The Real Mecca
Once a year, pilgrims from across the globe become a single nation. An American joins them.
Mecca, the best-known Arabic word in English, is more than an advertising slogan, as in "tourist Mecca." Mecca is a modern mountain city of 1 million people in western Saudi Arabia. Because only Muslins go there, outsiders don't know much about it.
Leaving the airport, our bus climbs treeless mountains for an hour. We're dressed in timeless-looking garments; the women in simple robes of black or white, the men reduced to two lengths of unstitched cotton. It's hard to tell a sweeper from a prince. We take a vow as we don these clothes to regard Mecca as a sanctuary and to treat other pilgrims gently, with respect.