The Grumpy Naturalist

Sprinkled, Not Stirred: (2 minute read) 
by Farriz Mashudi 29/06/2020

Stunning how wrong it was.

On so many levels.

This wasn’t the first time I’d swum in the ocean, including from a boat, easing gently into usually warm water. Diving in is for the fearless of heart, I believe, not curious of mind. And just as well. Never, had I experienced conditions such as these.

Fighting back tears, had I known even the tiniest sprinkle could singe, we would have stayed home. Who would willingly be a part of this?

In typical expat form, other parents on the dhow were spare with their comments. Tight-lipped and more sensitive than my smarting eyes to the salty brine, complaints of any kind were frowned upon; to upset the locals would be unthinkable. It paid to be guarded. Always. We were all consumers of desalinated water; only now we also got to swim in the leftover minerals, prevalent in abundance.

“Don’t rock the boat,” the steely glares warned.

Break the code and you’d become a social pariah. Furthermore, I reminded myself, this was a school trip. Etiquette aside, outspoken critics were always welcome to leave. Even on the open seas, turning a blind eye was just another one of those things to accept as coming with the turf, and surf.

Bite your tongue, hold your breath and count to ten… Have another bottle of distilled water, on me. Wash all that salt away. See, it’s all better now. You’ll be fine; It’s fine; It always is.

When the Year 5 Family Day had first come on board that morning, a stark departure from tradition was immediately noted in the singular presence of that which, try as we might, we couldn’t live without: air-conditioning. Basic needs sorted, to its perimeter of open spaces, like sea gulls, the children flocked, up front and astern, slathered in sun block, looking forward to the day’s fun.

Motorised, the modern-day vessel sported no sails but was still made of wood inside and out, and promised a buffet of Middle Eastern mezzes and grills. With the wind streaming in gusty breaths, the thrumming dhow buzzed with adult chatter as the certainty of the harbour was left far behind.

Between obligatory waves in the car park and gratuitous pleasantries, what were we really, but a boatload of strangers on a pleasure trip?

On the barren outcrop the boatman called an island, with the dhow anchored nearby, I clambered alone amongst nothing green… Tufts of long grasses faded white, sharp rocks, broken glass, the gravelly beach biting into feet that had once again forgotten to bring never-worn scuba shoes.

Treading water all the way back, no one could stop my throaty screams:

Heads up, kids! No splashing! Watch out for the jet skis!

A decade on, speed boats take tourists directly onto the beach to shade under mushroomed pergolas. It all looks pretty slick.

Still salty, you think?

* Photo credits from the top: 1) Oliver Sjöström 2) Magda Ehlers 3) Pixabay 4) Matt Hardy 5) Aleksandar Pasaric; on

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