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Learning to Swim

Washington, District of Columbia

Story Narrative:

"My relationship with water is a bit of a contradiction. I’m originally from an island in the Caribbean famous for its beautiful beaches and water. As a plane flies into the airport, you can see the water getting lighter as it gets closer to the coast and it kind of glows. It’s very beautiful. My grandmother’s house is located very near to the beach. Basically, you’re on the road and you cross the street and you’re on the beach, so at night, you can hear the waves crashing. Despite all of this, I didn’t learn to swim until about seven years ago. As much as I loved being in the water, I was always terrified of having water cover my face. Even as an adult, sometimes in the shower, as water covered my face there was a moment of panic. Additionally, my grandmother had a very fearful relationship with water as well. She is traditionally from the countryside of Barbados—the idea that water was dangerous; you had to be very careful--That water and fire take away everything. So, I’d go to the beach and I’d get in the water, and I’d splash around, but I never really learned how to swim officially.

So, I moved to the United States, and I spent my summers in Barbados. Even if I was here in New Jersey. We didn’t go to the beach in New Jersey because why would you go to the beach in New Jersey if you knew what the beach in Barbados was like—we were very snobby about our water, our beach choices. Years past and I moved to D.C. about eight years ago, and I was talking to a co-worker of mine, and his mother was Cuban, being from the Caribbean, and I mentioned that I didn’t know how to swim, and I kind of looked at me and he laughed. Katrina, such a stereotype. Okay, let’s make a deal, if you teach me how to swim, I’ll feed you. He was someone in early 20s, I’d just feed him. So, we did. We went to the local pool in Silver Spring, and he taught me how to swim. It was a very liberating experience because I knew I loved being in the water, near the water. It’s very soothing, you know I can splash my hands in the water and just lose time. But the ability to move through the water—to feel weightless—is something you just cannot describe. I remember the first time he got me into the deep end; I did my doggie paddle or my elementary breaststroke back and forth across the pool. It was exciting. One afternoon, he couldn’t meet me, so I just went by myself. I figured there were lifeguards if anything goes wrong, someone will notice!

The shallow end was crowded with kids and their families. I just went back and forth across the deep end, and I just felt this really liberating, free, kind of weightless grin on my face . . . this idea of moving through water. There’s something very peaceful, very calm about it that is very hypnotic. So, even though I came to it late in life, I can say that water really is a very beautiful, very pleasing, very soothing sort of thing. This idea of growing up on an island and being surrounded by this beautiful landscape, this beautiful water, and just being able to enjoy even if I wasn’t swimming, walking near it or hearing it crash on the beach at night and standing and letting the waves role over your toes and to feel the sand, or standing and looking out across the water, you can see it getting a deeper blue the farther out you go, but there is something quite magical about water.

I think that’s why so many people are drawn to water and so many communities are concerned and fearful about the future of their waterways because it’s something that I think is instinctively and innately a part of our make-up that we crave the connection to the water around us."

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