The Jordanian Hajj bus blues

Muslim worshippers pray outside the Grand Mosque in Makkah on Sunday, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP)
Updated 28 August 2017

The Jordanian Hajj bus blues

AMMAN: Jordanian tour operator Khalil Qatawi has a problem. His company, which operates Hajj and Umrah tours to Saudi Arabia, cannot find qualified tour buses.
Most Jordanians use buses to fulfill their pilgrimage ritual and there are only 600 qualified tour buses that are not older than 2010. “On the one hand, the government insists and we want to have modern buses but at the same time, there simply are not enough buses,” Qatawi told Arab News.
The Jordanian government this year has implemented stricter conditions on the use of older buses, making it even more difficult for the tour companies. An accident near the southern Jordanian city of Tafileh on June 26 of a returning Umrah group left six dead and 38 injured. Because the accident was due to an inferior bus, Jordanian transport officials have tried to regulate the route. Buses must now undergo technical inspections before being allowed to carry pilgrims to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, therefore leaving even fewer qualified buses available.
Before the Syrian crisis, tourist companies did not mind buying new buses because they could use them for travel to Syria and Lebanon when they were not being used for Hajj and Umrah. “With the borders closed, it makes little sense for companies to buy new buses just for travel to Saudi Arabia,” he complained. A new European made bus runs as much as $250,000 while a Chinese bus can be purchased for $100,000, but even the inferior Chinese buses were not feasible because of the lack of work during the rest of the year.
Tour companies have suggested renting buses from Saudi Arabia, but that was not allowed. “Apparently, as part of the Saudi-Jordanian agreement, we are only allowed to use Jordanian buses,” he said. Qatawi is OK with the policy of giving priority to Jordanian buses, but what do they do when there are not enough buses? “We have had to break the law and pay the 250 Jordanian dinar fine or use inferior buses.
Nearly 7,500 Jordanians go on Hajj annually. Of those, 1,000 pay the 650 Jordanian dinar ($970) price for the round-trip ticket while another 800-1000 drive by public taxis and vans, while a similar number drive with their own cars. Jordanian transportation officials estimate that 4,700 pilgrims need to use the buses for the Hajj period. The average cost of the buses is between 170-220 Jordanian dinar depending on the state of the bus. The fees are higher for the newer buses.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that Jordan handles the travel of Palestinian pilgrims from the West Bank, as well as those from Israel. The Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs issues temporary passports to what it called “Arabs of 1948” in order to allow them to carry out the Hajj rituals. Palestinians from Gaza use Egyptian transport to reach the holy places in Saudi Arabia.
Mohammed Abu Hashish recently traveled to carry out the Hajj. While the bus he was on was in good shape, he complained to Arab News about the long wait at the Saudi border and the conditions of the hotels in Makkah. “We waited nearly 12 hours at the border crossing as the Saudi authorities carried out the iris scan, and did the normal passport inspections.
The main reason for the delay was the large number of buses all waiting to be processed; there were some 50 buses waiting in line,” he told Arab News. Abu Hashish also complained about the overcrowded hotels that his group was placed in. “We had six beds cramped in a small 4 x 4-meter room in a hotel that took 2,500 people,” he said. The average cost of transportation and accommodations in the holy places during the Hajj period is nearly 2,000 Jordanian dinar.
While the transport and accommodation problems exist for the Hajj season, many of those involved in the religious tourism business told Arab News that greater problems exist during the Umrah period where many of the regulations and oversights are relaxed, causing a dangerous situation. “Assistant drivers are not included during the Umrah and many tour agencies let their driver drop off the faithful and return to Jordan so that they can make money on their buses rather than have them wait idly in Saudi Arabia,” said Qatawi.


Arabic anime voice actors prepare for new show at Riyadh expo

Updated 17 November 2019

Arabic anime voice actors prepare for new show at Riyadh expo

  • Waheed Jalal's voice acting as “Treasure Island” antagonist John Silver has captivated generations

RIYADH: Visitors to Riyadh’s first anime expo stopped by the first panel on Saturday unaware that they would be leaving the stage with memories renewed of their favorite voice actors of all time.

Waheed Jalal and Jihad Al-Atrashi will forever live on in the hearts of fans of “Grendizer” and “Treasure Island (Takarajima),” the two shows that introduced the Arab world to anime in the 1970s.

Jalal, whose voice acting as “Treasure Island” antagonist John Silver has captivated generations, expressed how delighted he was to be with the audience.

“I want to thank you and your Kingdom of generosity and culture,” he said.

Al-Atrash, who portrayed Duke Fleed, echoed his sentiments: “You are great people with great values, thank you to the people of the Kingdom that stand next to people of all nations.”

Jalal was touched by the audience’s love and warm welcome, “You guys are the reason we continued this far, without you it wouldn’t have been possible,” he told them.

“We’re persevering to this day because people loved these characters we portrayed so much, our other works pale in comparison,” he added.

Jalal said that the reason “Grendizer” remained with so many people is because of the values and morals depicted in the show, teaching generations to be loyal and loving to their nation and their people.

Artist and creator Ibrahim Al-Lami. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

The voice acting pair talked about the importance of speaking in formal Arabic in these shows. Jalal said it’s because “you’re presenting to the entire Arab world.”

Local dialects would be difficult for others to understand, so we must all aspire to perfect our formal Arabic, added Jalal.

Before concluding the talk, a teaser was played of the first Saudi anime “Makkeen” by artist and creator, Ibrahim Al-Lami, who announced that 60 percent of the work was completed through local efforts.

“We’ll introduce a new work that is by our people, written by our people and voiced by our people,” he said to the audience.

The work will feature characters voiced by Jalal and Al-Atrash, who have become symbolic to the Arab anime world. “I told them, this work wouldn’t be complete without you two,” said Lami on his choice of voice actors. “We want these works to see the light of day. We need to provide the new generations with tales of our own,” added Al-Atrash when asked why he wanted to partake in the anime.