The scorching sun beams on my face, the dry, sandy wind blows by, causing me to squint my eyes, and the sizzling terrain burns my feet. Saudi Arabia is one of the hottest places in the world; it’s almost unbearable. Yet the flash floods, moist air, and thriving jungles during monsoon season, was another environment in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the 8th most populated country, despite being slightly smaller than Iowa. This summer I was fortunate enough to travel to Saudi Arabia and to my native country Bangladesh.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
After landing in Saudi Arabia I felt my clothes stick to my skin, but eventually even my perspiration evaporated. It didn’t help that women must be covered up from head to feet in public. My mother, sisters and I wore burkas—a black gown that covered you from the neck down—and scarves to cover our hair. Women have very different rights in Saudi Arabia, and anyone who travels there must respect those laws.
Completing the Muslim Pilgrimage (Umra) was the purpose of our trip to Saudi Arabia. For me, it was a very special spiritual journey. Umra is a once in a lifetime chance for many Muslims. I finally was able to see the holy house of God, or Kaba (as Muslims know it to be). The Kaba was the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen. Once my eyes found the gigantic, black cube they were glued. Hundreds of Muslims from every corner of the world gather here to revolve seven times around the Kaba, thus completing the first step of Umra.
Every day in the glorious city of Mecca, not one minute was wasted. Awaking before the sun rose and sleeping long after the sunset, we saw countless deserts, date trees, and camels. In fact, my sisters and I were able to ride a camel! It was as if I were on a mechanical bull, clinging to the heavily decorated saddle.
As a child, I’d heard stories centered on the Mecca and Medina of millennia ago. Gazing upon the cities that marked the wonders of my childhood shocked me. I’d never thought that thousands of years later, I’d be seeing the same sanctities as were mentioned in the stories. Besides air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and gas stations, the locations have been relatively untouched.
I learned lots about the history of Saudi Arabia in the short week we were there. I was sad to leave the beautiful country, however getting away from the heat was one thing I was anticipating. We boarded our flight consumed by stress due to the language barrier, from Arabic to English. However, we made it and were off to our next destination.
Bangladesh was an eye opener to a different culture that I was unfamiliar with. I got to see the world my parents grew up in. I was able to improve on my native language, spend time with my family, and live in a completely different atmosphere. We traveled from the heart of the city all the way to the country side; to see my 98 year old Grandpa, my Nana. We spent much of our time with him, and listened to his childhood stores. What I respect the most about my Nana is his ability to pursue extraordinary goals. For example, he is currently in the process of establishing a mosque that provides a semblance of the Taj Mahal. He also founded a college, high school and numerous primary schools to benefit the needy.
Being in a third world country makes me question my wardrobe. In both Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh seeing homeless people inhabiting every bend is a norm. It’s humbling to compare my fortune to their suffering. Watching the harsh lives of the poor, and the struggles of my family have inspired me to help better the lives of the underprivileged. I hope to one day return and check this off my bucket list.
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