x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Haj diary: All dressed up and somewhere to go

There's nothing worse for a woman than having nothing decent to wear - except, perhaps, not being able find a bathroom. Luckily for Haneen Dajani help was at hand.

Almost everything you aim to do while performing the Haj is something of an adventure - even something as simple as finding the ladies' toilet.

But there are so many people who are willing to help you out.

A few days ago I needed to find the bathroom at one of the hotels hosting UAE pilgrims. It was almost time for noon prayer and I needed to perform my ablutions; a quest that has proved impossible on many previous occasions.

The hotel did not have a ladies' in the lobby so a clerk insisted on helping me find one. He took me up to the hotel bedrooms, and started knocking on doors asking female guests to let me in.

At the third attempt, I was welcomed into a tiny room inhabited by seven Emirati women. The bathroom was busy, of course, and the queue was long.

"Welcome welcome, have a seat," they all said as I entered. "You can go in as soon as Fatima is done."

While the logistics for a woman to do anything are fearsome in Mecca, seeing your wishes come true is much easier.

A few days ago I urgently needed to buy some new abayas, and getting to a mall was quite a challenge. Over dinner, I told the other women at my table how upset I was. An hour later one of them called me to her room. On her bed were three brand new abayas.

"Try them on," the three roommates said excitedly.

They all fitted perfectly. So I said I would choose one, and after wearing it I would wash and return it.

"No they are all yours!" exclaimed one of them. "And don't worry - they are new."

I had also mentioned earlier how I was missing my usual bright, colour-coordinated clothes.

And there, next to the abayas on the bed, were two funky looking jalabeyas, one blue with a big flower and one purple with a cute bow.

"Those are yours too, to wear in Mena," they said before taking out scarves to complement them.

At that point I felt the true Haj spirit of pilgrims grasping any opportunity to do a small good deed and make others happy - as in the Prophet Mohammed's numerous hadiths about the blessings bestowed on whoever runs an errand for his Muslim brother.