Friday, January 05, 2007

New Years at the Dead Sea

This New Years Day I was reminiscing about the same day a year before. I was in Israel, working hard, and took a much deserved day off to visit the baths at the Dead Sea. As I re-read my story about the experience, I was moved to share this gentle little slice of life with you. BTW, I was the American who forgot their swimming suit.

New Years Day, 2006: The Dead Sea

The three American women were clustered at the edge of the salty mineral pool discussing tomorrow's business. One had no swimming suit and was bare breasted. As they progressed their plans and strategies, six older Arab women entered the bath in their cotton bathing dresses, and modest swimsuits, heads wrapped in colored cloths.

A clear and ancient voice, as stark and dry as the land surrounding us, began singing a folk ballad. The Americans kept talking amongst themselves. Soon other Arab women bathing joined the song, creating pauses for the elder "story teller" to continue the ballad. A large, brown eyed woman with deep dark circles around her eyes smiled and began her broken translation for the Americans, who had now ceased conversation in deference to the story teller and out of curiosity as to what was unfolding.

We were told she was 80 or 90 years old and from Afghanistan. She had small, pale eyes that were both sparkling and clouded. Her nose was long and pointed, her skin brown and wrinkled and some of her teeth had long disappeared. As she sang her love song, she would lift her head up and smile a flirty smile, sometimes stealing a kiss on the cheek from the woman next to her to play the part of the lover in tones that were both captivating and discordant, notes that came from deep in her throat and heart. Soon the women from the other pool began joining in and laughter erupted as the elder embellished her story even further. The women next to her pinched the story teller's chest, where breasts would have been years before, to depict a naughty part of the story. Everyone laughed and began the piercing women's call with the tongue rapidly moving up and down behind the teeth bellowing shrill sounds from the chest.

The old woman spotted the American blondes and began singing to us, something about wine coming from the clouds and about pale beauty that inspired her to want to "chew their cheeks". Everyone looked at them curiously, especially the one with no clothes on, and laughed, motioning them to join in the center of the circle that had formed. The westerners felt invited and surrounded by something so feminine and ancient that it gave new definition to the word girlfriend.

Bathed in salt and joy, we surrendered to the the loving, unsolicited attention from our sisters of the desert.

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