Under the sea

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"Cold ... that was my first thought," Shatha thought.

By Shatha Alshamsi

Yallah, mama and baba are waiting in the car!” Abdulla urged from the entrance of our shared bedroom, before racing down the stairs and to the car.

“I’m coming!”

My glossy blue, fish-shaped keychain jangled as I swiftly zipped my bag shut and hauled it to the car, where my parents and brother waited. The two-hour car ride to Fujairah was filled with constant laughter, games of “I spy,” and repeatedly asking my dad “How much further?” unable to contain our enthusiasm.

***

Our instructor, Youssef, greeted us with a jovial smile at the entrance of the center, to which we arrived right on schedule. He led us inside and showed my brother and I the dive shop as my parents signed papers at the front desk. It looked like a quaint shop from the outside, but the inside boasted an abundance of every piece of equipment a diver would need, from wetsuits hanging in all colors and sizes to oxygen tanks equipped with their buoyancy devices neatly aligned against the grey wall to our right. On the opposite side, the ceiling-to-floor windows bragged the sight of the deep blue ocean and boats, shimmering under the late summer sun, lined up on the dock waiting to be driven out. The smell of sunscreen and ocean water infiltrated my nose. The bustling of other instructors and guides could be heard from the rooms towards the back of the shop, their exact words concealed by the pop music playing through the speakers on the ceiling. 

My bag landed with a thud on the shop’s changing room floor. The first item I pulled out was my wetsuit, neatly folded on top of my other equipment. The tedious act of putting it on always took the longest due to its tight-fit, neoprene rubber material, and the unfamiliarity of it on my body. Ten minutes later, I donned my black wetsuit. My white snorkel and mask hung loosely around my neck, and my feet were decked in special anti-slip boots.

Looking at myself in the mirror, I felt proud for going through the training, passing my tests, and obtaining an international deep diving license. 

I was ready to go.

***

The boat rocked under our weights as we stepped on to it. It was not long before the wind whooshed, and we were moving at full speed, which was not much due to the boat’s small size. Youssef stood under the shade next to the driver, whereas my brother and I could not sit still, looking down into the water in hopes of catching the mere sight of fish or turtles. We were unaware of the lot of them that awaited us beyond. Dibba Rock was getting closer in view and soon enough the driver was searching for the right spot to kill the engine and park. 

“Alright shabab, get your fins on and fasten your BCDs to your tanks,” commanded Youssef.

Immediately, my brother and I partook in the last steps before our descent. 

“BCD attached. Weights on. Regulator checked. Air works. Hoses secured. Okay done,” I whispered to myself, checking off the mental list I have memorized in preparation for my dives. 

Taking a seat at the edge of the boat, I looked back at my parents who were standing behind us. My father had a camera in his hands, taking the thousandth picture of the day. My mother, right next to him, told him to “get the view” and “make sure all three of them show.” My brother gave me a look and mouthed “they’re crazy” to which we laughed before getting an inquisitive look from Youssef to our left, preoccupied with his tank.

“Okay, say your goodbyes or forever hold your peace,” Youssef joked before pushing himself off the edge of the boat and into the clear water below. 

Putting the regulator inside my mouth, I looked back at my parents waving goodbye then at my brother and synchronously said, “3, 2, 1” before jumping off at the same time, a habit we initiated from our very first dive together. 

***

Cold. 

That was my first thought.

 Eventually though, the water seeped into my wetsuit, warming against my skin and retaining my body temperature. We then descended as our BCDs deflated and we dropped 12 feet below sea level. The blue water embraced us in its depth. A few meters of swimming and a school of fish swam past us. Utterly identical, the dozens of fish swam in synchronization, not acknowledging the ocean’s guests. Below us, the floor of sand was littered with colorful water plants, nestled between the assortment of corals. My eyes were met with the tiniest of fish, whizzing in and out and through the corals. I looked around in astonishment, taking in the magnificent view around me.  My brother was equally enchanted, and Youssef watched us behave like kids in a candy store. After our initial excitement wore off, we decided to take pictures to commemorate our deepest dive thus far. Observing the environment around me made me wonder what it would be like to be a sea animal, oblivious to the world on the surface just like how humans are oblivious to what awaits them under the sea.

An hour of swimming later and taking pictures of every creature ranging from crabs to fish to turtles, we agreed to ascend to the surface. We climbed the boat and were greeted with curious looks from our parents. 

“So,” my father queried, “what did you see?”