On hot summer mornings, sitting on the beach watching the sea and drinking my morning coffee I said to my husband that it was memories of moments such as these that would keep me going through the winter months. And so, here we are on a cold and very wet January morning, and I’m remembering those precious moments at the beach during the summer.
In recent years Ramadan has taken over a lot of the summer, coming as it has done right in the middle so the weeks preceding it have been spent in preparation, and the couple of weeks after in making up for missed days of fasting, and fasting optional extra days. In 2016 it took up most of the month of June and the beginning of the month of July with the most of the rest of that month spent on fasting for one reason or another, so summer for us really didn’t start until August.
All the world and his mother came to visit Algeria during the month of last August, or at least, so it seemed, and quite a few of them came to visit us. So it was a very busy month, as, in addition to catching up with friends whom I hadn’t seen in a long while, we also had a guest staying for a while, the son of a friend staying for a few weeks and the son of another friend came for the day a few times. The summer seemed to go by in a blur of preparing meals, washing up, brushing the sand out of the house, rinsing and hanging out swimwear and towels, and preparing cakes and tea and coffee.
But whenever we got the chance my husband and I went off to the beach around 8.00 in the morning with our flask of coffee, towels and deck chairs and whoever of our children wanted to come with us. Often it was just the two of us and we bought lovely hot, soft croissants on the way and had a leisurely breakfast after a stimulating swim. Our favourite beach is about a 20 minute car ride from home, and early as it was, we were never the first there, but the crowds only started to come as we were leaving.
I love the sea, and never get tired of it. I only learnt to swim when I was 30 and so swimming is still very much a novelty to me. A friend of mine from work and her sister volunteered to teach me to swim in the public swimming pool in Old Street, London and I went twice with them. The first time, one of the sisters put her hand underneath me to support me in order to teach me to float, so I closed my eyes and tried, only to find myself falling, falling, falling, to what seemed to me down to the bottom of the pool – I couldn’t tell you for sure as I had my eyes tightly clenched shut. As I lay there I thought to myself, ‘they will come and save me any minute now, they won’t let me drown’, but after a few minutes when it became apparent that nobody was going to come to my rescue, I started to flail around in the water and sure enough one of the sisters came to my aid. When I asked her what took her so long she said that I was just calmly floating on the top of the water……upside down, and she thought I was enjoying myself!!!! Then she showed me how to move forward in the water using the movement of my arms and legs, but somehow, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move forward because……I kept swimming backwards, which of course, elicited various comments about the ‘backward’ Irish. The following week when we returned to the pool I didn’t want to get in as I was absolutely convinced the water level of the pool was higher than previously. This time, when I did get in the water I learnt the rudiments of keeping afloat and moving about in the water without totally disgracing myself.
Soon after we travelled to Algeria and I couldn’t wait to try out my new swimming skills only to find that swimming in the sea was a whole new ball game. I insisted on putting on adult arm bands, to which my husband strongly objected on the grounds that I was probably the only adult on the whole coastline between Tunisia and Morroco that was wearing them. I told him he was just thinking of the insurance payout he would receive if I drowned, to which he replied that it would cost him the whole amount to ship my body back to England! Who said romance is dead. Eventually I took my courage in my hands and went into the sea without the arm bands and gained some confidence.
I didn’t swim again in the sea after I became Muslim until we had been living in Algeria a few years and we went to a beach that was very stony and the sea was rough, not a good combination for an inept swimmer like myself. I had lost any little confidence in my swimming ability and when I couldn’t keep my balance on the sea bed I clung to my eldest daughter’s arm for dear life, until she told me, in no uncertain terms, that she didn’t want to lose permanent use of her limb. It didn’t help that I was weak from laughing.
|Where the boys go swimming|
Now I love going into the sea, but only when the sea is not too rough, because many is the time when I found myself, despite all my best efforts, being carried down along the beach, with my husband standing on the beach beckoning me to come back….as if I had any choice in the matter. Once or twice I had to ask him to come in and get me because, no matter how I tried, I just could not move back up the beach, and of course, it didn’t help matters much that I was laughing my head off. But in he came and brought me back up along the sea bed and acted as my anchor while I swam…..much the same as he does in life may Allah bless him.
|Another place the boys love to swim|
All of my children swim like fish Allahibarek, and the two youngest spent the summer in the sea. They went off with their friends to a place where it is so rocky that only boys and men go to swim as there is no opportunity for gently walking slowly into the sea until you get accustomed to it which is the way most women like to get into the sea, but instead they have to dive straight in from rocks. My youngest son spent most of his summer fishing for octopus….with a spear. Throughout the summer he caught about 40 kilos and sold it all to our neighbour next door whose son has a restaurant, so I was very grateful that I didn’t have to cringe every time he returned with his catch.