My Dive- something I felt compelled to write down in detail.
We started our journey from the beautiful modern city of Dubai with its stunning skyline. The modern architecture captivating the eye as we headed out of town. We were driving to Fujairah another state of the UAE. The landscape was dry.
The white sandy desert changes to golden brown sandy desert as far as the eye can see once we had driven 40 odd minutes out of Dubai. Cruising on, the color of the sand changed to a mud brown shade, closer to bordering on the spectrum with red, with camels dotted here and there.
After a drive of 2.5 hours we finally arrived at the dive site. The feeling of being alone couldn’t be more exaggerated. A small fishing village, few houses in a neat row.
Diving – well the good news I’m still alive and the not so bad news is that I gave up half way through the dive. Well not brave of me I thought but then I just console myself with the thought that I’m not really brave at all, just eccentric.
To learn one has to admit that one doesn’t know. To become fearless we have to confront our fears. For me I’m very sacred of the sea.
The fear is ingrained in mind from childhood. Partly to blame is that I never learned how to swim. When my feet cannot touch the bottom, I panic. Well diving in the sea is not really the best way to confront this fear. I don’t recommend this to anyone.
If you have dived before a few times especially in Far East (Thailand, Indonesia or Malaysia) or perhaps the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, then Fujairah is not really worth the drive down. It offers a limited experience with low visibility under the sea.
For first time divers (and if you happen to be in Dubai) it is a good activity as the water is still, calm and there are plenty of sea creatures. The color of the sea is a lovely deep blue and once you are inside it turns a lovely deep green color. There are sea urchins on the floor with plenty of small fish around. I thought it was beautiful. The drive down gave me chance to see the vast expanse of the desert and its beautiful changing colors. At places the desert bordered the deep blue sea- the contrast so beautiful.
We started with a practice session in the shallow water to make sure we knew how to handle the equipment. The water was deep enough to get us head down when we kneeled on the floor. Trying to breath through the mouth (with the mouthpiece) is not easy for me, firstly because it dries out my throat, swallowing becomes a conscious effort and the salty taste doesn’t really help. Secondly somehow I keep trying to breath through my nose despite the mask on it. I have to pinch my nose and constantly remind my mind that it is no longer possible to breath through the nose. The next thing to practise was retrieving my mouth piece in case it got knocked out during the dive. I have my mouth piece clinched between my teeth as tightly as I can, I believe my life depends on it. So when the Instructor asks me to take it out of my mouth I’m not ready to let go. And when I finally do, panic hits and I stand up to get out of the water. I tell myself, “it’s ok you can stand don’t panic!” Then second attempt and third attempt I do exactly the same. On my 7 attempt or maybe I lost count now I’m able to get it back in my mouth. I’m scared but I managed. I congratulate myself and I’m amazing I must add.
But then my mind secretly tells me “don’t ever try this in deep water you are going to drown for sure”. I scold myself no negative thoughts. I can do this!
Finally on the small motor boat. It could maximum accommodate 12 people. Well the dive site was only 10 minutes away. The beautiful sea, the color of a blue sapphire, so radiant and calm.
I didn’t “jump” or “flip backwards” in the sea like the other divers. It is a bit too adventurous for me. I climbed down the ladder. It offered me more control of going down in the sea. With the heavy oxygen tank on my back, climbing down was a challenge. The narrow staircase didn’t really help either. There I was finally in water trying to put on my flippers. Got some help from the Instructor (God bless his soul he was a lovely man) as the tank limited my maneuverability. Holding the edge of the boat I made it to the rope we were going to use to go down in to the sea. There as I descended in to the water (let me mention this site was only 6 meters deep) I started to get fearful. My mind kept repeating “I don’t think you can do this”.
All the pep talk on being brave was not working. Focus on the fish. Look at that lovely little thing with blue and yellow strips. She looks perfect.
I noticed that I was surrounded by hundreds of tiny jellyfish floating around, dotting the green ocean.
They were like dandelion seeds floating lackadaisically through the spring breezes.
So beautiful! Less than 1 cm; so perfect in their form. Transparent gelatinous umbrella-shaped bell and trailing tentacles. I wanted to reach out and touch them. I kept my eyes on them hoping my mind will be distracted long enough. I was breathing fine now very mesmerised by the jellyfish. I was good. Shoal of small silver fish surrounded me and they were graceful; quick movements as the dispersed away from me. I was happy, I had almost forgotten about being in the water.
Holding the rope in both my hands I continued to descend to the ocean floor. Those sea urchins with their spikes gently swaying to the rhythm of currents in the sea. Some more fish join me. I was quite engrossed.
The other divers were now off the rope and I could see them calmly moving across the water. They gathered around me. My turn to let go of the rope and move into the sea. I was so reluctant. Though the rope did nothing in particular but it made my mind believe I was safe. I refused to let go like a child holding a toy. I was finally convinced with all the thumbs up to let go. But I panicked. I quickly rose to the surface. Instructor followed me up. With hand signals “you are good”. “Let’s go back down”. Sohail also followed me up to make sure I was ok. I’m good I told myself I have driven for 2.5 hours I’m not quitting. So better get back down. The instructor offers to hold my hand when it’s time to leave the rope. I grab his hand tightly while I mentally calm myself. I try to focus on the fish and there are quite a few down there. We have made it to bottom and move steadily on exploring the sea bed.
After some minutes the instructor wanted me to let go of his hand as I was doing well. With all the “ok” hand gestures, I still wasn’t ready to be on my own. As he let go and my body leaned on my right side (I couldn’t keep my balance). It felt like I was falling down though one doesn’t really fall down. In the water one can do somersaults but not me, I panic as my body flips. My mind paints this crazy scenario- this is the end.
I’m not dying in the waters of Fujairah! Time for some massive self talk.
I’m telling myself, “it’s ok, don’t over exaggerate, all is well look everyone is doing well”. But when you are under the sea your fears can seem so big and stubborn. They refuse to go away despite all the self encouragement and ok signs from others. And I decided to give in to my fears and come back to the surface.
With all the panic, I was now gasping for breath.
Swallowing water as a result making it worse. I could feel my heart thumping in my chest. I now had the rope in my hand. “You are doing well!” I shout to myself. “Calm down Laila! You are on the surface”. “Stop behaving like this. This is very embarrassing. It’s going to be ok!” I drag myself up the stairs. The oxygen tank still weighing heavily on my back. The crew on the boat help remove my tank, get me some water to drink and tell me repeatedly “you are good, you did well”. I’m still breathing heavily but getting better.
And my mind starts again – “you have failed?”
Told you you couldn’t do this? So disappointed with you”. Before I could even blink, my mind had given me plenty of negative thoughts.
It’s ok to quit. At least I tried, that is the important thing. But I’m so sad inside. There was no one to judge me but I was never really concerned with what others said. I always hold myself to my own standards. I had failed. Feeling dreadful despite the self talk I decided to go back in to redeem myself. I asked the crew if I could snorkel. This time going in water I didn’t feel so fearful. I felt safer on the surface.
I was happy as I looked at the beautiful jellyfish.
With the others heading back from the dive, we all gathered in the boat and made our way to the shore. The cold wind hitting me, making me shiver.
The only thought in mind was from my favourite book, “Gone with Wind” Scarlett O’Hara says “I’ll think about that tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.”
Tomorrow is another day and I’m not giving up, maybe one day I’ll be as calm under the sea as the fish are.
We ended the day with a gorgeous pink sky bordering with some shades of the blue as the sun set. The haze in the sky bringing to mind the dusty desert behind us. The serene sea, a lovely shade of blue. Some children playing on the rocks, their loud squeals of laughter when they dip their feet in the water. A bird’s cry to make us look to the sky. The wooden fishing boats on shore, add a touch of a village back in time.
Some points to help if you are novice diver like me I do recommend looking for a diving company with more experience and more crew. Have a word with them (if you have a fear of water) that you would need a diver with you at all times. Speak to the diver also about your fears and make sure he/she understands that you want constant company. Diving is a lovely activity. Being under the sea and watching creatures swim around you is absolutely mesmerising. So with little support you can easily manage this. If it requires paying extra please don’t hesitate. It will make it worthwhile.
I do recommend to get your kids started on the water activities early when they are young as their fears are limited.