Chapter 1 Jeddah


I had just arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I was exhausted from the flight which landed after midnight. More important, I was so disturbed by my husband's careless behaviour, that I couldn't sleep. I lay in the bed trying to understand how – after months of waiting for my Saudi visa, he had been severely annoyed to come and get me from the airport. Granted, there had been a miscommunication by the company, and he hadn’t been notified I would arrive. But still, his display of annoyance all the way home in the car, was difficult to explain away. As he snored beside me in the bed, I tried to relax, hoping to sleep, hoping to find thoughts that would ease the loneliness.

My lonely thoughts intersected a wondrous sound. It was a motif I had never heard before, despite a life steeped in music of all kinds. I got up from the bed, careful to not disturb my impervious husband, and padded over marble tiles to the window. Silently sliding it open, I felt rewarded by the slight tinge of red on the horizon. As the window opened, I could hear clearly. I understood that for the first time I was hearing the call to prayer. I didn't yet know the name for that prayer: Fajr (dawn).  It felt deeply familiar - buried treasure recovered.

Mesmerized by that ancient sound, I wondered if there was such a call to prayer in the days of the Jewish prophet Daniel, as he prayed the morning and the evening prayers in Babylon. Perhaps something like that call to prayer was older than Prophet Daniel. Perhaps it was composed by the famous song (psalm) writer, King David. Perhaps Moses’ sister, Miriam, the national song leader, sang that song to call the people to prayer while the Children of Israel were wandering in the Sinai Desert. Perhaps Abraham called out to his tribe with the same voice that I was hearing in that Jeddah dawn. As I stood at the window on a balmy Spring Equinox morning in 1983, I felt welcomed, included. My loneliness was assuaged. Looking back, I wonder if I was sensing the connection to the millions of people who had worshipped in response to that ancient tradition of morning prayer.

At that moment, I had no idea that the Islamic Adhan (Call to Prayer, literally: “listen”) would become a commonplace timekeeper in my life over the coming years. I didn’t have even a tiny prescience that my life would be transplanted to the Middle East. In fact, it would yet take quite some years, and more than one try, for the transplant to take root. At that moment, on that balmy Jeddah Spring morning, I became conscious of something new and unexpected being revealed, but didn’t have a conscious, rational definition of it. I stood there immersed in Shekinah, until the music faded. Then I was able to sleep.

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