A whole week has now gone by, and being here still seems surreal. On one hand, it seems like we’ve been here forever and on the other, it seems like time goes by too quickly…the trip to this beautiful land will be over before we know it. And I don’t know if I want to leave yet…
Today started with a trip to the Old City (like most days) to pray dhuhr in the Al Aqsa sanctuary. Today was actually my first day inside of Al Aqsa (as most women pray around the Dome of the Rock). It was also my first day seeing and touching the actual rock that rasulAllah (saws) ascended to heaven from during the miraj. I have yet to find the place where al buraq was tied during the isra and miraj…but inshallah I have time to do so. I spend most of my days leaning and sitting on the Al Aqsa premises and all I can tell you is that when I’m at Al Aqsa, my heart feels healed. As soon as you step into the noble sanctuary, you feel different…like everything on your left shoulder just fell away. There is definitely a truly special feeling to the place. I feel in love with life and rejuvenated, and never want to leave. In fact, everytime I meet and depart from my beloved masjid, I take numerous pictures so as to never forget her and how beautiful she looks with her gardens and gates around her…
By the way, it should be noted that the Dome of the Rock is a part of Al Aqsa as it’s on al Aqsa’s premises, but the Dome of the Rock is not the actual Al Aqsa masjid. It is basically just a beautiful enclosure and monument of the rock where rasulAllah (saws) ascended into heaven on the isra and miraj. The Aqsa masjid in contrast is distinguished by it’s grey dome. As stated before, the Dome of the Rock is mostly used as the prayer space for women, though women and men alike pray in both the Dome of the Rock and The Aqsa masjid. The premises are expansive, and people pray all over. It’s also easy to get lost with all the gates. But if you follow the flow of foot traffic, you’ll end up where you want to be inshallah!
After finishing prayer, we started out for our real mission of the day: finding the Dead Sea. So we started down the highway with Sharon and she wanted us to keep making left turns and u-turns onto roads that were blocked off. Before Sharon found herself out the window, I suggested to my diligently driving husband that we try to find the Dead Sea the same way we find all our other landmarks that are off the beaten track or “don’t exist”–we look for signs. We looked, and we found. A frustrating start turned into a 2-hour road trip into the desert on a windy, hilly road graced with the presence of mountains, camels, Bedouin tents, funny roadway signs, and of course sand. And reminders that we were steadily going below sea level with negative number signs in the hundreds, and the all too familiar reminder of our ears popping. On the way, we found the pointers to other destinations we hope to journey to before we leave: Eilat (another beach town), Nabi Musa (the site of Musa’s (as) grave), and Jericho (the oldest city in the world).
And then we were there: Ein al-buqaiq, the best beach of the Dead Sea. Before swimming, we went to grab a bite to eat and I had a brief flashback o last Saturday wherein I’m the only “covered” woman, Muslim woman, and black-hispanic-asian-every-other-cultural-category-looking-woman. People stared. And I wondered why–I guess they weren’t graced with a lot of more religiously-minded tourists in the secular beach towns. There wasn’t a yarmulke in sight on anyone’s head, just the reminder that I was illiterate in a town in the middle of nowhere, bubbling with conversations and signs in Hebrew.
But then I saw Russian signs and I felt “at home” again. If I needed to communicate with someone who didn’t speak English or my version of Arabic, I could talk to them in my second-in-a-half tongue, Russian, courtesy of my mother’s residence in St. Petersburg earlier on in life. But I digress…
Coming upon it, the beach looked like any other–dressed with cigarettes, dirty sand, and scantily-clothed people. But then we started seeing things that reminded us that we weren’t in Kansas anymore…people were slathering mud all over their bodies, the water was super blue and super clear, and oh yeah, people and anything else they put in the water were floating…seemingly without much effort. Oh, and there were armed Israeli guards with rifles patroling the beach fussing at 2 Palestinians (Yes! We found some other Muslims at the beach, including some hijabis!!!). What the commotion was about, I don’t know, but I didn’t want to stay for long to find out.
Already donned in our Islam-friendly swimsuits, my husband, daughter, and I made for the water like Baywatch lifeguards…and I didn’t even need to bring the Coast-Guard approved toddler life-saving floatation vest that I lugged overseas in my daughter’s luggage for her safety and my sanity. Walking in the water, we could feel the difference in density and buoyancy and it wouldv’e been a great physics lesson if I were a physics teacher. The water was really warm, but still refreshing for a very hot day when we were dripping In perspiration. Then we sat, and put what everyone says to the test…and yes, we floated.
This was the first time my daughter seemed to enjoy a large amount of water other than her bathtub and baby pool. She laughed, she splashed, I think she even tried to swim…Until her face hit the water and she splashed water into my mouth. You’ve never tasted or felt anything as salty as this water. It burns eyes and sores. It can numb you. It tastes bad and you want to shower as soon as you get out because you feel a salty film on your body. My fingers still feel funny.
So we rushed over to the public showers and rinsed our baby girl off, and from that point on, we were pretty much done with the Dead Sea. We had enough of the ashes of Lut’s (Lot’s) transgressing people. They made the water too salty, though we must admit, it was “cool” to float without a care or any effort. And on a positive note, my legs were sore the whole first week up until today :D.
All that salt made us hungry and then we tried to go to the kosher McDonald’s in one of the Dead Sea shopping areas to get some milkshakes and chicken tabouli salad. Bad idea. The cashiers and cooks alike seemed to be running on slo-mo (slow-motion) so we stood there all of about 20 minutes for seemingly nothing but a cultural experience of argumentation in Hebrew. (There were a good number of customers unhappy with or still awaiting their meals, I gathered).
Getting close to maghrib, we realized we needed to pray and paid 2 shekels to use the bathroom. I’ve never paid to use the bathroom in my life, but the restrooms at the beach were a travesty…I’d pay 2 shekelsnot to use them. We prayed in the desert sand in a deserted parking lot and then made our way back to our side of town of nooks and crannies in Ol’ Jerusalem. We didn’t need Sharon, we were naturals now. We’ve become a people of the land, and of the moment. On the way back, we passed through two checkpoints and the guards didn’t even bother to check our trunk. They actually took our word that nothing but groceries were in the trunk.
Things are looking up here in our corner of the world, and today was a wonderful day. Tomorrow, inshAllah, to Nabi Musa and Jericho! Super hot desert, here we come!!! Get your camels and cameras ready!!!
The Dome of the Rock
The Dead Sea