The last few days, as half of the new fall semester was out exploring south Eleuthera on their 3-Day Kayak Trips, the other half of students remained on campus to become SCUBA certified, a big Island School first. Last night, students were asked to reflect on the many first experiences they have already had in their one short, but seemingly unending first week at Island School. In the coming days, enjoy a series of student-written reflections on the many new things they are learning and doing in this very new place. Carly Shea:
The first day here a teacher told us to pick up a handful of sand and then made everyone talk to it. I seriously thought it was the weirdest thing ever. Never before have I seen teachers so enthusiastic about teaching us to understand where we live. I learned it’s impossible to ask enough questions. I have experienced more firsts in a week at the Island School than I have in my entire life. I ate lionfish for the first time, went for a week without a cell phone in my pocket, and woke up to see the sunrise every single day. I have set a new personal record for most amount of time with salty hair and sandy toes. I have never had legs covered in so many bug bites or swam with a shark. I persevered through my first run swim, cleaned a boat and did dishes for an entire community all before breakfast one morning. I’ve lived away from home before, SCUBA dived, and even been stung by a jellyfish but I have never come across anything like the Island School.
Arising each morning at 6:10 a.m. to the beep of my wristwatch, I sit in bed contemplating what made me want to come here. There hasn’t been a morning when I didn’t have a shared excitement and fear of what was to happen in the day ahead, but the morning of scuba diving I woke up more pumped to begin my day than any other. As I walked to the boathouse and learned to set up my gear, it definitely decreased my level of excitement and was then replaced with the nervous feeling that has become quite recurrent in my Island School experience, perhaps too recurrent for my liking. Everything began immediately; I was submersed in waves with fish and STING RAYS. I took my first UNDERWATER breath and all I could think was Allah bless me, I want to be able to stand on land again and breathe in city air with my family by my side. It was an experience that took a lot of adjustment and made me question why I decided to be here, and not at home with my beautiful family and heated showers. This is a question that I continuously ask myself and I am gradually coming to understand that I am here to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Gray Murray Hill:
Our second workout at The Island School was a run-swim exercise. We started at the center of the compound in a circle around the flagpole and sang the Bahamian National Anthem. We then ran around a circle a few times led by the head of school, John Schatz. Leaving campus, we ran along the fingers of land reaching out into the crystal clear waters of this humid tropical place. After running over one finger, we would reach a cut of ocean between us and the next finger. Encouraged to complete the run to swim transition without hesitation, we would plunge into the waters and fight towards the other side. Feeling for the land ahead, we would push up and attempt another transition. On the last cut, a wall around five feet above the water line loomed over us. Challenged to get over the wall, most of us accomplished the task and proceeded to run to the Current Cut. Jumping into the swiftly moving stream sans floatation, we guided ourselves with hands and feet, exited and ran to a cliff towards school. After the ten foot drop, we swam to the nearest finger and reversed the exercise back to camp. Feeling awake and ready to move on, we weren't done until we had touched the flag pole where we started.
The only thing more foreign to me than being awake at 6:30 AM is exercising at 6:30 AM, while that is difficult, I somehow managed to wake up on time for this morning’s run-swim.
The thought of running and swimming in one morning exercise terrified me, especially on the second day of morning exercise. When breakfast circle broke up, I walked slowly to my group and once everyone was there we took off. Starting off running to the miniature pier near the boat house and swimming across the water until we get to land again, then running to the next cut to swim again, and so on. Surprisingly, the hard part was neither the running nor the swimming, it was the plethora of exercises we had to do between swimming and starting running again that pushed my limits. I was slowly swimming last cut before we turn around and run-swim back. I got to the wall of the cut and joined in the treacherous wall-sit while we waited for the last of our group. Brady, who was leading our group, then announced that we actually had to climb the wall that at this point seemed to be much higher than it actually is, although it still is much taller than I am. They gave us the option of either attempting to get over the wall ourselves or having our spotters assist us and, for some still unknown reason, I decided to try to do it alone. I had pulled myself up when I was about to give up and ask for help but then I heard my spotters, Liz, and Brady, shouting encouragement to me and I had a catharsis. I realized that I can push my body a lot more than my mind thinks I can. From that point on I threw myself into the rest of the run-swim, through scratches and a jellyfish sting, knowing that I could accomplish this, even though it’s probably the most I have exercised in years.
I give my buddy the rehearsed “final OK” and deflate my BCD to begin my descent. The crystal clear waters are like no other I’ve been in, besides that of a pool. Descending the dive line in a zero gravity, slow motion crawl, I finally rest on the ocean floor, 35 feet below the serene surface. We make our way along before pausing to complete the last of our drills; mask removals, full equipment removals, and buddy breathing. Once completed, Maxey gives the signal and we buddy up to continue floating just above the ocean floor. He points out Fire Coral, Christmas Tree Worms, Nassau Grouper, and even a rare Spotted Eagle Ray, majestically gliding throughout its territory. As we cruise along our designated path, I fall to the back, observing a small fish I recognize from Finding Nemo. My buddy falls back and we continue on at steady pace. I glance behind me to check if we’re the last ones in the pack. As I begin the slow-motion maneuver to turn my head back forward I process what I have just seen. As fast as one can while underwater with SCUBA gear and fins, I whirl around to gaze at the slow-moving seven-foot nurse shark, less than 30 yards away. Propelling myself forward, I slam headfirst into my buddy’s tank, jolting him to attention. Excitedly, I point to the shape, still swimming within visibility. I put my hand on my head, five fingers pointing to the surface, signaling the shark. I watch as his eyes bug and we both sink to the ocean floor in utter amazement. The grace, confidence, and sheer power with which this intelligent creature moves lets me know that underwater I am no longer the top predator, even if it is a peaceful Nurse Shark. I pause to take in its beauty a moment longer, before shooting to the front of the group, rapping on Maxey’s tank. He peers up at me and by the look on my face and crazy hand above my head knows there’s a shark in the area. Without another word he pivots to check behind. I follow his gaze but the deep sea has collected its treasures, the peaceful creature receded back to its imperceptible home. The brief moment has passed, and with a shrug of his shoulders Maxey continues swimming to the boat. I’m in shock for the rest of the dive and into the night. I’ve dreamt and dreaded this encounter since my first thoughts of entering the water. The commonly feared predator had not even made any indication that it was aware of our presence, before drifting back to the depths. Even as I write this I’m shaking from the experience, as well as awaiting my next encounter.
This was the first time I have gone scuba diving. On Friday morning, it was time to prepare our gear to go. We learned how to put everything together from attaching a BCD to the oxygen tank to finding the right amount of weight needed for our weight belt. Once all preparation was complete and we were done and being briefed, it was time to go to the dive site. I was excited yet anxious at the same time. I was imagining going against our nature, and taking my first breath under water. Ron, our instructor led our group into the water and asked us to place the regulators in our mouths and descend. I deflated my BCD and slowly entered the aquatic world. I inhaled immediately. I could not wait any longer to find out what it is like. The moment was surreal. Once we were comfortable breathing through our regulators, Ron led us to the edge of a drop off that goes from 9 feet to 20 feet in depth. Ron gave us the okay to slowly repel ourselves down the anchor line to the bottom. My memory of scuba diving for the first time is definitely one I will have with me for a long time.
I have always been someone who appreciates sleeping in comfort. At home I have a room of my own that operates on its own hours, so making the transfer into communal living with 22 other people that I was not yet comfortable with was not easy at first. Everyone slowly settled in when we arrived on campus sans luggage and started establishing boundaries. After the night’s festivities, we got awkwardly ready for bed and braved an incredibly hot night without fans or sheets. We suffered through that night but it was just the beginning of the problems to come for Boys Dorm. Our bathrooms have been overly clogged, cockroach infested, and fully and utterly drenched with water and it hasn’t even been a week yet. We learned we could all fit into a bathroom and get chastised over the state of the toilets. We learned a lot of things but mainly we learned that despite its apparent problems, life in a dorm is quite a good time.
Bubbles pour out of my mouthpiece, rushing by my face to the safety of the air above, I however, remain. Down in the blue, my life is on my back and around me feels like death. Yet, in this seemingly hostile new environment I see more life than I have ever before. A frightened shining blue fish frantically squirms into the comforting arms of its coral home. Another anxiously peeks out from the hidden inner chambers of a conch shell, contemplating whether to return to feeding or to remain safe in the comforts of its home. Here, I have no home, nowhere to run to when I’m frightened. I am a stranger. We move together, a pack of giants clumsily barging through the efficient utopia that these underwater citizens have created. My time here is temporary, I must return to my home soon, but I will return, always a visitor.
I counted down the minutes, trying my best to avoid the class. It quickly came, the intro to kayaking. As I dressed in my splashguard and big life vest I went through every step in my head. We all hovered over the floating boat and one by one everyone paddled out. With ease each person flipped their boat and calmly swam from under the mass of plastic. The boat was pushed in my direction and hesitantly I sat inside. Slowly I paddled to the 10 foot depth and sat still. Clem counted down and as she reached 1 I didn’t move. The thought of being stuck under water filled my mind. The second time the count down came I thought of nothing but the three steps: 3 slaps to the boat, remove the splashguard and push yourself out. Each number came and as 1 returned I leaned far to my right. I rushed through my 3 slaps and finally relaxed when I felt the tab of the splashguard, that’s when I knew I could reach the surface. As I swam out I realized how simple the task had been.
My first breath underwater was surreal, and as we dove down into the blue depths it felt like I was entering a new world. There is nothing like this feeling, there were so many thoughts racing through my head. Before The Island School, I had only been in the ocean once so I was beginning a whole new chapter of experiences. As we started to dive more the first day, I will admit I was unsure what I was feeling and was unsure whether I liked scuba diving. When I first started diving, my movements were awkward and I was uncomfortable. However as we went on I began to get my bearings and started to feel more confident in the water, I was really starting to enjoy myself. I was learning quickly and once we got past the drills Chris took us to explore the vast environment before us. In the past two days I have seen things I never imagined I would see. I saw a reef shark, an abundance of fish and jellyfish, and an eagle ray, which was probably the most majestic creature I have ever seen. The Island School is all about having new and exciting experiences that sometimes push us out of our comfort zones, but allow us to grow into people we never imagined we could be. I am eager to continue to explore a world that we have still many things to see and experience.