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Call to Prayer in Balad

Jan 10, 2010 by Jesse Lytle

Jeddah is an ancient city, thought to be the burial place of Eve, and in fact its name means "grandmother."  That said, most of the buildings date from after World War II; it's a city that doesn't seem to have much attachment to its past.  Tonight, Lisa took us and two others from Effat into the Balad, the old city.  We walked through the souk (market), with its narrow windy streets, which still house bustling commerce with purveyors of everything from spices to incense to blenders.  

The highlight was a visit to one of the oldest homes in Jeddah, a towering 4- or 5-story house with the city's "one tree" in a garden in front.  It used to belong to a wealthy family, and at one point the king used it as his Jeddah pad.  While technically the house had been preserved, it was in no way kept up.  It looked like it had aged 400 years, semi-crumbling, crooked, roughly patched as needed, barely retrofitted for electricity.  The first floor housed some museum-like objects for public viewing, but access beyond that was restricted.  Fortunately, Lisa had made arrangements, and a man named Abdullah led us up the stairs, which had been designed for camels (Jeddah has never had water--it always came by camel from afar).  We went up flight after flight, briefly stopping in the king's sitting room with well-worn furnishings (no barriers anywhere--everything just in place as it might have been for generations), and we eventually ended up on the roof, which provided views in all four directions over the city. 

On top of the roof was a smaller wooden structure that allowed us to climb yet another story, lit only by flashlight and the ambient light from the city.  Up the stairs was what seemed to be a prayer room, with open windows on all four sides.  We took our shoes off and sat around the edges on the carpets and cushions, and Abdullah brought us tea. The fragrance of incense, flowers, and cooking spices wafted through on the evening breeze.  Then the ethereal call to evening prayer swelled up from the city from all around us.  With all five senses engaged, it was an utterly delightful, peaceful moment.

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Comments:

Thank you, Jesse, for these posts. They are fascinating and I appreciate that you are taking the time to write them. Greetings to Lenore!!

Posted by Janet on January 11, 2010 at 09:06 AM EST #

Excellent article. I was once in Jeddah. A wonderful city with lots of history!

Posted by Acai Optimum on January 24, 2010 at 03:04 AM EST #

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