I’m a proud, proud mother. If motherhood pride had a smell, you could make a perfume of it and name it Mama Nadia.
Today, my 10-year old and 12-year-old sons got their open water PADI certification. This means they are licensed to dive in waters as deep as 15 meters until they are 15. After that, their little bodies will have grown enough to be able to handle deeper waters.
We spent the Easter holiday in training in Hurghada in the Red Sea. The boys turned out to be absolute naturals at diving (in their mother’s totally unbiased eyes anyways).
I obtained my own open water certification two months ago. I felt compelled to expose the kids to the full spectrum of what our beautiful country has to offer. The two girls opted out of diving early on. The eldest, 15, decided she was afraid of fish. The younger daughter, 13, discovered there was studying involved in getting a diving certificate so she made a last minute decision not to join. The daughter who is scared of fish is an excellent horse-rider. The daughter who hates studying is making progress in horse-riding training as well. The two boys, on the other hand, who are both scared of horse riding, absorbed the whole diving experience with excitement. I never saw them so enthralled in studying. And they took to diving as if they’d been doing it their whole lives.
My philosophy as a mother has been to try to expose my children to the world. At this stage in their lives I’m not as concerned about their school studies as I am about making sure they know what life has to offer. I haven’t forced them to do hardly anything. I want them to know they have choices. But they first need to know what is out there to choose from.
I found diving such a pleasurable experience that I wanted to give my children the option to try it out themselves. Two of my children weren’t interested. That is perfectly fine with me. They had the choice to try it out and they did not want to. They have their whole lives ahead of them to try it out later if they so decide. The other two decided they’d like to try it and the three of us spent some fun times as a family underwater.
I must admit that I was a bit protective of the two boys underwater. I had my eye on them more than I had my eye on the corals and fish around us. Abdelrahman, my
youngest 10-year-old, kept floating upwards because he was finding it difficult to control his buoyancy. During our first dive, I kept by his side most of the time so I could pull him down and show him how to empty his vest of air in order to sink a bit. After the first open water dive he reprimanded me for doing that. “Mama, I knew what to do,” he told me. So in the subsequent dives I kept my eye on him but made hand signals telling him what to do instead of actively pulling him down each time he started floating upwards.
On our third dive, Abdelrahman panicked a bit underwater because sea water got inside his mask and for some reason he was unable to empty it the way our instructor had showed him. Tarek, our instructor, calmed him down, tried to help him out, but finally gave in to Abdelrahman’s demands to surface. We all slowly surfaced and Abdelrahman was given time to empty his mask. We then went back down again. I was so proud that Abdelrahman continued the dive even though something happened that frightened him. That was so brave of him.
Abdelrahman swam most of the time in an upright position. It was the cutest thing ever. His BCD (the vest one wears while diving) was a bit large for him and he found it difficult to lift his head backwards; it kept bumping up against the vest. Since he wanted to be able to see where he was going, he decided his best option was to swim upright like a sea horse. During the second dive of each day we were able to convince him to swim in a horizontal position.
Mohammed, my 12-year-old, did everything right. His only flaw was that he wanted to jump right in the water without making sure his equipment was fully functioning. It took a lot of energy to get him to calm down before each dive and set up his equipment with care.
Mohammed, who above water is afraid of cats, under water swam among the fish with ease and comfort. Mohammed swam among barracuda, fully knowing their
reputation to eat human flesh. He even tried to reach out and touch them. We all heard this same Mohammed scream under water when a purple jelly fish swam past him. I could not stop laughing. He swam towards me and held onto me tightly. Most Egyptians are taught to be afraid of jelly fish. We have lots of them in the Mediterranean Sea where we spend parts of our summers. Children are taught to stay away from them in order to avoid getting stung. We’re not really taught anything, on the other hand, about barracuda. So it’s all right to swim with them.
During the theoretical training of the course, the boys learned the underwater hand signals divers use to communicate with each other. They loved the fact that they could communicate with each other non-verbally. Their diving instructor frequently signaled to them to tell him how much air they had left and whether they were all right. They would signal back to him proudly. My funniest moment was watching the two boys suddenly talk to each other under water. Mohammed signaled to Abdelrahman to ask him how much air he had left. Abdelrahman checked his monitor and signaled back to Mohammed that he had 120 bars left.
I feel so fortunate to have shared such a precious underwater experience with my two sons. We spent two full days and four dives among some of the most beautiful and well-preserved corals in the world. I’m not fully literate in fish yet, but let me tell you what we saw as far as my limited knowledge goes and please forgive any mistakes.
Just before our first dive, we saw a family of dolphins. Evidently they love playing with the boats and the people on them. The guys who manned the boats made lots of noises to attract the dolphins towards us. They dived up and down in the water to greet us. And once our boat started on its way after we watched them for awhile, the dolphins raced alongside for about a minute.
On our first dive, we saw a giant sea turtle. We learned that you can identify an area where sea turtles range by a brown mucousy substance floating in the water. We went through an area full of it and soon afterwards, there it was!
We also saw a three meter long moray, a Napolean fish that was about the length of an adult human, lion fish, barracuda, crocodile fish, and trumpet fish.
Perhaps one of the most amazing sights we came across was a school of yellow goat fish. These fish were lined up against the coral reef, unmoving and facing the current. In the early afternoon sun above, they looked like a huge shimmery-golden wall hanging. We swam up to them and they hardly moved. I tried to face the current and float among them but kept getting pulled backwards in the stream. We are taught never to try to touch the fish or corals. It can be dangerous. Resisting the urge to in situations like that is VERY difficult!
I think what I most love about diving is that it’s relaxing and exciting at once. The many shades of the blue water are soothing to the soul. The boat’s back and forth rocking and the swish-swash of water against it is like listening to a childhood lullaby. Jumping into the water is a rush and with every dive there’s a cataclysm of colors, shapes, and sizes of marine life. The diving experience itself is like flying. Learning to maintain neutral buoyancy can be likened to learning how to suspend oneself in mid-air. It’s a difficult skill to learn but once mastered it’s as if you’ve taught yourself how to stop time for those few moments of suspension. And while you’ve stopped time, all that exists is your slow, rhythmic breathing and the beautiful tapestry surrounding you.