Saturday, May 10, 2014

Open Water, Open Sky

Well, it's been a while since my last post due to a lack of stable internet in certain rural areas, and I'm dreadfully behind. For now, since you have read about the "fake spring break," it's time to tell you about the real one. For the weeks preceding spring break, my fellow CIEE students and I were discussing what to do, and from the beginning I was an advocate of spending the week on Pemba SCUBA diving. In the end, that ended up being the only option in the running that didn't involve spending over half of the break just travelling, so Pemba it was for Emily, Renee, and I (I also like to think that my persuasive Powerpoint presentation had something to do with the decision). We started out on March 28 by heading to Dar es Salaam by bus, and when we got there we indulged in some delicious Japanese food followed by a delicacy we wouldn't have expected in our wildest dreams--frozen yogurt. We stayed at the YMCA that night, and in the morning we boarded the ferry to Unguja (also known as mainland Zanzibar or just Zanzibar, although technically Zanzibar is made up of Unguja and Pemba islands) and finally to Pemba. The ferry to Pemba was hot and miserable, taking six hours to reach Pemba. But it was worth it when we arrived at Swahili Divers and ate our first meal there. After an endless supply of rice and beans, we had soup, fresh seafood, and even a little dessert every lunch and dinner.
The next day, we began our diving courses with our instructor, Beltran. Emily and Renee were doing their open-water certification and I was doing the advanced open-water certification, which meant that for the first three days we did separate dives, but for the last two we were together. The NAUI advanced open-water course consists of a deep dive, a drift dive, a low-visibility dive, a peak-performance bouyancy dive, and a night dive. However, there is no night diving on Pemba because of the remoteness of the location, so this was not included in my course. I won't bore you with the details of the technical dives (though if you want me to feel free to ask) but will say that on our first dive we saw clams as big as children and nudibranchs that looked like neon stickers on the corals. When we weren't diving, we were relaxing by the sea and reading almost constantly.
On Wednesday, it was my birthday and Emily, Renee and I got to do our dives together. It was on one of those dives that we saw a sea turtle, but on the next day's dive that we were most reminded of the East Australian Current scene in "Finding Nemo." Although this dive wasn't supposed to be the drift dive required for the advanced open-water course, the current was incredibly strong. So we floated along, trying to kick efficiently and not to run into each other, and Renee and Emily gained an experience they weren't really supposed to have but, like many of the experiences that we didn't expect to be given this semester, they handled it with grace. In that current as well as in other experiences, I have felt like Marlin in the aforementioned "Finding Nemo" scene, amazed at other people's (or in Marlin's case, turtles') calm handling. But as I have always(?) said, studying abroad is like finding your son--you can't give up even when there are sharks (they might turn out to be nice people sort of). Before I get too caught up in this analogy, let me get back to the actual dive. It was a challenge beyond the natural challenge of the drift (and beyond the philosophical connections to "Finding Nemo") for my right foot because it had been stung by a sea urchin as we were walking to the boat. I have been stung by an urchin before, but that was a small one and it stung my fingers. This time, I freaked out a lot more than the first time and probably a lot more than I should have. While I was on the boat complaining and waiting for Beltran, another more experienced diver was further worrying me by discussing possible infections. When Beltran got to the boat and learned the news, his reaction was immediately reassuring and embarassing considering my whining. "A sea urchin? Oh, come on, that's like nothing!" Their spines are made of keratin, the same material as humans' hair and nails, so they will disolve once in the skin. The remedy for their sting is to break up the spines so that they will disolve faster by--to my dismay at the time--pounding the skin with a dive weight. I wasn't up to doing this to my own sad foot, but Renee was quick to oblige. I ignored her excitement and rendered up my foot. Actually, it worked like a charm and no infection ensued (although sadly for Renee and Emily I was the only person who did not get an infected bug bite or blister on my foot, but those are their stories to tell or not tell). 
On Friday, we officially gained our new certifications and headed back to Dar es Salaam (this time by plane, but 24 hours after our last dive), and on Saturday we headed back to Iringa so that on Sunday, we could set out for our fieldwork component in Mufindi. But that's another story for another day. 

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