Wednesday, November 18, 2015



I looked forward to returning to Paris, France after the first visit I made to the city in January, 1982. It would be thirty-one years since I first stepped foot in the city and country, where I stayed for three days.

I landed from New York City, flying on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) with a one-way ticket that allowed me to stop at some ten countries and twelve cities along the way.

And I only had a small blue Columbia backpack with me and some clothes and the pants I was wearing then, as I was on two crutches and could not carry luggage with my hands.

Fortunately, in winter one does not sweat and since I was traveling all the time there is no way anyone would notice that I have not changed pants.

I was also lucky that PIA office in New York City said I could make as many stops along the way from there to Kuala Lumpur without backing so I charted a plan to stop at as many cities along the way.

The officer of the airline also said for my ticket I could even go to Manila, Philippines, but I could not return to Kuala Lumpur.

I tried to book for the flight to Manila from Subang Airport but was denied.

If the PIA officer did not tell me about the ticket I would not have stopped at the many cities and just flew to London and Jeddah where I wanted to perform Umrah. I would meet my elder sister, Senah and her husband, Jusoh who was working on his doctorate at the University of London at Ascot.

I booked for my flights early and had to spend two weeks to get the visas to all the countries I wanted to go to with many of them not requiring me to get one to visit those countries.

It was in June, 2013 when I was able to return to Paris. And I was excited to make this trip. It was in Ramadan, the fasting month and the middle of summer when the days were long here in Paris where I had just landed.

I had planned to rent a car to drive with my cousin, Shah to go to Lisbon in Portugal passing through Spain, to do some work there.

But the plan had to be thwarted because the car rental company did not allow me the car I had paid for, because they wanted the driver to have a charge card which is for them to cover insurance in case anything should happen while we were in possession of the vehicle.

I had only debit cards which they refused to accept.

So we ended up in Paris for five days and had to spend Ramadan there during this period of time. But it turned out to be such a wonderful experience.

I got a hotel near the Gard du Nord station where I could see more Arabs and Black people now than I could before when I first got to this city in January, 1982.

It is interesting to note that despite this station being a major one in Paris, yet, it does not have sufficient toilets as much as in the whole of the city. There are only a few and they are windowless.

No wonder outside of the station one can catch a strong whiff of stale urine because some people chose to do their business there at night since they were no toilets around that they could take their business to. 

I spent my time revisiting the famous sites that are in the city and also the largest masjid and also visiting the Malaysian Embassy which had since moved from their first address where I had gone to in 1982.

I also spent a bit of time at the flea market or morning market where I would be surprised to see the many traders who are Arabs.

I told them I am Muslim and they immediately asked me to take whatever fruits I wanted. I declined to accept the offer and one of them took a plastic bag and put some fruits inside it which I ate later after berbuka which was at 9.30 p.m.

He and some of the other Arabs who were also trading there could be from some African countries which were once French colonies, who initially I thought were local French until I overheard them speaking in Arabic amongst themselves as did the few other workers in a train station who I managed to speak with. 

The guy at the counter of the hotel turned out to be Arab who could pass for a local.

So it is not just London or the United Kingdom that has seen tremendous change in its population composition now with the many Arabs and Muslims who we can see as soon as we land at Heathrow Airport.

They are everywhere especially at Brick Lane which is basically Bangla City where there is a masjid which was formerly a church. And Luton City is now totally a Bangla City, too.

Most of the major cities in the United Kingdom now has a sizeable Muslim population, the largest must be Manchester.

But Paris?! I did not quite understand it before I flew to the city to find that it now too has a sizeable Muslim population, who all seemed to have become well-entrenched in the society despite their racial and religious differences, with many of them African. They all speak perfect French other than the languages of their ancestors.

There is a store operated by the Arabs near the hotel where I would go to buy food for berbuka and sahur.

And since this area is near the Gard du Nord station, it is bright through the night. And at the other side is the Gard d’Est which is a smaller train station which I would also go to take the train.

I also found out that the Jewish Supermarket which was featured in the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office last year, is also in this area.  

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