Riptides and Refugees

From Planet 243

by Hanan Issa

Hanan Issa recounts the thrill of feeling more alive through sea-swimming, as experienced from Ogmore beach to Bali; but draws on mythology and present-day realities to convey what the dangers of this same body of water mean for the devalued lives of others.

I love water. Always have. Bath time was my favourite growing up. I would splish and splash till the blue fluffy bath mat was drenched and my fingertips wrinkled like prunes. Every chance I get I’ll swim in the sea. Sunny days, windy days – it doesn’t matter. I even swam during a storm once. The weather was miserable that evening but my sister and I couldn’t help it. There was something calling us into the sea. We joked about it being the home of a siren or a jinn (a supernatural spirit from Arabic mythology) but I know we both felt a little uneasy so we didn’t swim out too far. Our family stood on Ogmore beach wailing about rip currents. And I know they’re a real threat. Especially as the rising sea level is changing our coastlines making rip currents much more intense. But that night, we couldn’t hear my family’s warnings over the electric roar of the waves tossing us like dolls. I remember being sat in the back on the drive home dripping onto a plastic bag feeling more alive than I had in a long time. It’s the risk I think. I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I’m rubbish with heights but still, there is something addictive about the combination of water and danger isn’t there? For my thirtieth birthday I swam with sharks in Bali. Again, I breathed in a fusion of fear and excitement like apple-flavoured shisha. I even touched one. A shiny silver body flicked away from me, grazing my arm like sandpaper. Apparently sharks don’t have scales like other fish, their ‘skin’ is made up of rows and rows of tiny teeth. As if sharks aren’t scary enough. But the thrill of swimming with one of nature’s monsters was hypnotic.

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