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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Swimming Against The Tribe


Dr. Lester CN Simon

When was the last time you went to one of our 365 beaches? I know you can’t swim but that is no excuse. I used to go to the beach more often when I couldn’t swim compared to my rare visit now that I can swim. What’s the reason for the phobia that many of us, black people, seem to have for sea water? Can it be that race memory of the terrors of the dreaded Middle Passage has made some of us afraid that our drowned ancestors might pull us down below to meet them? What utter nonsense.

Trust me. If I can learn to swim, a stone on top of an elephant can swim too. Growing up in New Winthropes village, we would go to the bayside (as we called it) relatively often. But I was always warned by my grandmother not to go into the sea. When I was allowed to go to the beach, I was always in the company of big people. I soon realized that the big guardians could not swim either, hence the warning from my grandmother made sense, especially with the constant rejoinder that I was my mother’s only child.

So whenever we journeyed to Jabberwock Beach, my main pleasure was to follow the instructions written on a huge, wooden, seemingly abandoned building near the roadside about 300 yards south of Jabberwock. The name, Firestone, was emblazoned on its west side. No one had told me that Firestone referred to a brand of tyre. Being the most obedient child of my mother, if only because I did not want to be worthy of death, I simply pelted the building with stone, as the sign instructed.

At the seaside, I would wet my feet, make a few splashes, pick and eat some seaside grapes and whatever else we had taken along, sit on the sand and wondered what was hidden beyond the horizon. In the while, especially at picnics at more wooded beaches, a few big people would disappear and reappear with a strange glow on their faces as if they had gone sailing in the sea of bushes where something fishy had occurred. After a few hours at Jabberwock Beach and when they were all ready, we would trek back home and I would bid the poor Firestone building goodbye with a few passing salvos.

Many decades later, I was wading in the water at Fort James Beach one day when some beach cricketers tried to alert me to the ball that was hit into the sea. Since I had been in the water before they started playing, and finding it difficult to come out of the water and look like a non-swimmer, I had devised a plan for this eventuality. As the ball left the bat and soared overhead, I started doing some graceful, callisthenic exercises in the water from which I obviously could not be disturbed to fetch a mere, misdirected ball.

Then I found a good swimming instructor. I spent many lessons just splashing water onto my face to get accustomed to that sensation and coordinating my breathing with the presence of the water. After that, I would stand in the water at waist level, or above that, lean forward and turn my face to either side in and out of the water, initially holding my nose, then just holding my breath and breathing at the appropriate time. Truth be told, although I understood the lesson plan, it became so boring, I actually longed for the day when I would abandon the instructions and swim all around the island. Maybe that was part of the plan too.

Next, I would hold my nose or hold my breath and try to stay completely under the water. To my initial surprise, I found this very difficult. The water would literally push me back up as I tried to stay under. I kid you not. I almost ran out of the sea when I realized that was the same principle of flotation or buoyancy that Archimedes, the Greek scientist, had discovered in his bath and caused him to run out of his bathtub naked, shouting in the street, “Eureka (I have found it)!” There is a wild, adulterated version of what Archimedes actually found in the bath water, and what he must have been looking for in the first place, but that is for another time and another place since this is a respectable newspaper.

So after my Eureka moment, I realized that all that remained to learn to swim was to learn to coordinate my breathing with the movement of parts of my body. But, honestly, the hardest part of learning to swim as an adult was to overcome the initial fear of water (my grandmother had long passed on) and to get accustomed to the sensation of water on the face with my eyes opened, something we can try easily at home every morning.

As a result of learning to swim, you will develop a healthy and abiding respect for the sea and get much pleasure and many health benefits from swimming. You will obey all safety and rescue instructions, such as never to go swimming too far alone. But before you run off to find a good swimming instructor, you must learn to duly recognize and respect all of our ancestors on dry land so you do not have to worry about meeting them below sea level. What utter nonsense.

The Observer PM of November 7, 2007 carried the sad story of Jamaican man who drowned in a river in Suriname. He could not swim and neither could any of his family members who were all in the river when he ventured into deep waters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good read expected.