Islam and the eye of the needle - Unfinished Business - CycleBlaze

Islam and the eye of the needle

God is most great, there is no God but Allah. Mohammad is God’s messenger. Come to prayer, come to security. God is most great.” This is the rough translation of the call to prayer that I heard most in Turkey and not much since. I don’t need to. After cycling for 1000’s of kilometres through Islamic countries I am now convinced that Islam is the religion. It sits on top of the premier league of the World’s religions. Forget all of the others. This is Barcelona and its players all wear the shirt “Messi”. Yes, forget all of the others. Islam is the saviour and what sets it head and shoulders above the rest is prayer: these folk know how to pray, especially now, during Ramadan.

And how did I come to this view? Quite simple: I lost my appetite. Fellow SCABB members, Jeremy and Sabine, had both been sick and then something hit me like an Afghan bomb. First symptoms, loss of appetite. I cycled 85 km over undulating rough stuff almost without eating and then, in the evening, when I should have been ravenous, I forced down a little food and hoped to recover overnight. I didn’t and instead my squirming guts forced me from my sleeping sheet to the steep embankment overlooking the road far below. Even in the wee hours there was the occasional truck churning over the almost cobblestoned road as I churned above it. Whatever they were, the bugs in my gut certainly had tentacles and ticklers. They were nasty little beasties that in a short time made my life a juggling act.

I forced down some breakfast and made an early start but I was lifeless – out of the nutrients that allowed me to turn the pedals. I did 40 km and then announced to fellow SCABB members that I was done. Similar afflictions have attacked me before: firing on two cylinders between Jericho and Jerusalem, the Giardia 100 km into Hanoi and, the worst of all, the chug into Phnom Penh after a hydraulic hello that drew cheers from the local Cambodians. But this time I had nowhere to aim for and facing me was a whopping climb that I could not do without food. It was back to Dushanbe or on to the next village. While I set up my tent and collapsed in it, J and T started looking for a lift for me. In hindsight I should have gone back – it would have been about 400 % faster! Instead, while asleep, they arranged a lift in a fuel tanker to Kala-I-Kum, 2 hours away!!! That could not be right, I thought, but I went along with it. Didn't care a bit.

Now, the big D and long road journeys are a challenge in themselves. I wanted, at all cost, to evacuate the dreadful bugs and to avoid the dreaded Lomontil that’s akin to shoving a pretty big plug up the rusty bullet hole. It more or less makes a zoo of your intestine for organisms that you’d much prefer to see inside someone else – John Howard, perhaps. And this is where Islam came to the forefront. I did not need to ask my driver, who spoke only Tajik and Russian, to stop so that I could spray the vegetation for I was now “eye of the needle”.  I was 2% dry matter, yes 2%; I was a liquid fizz.  Ejaz and the two men in the following tanker were devout Muslims.

We had been bumping along for about 1.5 hours (ca 20 km) when the sun dropped, the tankers stopped and the gents got out their prayer mats to face Mecca and I ducked around the corner to face Australia. Another hour passed and we stopped again, this time for dinner. I even ate a little bread and yoghurt but avoided the watermelon which I think is toxic if your guts are fragile. There were prayers both before and after dinner – brilliant for me.  While they prayed, I sprayed, there is only an “s” of a difference.

Midnight came and Ejaz indicated that we were stopping for a sleep. No worries again. I was tired but my guts were on the starting line for the Olympic 110 m hurdles. That done I enjoyed a pleasant 4 h asleep on the ground dreaming of ways to convert a little of the tanker’s 80 fuel into something that would power me on my yellow steed.  Soon after starting again there was a hint of light in the sky and once again the prayer came at the right time.  Moreover, we stopped at a creek so that I could also have a decent wash, as did the gents before giving their all to Allah.

It was 0800 that we arrived in Kala-I-Kum, after 9 h of driving at an average of about 11 km/h. I found a good homestay, visited a WHO clinic, got onto the rehydration solution and started to get some food into the system. But, let me tell you that the whole episode would have been that much harder without Islam, the premier religion when facing the eye of the needle.

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