dad or Fadeelah had seen it. When  I told Dad, he said that the first time you see the mosque, one should recite salawaat on the Prophet (SAW).
There are also duahs to recite when one sees it for the first time, but I didn't have my duah book with me. I assumed we'd first go to the hotel, freshen up and then take a walk to the mosque. Anyway, bygones.

A few seconds later, I saw the hotel that we were to stay in, and this is when I really got excited. My logic told me...if the haram is there, and the hotel is here, then OMG we are going to be living on the doorstep of the Haram. When we entered the foyer at the back of the hotel, looking across to the glass door facing the front, there was Masjidun-Nabawi in all its glory. Allahu Akbar!

Stepping off the pavement of the hotel, taking 12 steps across the lane, you find Door 23 of the haram, pictured below (which I would call a gate). Walking across the marble mataaf and diagonally to the left is the Uthman ibn Affan gate (which I would call a door), which is the ladies entrance.





When we got to our room, we saw that we have a haram-facing room on the 4th floor. Looking out of the window, one can see the roof of the haram, the gates, the doors, and even the green dome, which is on the OTHER side of the haram. (below)



You have no idea how blessed I feel. When I lie on my bed I look upon the lit minarets of the mosque of the Prophet (SAW). When I open my eyes I look upon the same minarets. If Fadeelah and I need to guage how early we need to go down, we can look out of the window into the ladies' entrance and see whether there are already people sitting in the passages, or if the queues to get in are long yet.

Soon after we arrived, it was time for maghrib salaah. We went down as the athaan went, so the haram was quite full already. We went down seperately this time. I had been warned of the tactics of the asgaris (guards) at home, so I went down with minimal 'stuff' so that the bag searching wouldn't be an issue. I managed to get in, and although it was packed and no real space, I managed to find/make a little space between some Indonesian and Malaysian women. I also didn't realise that inside is marble as well, and that one has to bring your own musallah. I must admit that in some points in the salaah I struck a bit of a blank on what to say. Maybe I should have come down earlier for a sunnah before maghrib, to get the first time jitters over with.

I had my first cup on zam-zam in the kingdom after the salaah. The special, healing, miracle water of zam-zam *sip sip sip*

We found the opening times for women for the Rawdatul Jannah in the foyer. In the evenings, it opens between 9pm and 11pm. We decided to try to go that evening or the next day. Later that evening, we saw that the king was visiting the Rawdah, which means he comes with half an army, security, limo's, everthing. Nobody else could enter on that night, it was closed to the public.

Fadeelah and I decided to go and explore a bit between Maghrib and Esha, and find a place to get a sim card so that we could call home. The queue for the Mobily cellphone shop was out of the door, and there were NO women in the queue, so we decided to rather come back later with Dad instead of risking wasting that time in the queue and not being helped in the end. We did go back later, and I'll spare you the drama of that story. Eventually Yasser (from Yusra Tours) gave us sim cards to use that we could just go and get airtime for. I decided eventually not to get a microsim for my iPhone, but rather to just use my small phone I brought along, and use the iPhone for photos and on the wifi when we are in the hotel. Our room has very bad wifi signal though, so we come down to the mezzanine level to sit and do stuff. Also, when we are down at breakfast we have strong wifi signal as well. We are contactable on Whatsapp then, but will only receive the messages when in an area with signal, which may be much later.

Although we were beyond exhausted, we ended up getting to bed after midnight the first night we got here as well. We set our alarm for before the Tahajjud athaan, and went down early. This time we got a space in the front section. I also discovered that there is in fact carpet inside, it just depends where you actually end up sitting. Fadeelah and I tried to go to the Rawdah in the post-Fajr morning session.

And that...is the start of a completely new story, which I will relate in my next post.
The Rawdatul-Jannah deserves a special blog post all on its own.

But I'll leave you with some of the pictures I took when I was chilling on the marble after Esha that night, soaking up the feelings and the atmosphere of the second holiest mosque in Islam... and the city that was the home of our beloved Rasoolullah (SAW)