you can’t drown if you can swim

here’s a story. I call it “a fish out of water” or “you can’t down if you can swim” or “party at la piscina”. I’m open to suggestions.

I decided long ago that first semester senior year would be the best time to study abroad. That way I would have a full year at Salem before I was away and hopefully become settled more. What should have changed my mind was when I learned that all Salem seniors have to take a two part senior seminar that involves writing a senior thesis but I wasn’t phased by that once I learned I could do it as an independent study. Wrong choice but alas desperate times call for desperate measures and I really wanted to come to Spain.

And so here I am, half running home from grammar class at 10:30 this morning to respond to an email for my advisor that sent me into a downfall of doubts and stress. So I did the only thing I know how to do when I get so overwhelmed I can’t think straight: I swam.

I’ve been meaning to go to the pool here ever since I remembered how much I hate to run and Natalie, one of my apartment mates, showed me where I was last week but illness and activities had kept me away until today, when it’s all there was left to do.

I sped walked there (a habit I’m trying to shed in an effort to become more Spanish) and spent a few minutes with the man at the front desk as he took my information and I paid. He gave me a small wooden board with a number on it “for when you swim”. Confused, but holding up the line, I went into the locker rooms…where there were no lockers and everyone was changing on the deck. 

I grew up deck changing but deck changing in the states is different than deck changing here so I opted for the bathroom stall. After that, I took my towel and goggles and left everything else hanging on a hook, as everyone else did. So very trusting and so very not my thing. I walked onto the pool deck and found there were actually two pools, both very full, and about five employees although none life guarding. Unsure of what to do, I went to the bleachers at the side and watched. Everyone else was wearing a swim cap, even the men, but there appeared to be no order to the chaos as some of the blue shirted employees taught classes in some lanes. A few minutes of observation led me to turning to the older lady next to me. “Can I swim wherever I want?” I asked. She explained that the other smaller pool to our left was for people with physical disabilities but yes I could swim wherever I wanted. I had just asked her about the red wooden number when one of the blue shirted guys came over and told me to come with him. “Flip flops” he said in English, pointing down. I was barefoot. “Whoops” I replied explaining in Spanish that mine were in the locker room. He showed me two lanes, one fast and one slow and took my number. I was told to shower first and then I asked if I could leave my towel to the side and once I had, got into the slow lane.

Ten minutes later I was flagged down by a white shirted employee (the lifeguard?!) from the opposite in of the pool and through an exchange of charades, informed I had to wear a swim cap. Once I swam back to the other side I was handed one and coniuted on.

The reverse process contained the same-I have back the cap and asked about the mysterious wooden number (the response was “no, done.” in English of course) and returned to the locker room full of half clothed women. 

I haven’t swam that long in a long time. I was trying to run but instead found myself lost in a world that normally is familiar to me. I wasn’t upset though. The motions of swimming calmed me, although they fixed none of my issues in regard to my thesis. But what is a paper when I’ve swum amongst strangers in Spain? 


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