Swimming next to a real haenyeo is incredible and the experience felt both comfortable and fun. At the start of ‘classroom time’ we begin by singing a traditional haenyeo songs. While I do not understand the words, I know they are heartbreaking. These are the times I wish my ability to speak and understand Korean were far better.
▲ Photo courtesy Wanda Wynn
Over the past few weeks, during our in-water classes, my fear of drowning has vanished. I’m as buoyant as a cork floating in a pond. My efforts to swim 8-10 feet down and touch the bottom of the ocean floor are unsuccessful. It’s just not happening for me. One haenyeo tried to teach me how to swim to the bottom and after many failed attempts she smiled, shook her head, and said “no, no,” in Korean. It made me laugh. Then, my classmates tried to help by advising me to be like an arrow and shoot to the bottom. Still, I seemed to have difficulty keeping my body straight. I’m more like a boomerang and not an arrow. Of course, I’m sure this incredible floating ability has everything to do with wearing a wetsuit and having no weight belt. For now, I’m more concerned with relaxing and learning to properly breathe. Plus, swimming is great exercise and I’m having a blast!
▲ Photo courtesy Wanda Wynn
To help students practice picking up shells from the bottom of the ocean, the haenyeo headed into the water first and scatter hundreds, maybe thousands, of sea snails in the area where we swim. This past week, at some point during our diving practice, Mariah, Samantha (my two friends) and I became distracted by dozens of chicken eggs that had been thrown into the area of the ocean where we were swimming. Mariah managed to swim to the bottom, several times, and bring up a few dozen eggs. I cheered her on but secretly I was envious that I couldn’t stop bobbing around at the top of the water. After class, Mariah showed the principal her eggs; yes, we have a principal. He was none too pleased as the eggs were part of a shamanic ritual that had now been desecrated. This can’t be good luck. Suddenly, I was no longer unhappy with my buoyancy. Nevertheless, if a huge black hole opens up and swallows us next week, I know who to blame.
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