Many Ugandans cannot swim and actually fear water. I was one of them until I decided to try and make the water my friend. Well, sort of.
I have always envied swimmers; their ability to blithely move in water like many of us walk on land. The sight of water, however small or vast the expanse, causes many Ugandans to shrink away in fear.
One can safely assume that if a ferry containing one hundred passengers were to sink, a good portion of those on board would tragically drown. Our beaches are simply places where we dabble about within the safety of the shore and then congratulate ourselves with fish and chips.
As a child, I once attached myself to a motorboat and shrieked with glee as I was dragged behind it at great speed. Things were not so funny when my hands slipped and my feet could not feel the comfort of a sandy bottom. I survived and proceeded to avoid water religiously ever since. As an adult however, I watched children in swimming pools and eventually realized that it was high time I put away my fear and plunged in the deep end (theoretically speaking).
The venue for my swimming lessons was the Kabira Country Club in Bukoto. An enormous swimming pool like that is just the place to give one the sense that a grand undertaking is in progress and wonders will occur.
My swimming instructor was Isaac Nakabaale, who I was assured is one of the best instructors in Uganda. I understood how good when I did not see him changing into swimming gear. Rather, he ordered me into the pool and proceeded to issue instructions from the comforts of the edge of the pool.
Isaac has been a member of the Uganda national swimming team since 2004, and participated in the World Islamic Championships, the World Championships in Canada, and the Cana Zone 4 African Championships. He is now a full time trainer at Kampala International School Unit. I felt I was in good hands.
“A do-it-yourself swimming course?” I wondered. “I dare him to teach me anything without getting into the water.” It’s a good thing I did not put money on that bet.
The first thing a learner has to do is familiarize themselves with the water. First I was told to scoop water with my hands and pour it over my head three times. Then I was told to walk from one end of the pool (the shallow side obviously) to the other without touching the edges for support. Then I was told to jog from one end of the pool to another. I found that assignment particularly difficult.
Next, I was taught to breathe while swimming. Standing straight in the water, I took a deep breath and immersed my head entirely in the water. As soon as you are underwater, let it all out. If you are emitting lots of bubbles, you’ve just about got it. Stand up again and take a deep breath. Immerse yourself and blow it all out. Repeat.
Isaac was a great comfort to me, on the edge though he was. As my attempts to manipulate water were tediously slow, he did not walk alongside me much, but stayed on the far side of the pool. He did not allow me time to panic, issuing instructions curtly in such a manner that I was to follow them at once. He heaped praise upon my head for every move I completed, boosting my confidence immeasurably and preventing me from dawdling. The lessons only lasted an hour after all.
“Good work, Lindsey! Now let’s do the breathing five more times. One, two, three, go!” he said.
Next, I had to learn to manipulate the water with your hands. Sticking my elbows out and holding my palms close to my chest, palms touching and the ends of my fingers facing straight ahead. I then was instructed to push my arms forward in a straight line and adjust my palms so that they face outward. Then I pulled my arms outwards in a straight line. When they are level with the sides of my body, I pulled them inwards again to the center of my chest and out again. I repeated procedure while walking from one end of the pool to the other until I felt I had mastered it.
After that, it’s really just touch and go. You have to remember to be as relaxed as possible, even if it means just letting yourself sink until you are one with the water, to acclimatize to it until it feels like another natural environment that you can move around it. Don’t think too hard about what you’re doing, and just let it come naturally. For many new swimmers, it is simply a matter of practice.
For my part, I wanted to learn ‘now-now’. Starting about two meters from the edge of the pool, I was told to just try and swim! Kicking my legs out and using the hand procedure I was taught, I was told to move forward to the end of the pool. Remember that at the same moment you push your arms forward, you must lift both your legs and kick them out at the same time. I must have looked like a frolicking tadpole but I made it to the edge of the pool.
Once I felt like I got the hang of it, I stepped back four meters from the edge of the pool and swam forth again. A technique for learners is to kick your legs like a frog and paddle with your hands at the same time. Fingers must remain close together and your palms straight out to have a streamline effect. This technique allows you to swim with your head out of the water as well, so you can learn to float.
The tricky bit is learning how to breathe while swimming. If you remain underwater, you will move like a fish. Things become difficult when you want to come up to breathe.
Again the solution to this is patience. As I observed, the difference between adults and children is that adults are too busy trying to do everything textbook right, whereas children just, you know, let themselves go. Once I stopped trying, I was able to feel myself gliding gracefully through the water. And then I thought about the breathing technique and it was back to swallowing water and floundering.
Once you’ve mastered the above, practice, patience and remaining relaxed whilst in the water is all you need to conquer it. In a manner of speaking.
In terms of exercise, swimming is fun and healthy for everyone, whatever their age. The pain in my thighs for instance was evidence of how swimming works practically all the muscles in the body. Isaac explained that swimming is especially good for those afflicted with asthma. If started at a tender age, an asthmatic child may even mature free from any asthmatic complications. This is because it is great for the body’s cardiovascular system, improving the body’s use of oxygen without overworking the heart.
Swimming also feels really good once your lazy, groggy body has adjusted to the exercise. I would definitely recommend it as an activity to pursue, not just for exercise but also for pure fun. So dice in! After the fear comes pure exhilaration.
For lessons, contact Isaac Nakabaale at 0772-436439
By Lindsey Kukunda