(Read more about it here: Why Africans Don't Swim.)
Our girls happened to learn to swim at a strangely young age. They love to swim. They dive down, they tread water, they are completely comfortable. This is something that is very scary for our Congolese friends to witness. Your baby just jumped in the pool! Help her! Help her! By the time our children come up for air, everyone poolside is clutching their chests.
When I was pregnant with Charlotte we went to Victoria Falls with a group of American and Congolese friends. We decided to go to the infamous Devil's Pool, which requires a bit of swimming in order to get there. Soon after we jumped in the river, our Congolese friend clung to me. He chose that moment to privately confess he couldn't swim, but had been too ashamed to tell the others. And so I crossed the Zambezi with a baby in my belly and I grown man hanging on to my bathing suit.
[A photo of this event has been withheld to protect the innocent.
But nobody's stopping you from searching the Mama Congo archives. Ahem.]
To bring the gift of swimming to our favorite Congolese friends, Jill and I have had this grand plan to get Mama Youyou and Mama Vida in the pool. Without notice, one day last week we said, "Alright ladies, you're going to swim today!" There could be no hesitations. No hemming and hawing about not having bathing suits. They would face their fear. Mama Youyou was totally game. Mama Vida was nonverbal.
Luckily one of our friends who happens to be really good at helping folks get comfortable with the water, wanted to help the mamas swim too. Up until this point, Mama Vida still hadn't agreed to learn. Mama Youyou asked her if she would just sit close by for moral support. But when it came time to walk to the pool, Mama Vida remembered some "important tasks" she still needed to do. I said to Mama Youyou, "Maybe she's too scared. Let's not force her." So we left without her.
As Mama Youyou went to step in the water, Mama Vida appeared, jumped in the pool and had no problem swimming. (Weird. We still have absolutely no explanation for her hesitations.)
Buoyed by Mama Vida's fearlessness of the water, Mama Youyou went to step in the pool...
She just couldn't do it...
The girls cheered her on...
The rest of the time Andrew held her hand, walked with her around the shallow end, and got her comfortable with the water. Meanwhile, Mama Vida swam circles around them. Literally. Everyone loves a show-off best friend.
Now Mama Youyou's telling all her friends and family they really should learn to swim. Because everyone should!
*Africans don't swim, except for Mama Vida and many, many other competent African swimmers.
P.S. The most amazing swimming I've ever witnessed was by these boys and their empty water-bottles-as-flotation-devices in the rapids between the two Congos. I could barely watch.
|Brazzaville swimmers. (TASOK folks, see our hill in the background?)|