Sunday, April 26, 2009

Surrounded by Water....but Still Cant Swim!!!

One of the oddest things I have come to learn about Bahrainis over this 23 years is that they seem to be a population of people living on an island...surrounded by water...and yet are ignorant of even the most basics of safety when it comes to enjoying the water.
Ive lost count of the number of drownings we have in Bahrain on a regular basis (at the beach, in swimming pools, even in buckets of water or washing machines etc for small children)...most of those drownings seem to happen because of little or no concern for personal safety or the safety of their own children. Small children drowning is a common headline in the local papers come every Summer. There have even been instances when children have drowned in water tanks that are on nearly every building in Bahrain. The fact that these tanks are left open...or that small children on are on the roofs of buildings in the first place never seems to come up when discussing who is at fault.
Anyhow, having said all is my near drowning story that involves my own children and myself. (yeah I know...stop pointing fingers and all that)
Some years back before the stretches of beach along the road leading out to Hidds local beach were filled in and houses were built on reclaimed land...I would take my then young children to wade in the water nearer to my home...rather than all the way to the end where it was always more crowded etc. My oldest daughter at the time was around 12, my younger daughter was 6 and my youngest son was 2. The two older boys were 8 and 10.
I learned to swim from a very young age due to swim programs that were in effect every Summer where I grew up and the local YMCA...Ive never had fear of water and consequently cant understand people that do. If your afraid of the water...learn to swim...or stay away from it all together...believe me..."accidents" are waiting to happen.
It was a habit of mine to take my children to the beach on a regular basis and to take turns teaching one or the other to do the basics...paddling like a doggy to stay afloat or just floating on the back to rest etc were what I consider the basics. Each of my children had different learning curves...some I had to spend more time with...the others took to it right away. Because I had 5 children to keep an eye out for...whenever we were alone I always took them to an area of beach that had a very low water level...maybe just to the knees....or where they could basically float but not dive or anything. Perfect for lessons but no fancy swimming etc. Not to mention that I had instilled in them time and again NOT to venture out too far or too far away from me that I couldnt get to them if there was trouble...they had always been very good about sticking close to me.
Now generally when I take them to the beach to play I do not take the youngest one unless Im with friends or with the (ex) husband because I cannot watch him on the beach and watch them in the water on my own...but this trip to the beach was not for swimming lessons was just to wade in shallow water and let them cool off. I took them to an area that was barely to the knee at high tide. They all tumbled out of the van and raced down to the beach...I took my time getting the 2 year old and a blanket etc to sit and watch them. When I arrived at the waters edge they were all happily splashing not even 8 or 10 feet from the shoreline....and it was all shallow. So I turned my back and walked back up the beach to spread the blanket...away from the debris alongside the shore.
My 2 year old decided he needed to wander
back up the beach to the van so I went after him to bring him back. After I had gone just a few yards further my oldest daughter screamed out my name. Now Im sad to say I did not immediately pay attention to the alarm in her scream...with 5 kids playing there are always screams and shouts etc....mothers get pretty good at ciphering the screams from the ordinary play ones to the "somethings wrong" ones...but I was after the 2 year old...they were in 2 feet of water...and I wasnt paying attention...pure and simple.

I shouted back over my shoulder.."what?" but didnt turn to look as I was intent on reaching the 2 year old before he hit the hot tarmac of the parking lot.

Quickly she screamed again..."MOM!!!" ...but this time I turned and looked because her scream was cut off mid someone had clapped a hand over her mouth. When I looked back down towards the beach all I could see were my two sons...the two girls were gone!!

You know sometimes when you look at something and its not making sense...and you try and understand it and make sense of it so that your brain can take it in and explain it to you? Do you know that feeling? My two girls should have been there...the water was only 2 feet deep...even if they sat down I would have been able to see them...their shoulders and heads above the water...but they were gone. I quickly scanned the beach up and down hoping for a second they had run off and were screaming in play chasing each other...nothing.

I looked back at my two boys and it was then I noticed they were both standing next to each other looking DOWN into the water....I ran....

When I reached the waters edge I quickly realized what had happened. There was a trench of some sort...maybe not even 6 or 8 feet across in width...but obviously wasnt even that far out in the water...I could see it from the waters edge...I could also see both of my daughters down in it struggling to come up for air. I immediately screamed at my sons to get back and to go get their brother who was still wandering up by the van.

I was intending to step near the edge of the trench and grab their arms or clothing..or even their hair if I had to to pull them to safety...however as soon as I came near the edge it gave way...and before I knew it I was plunging into the deep water right along with them. Because of the unexpected plunge I never had a chance to grab a lungful of breath...and because my daughters were panicking and suddenly had something to hang on to...ME....they quickly clung on to me trying to get up to the surface...I nearly drowned myself right then and there. Now I know how to swim...even with age and weight gain and inactivity for the most part Im a capable swimmer....but to suddenly be thrust into a position in which two drowning victims are viewing you as their only hope...their only chance...and with reason completely tossed to the winds because of fear and daughters were intent on dragging me down right along with them. (it was here that I realized just how it is that people who can swim often drown while trying to save others...funny the things that go through your mind at times like

I NEEDED some order to save their lives I needed to save mine first. I did the only thing I could think of, I violently pushed them away in order to claw my way to the surface and gasp for some air. As soon as I reached the surface and with my second gasp of air I once again screamed at the boys who were still standing there to get back and go get their brother...then both my daughters clung to me again and I went down.

This time I was more prepared and took a lungful of breath...I grabbed their clothing with both hands and shoved them to the far as I know that was their first breath in minutes? seconds? moments? ...I dont know...time has a funny way of slowing down at times like that. Then I needed air again so pushed my way to the surface.

The agonizing thing about this whole drama was that we were in fact quite possibly going to drown not 8 feet from water that for the most part was barely 2 feet deep...while I was caught up in the moment of trying to prevent my daughters from drowning me...while also trying to save them...I also had time to think about my 2 year up on the beach wandering alone...possibly headed for the nearby highway...I had time to think of my two older boys that might try and help and step into the trench as well...I had time to think that if we did in fact would anyone know...what would my boys do...who would save them? All of this was roaring through my head and all the while I was trying furiously to think of a way to get, not one, but two drowning victims to safety.

Talk about hectic...I would say you "just had to be there" but I wouldnt wish that experience on anyone.

Now when all was said and done it turns out maybe not even 5 minutes passed from the time I entered the water until I manged to shove them one by one close enough to the edge for the older brother to grab some clothing and help the younger one out...then the older one managed to climb out since she had was able to calm down sufficiently to think rationally..(it could have been longer but I wasnt wearing a watch so not real sure) ...but it felt like a century or more had passed during that brief spell...and it felt like the whole world had disappeared and us and our little drama was all that mattered.

I realized by the third time I went up for air that I wasnt going to last much longer...I was fat and out of shape...suddenly thrust into a perilous situation...and asking more of my body then it was use too...if I didnt do something quick it would be too late for me...and probably my daughters as the next time I struggled to the surface I screamed at my older daughter to let go of me...and I let go of her (its the hardest thing in the world to do to let go of a child when they need you...but when you have two children that need you...its a feeling quite like no a moment of extreme chaos and confusion...I had to make the choice of which daughter to let go and which one to help to safety...its not easy...dont ask me what criteria I used to make that choice...I seriously dont know)...

She immediately let go of me and I was able to maneuver my body, grab my younger daughter properly...and basically shove her up and over to the edge...before going under son grabbed her clothing and she struggled out. As soon as I struggled once again to the surface my older daughter once again clung to me...but had calmed down considerably now that her sister was out of the water...I was able to help her to the edge and we both managed to haul ourselves out.

To this day Im not real sure how we got out of that trench...the sides just dropped slope or anything...but we did...thats the important thing.

Once we were all out and I had once again shouted at my son to go catch his brother...who was thankfully playing in the sand near the van...and I stood there heaving, trying to catch my breath...feeling as if my heart was either going to just stop working...or explode into pieces in my chest. I might add here that at the time of this incident I was wearing hijab and the required long sleeves and loose clothing that the culture requires women to wear...even when swimming at the beach...and I must say that extra clothing was detrimental to me at that weighed me down and tangled up my legs...not to mention my hijab covered my face more than once acting like a barrier between my mouth and a lifesaving mouthful of breath...I would seriously caution women against swimming with all that clothing on...but then again...I know they will...its a burden they must bear to preserve hell with safety.

Anyhow, I remember just standing there...catching my children crying and freaked out...and I just screamed at them....THATS WHY YOU LEARN HOW TO SWIM!!!

I gathered them all up and went back home...soaking the inside of the car with our wet things...not bothering the change...and surprising the (ex) husband with our early return. Turns out we hadnt even been gone half an hour. I could have punched him in the nose when he actually had the nerve to laugh when I gave him a brief rundown of what had just happened. He didnt take it serious at all....maybe I didnt tell it right...WE ALMOST DROWN ASSHOLE!!! whatever...sigh!

After that all my children put more effort into learning to swim and are pros at it...except for my oldest daughter...who has never been able to put her head under the water agains since that time. She wont even relax enough to float on her back. She is petrified of water now...will cling to the side of the swimming pool with a floaty grasped tightly in her hands...nothing I say will convince her to give it another try.

I hope there are no drownings this Summer here in Bahrain...but alas..I fear there will be. People dont respect the water and what it can do. They dont look for dangers and give little regard for the pull of the tide. Considering they are a pearling culture which has strong ties to the water...I find this odd.

But then again...when it comes to personal safety...I find Arabs in general are pretty lax about the whole thing....even when it comes to their children.

btw I have never taken my children to the beach alone again since that time. I do learn my lessons...some quicker than others...sigh!!!


San Antonio Cicily said...

What causes this whole or trench you are talking about. Thats weird that all the sudden in shallow water there is a hole?

Angry In Oman said...

Coolred, same deal here except we all learn about it word of mouth because the newspapaers aren't allowed to print any bad news.

Crazy huh? Same deal with the pearling and fishing heritages, but I guess that all goes out the window when you get a government job and BMW to drive.

Makes sense though, money wise I'm sure.

coolred38 said...

San Antonio...I do believe it was dug because it was almost a perfect a big scoop. I heard the people still sand from beaches for various reasons...maybe this was a pit dug to gather sand? I dont know. I realized the even tho I knew it was there..when I was standing on the beach looking towards it...I couldnt really see it because of the reflection of the sun on the water...I guess the girls just stepped off into it as they played.

Angry in Oman...exactly right. Bahrain is a little better at printing bad news...but for the most part you have to catch it on CNN or something.

Nzingha said...

I had Leyna who almost drowned in a private water park in Saudi when two life guards where sitting there (talking of course) Jihad saved the day but letting me know. I switched from sitting in the sun to the shade and that quick my girl was going under.

and my mother always had a fear of the ocean, she could swim but a current pulled her out one year and she was never the same.

And I read the child drowned in the bucket of water. This goes to not watching children properly.. i want to slap someone

janice said...

You have such interesting life stories, CoolRed. You should think about compiling them for publication. Seriously.

Pearling used to be a way of life in Hawaii. When I was there little children were taught to swim as soon as they learned to walk.

It sounds like culture more than anything. And I can't even imagine trying to swim in full regalia, I'm sure that causes many of the drownings.

coolred38 said...

Nzingha...Im glad Jihad was more alert then the life guards. Reminds me of when I took the kids to a local swimming pool. There were steps leading down into it and my then 4 year old son was sitting on the steps literally at my feet. I looked away to talk to my daughter and when I looked back he was on the bottom step...under water...just standing there with his arms extended. Gave me a fright as I pulled him out...but he was great...apparently he was practicing seeing under water...without realizing that he wouldnt find it as easy to get out as he got

My mother is also fearful of the ocean...we were all born in California..beach babies...but she wouldnt go near it.

Chiara said...

This sounds like a scenario from an advanced lifeguarding exam. Rule no.1 save yourself. Rule no.2 save the rest in order of who is the most able, ie easiest to save, and can potentially help you.

The hijab goes a long way to explaining your difficulty, even advanced lifeguard training only requires pants, shirt, and shoes.

When very little, my sister and I thought we were drowning in a lake when an undertow moved us a little further out so the water was now at our chins not at our waists as planned. Mom to the rescue, and we were fine but she made sure both of us were trained up to licensed lifeguard level (and then worked as guards) before she fully relaxed.

Doesn't the Red Crescent there teach water safety and swimming, like the Red Cross here? Could there be a job in this for you?

Yasemin said...

So I was watching The Amazing Race last night, and they had a swimming challenge. I was surprised and appalled that two of the racers couldn't swim. They were like 26 years old!

Swimming and drowning is VERY close to my heart. My grandmother who couldn't swim committed suicide by drowning herself in her backyard pool.

I would not be able to handle seeing the number of drownings you guys have in Bahrain, I mean I am just appalled.

But, then look at these Amazing Race girls! They are American and 26, and can't swim. It was a shame watching them paddle their way through that detour with life jackets on!

Sadly, it's not limited to Bahrain.

Sounds like it's time for some more warning signs, and maybe some buoy's for that trench area. I mean this is like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

I'm SO relieved all of the kids and you were ok.

Love you.

coolred38 said...

Janice...thank you. My "interesting" life stories seem more so to other people than myself..maybe cause Im the main It is hard to even dog paddle with full clothing on...and usually extra layers as well. Most women just sit on the beach or in the shallows...but that tide can still grab your feet and pull you under if your not careful.

Chiara...I do believe there are swimming classes available..but to tell the truth not many nationals avail themselves of it. Women either arent culturally allowed to swim anyhow so why bother learning...and the men are usually to proud to go learn...believe me Ive heard the excuses.

Lisa...well I can imagine there are still some Americans that cant swim...but for those women obviously participating in the Amazing Race means they are likely to need such skills if they want to win. I cant imagine going through the trouble to get on that show then being lax in an area that might come up and prevent you winning.

btw...I could totally do all those things and win that not too nervous about doing things Ive never done before...just need the body back...haha.

Aynur said...

OMG what a story.
They've come out with more "wet-suit"-like (with optional hair cover) women's swim outfits that would be less heavy ... do you think the women there would be into wearing that sort of thing?

I can't imagine watching 5 kids all by myself ... even just the 2 I have is hard enough.

Chiara said...

I agree, get them in the hijabi bathing suits and teach them in schools, or if those are deemed too form fitting, get them in full regalia and then teach them basics, like forward motion (dog paddle will do), back motion (float + kick), drownproofing (a specific skill) and treading water, and basic lifesaving (reaching with a pole, throwing a ring buoy).

Get the boys in their own classes before they become proud drowned men, or stand by helpless while their children drown.

coolred38 said...

Aynur...Ive seen those suits available here...but Ive never seen anyone wear one.

Chiara...I agree...and we have had a few fathers drown while trying to rescue their own children.

miss d said...

God was watching out for you. despite everything, He saved all of you.
your strength and love for your children is remarkable, glory be to God. thanks for sharing this story...

oth, about hijab and modesty...i don't think it's about not caring about safety. i know it is more difficult to swim in it, but if God intends to save you, He will save you. and if you're not meant to be saved, it doesn't matter what you're're still going to be gone.

He knows best.

p/s: love your blog!

coolred38 said...

miss d...thank you for your kind words and welcome to my blog.