Mediterranean Sea, Israel - Gabrielle Parent-Doliner
My Watermark is the Mediterranean Sea, Israel.
About seven years ago I found myself sitting on a cliff, just north of Tel Aviv, looking out at the Mediterranean. I had some reckoning to do. I’m from Welland, Ontario. The only business I had for being in Israel was a handsome Israeli. That day in August, 2007, I was asking myself whether or not I could live here. More importantly, I asked myself was whether or not I thought I could raise kids here.
This second question is one of the most important questions I’ve ever asked myself.
Almost fifteen years ago I met my husband in a hostel in Quito, Ecuador. I have to spend my life with him was my singular thought upon seeing him for the first time. I didn’t know anything about Israelis, or Israel, before I met him. I was undeterred by this and several years later I was in Israel and we were making plans to make this a permanent move. But if we were going to make it as a couple, and as a family, I had to be able to succeed not just in living in a country that was not my own, but in raising a family there as well.
Anyone who has left home for a new country knows it can take years, decades even, to find your footing. And there are a lot of hard questions that should to be asked before making this leap.
As I looked out on the water, the horizon dotted with sailboats, unbelievably beautiful water crashing into the expansive beach, and a little boy walking along the waterline like he owned the place, I thought that this could be a very good place to raise a child. No matter how hard things were, and perhaps, how difficult they could become in the future, we would have the advantage, comfort, and wonder of what I had always held as the holy grail: a home on the water. And so, I immigrated to Israel.
When I was a kid, all I wanted was to be one of those people that grew up on the water. Those kids who went for a swim before going to school, who permanently had sand between their toes, who recognized schools of dolphins that swam by, who ate fresh fish for dinner and who slept with the sound of the sea coming in from their open windows. I grew up on the banks of the Welland Canal, which was an untouchable body of water, reserved for tankers and effluent from the city’s many factories. Only insane people went anywhere near it with their bodies. And even though I lived smack dab between two Great Lakes (Ontario and Erie) I never once swam in them as a child because they were so polluted. Even when I started to go to Lake Erie with my friends as a teenager we rarely went in the water due to the smell of algae and the dirtiness. In fact, the only “swimmable” water I could regularly visit was the Niagara Escarpment. Swimming beside a whirlpool was a safer alternative.
As soon as I struck out on my own I made sure I always lived by the water: Peterborough, the Yukon, BC, Alberta, Thunder Bay. I owned a wetsuit so I could swim year round. I swam wherever I went. I swam in so many beautiful places I forgot what it was like not to be able to touch the water.
As I adapted to life in Tel Aviv I always had the water to turn to when days were rough and I was homesick. We lived close to the beach and I regularly swam far out to sea, floated on my back and watched the sunset. In the water, I felt like I was in my place. This is how I found my personal connection to the country.
However, even though I didn’t want to, I had to acknowledge that the sea I loved and relied on so much was not doing very well. It was absolutely full of plastic debris. When waves curled before hitting the shore, instead of fish, huge quantities of bags, wrappers, and bottles would be revealed. The beaches were constantly posted with warnings about bacteria levels from the sewage that drained in. For a couple of months every summer the water was actually unswimmable due to the number of unchallenged jellyfish moving up the coast. The water stung to touch. The only fish we ate were farmed trout from the North of the country. We couldn’t responsibly eat anything from the decimated Mediterranean fishery.
The state of the sea became more evident to me at Israel’s Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre where my husband and I volunteered every Saturday for years, caring for sick and injured Mediterranean sea turtles. The turtles are incredibly endangered and suffer from a range of conditions, all stemming human activity. Many bore head injuries inflicted by frustrated fishermen who blamed them for eating all the fish in a fishless sea. Others were filled with plastic bags, or had lost their flippers to fishing equipment and other debris. Fibropapilloma tumours, which researchers link to ocean pollution, was an ever present problem for the turtles.
When my son was born in 2013 I took him to the beach every single day for his first six months. However, I couldn’t bring him in the water because, to my horror, the polio virus was found in the sewage that flowed regularly into the sea.
It became brutally clear to me this life on the water I had envisioned for myself and my family was at risk. Raising tanned little kids who could surf, and SUP, and snorkel in these gorgeous waters before they could walk was becoming a quaint fantasy. I felt like I was in Welland again, surrounded by water that I could never connect with beyond a longing glance.
Ironically, the Welland Canal is now clean enough to swim in. In fact, I even train for open water races down the street from where I grew up. I take my son kayaking and canoeing there, activities I would have traded the kingdom to be able to do when I was a kid. People have this beautiful, vibrant body of water they can access easily, any old time they want. The change this has made in my hometown is nothing short of spectacular. We are no longer a city of bridges, but a bonafide water town.
While the water back home is getting better the health of Mediterranean continues to decline and certain sections are already considered dead. It is not just my family affected by this horrible loss. There are over twenty countries with coastlines on the sea. Almost half a billion people are on the brink of losing the very water their societies were founded on.
The Mediterranean, off the coast of Israel, is my second home. It’s where my husband is from, where I started my family. This is where I realized that access to clean, beautiful water is one of the most fundamental things I have to be able to provide for my kids. It is where I understood that our waters have incurred a level of damage they won’t recover from in my lifetime. The Mediterranean is also where I decided to become part of the solution, so that in the future these waters can be “zalul” again. If we work hard enough maybe my kids will be able to see it.