Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Ko'ox Báab Escuela de Integración Acuática
Who takes swimming or exercise classes in the Yucatán? First it is important to note that although Mérida itself is not on the water, the beach is a mere twenty minutes (or 13 pesos by bus) away. The average day time temperature from May through October is 100°F with about the same percentage of humidity. The Yucatecans love to spend time at the beach. They love to fish, drink, dance, eat fish, drink, and chat. They also love to visit the unique and mysterious cenotes (sink holes or fresh water pools) that dot the peninsula. Many of them have some kind of swimming pool, even if only a pool for dipping and cooling off slightly. (My feelings about having a swimming pool will come in another session.)
The point here is that most Yucatecans do not know how to swim. After we opened Ko’ox Báab (¡Vamos a Nadar!) (Let’s Go Swimming!) swim school, there seemed to be a deluge of incidents of fishermen drowning at sea. Like 17 in the first three months of 2008 between Progreso and Campeche. The bottom line was always the same, they did not know how to swim. Ok, not always the same….no radio…one who swims but had no lifejacket…one who swam to shore and left the nonswimmers holding on to a sinking boat….whatever. That is not the point. The point is that the grandparents did not learn to swim, they are now beyond that. (Ay! Dios Mio! El agua me da miedo!) The parents would like to swim but have had a fear installed in them that seems insurmountable at present. (Me gusta el agua pero me da mucho miedo!) They all want the young generation to swim. (Los chicos saben que calor hace y no conocen miedo!) The added bonus is that the kids can occupy themselves while they eat fish, drink, dance and chat at the beach. So we get a lot of kids learning to swim. The youngest have been three years old. The oldest “kid” is 27. All kids are proud to learn to swim, and the coordination and muscle development is amazing to watch.
Not surprising to me we have several adults who have taken our classes. Our first adults were the direct result of the fishermen’s accidents. One of my neighbors owns Pedal Loco, a motorcycle shop here in Mérida. He came with his kids for snorkel lessons. They own a boat in Telchac Puerto and go fishing almost every weekend. He wanted to have something he could do with his kids so they all wanted to learn to snorkel. I taught that class. They brought the first adult swim student, Jorge. He works at the motorcycle shop. He goes out fishing with them every weekend and does not know the first thing about floating or swimming. He came to a few classes, then they got busy and he just let it go. Ok, not the success story we are seeking, but he felt comfortable in the water after three of Pablo’s classes, he floated, tred water, and he could put his face in the water. He overcame major fears.
Now, a month or so later, we have a 27 year old adult with a bad shoulder whose wife is an avid scuba diver. He really wants to be able to swim. There is a 21 year old guy who had a bad experience (like someone pushing him into deep water…) and has a fear of water to overcome. He and his friends go to the beach all the time and he can not participate, but he is making great strides. A family from México City moved to the Yucatán but never learned to swim. The parents of some of the younger swim students are now asking if they too can take the swim class, they now feel they can overcome their fears.
So, okay, the school will not make us money rich. But the true definition of rich, my version and the Yucatecan version “¡Que rico!” have such broad inferences. A major reason I am here is that particular definition differential. Your food can be rico, the day, the weather, your luck, your life, seeing a young person conquer a fear. This school is a way to pay the bills and also feel good. Everyone wins in a small, somewhat private swim school, really. The instructor feels satisfied, the parents (and grandparents!) enjoy the time in the patio watching the kids learn and practice, and the students leave hungry, tired and very pleased with themselves. I am still somewhat shocked about how it all works here, right down to the required swim cap and goggles, but it is fun in the grand scheme of all things considered.