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Learning to swim is the ghetto

Artist: Naomi Gennery

Before you start on me, yes you are correct. At my big big age... I still can't swim.

It’s not my fault, I swear. The amount of times water has nearly written me off is uncanny. (As in I don't even take baths that are too deep for the sake of PTSD.) But alas, it is 2022 and thus time to learn a new skill. A few weeks ago was my first adult swimming lesson.

Ghetto doesn't even begin to describe it.

I stroll into the changing room to get changed. All black Slazenger tings (you know the vibes.) I probably would have splashed out on some Nike, but let's be honest, it’s pricey and I didn’t know how long ‘learning to swim’ was going to be on the top of my list. As I squeeze my round head into a freshly baby powdered swimming hat, I hear a trickle of water coming from an adjacent cubicle. There’s me thinking it was a shower. I look down. The colour of the liquid assures me that this was not the case.

I quickly slide into my flip flops and flap myself over to the showers. I give myself a good rinse (because I, unlike some, have home training) and drip over to the poolside with 3 minutes to spare. Still traumatised by my cubicle experience, I stand shivering from both the cold and first-time nerves. I notice an elderly rasta man approaching the poolside.

(For storytelling purposes let’s call him Winston.)

“Ah yuh firs time?”

“Yes uncle it is”


Although this exchange between Winston and I is short, it is reassuring. If this man in his 60s was brave enough to learn how to swim then I'm sure I could be brave enough to learn too. Also, he reminded me of a funny great-uncle so naturally, my spirit just tek to ‘im.

Someone once told me a joke. There are two types of people in this world. People that can swim and black people. Now, I have a dark sense of humour so this actually made me laugh. But when I deeped it, the stigma of black people not being able to swim has creeped in and out of my family way too often. So alongside learning to swim for purely selfish reasons like going on a trip to the islands and not dying at sea, I thought it was also time to break a generational curse.

Our swimming instructor checks us in and instructs us to get into the pool. In my head, I’m thinking rah already. But I guess if I want to learn to swim, I have to actually, you know, get in the water. The instructor gives us a brief introduction, explaining how deep each area of the pool is, and then immediately says “show me what you can do”.

Exsqueeze me sir? I can’t do anything. Hence why I am here.

The regulars start setting pace one by one, some graceful and others fast. Before I had time to question whether this was actually a beginner’s class, it was time for the newbies to swim. Winston goes first. Poor Winston, he was doing more splashing than swimming. But the level of conviction he had meant we had no other choice but to rate him.

My turn next. Yikes. I do a sort of swim/walk/hop to the other side of the pool, swallowing water at irregular intervals. From the outside looking in, it probably looked very questionable, but at least I didn’t drown - that’s all that counts, right?

Our swimming instructor takes some notes and goes through the basics with us, like breathing under the water and using our arms and legs. By the end of the session (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), I actually found it quite fun. I leave the pool ready to change into my land clothes when my instructor stops me and says: “Well Done. You just need to trust yourself.”

And that’s the message I want to leave you with. Yes, trying something new takes bravery and can sometimes be very ghetto. But you’ve got this. You just need to trust yourself.

P.S. It’s my 5th week and I can officially do the doggy paddle the width of a pool. Brap. It’s not much but it is a big improvement from where I was before.

Learning to drive is next on my list…

Written by Zakiyyah Deen

Zakiyyah is an actor, writer and vo artist based in London. She enjoys writing compelling pieces that will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. Check out her blog or follow her on insta @zakiyyahdeen for more.

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