How the Hajj Is Like Potato Harvest

Ducks are conscientious objectors to potato harvest.

There aren’t many school districts in the United States that cancel school come harvest time. But I grew up in one of them. Every October, we could count on potato harvest to bring us two weeks’ respite from book learning.

This was one of the simple pleasures I didn’t anticipate my kids would ever be able to enjoy. But then we moved to Saudi Arabia. And it just so happened that the Muslim-calendared Hajj coordinated with potato harvest. And that we were living in the very gateway where Muslims from across the world would be arriving to reach their final destination, a mere forty miles from here. That meant my kids would get two weeks' break from school.

Hajj is just like potato harvest, except with people instead of potatoes. There are other differences too, I suppose. Whereas potato harvest focuses mainly on tubers, Hajj is about pilgrimage. And whereas Idahoans spend late nights and early mornings bringing in the harvest, Muslims spend late nights and early mornings accomplishing religious tasks in Mecca and Medina.

The endless lines of people add their own body heat to the desert heat, add the dust of their own feet to the dust of the parched earth, add the microbial content of their own breath to the microbial content of the communal air. It’s dirty business, this harvest of souls. 

At the end of it, people limp back to their homes in Sudan and Syria, Indonesia and England, Madagascar and Malaysia. Friends and family welcome them home with a pat on the back and sometimes with song and dance. Job well done. They pull back the sheets of their beds, lay down their weary frames, and sleep for a long, long time. Just like Idahoans do at the end of potato harvest.