19 September 2009

Ramadan in Amsterdam

The BA flight from Port Elizabeth to Joburg had an incredible amount of leg room - I could have sat a fat person on my lap and still had more place! I guess I have been flying kulula and 1time way too much the past few months...
The plane left before sunset and I was then confused about what time to break my fast - coz the higher you go, the more of the sun you can see right? Well, waited for it to disappear beyond the horizon and then whipped out the tupperware of pies that my wife had equipped me with - there were loads there, shared it with fellow passenger and there was still left over. And that was only the first of two tupperwares.I then felt really guilty when the whole plane was smelling of delicious home made pies as the bland airport food was being distributed.

Met up with some of the boys at the airport while waiting for my international flight. But as they were leaving and I was trying to get through passport control, I got stopped:
"What is the liquid in your bag?" asked the lady looking at the weird xray screen?
"I got no liquids," I said. They then proceeded to empty my bag and the whole area filled once again with the smell of delicious home made pie.
"What is this?" she asked, holding up a purple gift pack of bubble bath and perfumed stuff.
"Erm, oh that! Its a gift for my wife's friend," I said, kicking myself for not packing it away with my check in luggage.
"You can't take this with you," she strenly informed me.
"What? Why? It's just shampoo and stuff!" I struggled.
"But it could be a bomb!"
With all the travelling I've done, this was the first time I had been stopped for carrying purple bubble bath and smelly girly stuff! Thought I'd just throw it away and tell the wife's friend to say she got it, but didn't want to risk any disaster by doing that. Called the boys back and was going to send it back home with them, but then I managed to get another bag and checked it in. An hour later, I was sorted out and going back through airport security. Managed to get a few minutes in the airport lounge - I have free access so have to make use of it - and then was one of the last passengers boarding the plane. It was a good thing I did online sear reservation as I was able to sit right in front of the plane.

The KLM flight was quite average - I think I'm too used to travelling with Emirate and the other fancy Arab airlines - and I was quite unimpressed. Didn't manage to get much sleep becoz my back was aching, so I twisted and turned the whole night. By sehri time, or what I thought was sehri time, I had actually fallen asleep. Was bummed when I woke up but decided to take advantage of my traveller status. Landed in Amsterdam and got stopped between the plane and the airport by some security.
Guard: "What are you doing here?"
Me: "Nothing much hey."
Guard: "What? Do you have a visa? Show me your passport."
Me: "Here you go."
Guard: "So what will you do in Amsterdam?"
Me: "Think I'll go look for a Mosque now and some Muslims. But nothing else planned. Anything interesting or fun that I should know about?"
So even though I was the one of the first out of the plane, most people had gone past me while I explained to this genius that I was actually enroute to a conference in Denmark and was just stopping over for 2 days in Amsterdam. I told him that I would be visiting friends and spending Eid here before flying to Copenhagen.
But that was not the last of it. Got stopped at airport control again and then after the baggage collection again. All the same line of questioning and same attitudes. And I had fun annoying the hell out of all of them - they're quite suprised if you not all nervous and shivering when they giving you this big scary security personnel attitude..

Eventually managed to get train tickets and get onto the train to Amsterdam central. Sat near two Syrian women who were speaking in that wonderful Syrian dialect about how the young girls don't wear Hijab anymore and the other juicy gossip. Sitting there and listening to them brought back at the wonderful memories of last Ramadan in Damascus.

After eventually finding the hotel I was booked in, I found out it was the wrong one. The one I was in was through the flower market, along the canal on my right and then across the bridge. I didn’t have much luggage for my short stay so the hot weather didn’t get to me that much. Checked in at the correct hotel and then asked the guy behind the counter, Abdurrahim, to direct me to the closest mosque for Jumah. We googled it and he pointed it out on the map, claiming that it was a mere 15min walk. Over 30mins later, and when I noticed more beards, hijabs and graffiti filled walls, I knew I was near the Mosque. I was pleasantly surprised at how big it was and the number of people there. At least a thousand or even close to two I would guess. The imam was giving the lecture in Arabic but it was quite simple and I understood most of it. I can’t remember when last I heard a Jumah lecture that was actually enjoyable and that didn’t leave me frustrated and disappointed. Ok, maybe not disappointment coz I guess you can only disappointed if you any expectations to begin with.

After Salaah there were some announcements about Eid, in Arabic, and I was about to ask the brother next to me to translate them, when he asked me the same thing. Mohammed from Ghana was new to Holland having lived and worked in Spain for the past few years. We then both asked Bilal, a Dutch of Moroccan descent, who explained the times that Eid prayer would be. Chatted to these two brothers for a bit and then headed back to the hotel.
On the way I stopped at a place called the 1%Club. Anna, the founder, was at the Highway Africa conference in Grahamstown two weeks ago, but we were both so busy that we never had chance to talk. We discussed the 1% model in their small and funky offices: they try to get people to donate 1% of their earnings or money and then match these funds with various social initiatives around the world. I found it quite interesting and explained to her the similarities between their ideas and the Islamic pillar of Zakaah – a compulsory 2.5% tax that Muslims are required to annually pay to the poor. I plan to get more involved with them and will be discussing them again soon. Made use of the internet there and then headed back to the hotel to shower and freshen up.

A Palestinian-Dutch friend of a friend arranged to pick me up for iftaar. We went to a community centre that hosted an interfaith iftaar with people of all backgrounds and faiths. A representative from the local municipality, a women’s group and a Muslim guy gave brief lectures. The food was good – arab salad, arab rice, kibbeh & those vine leaves wrapped with rice. Then we had nice arab sweets – it was like almost being in an Arab country, but everyone around me was speaking this Afrikaans sounding language. The meal was wrapped up with a very different kind of whirling dervish and then I headed to find a mosque to pray in with some other friends.

This is as far as this train ride allows me to write. My stop is coming up but I'll write about the rest of my journey the next time I make use of this extremely efficient and comfortable public transport system.

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