There’s nothing quite like a swim after tarāwīh…
I slipped gently into the pool and began treading water, looking around for a direction to swim in. One of the Saudi youth was looking at me intently and splashing away to himself in his own unique way.
I find it a little awkward when I don’t understand what someone’s saying and so when he addressed me with words that were completely lost on me, I decided to politely nod and said “Yes, hello. How are you?”
He ducked under the water, only to pop back up shortly after.
This time I managed to isolate the phrase “Yā shabāb!” from the rest of the incoherent speech that he directed towards me before he reverted to his disappearing and re-appearing trick.
I decided to focus on his yellow goggles and matching nose clip and reflected on how they softened the look of urgency on his face that would have otherwise been very decipherable.
He surfaced once more and I started to get the impression that he wanted to tell me something much more than merely to welcome me to the pool. My eyes narrowed as I scanned my phrasal memory for clues as to what it could possibly be.
I think he must’ve understood that I was trying, however hopelessly, to engage with him as he held out his hand to me and managed to say “Ay…” before disappearing beneath the water again.
With each resurface I detected a greater desire to be understood on his face.
I took a wild stab in the dark and cautiously asked “I’m sorry, but uh… are you… perhaps, drowning?”
I held out an arm to him realising that this gesture might be better understood that any oral inquisition. He immediately grabbed on to me and having confirmed my suspicion I pulled him to the edge of the pool; where he, in between coughing up water and spitting, managed to smile and looked generally grateful.
I have a friend, who although not a regular swimmer, related that he’s seen two near drownings in pools this past year.
I’d have to say that health and safety in general doesn’t appear very high on the list of priorities in any Saudi Arabian work ethos that I’ve ever come across. I think that swimming pools are a good enough example of the lackadaisical approach here as any.
There doesn’t appear to be a “life guard” per-se. Sure, there’s a guy wearing heavy army boots and a security uniform complete with a matching hat, sitting near the pool (most of the time). But his job appears more to be collecting a fee from the swimming public (and playing with his phone in between completing such a task), more than to jump into the pool and rescue drowning people.
Even the design of the pool doesn’t really seem to have had novice swimmers in mind. For example, you have the deep end and then there’s the deeper end.
I’ll never forget the first time I went swimming when first arriving here.
We went after ‘īshā` and having swam for about an hour there must have been about twenty of us left in the pool when the lights suddenly, and without warning, all went out. I was left with about as much visual comprehension of my whereabouts in relation to the rest of the world, as you have when you wake in the middle of the night and only have the faint glow of a digital alarm clock to guide to the bedroom door.
My naive British nature had me waiting expectantly for an announcement to be broadcast across a tannoy system informing us all to stay calm as there’d been a power outage in the building, but no!
“They must be closing for the night” my friend informed me.
But we’re still in the pool?! Surely they could have forewarned us or at least provided us with enough light to swim to the edge of the pool. Wouldn’t it also be helpful for the staff to have sufficient lighting to check for any bodies floating face-down before they look towards locking the gates at night?
I suppose it is true that, even in the dark, swimming in any direction (bar downwards) will eventually bring you into contact with the pool-edge and thereby provides a means of exit. But putting this simple truth aside aren’t there easier ways to empty a pool than just switching all the lights off?
Aren’t there things like whistles here or an Arabic equivalent to “Everybody out! I want to go home!” Well, apparently not.
Anyway, I’ve made a mental note to myself to research some elementary Arabic phrases that I can use in any future visits to a KSA pool.
Simple phrases like “Can I help?”, “Are you drowning?” and “Brother, are you sure those Speedo trunks that you’re wearing are halāl?”