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Welcome!

April 17, 2010

Welcome to Haris Sair Photography. I am porting over my photoblog here to wordpress.com. Some posts may not show up correctly due to the transfer but I’ll be fixing them as soon as I can.

Please enjoy the photos!

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haris sair photography now on Facebook!

March 28, 2010

Thanks to all the visitors to this blog who’ve given me such kind comments, I decided I should set up a Facebook page for better interaction and all the social benefits that Facebook confers.

If you enjoy the photos on this site, please consider becoming a Fan! The page is HERE

Periodically, I will be giving away free photo sessions there, so become a fan and stay tuned!

Professor Noam Chomsky at Harvard Memorial Church

March 7, 2010

I was asked to be the official photographer for another event organized by the Harvard Extension International Relations Club: Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman on the Obama Administration and US Foreign Policy.

I had some time before the talk, so I explored the beautiful Harvard Memorial Church!

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Now, the actual event!

Noam Chomsky first sat down and signed a bunch of books to be sold after the event:

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Usually I just do my job but I couldn’t pass up a photo op with the Man:

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He spent some time chatting with the event volunteers; I took some portraits in the meantime, of which I liked this one the best:

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Then Amy Goodman arrived, and it was her turn to sign her books:

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Following this was the main event. First Amy Goodman spoke, then Noam Chomsky spoke, then Amy Goodman did a short interview with Noam Chomsky. Here are the photos of their solo speeches:

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I was a little taken aback by the super bright gold eagle in front of the podium, which unfortunately blocked the best angles…

I didn’t put one of the better pictures on the blog but here it is in the Harvard Gazette, the official Harvard University newspaper.

Unfortunately, since I was busy taking photos, I couldn’t really pay attention to the actual talks, but you can read about it in the Harvard Gazette above, or here in the Harvard Law Record.

Hajj – 14th Dhul Hajj: Farewell to the Holy Land

February 24, 2010

5 a.m., we went to the lobby as requested by our organizers. The group was there with all the luggage. As feared, there was no group leader. Our usual group leader had already left, and had assigned someone else to take over for our journey back.

Fajr time came, so we went to the Masjid in the hotel to pray. Back in the lobby after prayers, there still was no group leader. We ended up going to the Adam travel office around the corner to see what was up; I believe one of them there was the substitute group leader. There was a truck where our luggage was being thrown onto, however there was no bus to transport the people… Eventually a bus did show up, and after a delay, we finally left at 7:20 a.m. Here we are on the bus:

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From this point on, there were so many little hiccups on the way, an each little problem compounded the stress of the group members. For most of us, the flight was at around 3:30 p.m.

First, we had to pick up additional people at another hotel in Makkah. We told the group leader to call them to make sure they were ready in front of the hotel so as not to lose time, as we were already off our schedule by 4 hours or so. After a 30 minute drive we arrived at the Al Shohada hotel, however some folks there had apparently gone to eat breakfast. This irritated some of our members, who had to forfeit breakfast (although there was actually time to eat breakfast in the morning, we were made to wait in the lobby or on the bus, so didn’t get a chance to eat).

Finally, at 8:30 a.m., everybody was accounted for and we headed over to the passport offices to get our passports back. As stated before, the passport offices are not in any kind of logical numerical order. Here is passport office #61, next to #14, next to an unmarked office, next to #18.

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We needed to stop at office #58, then #42 (who turned out to NOT have the passports, but instead who had transferred the passports to #72), and the elusive office #72:

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Eventually, we all received our passports, and at 10:15, headed over to Jeddah airport. About 5 hours to our flight time… some of the members were getting very nervous, because undoubtedly there was going to be a huge crowd at the airport due to the fact that many Hajjis were leaving today.

11:00 a.m., we encountered another setback… we had a flat tire… we stopped at a gas station, and had the tire fixed:

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Luckily they were able to fix it in about 30 minutes.

Around 12:40 p.m., we reached the vicinity of airport. There was confusion as to which terminal our flight was supposed to leave from. The major distinction was whether or not we had to be at what is called the “Hajj Terminal;” if so, we were pretty much guaranteed that we would be stranded in the terminal for many hours. Luckily, our flight was to leave from the North Terminal. We arrived at the terminal and received our luggage by 1:00 p.m. I doubted that we would make our flight.

Inside, the doubt turned to certainty, after seeing the utter chaos in front of me. There were people all over the place, in very little order; there were lines going every which direction. I got in line at the end, where I couldn’t even see the kiosks.

Here I am in line:

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Here is the scene:

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There were several moments of chaos, with people arguing and screaming at each other. Several lines were supposed to merge into one, and at the juncture of the merge, there were high emotions as people perceives others to be cutting in line.

Our flight time came and went, and it was unclear whether the plane was delayed (as most of the passengers still had not received tickets!)

Eventually, we were able to check in; because Maryam and I only had one bag between us, and we didn’t even have the zamzam water bottles that 95% of the people had, the officials offered to check our bag and give us our boarding passes. We stuck around a little to help some of the group members to find the quickest line, then shortly, around 5:00 p.m., headed over to the gate.

It was a relatively quick exit through passport control and security. At the gate, they were calling people to board the flight which we were supposed to be on; I guess it had not left yet. On the transfer bus, we met another couple from the group who told us that they were randomly mixing people across flights now regardless of the ticket.

We boarded the plane and took off around 6:30 p.m. 2 hours later, we reached Dubai, and met up with Ammad, who took us to a fantastic Indian restaurant. I ate soup, some kabob, and chicken. I had lost my voice by this time (I had a worsening cold in the last few days)… we went to the pharmacy to get medicine, and went to the airport hotel to sleep. We woke up around 5:15 for our 8:30 flight, except we forgot to take into account the one hour time difference, so by the time we left the hotel it was 7:15. Luckily we had our boarding passes already, and there was no wait through passport control.

On the way to the airport, I saw in the distance the Burj Dubai, now known as Burj Khalifah:

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Once on the plane, it was not totally full, so Maryam went to the back to get some seats so she could sleep. On the trip back, I watched an assortment of movies and shows (Up, Monsters vs. Aliens, Pixar shorts, Family Guy) and listened to another assortment of audio entertainment (Jerry Seinfeld standup, Phantom of the Opera, Beethoven). I give two thumbs up for Emirates’ incredible entertainment system. Thanks to this, I really didn’t sleep much.

Around 12 hours later, we arrived in the good ol’ USA, and arrived safely back in Boston after a short transfer flight.

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Well there you have it, a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime-journey full of inspiration and emotion. I hope I was able to convey through my words and pictures some of the sense of being there and experiencing the Hajj.

To finish up, I’d like to offer some advice that I thought of during the Hajj:

1. Bring Gas-X or an equivalent. I don’t know if it’s just the change in atmosphere or the actual ingredients, but whatever it is, Gas-X would have been nice at times.

2. Really widen your stance when putting on the Ihram, or it will be difficult to walk. Of the two ways of putting on the Ihram that I know of (multi-wrap vs. saree style), the multi-wrap is more difficult to walk in but leaves little chance for indecent exposure; the opposite is true for the saree style.

3. Learn Salat-ul Janazah.

4. The Rawdah (Riazul-Jannah) in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medinah seems to be less crowded around 1:30 to 2:00 am so if you are attempting to go there, go during those times.

5. Buy your dates in Medinah.

6. The roof of the Haram in Makkah always has space even if it looks like there are tons of people outside.

7. The 2nd floor is MUCH less crowded for the Sa’ee.

8. In the hotel you stay at (especially the high rises in Makkah), get on any elevator that has space, even if it is going in the wrong direction, or else you may never get on during busy times.

9. Bring an anti-snore device to give to others you may be sharing a room with or will be nearby in a tent.

10. Bring disposable toilet seat covers for Mina and Muzdalifah if you are not the type that can totally control your bowel habits.

11. Carry a roll of toilet paper.

12. Buy unscented soap to use while you are in the state of Ihram.

13. Buy at least two sets of Ihrams.

14. Bring a mask.

15. Remember to bring a Quran and a book of Dua’s for the trip to Mina and Arafat.

16. In the tents in Mina, try to get a sleeping place away from the entrance so people are not falling on you in the middle of the night when they have to use the restroom.

17. Stay patient and keep a positive attitude, as there will be many difficulties, however in the end, you want to remember the Hajj as the best experience of your life instead of dwelling on the many challenging situations.

Hajj – 13th Dhul Hajj: Last day in Makkah

December 1, 2009

Today is the last full day we have in Makkah 😦

We got up for Tahajjud at the Haram. It was still very crowded, but we decided to go ahead and perform Tawaf al Wada after Fajr. This may have been the most difficult Tawaf for us, as there were so many people who undoubtedly had to squeeze this ritual in before their groups left. People were getting more angry than usual, perhaps due to the difficulty of performing the Tawaf, yelling “Haram! Haram!” when being shoved.

The problem is, that there are people who instead of going with the flow of the people performing the Tawaf (counterclockwise), attempt for whatever reason to go AGAINST the flow of traffic; this is especially problematic in those that try to do this as a group, for they create a wall in which no forward progress can be made, and even causes some people to get shoved backwards.

We did manage to finish the Tawaf, after 1.5 hours. After the usual prayers and drinking zamzam, we went back to the hotel for breakfast. After a short nap, we had to start packing. We did go outside to buy some gifts. The first few floors of the Makkah Hilton and Towers hotel are filled with stores, including familiar fast food joints:

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The rest of the day was again spent between the hotel and praying in the Haram; we ended up on the third floor for Isha, and were able to get a spot very close to the fence with a great view of the Kaaba. We made as many duas as we could. I had a good last look at the Kaaba, and the sea of people circling around it. The people seemed to be moving en masse, with occasional rhythmic waves when being shoved and subsequently shoving back.

Back at the hotel, we were instructed to meet the following day at 5 a.m. in the lobby for our return trip. After finishing packing, we went to bed.

Hajj – 12th Dhul Hajj: 3rd day of Stoning of the Jamarat

November 30, 2009

Short post today.

We woke up for Tahajjud, and performed a Tawaf between this and Fajr prayers. It wasn’t crowded at all, and we were able to finish in 30 minutes! Previously, a Tawaf in the same general area had taken us more than 1.5 hours!

In the early afternoon, we headed to Mina for the 3rd day of the Stoning of the Devils. We found a taxi area near the Haram complex; he agreed to take us to Mina for 100SR. What followed was the most ridiculous taxi ride I have ever been in. To his credit, the Saudi government had blocked some roads to Mina, and were instructing people to take a detour, in order to lessen the congestion which had crippled transportation. However, this taxi driver had no clue where to go, and kept driving over the same roads over and over and over again. We were getting not only impatient but worried, because there is a rule that if you are in Mina after a certain time period, you essentially have to spend the night here and are not allowed to go back to Makkah.

Eventually, we saw signs for the Jamarat, but the taxi driver STILL didn’t try to follow them, insisting that he knew the way. We forced him to follow the signs. Near the end of our trip after 2 hours, he ended up getting a flat tire. We got dropped off at a certain point, and as we looked around, felt a small sense of doom, for we were now in Muzdalifah, close to where we had slept several nights earlier, and had to walk for about 1.5 hours to Mina. Since we had no choice, we trekked over to the Jamarat complex, and after 1.5 hours, arrived, Stoned the Devils, and headed out to return to Makkah.

We found another pseudo-cabbie for 50SR each, and waited for the van to fill up with other customers, but after about 10 minutes nobody came, so thankfully the driver started driving. It was now unbelievably crowded on the roads. We would move a few meters, then stop for 5 minutes, then move a few meters, then stop for another 5 minutes, and this continued for quite a long time. I ended up taking a nap for a little while. After a few hours of this stooooooooooooooooopppppppppppp and go and stoooooooooooooooooooopppppppppppppppppp and go traffic, we decided we should just walk… lots of walking today.

We walked, and we walked, and we walked, I can’t even remember for how long… perhaps 2 hours? My feet were blistering, and hurting. Eventually, we reached the Haram, which was as crowded with people as the streets were with cars.

I don’t really have a photo for today, but I’ll show you one taken earlier of Maryam’s totally worn out Floatie sandals, in keeping with today’s theme of walking to exhaustion:

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We did the customary prayers at the Haram, had dinner, then went to bed.

Hajj – 11th Dhul Hajj: 2nd day of Stoning of Jamarat

November 29, 2009

Overnight, some of the people in our group that were with us in Muzdalifah had performed their Tawaf al Ziyarah. Maryam had kept looking out the window throughout the night to see if it would get a little less populated so we could do ours, however it remained crowded all night…

We went to the Haram for Fajr prayers, then started our Tawaf al Ziyarah. It didn’t seem too crowded in the beginning, however it became progressively crowded through the Tawaf. Following the Tawaf and the customary practices, we headed up to the 2nd floor to perform the Sa’ee. It was so much less crowded than the first floor!

Here is a picture of Al-Safa from the higher level:

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Here is a picture of the Sa’ee; note that this picture, which was taken later I believe, is quite deceptive in that it doesn’t look nearly as crowded as it usually was. Imagine this whole area filled with people…

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Afterwards, we went back to the hotel for breakfast, then met up with Maryam’s relatives who were also performing the Hajj this year. I was amazed and humbled; they had to WALK everywhere instead of take the bus as our group did most of the time, despite their advanced age. I thought, we shouldn’t be complaining…

Afterwards, Maryam and I took some rest at the hotel. After Zuhr prayers, we again took a local pseudo-cab to Mina for the 2nd day of the stoning of the devil. Thankfully, it only took 20 minutes to Mina this time!

Once in Mina, we stoned the three pillars in succession as required, beginning with the small devil and moving up to the large devil, each with 7 stones, and making dua’s between the small and medium pillars and the medium and large pillars.

Following this, we headed back to Makkah; we found a local pseudo-cab again, and while we were trying to figure out how much he was charging, a nice gentleman who spoke English said we could go ahead and get in the cab, and he would take care of it; he joined us in the cab as well as two of his companions. He turned out to be a Saudi who had studied in the US, and had obtained a PhD in Civil Engineering from Indiana University. He ended up paying for all of us 🙂

Back in Makkah, we prayed Asr at the hotel, then rested a little. We left a little early to the Haram before Maghrib to try a Tawaf, and sat down in the outer aspect of the courtyard of the Kaaba to wait until prayer time, but the guards starting moving people away. We decided to go ahead and start the Tawaf instead of moving back, and if necessary, pray Maghrib in the middle. It was VERY crowded. We made two rounds of the Tawaf, and the the Athaan started! People were now pushing and shoving to get prayer space; this started from the center, closest to the Kaaba, and radiated outwards. There was barely enough space to pray, and some had to pray while standing up continuously.

We prayed this close to the Kaaba:

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After prayers, we continued the Tawaf. We tried to touch the Black Stone, so sequentially made our way closer and closer to the Kaaba. We were able to touch the corner before the Black Stone called Rukn-Yamani, which is a corner the Prophet is said to have touched during his Tawaf as well. We continued to stay in the inner most circle until the following corner of the Black Stone, however it was so crowded and seemed dangerous, so we gave up… We did however get an opportunity to see Prophet Ibrahim’s footprint and were able to circle adjacent to the Kaaba for a while.

After this Tawaf, we were totally drained. I was barely able to eat, but had some kabab, then fell asleep