I sat on a warm iron chair, designed for humans with smaller frames than mine. The horizontal strips of metal pressed into my dripping legs as gravity called the swimming pool water and it fell to meet the ground below me. I was watching her in the water. It was warm and she was happy. The image of her reminded me of my mother – they both love the water so much. It was beautiful to see them in each other, mother and daughter, lovers of water. Playful, child-like, at home, belonging, leonine, graceful and deeply feminine.
My sister looked up at me from the cool water and asked with genuine puzzlement, “Are you not getting back in?” She had pushed me in and I had splattered and flapped my way to the edge of the pool looking like a drowned long-haired cat. I like the water but I don’t love it like they do. It is as if they come from it. I come from the soil, the earth, ground, and mud. I am most happy on land, in land, with land.
So when, a week ago, I was presented with the opportunity to go snorkeling in Sodwana Bay, I found myself battling to be as excited as the person who was offering this experience to me. Water, to me, is a huge unknown world that seems to somehow call ominously and take unforgivingly.
I do not understand water and therefore my instinct is to fear it and be in awe of it and all that live in it. So being offered a snorkeling day in one of the warmest most beautiful oceans in the world was a lot for me.
I knew that not snorkeling would lead to regret, especially because it cost only R100 for an entire day of hiring snorkel equipment ( I’m a sucker for good prices). But at the same time, I was being inundated with ridiculous images of sharks torpedoing seals in National Geographic documentaries and Instagram travel feeds.
Also, apparently octopuses (I looked it up it is actually octopuses not octopi) are super intelligent. What if a giant one sensed my fear and decided that I was the weakest link in the sea at that particular time and decided, therefore, to swim up from the depths where those ugly-ass-bulb-in-front-of-face-open-mouth-hanging-jowls fish stay? No, but seriously.
The money won, I could not ignore such a good offer and also the ocean felt like bath water and looked like the sky and my bikini was doing nice things to my boobs. I was enjoying the view of them and figured that the fish would enjoy them too. Who on earth doesn’t enjoy boobs?!
So there I was, face down in the biggest collection of water one could find. I breathed calmly as images raced through my mind and history reminded me, on replay, that the ocean has only ever taken and held onto people who looked like me, burying them in ships, in chains and petrifying them there where they lay.
The first things that came into view, were the sides of my mask. I almost shat myself. My partner in life and partner in the shallows was visibly unimpressed. I decided that I needed to hold onto him so that if anything came at me it would have to eat him first. He was a sacrifice that I was willing to make. The water could have him if it must have anyone.
Then I saw a fish. Then many fish. Beautiful kelp and rock formations. I saw and felt how calm it was under the surface. I wanted to tell David Attenborough but I figured that he would have no time to hear my lame stories. This made me momentarily sad. And then I saw an eel. My whole life disappeared and I looked at this eel in the face. Something happened there. I realised that I was in the eels house. I was there, without any way of letting it know that I was not going to harm it.
I felt stupid for being so afraid, but at the same time, I felt terrified that the eel might call its friends and eat me because here I was in its house for no reason, with no invite.
The tide began to come in and the water began to get a bit choppy. We began to struggle amongst the rocks. Both of us had been stung by baby blue bottles, both of us had grazed hands, knees and elbows from half crawling, half bashing into each other and everything else.
So we moved into the open water. At this point, my intrigue and excitement had begun to reach the same level as my deep, unwavering, irrational fear. So the open water seemed an option, as long as we stayed between the reef and the shallows. The first thing that I noticed was how incredible it felt to float, face down, breathing and seeing. What a wonderful thing to experience in this difficult, painful life. The wonder of floating and breathing in water. So simple, so perfect, so calm.
The water was holding me. The water was allowing me. The water was supporting me. What magic. And then we saw an octopus. I wanted to tell it that we were not there to harm it. It seemed as nervous and excited as I was. It clung to the rocks and watched us closely. The tide was pulling and pushing all of us. And all of us were trying to figure out where was ok to be. Where was a good place to meet? Where was an ok place to hang out and observe? Us and the octopus.
I watched the octopus and the octopus watched me. For a long time, I hung there. I hung there, without anything on my mind, without worry, without distress, without concern. I hung there trying my best to seem unoffensive. But then the waves came and the sand picked up from the ocean floor and I could see nothing, hear nothing and suddenly the jaws music blasted into my head and I raced to a place where my feet could touch the bottom.
The moment was gone. The fear was back.
Water. What magic. What epicness.
Image: Mseni Lodge Sodwana Bay – www.afristay.com