Vol 2 Ed 19 » Cultura » Making Waves

Making Waves

Anastasia Boldireff

I have been a swimmer for as long I can remember.  
I grew up in the Gatineau hills, in Quebec, Canada and learned how to float as a toddler in the winter, in the hot tub, underneath the snow gently falling overlooking our lakefront property.  As a swimmer, I’ve been no stranger to getting up before sunrise; to spending the day with wet hair; to have the ends of my hair freeze and fall off in the dead of the winter; to double swim practices; and more importantly – to respecting the pool rules.
I was a lifeguard professionally for seven years and a swim instructor for ten.  In my life I have competed on three teams professionally and eventually became the President of the York Lions Swim Team in university.  I have also participated in over a dozen triathlons. 
As a Canadian in Colombia, I’ve come to miss certain common sense things like people respecting traffic signals, bike lanes, and lining up on the transmilenio.  But more importantly, people understanding their own capacity in the pool.  I have learned to respect ‘rec swim’ or recreational swim times where people of different ages and abilities come to take the waters.  At these times, there are generally three lanes in a 25 metre pool that say things like “Slow Lane”, “Medium Lane” and “Fast Lane”.  And people choose then, accordingly, where they will go and swim. 
Unfortunately, on too many occasions, I have seen men of various ages leaning casually against the wall in the fast lane or “intensidad alta” and many women of superior capacity reducing their speed and swimming in the medium lane, to keep the peace, to not make waves, so to speak.  These men I tend to call “machistas en las piscinas” who have bigger egos than capacity. 


Another problem I experience daily in the pool is that many Colombians don’t know what ‘circle swim’ is.  Once in your lane, you either swim ‘sides’ or ‘circle swim’.  ‘Sides’ is when I take the left, and you take the right – if the pool is empty – this doesn’t work with more than two people.  Generally, more often than not, pools around the world participate in what we call ‘circle swim’ which is generally up the right side, and down the left side, in a circle.  Now, I don’t go to the pool to stand there at the wall and watch other people work out; the idea is to keep moving – and this is important – to stay out of the people’s way, the one’s you are watching work out. 

The problem I tend to face is that people will stand at the wall and block swimmers’ ability to turn.  In competitive swimming, I would frequently see people who would receive blows to the stomach for stopping inappropriately at the wall.  Now, I cannot make the assumption that every person is competitive at a recreational pool.  However, the simple acknowledgement that the person is still swimming and isn’t stopping and that you are in the way, should perhaps be taken into consideration.  It makes sense to me. 


The only problem with circle swim international is where the personal actually turns.  In the first diagram the person turns at the T in the center of the lane and then continues; whereas, in the second diagram you turn on the left generally, or turn on the right and push left. 
The last problem in the Colombian pools is passing.  You are supposed to pass between the flags, not at the wall, and certainly not the moment that the other person is taking off, especially if they are faster than you.  You also do not pass, if there is on-coming traffic, or if you won’t pass the other person in time.  You wouldn’t in a car, so why do it in a pool?  I have seen some pretty nasty head on collisions that could have been avoiding with recognition of time, distance and especially acknowledgement of personal capacity.  Another thing is that swimmers generally acknowledge passing by signaling.  How do you signal another person that you are passing?  You touch their foot.  And then you pass. 
These are general issues that to me seem to be common sense. 
I decided to write this article for two reasons: the first, because what seems to me as common sense is purely cultural and sometimes should be shared.  Secondly, because the lack of this knowledge is not enforced at Compensar, where I swim, and it oftentimes results in me upsetting several people. 
On one occasion, a few weeks ago, I passed a man three times upon which, at the wall, I asked him to kindly switch lanes.  He was very angry as a result and took off flailing.  I watched as he angrily hit the water, his knees inadequately kicking the water, as he struggled to carry his ego 25 metres across the pool.  I shook my head as I watched the adult, ego-driven temper tantrum.  I passed this man four more times.  On the seventh time, as I was coming out of the wall, he grabbed my left leg.  I understood this to be a staying gesture; I stood.  At that point, I starred at him and said, in my poor Spanish, “Discúlpame, señor, pero tú eres muy lento.  ¿Podrías ir a la otra carril?” 
 He decided to throw a punch and tried to attack me, forcefully. 
His fist came towards my face and I turned my head, and leaned back and he struck my shoulder.  Stunned into fight or flight mode, and baffled at the audacity of the man, I paused.  He redoubled his efforts and tried to punch me again while screaming profanities in Spanish.  “Tú eres muy agresiva.”   That’s the last thing I heard as I plunged into the water behind me.  Now luckily I had already proven myself to be faster than him in the pool, so I was able to evade the majority of his attack.  But, this encounter deeply disturbed me.  The man yelled at me and called me aggressive; I am fast, but I wasn’t the one throwing punches.  Seriously.    
What disturbed me most was the fact that the lifeguards did not rush to my aid nor did the patrons.  The director, when I spoke with him, asked me if he should call my husband.  What disturbed me about this is that this upheld several things that happen in Colombia every day: the by-standard effect; the blatant disrespect of traffic rules; the idea that a fast or strong athletic woman is a foreign concept; and, that if a woman is being attacked, the solution is for her not to be alone, or at the very least to go fetch her ‘husband’.  This is very problematic.  This situation snow-balled and got out of hand very quickly.  However, it has not been resolved.  In the end, the director asked me to invite my ‘significant other’ to swim with me – with the unsaid assumption that this might happen again. 
Now, a common criticism of foreigners is: If you don’t like Colombia, then, leave.  I’m not saying I want to go, I’m not saying that I want to leave: I am simply observing my experience in the swimming pool. 
That said, I conclude this article with a few questions: What can we do as a community to be respectful of traffic lights, bike lanes and swimming lanes?  And how can we as a community prevent violence against women?  How can we teach colombianos to be able to let a woman pass them in a swimming pool without them feeling like a failure?  How can we encourage colombianas to be fast and strong without them being viewed as abnormal? 
Until then, I’m not going to say anything to these machistas as my words fall on deaf ears; instead, after each flip turn and pass, my silent message will be: eat my bubbles.  

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