This morning mom and I went to the yacht club to ‘do laps’ in the ocean. Earlier this week the water was so murky that visibility was one or two meters tops. This morning the ocean was calm and the visibility was fantastic. The best gift of it all was the three eels, one of which swam in the open for quite some time. It was a beautiful morning.
My parentals, friends of the parentals with two little kids, an old friend (pww), and I met on the fabled spice island of Zanzibar for a fun weekend in the sun.
Diving is always an adventure, but it is generally an expected adventure. If you live near mountains, you might go hiking on or off trails. But the area is known, the equipment is familiar, and the hiking itself second nature. For me, this is diving. I have been diving for nearly 15 years and before I was able to dive, I was watching our boat as dad dove with his friends. Over time my equipment has faded from its original neon yellows and pinks, but remains well loved.
Dad and I thought we knew what we were getting into last weekend when we went on a French live-aboard dive boat. Three dives a day for three days; two of these days were to be around Mafia, where the diving was fantastic just a few weeks prior. Good food, good diving. What we got instead was an unexpected adventure including a reminder to respect the ocean.
Friday evening we boarded the Kairos when it was already dark. As we motored through the night to Mafia Island sleep was evasive as we often felt as if we were going to be tossed from the our bunks thanks to the fantastic waves. The morning brought a rather rocky breakfast and our first dive. Iâ€™ve never been sea-sick before, but attempting to quickly down a glass of water before dive one was a mistake. Thankfully I felt great post losing breakfast and was free of such issues the rest of the trip.
Dives one and two were rather murky, but not bad. Highlights include a huge ray swimming, a large turtle swimming fast, and a moray eel swimming between rocks. Returning from dive two was a wild ride as the waves continued to grow all afternoon. With all divers on board we did not even attempt the third dive and instead motored to the back side of the island to drop anchor for the night. The evening brought NITROX training, an alternative to compressed air that allows you to stay deeper for longer. Sleep came fast and the rocking of the boat this night was pleasant.
Sunday brought three dives. The first we fought the current and upon nearly reaching the wall found it to be a sandstorm. The second brought a beautiful school of large fish at 120 feet, and then sand. Then deep diving training after lunch. The third dive included a 2.5 meter shark (either a bull or tiger), a 2+ meter, 150kg+ grouper, several large schools of large fish, including barracudas, and brought my new max diving depth of 145 feet.
After the third dive one of the 12 divers was not doing well, her symptoms aligning perfectly with decompression illness. As there was a recompression chamber on board, one of the few in east Africa, she got in the chamber and I saw both my first recompression chamber and my first recompression chamber in use. She felt better in the chamber, and so we began to motor to our next diver site, just slightly off course for Dar, as she spent seven hours in the chamber. Unfortunately, a hour after getting out of the chamber, she was feeling horrible again, so our destination was changed at 3am to Dar. We arrived at 12:30 on Monday.
One of the 12 divers on board was a doctor. She had to stitch a crewâ€™s finger up after it port door slammed on it during the high waves on Saturday. In the end, it is likely that other diver did not suffer from decompression illness, but some illness that surfaced with the same symptoms. But it could have been. Diving, particularly diving deep (technically that means past 60 feet), is pushing the balance between safety and potential illnesses including decompression illness, nitrogen narcosis, and oxygen toxicity. At depth these illness are frightening. Nitrogen narcosisâ€”imagine being drunk with over 100 feet of water above you. Oxygen toxicityâ€”think seizures at its worst. Much safer to be drunk or to have seizures on land. On the surface wild waves not only rock a boat but can hide divers from their ride, and currents can pull you towards reefs or out to the open ocean.
Over the weekend I was certified as a deep diver and to use NTIROX. I came to appreciate deep diving for what it is, though my preference remains shallow diving. This weekend was a reminder of the deep respect one must have for the ocean. So this weekend of diving was an unexpected adventure.
Last Saturday was Momâ€™s birthday. In discussing birthday presents this year, us kids decided that, although Mom does very little cooking anymore, she does a lot of serving of people. So we had a bit of fun rounding up some particularly fun serving items: a 20 inch pepper grinder, a whipped creamer, and a fresh parmesan cheese grater.
The whipped creamer is of particular note as it has been a source of much fun and laughter this week. You fill it with heavy cream and powdered sugar, attach the little canister of condensed air, shake three times, and voila, whipped cream. Only thing is that if you pull the trigger too fast, it can get a little violent, including shooting through a pancake.
This past week I found myself in Arusha, a town near Mount Kilimanjaro to attend a conference. The conference itself was interesting, but beyond that also I got to go on a site visit to a school and a Massai womenâ€™s group, and visited the Rwanda War Tribes Tribunal. The most interesting thing at the school was the biofuel that was being used to in the kitchen (the school was boarding school). The biofuel was made of compacted sawdust. It is less expensive than the alternatives (wood, charcoal, or kerosene), burns extremely hot and for long periods of time, and produces no smoke. Absolutely fantastic!
The Massai women sung and danced for us. They make bracelets and necklaces to sell to touristsâ€¦seeing as all the money goes directly to the women, I couldnâ€™t help but buy a few things. The women watched as I tried on different bracelets and admired the necklaces. Then when a woman pulled a necklace off her neck similar to the ones I was admiring, it was impossible to not buy it.
The Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal has been going since the end of the Rwanda genocide. As it is in Arusha and open to the public, it seemed that I should attend. Most of the people wore black robes, and one even had a wig. I sat listening with my headphones to the translators as the lawyers, judges, and witness went between French and English. Nothing earth shattering, but it was good to simply sit in a trial and see how they are done.