Last week Eniola Abiola, a student of Dentistry at the UNILAG Medical school drowned at Elegushi beach in Lagos. Even though I am incredibly saddened by this tragic event, I am also filled with questions. The questions I have are are so many that I feel I might burst. I’ll share a few of them with you. Could she swim properly? Did she know that when caught in a riptide you mustn’t struggle for to do so is to waste energy that you will need later? Did she know that the only way to escape a riptide is to swim sideways out of it and not against it?
I’m fairly confident that the vast majority of Nigerians haven’t got the faintest idea what swimming really is. You probably think that it’s that thing that you do for fun, or maybe exercise if you’re good, but it isn’t, not really. I won’t even get started on those who go and splash about in the shallow end and have the audacity to say that they went for a swim. You didn’t go for a swim. You splashed about in the shallow end. Swimming above all things is a survival skill. It is just as important as running. With life being the unpredictable sequence of events that it is, it is likely that one day you will need this skill and if you do not have it you will drown.
If not for some accident in my childhood, it is quite possible that I would just as aquatically challenged as the bulk of you. When I was 4 or 5, I went to a swimming party. At the time I couldn’t swim. While most children who can’t swim are terrified of even the idea of a swimming pool, I wasn’t so affected. I jumped in with glee, only to begin drowning moments later. Now you may think that I was thrashing about and screaming but no, I lay face down in the water rigid.
Drowning doesn’t look like what we think it will. Our ideas of drowning are more closely associated with distress. A distressed person can yell, scream and indicate that he or she is in need of assistance but a drowning person just suffocates. It’s usually a very quiet affair. The adults around could not believe that a child who could not swim would throw himself into the deep end. After I was rescued, my parents were called and instructed to enlist me in swimming lessons. Nineteen years later I can tell you that they’ve paid off. It is not likely that I shall ever very easily drown.
As proficient as I am, and I am quite proficient, I know not to toy with the Lagosian coast. The Lagosian coast lies quite securely within the Bight of Benin. There’s a saying about the Bight of Benin, “Beware, beware the Bight of the Benin, for few come out though many go in.” You see, the bight of Benin is fraught with riptides and strong currents, to swim in it is to declare that you are ready for the taking. To frolic with the waves without any lifeguards present is to tempt fate. If capable swimmers are wary of it, then those who cannot swim shouldn’t even touch it.
Sometimes you think you’re safe standing by the surf’s edge, where the water is shallow, and the sand is soft. You forget that you cannot predict the next big wave, but you’re sure that if it came you’d be able to get away in time. All of a sudden, there it is. It’s the wave you’ve been warned about. You start to run, but the backwash slows you down, and the soft slippery sand doesn’t help matters. The wave crashes into you and you lose your composure; just as you right yourself and you try to escape anew the next swash breaks on you and you’re dragged out to sea. If you are ever going to learn anything about swimming, then you must learn how to tread water efficiently. This allows you to keep your head above water. The more efficiently you’re able to do this, the less energy you expend doing it, and the longer you last.
The aim is that you stay in the same spot until you can be rescued. If you’re in a developed country, this may take minutes, but if you’re in Nigeria it will probably take hours and I believe that treading water will help increase your survival chances immeasurably if you cannot swim back to shore. Because if you try to swim to shore and you exhaust yourself, you will drown.
Swimming at sea isn’t the same as doing lengths in a pool. It is a lot harder. If you are not a trained lifeguard, then do not try to rescue your friend out at sea. As heart wrenching as it may be you’ll only be putting yourself at risk. Even if you can get there and back by yourself, it will be significantly more difficult with another body in tow.
It would be easy to blame the government for the lack of emergency services, and the lack of public pools that you could use to learn and everything else in between, but what good will that do you? You must realize that the only person at risk is you.
I am not sure if the defiance of these rules that I have come to know as common sense is as a result of general ignorance or foolish bravado. I’m leaning towards foolish bravado at the moment for there is a victim every other month. The next time you go to the beach, take care won’t you? And don’t get on a ferry without a buoyancy aid.
Photo Credit: theeastafrican.co.ke