My friend is going snorkeling and scuba diving in Hawaii this coming week. I'm insanely jealous. But it reminds me of a good story: Once upon a time....
I boarded the little boat with three Americans and two Senegalese guides. I had found a wet suit that fit and some flippers and goggles, and my tummy was a little bit nervous. We were going scuba diving off the Ile de Goree. I had never been scuba diving, and I was super excited to see what everything looked like in the Atlantic ocean off the sheer underwater cliffs of Goree.
The guides briefed us as we motered out to our dive site, which happened to be one of the slave ships that sunk during the Triangle Trading years. I had been in Dakar for a month or so, and my Wolof was passable, as long as you stuck to conversation revolving around where Mel's friend Tapha was going, or how the people of my house were doing today, or whether I liked the blue or white dress better. Needless to say, my scuba vocabulary was a little lacking. Of course, I would never admit that to the other Americans on the boat, and I could tell from their faces that they were going through the same thought process that I was: What the (bleep) am I gonna do?
So I took my life into my hands in order to save a little face. How proud my parents would have been...
I got the gist of it at least, if not the specifics. Each of us would go down in turn, each with a guide. That didn't sound so bad! Totally doable. We would go down a couple of feet in the water just to get used to the breathing apparatus and the water, etc., we would come back up, and then go down to swim around the shipwreck. The first in line was a guy named Andrew. He went the couple feet under, and promptly hyperventilated. He climbed back into the boat and the guides exchanged glances. Next was a woman named Stephanie. She adjusted her goggles and slipped under the water, only to come back into the boat to breathe in a bag next to Andrew.
At this point, I was both terrified and absolutely resolved that I was not going to waste the money I spent on this tour. I climbed slowly down the ladder and the guide floating in the water said something to me in Wolof, and motioned to my mask. I put the mask down and he helped me put the mouthpiece in correctly. Then he tugged my hand, and we sunk under the surface of the water and I looked up at the bottom of the boat. My heart was absolutely racing but I convinced my lungs to keep breathing slowly. After a minute, my adrenaline pumping, we surfaced again and I told him the little lie that I was ok to go down.
Still consciously convincing myself to breathe at a normal pace, we swum down where the water got darker. The ship had been wrecked for long enough that it was now a field of grassy seaweed and rocky urchins and pokey anemones. There were colorful fish busily rushing about every corner and cranny. There was a starfish lazily waving one of its arms. I had stepped out of my life and into the Discovery channel. I was so mesmerized that I forgot to breathe, and was tempted to surface for air. I made myself take a terrified breath in (fully thinking it might be my watery last) and clung desperately to my guide's hand for comfort.
I regained a little bit of control over my breathing, and we swam around and I was just in awe of this other world that happens to share mine. Then I turned and found myself face to teeth with a huge barracuda. And right then, I was done. I started panicking and hyperventilating and I tugged my guides hand and gestured wildly for him to take me back to the boat. Because seriously. Have you seen a barracuda? It has teeth. And it's huge. I didn't want to get eaten - I had taken enough risk just breathing.
And (bien sur!) after the mad dash to the surface, I climbed very slowly and smugly back onto the boat carefully controlling my breathing and gushing about how awesome it was. The moral of the story? I totally kicked scuba diving's butt. And also, I am too competitive.