Coverage of the 2009 Haj pilgrimage was an enlightening experience for me as a photographer. I have covered many religious events in Iran but never anything as enormous as the Haj – this year complete with the added threat of H1N1.
I arrived in Jeddah several days before the start of the Haj and found Saudi Arabia to have all the luxuries and organization of the United States. My picture was taken at passport control and fingerprints scanned. I was met at the airport by our minder from the Ministry of Information with a driver and a large American SUV. We went straight to the media center to get my press credentials and on to the road leading to Mecca to take pictures of checkpoints and security. Police officers were wearing masks to protect them from flu as were many pilgrims.
The following day we left for Mecca at 3 am to be on top of Noor Mountain at sunrise. It was a long, tiring climb but well worth it as the sun started to rise and light allowed me to make images. In the afternoon we went to a military base to take pictures of security arrangements for the Haj, attended by many Saudi and foreign dignitaries including Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Naef bin Abdul Aziz. It was basically a military parade showing the security hardware for police to deal with any security concerns.
The following afternoon we went back to Mecca to cover a show of medical services for pilgrims attended by Saudi Arabian Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabeeah along with the RVN team who had arrived in the morning. This was a show of new ambulances and mobile clinics to treat pilgrims with any medical problems.
The organization of the pilgrimage looked well planned and perfect. After many years experience it seemed the pilgrimage was a well-oiled machine.