MINA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — As hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims walked in the footsteps of the prophets under the blazing sun, contract cleaners in lime green suits lug matching plastic bags to collect empty water bottles.
It takes tens of thousands of cleaners, security personnel, medics and others to make it possible for 1.8 million believers from all over the world to perform the annual Hajj. With the hajj ending on Friday, workers will begin a massive week-long clean-up effort.
For the cleaners, who are migrant workers, it is a much needed source of income. But this year has been particularly difficult, with temperatures regularly approaching 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) during the five-day pilgrimages, most of which are held outdoors with little if any shade.
“This job is not easy,” said the 26-year-old garbage collector, as he took a quick break to splash water in his face before rushing to his post as another wave of pilgrims approached. “very hot temperature.”
He was among six cleaners, all from Bangladesh, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. They said they were paid 600 Saudi riyals (about $160) per month. They work 12-hour shifts for a few weeks around the Hajj, with no days off, before returning to other cleaning jobs around the kingdom.
Hajj to Mecca It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and all Muslims must do it at least once in their lives if they are able to do so. It was the first time in three years that it was held without coronavirus restrictions.
The pilgrimage concludes on Friday, when pilgrims circumambulate the cube-shaped Kaaba for the last time and then leave the holy city. Men often shave their heads afterwards Complete the ritual of stoning the pillars representing SatanThe woman cut off a lock of her hair as a sign of renewal.
The pilgrims insisted the trip was worth it despite the heat. For many Muslims, this is the highlight of their spiritual life, a journey that erases sin and brings them closer to God. some Spending years saving money and waiting for a permit order to go.
The Hajj is also a source of great pride and legitimacy for the Saudi royal family, which serves as guardian of Islam’s holiest sites and invests billions of dollars in organizing the annual Hajj, one of the largest religious gatherings on earth.
For janitors, it is also a job, and this year has been particularly difficult.
The sun sets on the open spaces and roads, reflecting bright light from the white marble of the holy places. Some days there was no breeze, while on other days a scorching wind blew from the sand. Cell phones overheated and died within minutes.
The Saudi Ministry of Health said more than 8,400 pilgrims have been treated for heat exhaustion or heatstroke, nearly half of them in hospital.
Mehwish Batool, a 29-year-old from Pakistan who was on his first pilgrimage, said he had to use a spray bottle to protect against vertigo, and often the only shade he could find came from the umbrella hat he was wearing.
“There is nothing here,” he said, “there is only the sun above us.” “I love the experience, but the worst part is the heat. And there is nothing to protect us.”
The Saudi authorities have set up awnings and artificial sprinklers in some places. Carrying umbrellas and spray bottles, pilgrims doused themselves with water and gratefully accepted the free drinks that are distributed along the roads between the holy shrines.
They then dumped the bottles into bags kept by the workers, or onto the ground to be collected later.
Osama Zaytoun, a spokesman for the Makkah Municipality, said that a total of 14,000 workers were contracted from private companies to clean during and after the Hajj. He declined to comment on their salaries or working conditions, but said there were no reports of health problems among workers this year.
He said it takes about a week to clean up after Hajj. Municipal workers collect the waste and feed it into 1,200 industrial compressors before it is sent for processing. They are spraying streets, camps and bridges in and around Mecca with disinfectants and pesticides, which Zaytoun says are designed to protect the environment and prevent the spread of disease.
Their efforts do not go unnoticed. Sheikh Daoud, a 40-year-old pilgrim from India, was one of many pilgrims who can be seen giving money to workers in honor of Eid al-Adha, a charity holiday that coincides with the last three days of the holy month of Ramadan. Pilgrimage. Other pilgrims offered the cleaners water or a refreshing spray from a handheld sprayer.
“They’re doing a great job,” said Dawood. “Their service is excellent. We cannot say it in words. So there must be support for them.” He said they would be blessed by God more because they worked in the heat.
“I think everyone is grateful to them,” he added.
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