quiet time at the Dead Sea

Eid mubarak! I have heard this expression often over the past several days. Eid Al-Adha commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son as a testament of his faith in God. Many families celebrate it with a feast of lamb, a round of prayer, and visits to relatives.

In Amman, the celebration of Eid also entails time away from school and work. I took time to travel and enjoy the company of friends. I spent a day at the Dead Sea, and a few days in Doha, Qatar. I will remember these places as quiet wonders; dramatically different in their landscapes, but ultimately both calm and unhurried spaces for introspection.

The Dead Sea is about an hour away from Amman by taxi. We drove along vast stretches of highway and across sloping hills and through sleepy towns. We occasionally passed herds of woolly bleating sheep. As we approached the sea, we began to see colorful storefronts with shiny stacks of inner tubes. Not that you would need an inner tube to swim in the Dead Sea. The water is so dense, so completely saturated in salt, you float to the surface without even trying.

My friends and I chose to spend our day at a private beach. We arrived early, well before the other holiday beach goers. The sun shone brightly overhead. Fairouz played softly by the pool, her rich voice carving out the morning. I walked down a few hundred feet of stairs to the beach and sat on the rocks that lined the shore. I marveled at the salt that covered the stones, at least an inch of sodium crystals forming sheets, swirls, and jagged edges.

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The wind was gentle and tickled my skin. The surface of the water before me was still, lending it the illusion of carefully polished glass. I gazed beyond the water and saw hazy mountains. Perhaps it was a trick of the eye, an illusion, but they did not seem far away at all. It was quiet, completely quiet.

Yet this silence is not without its tensions. I joked about wanting to swim to the mountains to the west, and someone informed me that it would be impossible even if I were a very talented swimmer. There is a treaty line right in the middle of the Dead Sea, splitting up the water between Jordan and Israel. It is invisible to the naked eye, but visible on Google maps. The line was drawn in 1994 and it is not to be crossed.

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Once again, I am overwhelmed by the history that I fail to grasp; all the context that I cannot immediately see nor touch. It feels like the opposite of floating in a sea of buoyant salt water. It feels like being caught right underneath the water’s surface, without a way to come back up and see the light of day.

The sunset washes away the heaviness remaining in my heart. It chases away the thoughts running errant in my head. The sky is streaked in soft pinks and deep blues and intermediary purples. It reminds me of a watercolor painting.

We leave the beach sunburned, our hair tangled with salt, our bodies exhausted from the sheer effort of staying hydrated in such conditions. It is a happy tired feeling. I sleep well that night, the kind of sleep that hits you suddenly and mercifully. I carry the quiet from the day with me into my dreams.

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[Originally published on Andrea in Amman blog, September 2016]

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