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The one where I go dive blind

I had planned for a while to go and spend some time on Gili Air for several reasons, and it turned out that the timing for it was perfect. I needed a break, I needed a change of scenery and I needed to dive for myself a little bit.

It has been a long time since I felt like a student divewise, and one of the aims of this little trip was to take a Disabled Divers Instructor course in order to be able to certify them or give people a good dive experience despite some disabilities, sometimes severe ones. It turned out to be even better than I expected. Part of it was learning about the standards and certifications and other theory bits, and then the practical aspects. Pool to start with: how do you get a paralysed person into gear and in the water, or a blind one? Then how do you make the diving in the pool happen? How do you communicate with someone who can’t see? (and yes, I also asked myself: why would you want to go dive if you can’t see??)

So the pool session was learning about control, practical aspects, communication, and also to make sure none of the three of us would freak out once we got into the ocean with a blind mask.

Ready to dive...

Because yes, the next day, we did go dive blind. Actually, I got to wear the blind mask from the dive shop. You have to have a lot of trust in people when you can’t see and they are in charge of getting you on a boat, into the water and under. So they got me on the boat, I felt a bit left out because I couldn’t really see what was going on, I could recognise some voices, people were patting me on the shoulder asking me if I was OK quite often (which is when I started thinking “hey I am blind, not sick”). Then I got into my gear (and I know I can do that without seeing, but imagine for someone who is on their first dive…) and I backrolled into the ocean, blind. I admit there is a second when I thought “so this is what it’s like when you get in and you are afraid that a big tiger shark will come eat you” or something, since I couldn’t see anything coming. I know there are no bad-ass man-eating sharks, even less in the Gilis, but hey. And then I also thought “If it’s FINALLY whale shark day someone better give me back my fucking mask”.

Going to the boat

This dive was one of the weirdest experiences I ever had in the water. I had no idea where I was in the water, I could feel that I was going up and down way more than I should. I could feel it because of my ears, but that was it. I was trying to feel the current with my face or touching my bubbles coming out of my reg. The whole time my team mate “instructor" was holding my wrist and using my hand to signal to me, telling me things were going fine. Except I know she was stressed because I could hear her breathe quite fast. My breathing was fine, I was just very uncomfortable. I don’t like being uncomfortable in the water, the water is my happy place, it’s where I go to find peace, to think, it’s where I go when I hurt or grieve, it’s where I go when I am sad or cranky or restless, it’s where the best things ever happen most of the time.

Once in a while she was grabbing onto me to direct me somewhere. After 15 minutes of diving in the dark, I got to change my mask underwater back to my normal mask. When I opened my eyes again, our trainer Sander is in front of me giggling and he tells me I have been going up and down quite a bit. When I take out of my pocket a slate to write “I HATED THIS” on it, he laughs some more.

I got a break for a bit, then it was my turn to be the guide to the blind diver. Way easier that way, I had to make sure she wasn’t running into anything because she wanted to swim really fast, and then helped her get back up and out of her gear and back on the boat.

Since it was not enough fun, later that day we did paralysed diver simulation. I got carried on the boat, not allowed to use my legs from my waist down. I got into my gear and then got sort of thrown in the water, but that ended up all in all being way easier. I had special gloves with neoprene on them and I just swam around with my hands. I even spotted a couple of cool fish. When my “instructor” tried to control me with the tank valve like I was a terrible DSD I didn’t like it too much, so she gave up and she just held onto my bcd with I swam around in a 45 degrees angle more or less. Pretty tiring, but fine.

All in all, this was a great experience. I learnt about taking people diving that I thought could never dive, I had a great experience in the water, it made me rethink a lot of things about how I explain, how I teach and about who can dive.

Then I stayed around for a week as the PADI Instructor course started at Oceans 5, and it was great to be around a different team, in a different work environment and see how people are doing things. Going to Gili Air from Lembongan is a bit like going to Vegas as someone said. Great food, lots of bars, shops, etc. I also managed to do a few fun dives, I had one of the best night dives I had in ages: ornate ghost pipefish, mandarin fish, frogfish, cuttlefish, etc.

A great 10 days all in all. This time I won’t wait four years to come back, Gili Air!

Next news here might not be until December, because in November I will be mainly in Fiji holidaying and having fun. Yes, it’s a tough life I have.

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