Friday, February 27, 2015

Scuba school

It's hard for me to think of the word scuba without thinking of scuba instructor Claude from the movie Along Came Polly (if you don't know what I'm talking about, click on the link - it's just a 30 second clip).

As Claude would say, we were for scuba.
I had chosen our hotel because it had a dive center next door. But on Monday morning, a man with a scuba sign picked us up and started driving, and driving and driving. It's a funny feeling not knowing where you are headed, in a vehicle driven by someone who does not speak any language you do, in a country where you don't feel entirely safe. We were also about to try an activity where we could get attacked by sharks, drown, or at least explode our lungs.

On that first day of scuba, we just watched DVDs. It was very secure. The scuba place near us was short-staffed, so they had taken us to another location. We saw movies of happy people blowing bubbles, confidently checking their air levels and making the ok hand signal while watching fishies.

Brian and I took our quizzes and figured this thing would be a breeze. We barely studied the text books. The next day we realized that learning to scuba dive is hard.

Our instructor, Saef, is half Egyptian and half Finnish. He recently served a couple of years in the Finnish military. True to his training, Saef had us assembling our equipment, safety checking it, re-assembling it, repeat. He had us connecting hoses and fastening weight belts like a Finn would clean his rifle before skiing away to fight the Russians.

As soon as we put on our wetsuits, I realized that those happy people blowing bubbles were lying. Day 2 was cold, cloudy and stressful. How do I get all the water out of my mask? How do I keep from floating up? What is that hand signal for lunch break (there isn't one, drill seargeant).

It didn't help that Brian and I were the dumbest people in our group. There was Tim, a 14 year old German boy who had watched all the DVDs at home, twice, and had been studying for weeks. There was Ron, a Dutch physical therapist, who handled it all with the composure of a man who speaks five languages and would not be rattled by sharks, terrorists, or salt water up his nose.

On the morning of day 3, I woke thinking of regulators and emergency ascents and taking my mask off underwater. We were supposed to do our first real dive off the boat. I had butterflies (or guppies?).

But when we arrived it all fell apart. It was too windy to take the boat out and Saef was home sick. (We learned from the DVD that if you are congested, the pressure underwater can blow out your ear drums). Instead we had Mahmoud. If Saef ran our lessons with military precision, Mahmoud ran them like a middle school gym teacher - content to roll out a few balls and let you run with them. While gym teachers use a whistle, Mahmoud had a bell. When he wanted our attention, he rang the bell. When we did something wrong, he rang the bell. When we rose too high or sank too low, he rang the bell. We swam out from the shore to a reef for our first two dives. I was remembering to breath, stay with the group, stay at the right depth and avoid getting the bell rung at me... I forgot to look at the fish.

Each time we dove (there were four), it got a little easier, I floated a little better, and the bell rang a little less often. By the end of day four, I had cuts on my feet, a bruise on my nose (from the mask, not from shark attack) and wetsuit chafing on my wrists. I was salty and cold, but I was the humble owner of an open-water dive certification card. It had been a lot more difficult than grabbing a tank and jumping in to blow bubbles.

Claude wasn't there on the beach to task "are you for scuba?".
But if I ever find him, now I can say yes.

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About Me

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Thanks for coming to my blog. It started as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, and now has become an ongoing project. I'm an American living in Germany and trying to travel whenever I can. I write about my experiences as an expatriate (the interesting ones and the embarrassing ones), and about my travels. There are some recurring characters in this blog, particularly my husband Brian and several of our friends. The title comes from the idea that living in a foreign country means making a lot of mistakes. So the things you used to do easily you now have to try over and over again. Hopefully, like me, you can laugh at how idiotic it feels. If you have happened upon my blog, then welcome. Knowing that people are reading what I write makes me keep going. Feel free to write comments or suggestions for future posts.