I am writing about my 3rd day in London, but today is the end of my last 5th day. It will be hard to go back and recollect the 3rd day with its feelings since by now I feel the city has overwhelmed me emotionally.
On the morning of Tuesday, I woke up early, checked out, and left my bag at the Bell Desk for a pound, and headed to Hyde park. Our next destination is Natural History Museum in South Kensington. We will cross Hyde park going there, so it makes sense to start at Hyde park’s Italian Fountain cafe. I love this cafe. It is the first one I experienced in London, and it feels like home to me now. Just like the myth that chicks will think of you as their mother hen if you are the first person to see after they hatch. That cafe was my mother hen.
I wrote, and sipped on the flat white that seems the most popular drink in London. Another reason to love this city is that my drink, which is usually not even offered by most American cafes, and if offered, not written on the menu, is the most popular drink here. I guess I have a London taste, or since most of the cafes in London are run by Italians, an Italian taste for that matter.
When Walid joined me, we strolled down one of the beautiful paths of Hyde park going South, on the bank of the Serpentine river. Magnificent monuments and sculptures marked the intersections of the park walking dirt roads, and dogs roamed freely. I always saw a scene in the US when two dogs, leashed and walked by their owners, meet. It always seemed like they want to kill or rape each other. Seeing dogs roam freely in London, and then bark and approach each other when they meet, but yet not touch each other, made me think that the dog-leaching thing in the US is way overrated.
London is an ever non-ending beauty. It is one large classical museum. The architecture merges together producing chambers and chambers of Art and Architecture. Then lined up under these magnificent 3-4 floor historical buildings, cafes, pubs, and restaurants, book stores, tea shops, and little shops, very neat and beautifully designed and decorated. I was impressed by most of the logos and type fonts.
In approaching the Natural History Museum, we passed by the Imperial College, and there, there was a farmer’s market in the middle of the day. It didn’t make much sense since it was Tuesday, but it was a gorgeous coincident. Authentic healthy Indian chutney food (street food), fresh beef burgers or kabab in a wrap full of fresh vegetables, cookies, fresh apple juice, pies, coffee, and line up of choices in small canopies. I could not resist trying a sandwich, while Walid bought a loaf of wheat bread. Yes, he was eating mostly like Jolvanjone from La Miserable. That’s what I called him every time he was eyeing a loaf of bread to buy. He would get some yogurt with it sometimes, and sometimes he would wrap it with some avocado and honey. He ate like prophets, talked like philosophers, dressed like a 90’s teacher, and sang in the streets like a crazy person. I loved every second with him.
Every time we walked through or in a university campus, he could not stop comparing the experience to the strenuous experience of passing through the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Beirut, Lebanon, and how a guard needed to check his student ID otherwise he would not be allowed in.
There was a long line to enter the magnificent Natural History Museum, but next to it were the Science museum which had no line. It wasn’t on my plan, and I thought it is similar to Michigan Science Center or Ann Arbor Hands On Museum, which is basically few activities for kids to educate them about some sciencitifc facts. I was wrong. The Science Museum was a magnificent two parts, each 4 floors museum, that covered the history of science, especially as related to British scienctists, from 15 century to today. I ended up separating from Walid din the museum, and ended up staying till it closed at 5:30PM.
I then was invited to give a talk at a book store near Kings crossing area, and so we did pick a hostel next to the book store and reserved one night there, two beds, in a room of 4 beds. The talk was titled: “Meetup with Wissam Charafeddine, cofounder of IRSHAD”. I arrived there, and there were about 20 people sitting on chairs waiting, from different age groups and nationalities. I was introduced by a Persian English host, and then I proceeded to talk about Islamic Reform, the story of IRSHAD, and my personal story. After we were done, I was invited for dinner in an Italian restaurant near by, and had a great conversation with a friend from the Western Desert, a friend from Palestine, and a professor from Egypt. All of them are English now off course.
That was my first night sleeping in a hostel. I was convinced by the feasibility of using a hostel from my friend, Yousef Alqamoussi’s experience with hostels in Costa Rica. You can read all about it at onechapterone.wordpress.com. A shared rooms by a group of usually young travelers, and common rooms to intermingle and socialize, or work and eat. Rooms are used usually only for sleeping. Sometimes there are toilets and showers within the rooms, and sometimes there are general toilets and showers that are shared through out the hostel. Although I was eyeing the Astor Hostels (there are 3 of them in London) to stay at, I didn’t reserve prior to my trip because I didn’t want to restrict my plans in a newly discovered city.
We stayed at the Key Stone hostel, next to King’s Crossing station. It was also across from two things on my plan: The King’s Crossing Bookstore, and the SHOP and DO Tea shop, which was rated as one of the best tea places in London. Walid didn’t join me for dinner, and resorted back to the hostel to settle and pray. As a practicing Muslim, he prays three times a day at least, 5 prayers. So if you are not a Muslim, there are 5 muslim prayers a day: Fajr (morning), Dhuhur (noon), Asr (afternoon), Maghreb (Sunset), and Isha (night). Each prayer is made of a number of physical activities or postures and sayings associated with them. While each of the prayer has a strict interval to be prayed within, Dhuhur and Asr internvals can be combined into one, and Majrib and Isha can be combined into one, without needed excuse for Shia Muslims, and with a needed excuse for Sunni muslims. In order for a Muslim to perform his/her prayer, they need to do Wudu (ritual washing), and have pure clothe (no impurities on it, and impurities are blood, semen, urine, excretion, pork, dog stuff, alcohol for some muslims, and infidel stuff for some muslims). And only when you thought this can not get more complicated, listen to this: Your wudhu is invalidated by using the bathroom, sleeping, farting, or passing out. For ejaculation or sexual intercourse, Ghusul is required (basically taking a shower).
In Muslim countries, there are mosques or places designated for prayers everywhere. It is also a common scene to see people stopping, lining up, and praying on congregation. In the West, Muslims suffer through this practice, and often get into awkward situations. And here is one of the most awkward ones I have every heard about that happened to Walid that night.
Walid prayed 5 times a day during our visit to London. Keeping up with my plans, he prayed all over the place. At Hyde Park, in Russel square, in the basement of restaurants, on the lawn of the National Gallery, at the Elizabeth fountains in front of the gates of her Majesty residence at Buckingham palace. He prayed Jumaa prayer in a mosque in Paddington. The guy who he asked about Jumaa prayer because he looked Muslim basically took him with him. The best place to pray off course was inside the hotel room. Well, in the hostel room in this case. We booked a room of 4 beds (two sets of bunk beds), and when Walid entered the room, there was a couple already sleeping. Trying to be as silent as possible, and not wanting to turn the light on, while also his phone was dead as usual, he went out of his way, to go get a flashlight so he would not wake up the other guests. He used the toilet and washroom that were outside the room so he would not cause noise by using the ones in side the room. Then he placed his prayer rug in the room, in silence, in the dark, and he started praying. He read all the prayers in side his heart, and made all the moves with the utmost silence he could perform. Nevertheless, after leaving the room for 10 or 15 minutes after he finished his prayers, upon returning to the room, he found the two couples out. We are talking at about 12 or 12:30AM. Their beds are undone, lockers are emptied, their bags disappeared. This mystery puzzled us for hours, trying to figure out what happened. I asked the reception about them, and they said they don’t know anything about them leaving. We had a hypothesis that they were scared shitless by Walid prayers. Maybe they have never seen something like that. Maybe they have an Islamophobia, and I say that innocently, not out of bigotry by them, but perhaps out of ignorance. At anycase, we decided that Walid would inform the other guests in the room of his performance of prayer before doing so and old explain to them the prayer so they are comfortable with what he is doing. The next guests we shared the room with for the next two days were fine. Carlos, a Philipino English guy, and a couple from Netherlands the night after.
We slept, and it was not our half way through the trip, but we have experienced so much so far.