Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reflections of a Human Buoy

Right now, I thought to myself, I feel like a submarine captain looking for underwater mines. I surfaced to check my bearings and adjust my mask and snorkel before I returned to my rounds. I was swimming laps around the children’s swimming rope, trolling the sea bottom for any dangerous debris or sea creatures that would hinder the children’s afternoon. Within a few minutes, they would all arrive—a Hino-load of children and their parents, ready for the weekly conditioning swim in Nagada harbor.

A pool and the ocean--how awesome is that?
Last course, I was joining the hordes of students in a migration around the 1000 meter rope to reach a mile. Now, I was perfecting the art counting to sixteen in speeds comparable to a computer’s processor, picking out bobbing heads and colorful goggles in a 360 degree span innumerable times over the two hours. In other words, I stood at the children’s 25 meter rope.

In addition to my flawless counting skills, my simple addition was polished into a well-oiled machine as I soon was able to rattle off the personalized number of laps each child had completed, how many were left, what was required for lower-level prize versus the upper level prize, as well as who the nearest competitors were every time every child reached the end of the rope. Impressive, no?

More cool things found in the water: ships (and a tiny outrigger canoe)
Lest you think that I only honed my math skills, I also engaged in search and rescue missions (lost goggles are a serious thing), practiced water weightlifting (less-confident children still swam laps…attached to my arm), considered opening my own pediatric office (sunscreen, water, Twisties, and bandaids—come one, come all), and refined my zoological expertise as I monitored their numerous acquisitions (“no, you can’t squeeze the sea cucumber right here” (they excrete a sticky, goopy, stringy white mess everywhere in defense against eager 8-year-old hands) and “please put the starfish back in the water now” and “why don’t you put your hermit crabs back on shore?”).

Meet Jack. He and his cousin Sam are the POC school mascots.
And then there were the swimming field trips, like to Coastwatchers or Madang Resort, where we took the children to a real, honest-to-goodness pool where  there was no seaweed to swipe at their legs and silt to be churned until the water was black. Of course, without a rope the greatest entertainment became tackling the teacher, until I and the other adult each had at least five children wrapped like squids around our arms, legs, and torsos as we towed them through the water. Perhaps the greatest feat of those occasions was when we hollered “time to go!” and then attempted to leave with the same numbers of children, bags, towels, water bottles, sunscreens, hats, shirts, shoes, goggles…

Yes, these are definitely a skill set found only in the very highest echelon of navy sailors.... or in the daily humdrum of a human buoy.