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Eric Miyeni Describes Learning to Swim at 45 in an Excerpt from Here Comes the Snake in the Grass

Here Comes the Snake in the GrassIn the preface of Eric Miyeni’s latest book, Here Comes the Snake in the Grass, he writes:

“What you will read here are my personal observations and opinions in essay form. I am glad that you have this book in your hands. It is partly through reading that we get our brains to take the occasional jog, do a few push-ups and lift some weights to sharpen their functioning. Thanks for choosing this brain gymnasium.”

The essays touch on an exciting variety of topics, ranging from Nelson Mandela’s legacy, what we as a country should learn from Oprah Winfrey, “normal sport in an abnormal society”, to falling in love, black people in the South African economy and the day he decided he would learn how to swim.
Read a short excerpt from Here Comes the Snake in the Grass on the latter topic:


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Forty-five and swimming

Once I was invited to a birthday-party weekend out on a farm in the Free State. There was a lovely mix of people there in terms of age, colour, political beliefs, religion, and so on. Most of us there had been to university. The conversations, as you can imagine, were superb. For three days on this inherited farm we did nothing but eat, play, drink, talk, sing, sleep and repeat the routine. Each day felt like a week of quality rest.

   Money is a beautiful thing.

   One afternoon out on that farm stands out. The sun was beating down hard. The swimming pool took centre stage. There I was with my shorts on, sitting on the edge of the pool with my legs immersed in water up to just below my knees. Soon the only other black man there, an old friend, joined me. We sat side by side and watched as white ladies played synchronised-swimming games. It looked like so much fun.

   I sensed a tension in the air. ‘Surely one of these “brothers” will prove the stereotype wrong and swim, right?’ It wasn’t said, but you could feel it. As I thought this, my ‘brother’ told me that the pool had no shallow end! I felt relieved. He had already been in the pool. Representation had occurred. I did not have to do anything. No, he quickly corrected me; when he had been in the pool, his white girlfriend had propped him up the whole time. He wasn’t diving back in if I paid him!

   I felt the tension mount.

   At the time, if you watched me swim, you would shout in alarm: ‘What the hell is he doing?’ My swimming was like a bad joke, badly told. I kind of splashed about without breathing much and then left the water.

   The swimming pool at the farm was about ten metres long and maybe four metres wide. I decided to jump in, do whatever it is I did to resemble swimming across its short breadth and get out. I did just that, lightning fast, in a bid to create a swimming effect without being seen much. When I finished, my white co-guests did everything they could short of giving me a synchronised standing ovation in the water. ‘He might not be a good swimmer,’ I felt them think, tension relieved, ‘but at least he is not scared of water. Thank God!’

   I decided right then that I would learn to swim properly.

   Two weeks into my swimming lessons, I was studying Michael Phelps, winner of twenty-two Olympic swimming medals (eighteen gold), to perfect my freestyle stroke. Soon after that, I panicked as the deep end approached, and stopped. My coach said: ‘It took you four strokes to cover five metres. If you hadn’t stopped, I would have sworn you were a seasoned swimmer. Beautiful.’

   The day after that I swam thirty metres non-stop from the shallow end to the deep end. I was forty-five years old at the time, my friend. It’s never too late to learn.


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