My first trip to Israel I did not swim in the Dead Sea. I remembered the only other time I ever swam in hyper-salty water, The Great Salt Lake, as being a pretty horrible experience. I did float effortlessly, but the surface of the water was covered in dead flies (or gnats or some other biblical plague of dead insects). I didn’t know for sure that it would be like that, but with a name like “Dead Sea,” it certainly seemed possible.
But nobody at that time had mentioned dead insects, so I thought I would try it this time. The water was very warm. I wore my sports sandals and was glad that I had when I heard Sissy lament about the salt-stony bottom. When we got about waist-deep, Fabio picked up his feet and demonstrated floating. I followed suit and my legs flew up to the surface. The water felt strangely oily, and yet it wasn’t really oily. There was no oily film on the surface—and no bugs! It also didn’t feel salty at all. When a bit of water splashed my lips, it was so unpleasant that I still haven’t found the words to describe the taste. Salty, yes, but with an exceedingly horrible taste.
Soon I returned to Nina and let her go for a swim. She had let me go first, knowing that I would soon be back to the shade of the cabana. My tolerance for the midday sun is practically zero. Being the only fair-skinned person in our group has made me the one that’s always dashing into the shade, covering my head, and slathering on sunscreen. *Sigh!*
As I sat, trying to drip-dry, I found that after about an hour, I had really only dried a little bit, and that to a gritty salt. Mostly, I remained oily-wet. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer, and I went to the beach shower. The water came out so hot that it felt like it was just below the boiling point. Nevertheless, it felt good to get the salt off my skin.
As I was walking back to our cabana, I saw Fabio and Sissy, Nina and Michael walking toward me, covered from head to toe in mud. I had to laugh. They invited me to take a mud bath, but being freshly washed, I declined. I wanted to enjoy being clean for a little while.
I stayed in the shade of our cabana until it was obvious that the sun was encroaching on my piece of shade. I told Nina that I was taking the next shuttle back to the visitor center. Back at the visitor center, I took a proper shower with soap and non-scalding warm water.
Once I was showered, I settled in for some people-watching and thinking. Imagining dead flies on the surface hadn’t been the only reason I hadn’t gone swimming my first trip to the Dead Sea. There was a major exhaustion factor. It was really nice to have a moment to myself while the others took their hurried swim. The tour had rushed us around for several days at that point, and I was numbed from exhaustion.
Tours to Israel, I realized, were made for the demands of the typical American tourist that wants to get the most “bang for their buck,” and see as much as possible. So it was ten days of rush here, look at this, rush there, look at that—hurry, hurry, hurry up! After a ten day trip like that, you need a vacation after your vacation. So I didn’t feel like hurriedly undressing, rushing into the water (possibly a soup of dead insects!), and then hurriedly dressing again to rush back to Jerusalem for dinner.
Don’t get me wrong, our tour wasn’t a bad one. But I’m just not a typical American tourist. Instead of seeing a dozen things, I would rather see two or three really marvelous places each day—and have the time to really be in those places in that moment.
And finally, if I’m perfectly honest (and I try to be), I still struggle with body shame. So another reason not to swim on the tour is because I didn’t want to be seen in a swimsuit among others, of whom I really only felt truly comfortable with my roommate. Being willing to swim with these friends shows how comfortable I am with them, and how much I feel loved by them. So with this swim I put away that idea of dead insects, enjoyed the moment, and healed a bit more from the body shame. I still have a ways to go, but God is good!