I wrote a dozen different introductions for this post apologizing for being insensitive, racist, and poking fun at others' expense, but then I realized that if I was really that concerned, I wouldn't be writing this post in the first place. Or maybe I would write it and just leave it to collect cyber dust with all my other half-written drafts. So yes, these stories I'm about to tell may come across somewhat insensitive, racist, and poke fun at other's expense. If you're going to be offended, read no farther. I'm sure I'll have another post about kittens up before too long. That being said, these are two of my funnier experiences as a scuba instructor.

One fine Sunday I got a phone call from Dive Shop A asking if I would be available to teach a DSD the following day. Sundays were our assistant manager's day off, and hence the only day I ever got phone calls for work. I must've been at the top of some physical call list just not at the top of his mental call list. On Monday morning I woke up and rolled down our hill on my scooter. As I rolled up to the main road, it was just in time to see the Dive Shop A vehicle drive by with the people they had just picked up from the pier. The only two people riding in the back were an Indian couple. I cringed, hoping they weren't my students.

Now I am not a racist person, far from it, but working in the dive industry with tourists from all over the world will lead you to notice that some people fare better in the water then other people. Unfortunately this often correlates to where those people are from, which leads us dive instructors to sound like a racist bunch. 

That being said, Indians are awful divers. (There, I said it; let the hate mail begin). I love the people to pieces but they scare me to death in the water. I followed the Dive Shop A vehicle, crossing my fingers that the nice looking couple in the back were not going to be diving with me. 

I arrived at the shop to be told that my student had canceled because she might be pregnant, but she didn't know for sure. So she was going to go to the doctor and then maybe, if she wasn't pregnant, I would be teaching her tomorrow. That's the way things typically went at Dive Shop A. We have work for you come now! Then after I'd show up, We don't have work for you, go home and maybe we'll have work for you tomorrow! 

On Tuesday I received a phone call early in the morning asking if I was available to teach a DSD. I guessed that meant my student wasn't pregnant. I showed up at the dive shop to find the Indian couple from the day before waiting there, looking anxious. The girl, we'll call her Anjali, approached me and said with a heavy accent that she didn't know if she could go diving. Her head began making the signature figure-eight of the Indian head bobble. I calmly told her that whatever her fear was, we could talk through it. She told me quite bluntly that she was on her period.

So first I had miss out on a day of work because she was pregnant and now I might be sent home again because she didn't want to dive on her period. This had to be a joke. 

My initial reaction was that her religion or culture must prohibit her from using tampons. That's a thing, right? How do you ask that politely though? I'm sorry but do you need a tampon? Just tell me where you're at with tampons... I felt especially uncomfortable since her husband and my assistant manager were standing right there. I settled with asking her if she was comfortable being in the water on her period in general. She didn't seem to understand and just kept stressing that she was on her period. So then I tried telling her that I was perfectly comfortable diving when I was on my period, trying to inch away from the audience and pull her aside as I spoke. I guess using tampons wasn't the issue because she then changed her angle and started complaining about how bad her cramps were. That's when I caught on that she didn't actually want to go diving and was just looking for any excuse to get out of it. Great another person being coerced into diving by their overenthusiastic significant other. Enthusiasm is great. I love enthusiasm. But you just can't force your enthusiasm onto someone who doesn't share it. Especially when it comes to potentially risky activities. 

I told Anjali that if she wasn't comfortable with the idea of diving, then she shouldn't go. It was her decision if she wanted to go or not. She then turned to her husband and began discussing with him, turning to me every now and again to ask several more times if she was really ok to dive on her period, to which I kept responding yes, there's no problem. With a final head bobble she decided she would give it a shot. 

The poor girl was petrified. She was on her honeymoon and her husband had taken her on a tour around Thailand to do every adventurous sport imaginable, zip-lining, sky-diving, parachuting, rock-climbing, and now scuba diving. I had to give her credit for being such a good sport as she was obviously not the adventurous type. 

We arrived at the dive site and I helped Anjali into her gear. She was about my size and could barely stand up with the heavy tank on her back. I helped her waddle over to to edge of the boat and demonstrated how to do a giant stride entry, then spent the next ten minutes trying to coax her off the side as the entire rest of the boat vacated off the opposite side. We were the last ones left and still I couldn't convince her to take a big step off the edge. I was just about to tell her we could call it a day if she wanted and head back on board when she half stepped, half fell, face first into the water. I nervously ducked my head underwater to make sure she was ok. She popped back up to the surface, still face down, arms flailing desperately. I pulled her upright so her head was above the water and asked if she was ok. She confirmed that she was. The second I let go of her she was face down again. I pulled her back upright and told her to lean on her back so that her face was out of the water. She couldn't figure out how to and eventually found her face in the water again. I placed her on her back myself and she immediately did a barrel roll until she was face down yet again. We continued like this for some time until I finally realized that floating on her back was not going to happen. Next plan. 

I told Anjali to put her snorkel in her mouth and we would snorkel over to the beach where we had to do our skills. The snorkel didn't work either as she couldn't figure out how to clear it, so I gave her her regulator and told her to breath off of that while we snorkeled over to the beach. Still she kept flailing her arms around frantically like she was drowning. I pulled her face up again to make sure she was ok. I could tell she was scared to death. So I offered to hold her hand; all she had to do was keep her regulator in, face down, and kick. That worked. Well sort of, I ended up pulling her most of the way but at least she was looking at the fish instead of wide-eyed at me. 

Before we had made it shallow enough to do skills, the visibility clouded up to less than a meter. Great. I was afraid that not being able to see anything would have Anjali flailing around like a fish out of water again. So we repeated the whole process of me trying to explain to Anjali how to float on her back with the same results. The beach we were at had several bamboo platforms floating in the water. They weren't big, maybe a meter by a meter, there for wary swimmers to hang onto for a minute. I brought Anjali over to one and told her to hold onto it for a minute to catch her breath while I figured out how to continue with her. She immediately started trying to climb up onto the flimsy little platform, anchored down only by a rope from the center. The weight of all of her scuba gear meant that the moment she started trying to make her way up, the platform tilted sky high like the Titanic, sending Anjali sliding back down into the water. I tried to get her attention and to tell her just to hold onto the platform, that she couldn't climb onto it, but she didn't hear. She just kept desperately trying to support herself on top of the platform. It was like watching a cat trying to escape a bath. It all clicked at that moment that the DSD was not going to happen, the visibility was too bad even if I did manage to get her underwater and the girl clearly did not want to be here. I grabbed her in my arms before she could flail about any more, and started kicking back to the boat with her in a baby cradle position. About halfway there I asked her if she was comfortable putting her face in the water like she had on our way to the beach. She agreed and we snorkeled back to the boat. Back on board she asked me how deep we had gone. 

Well we stayed at the surface all the way to the beach. I pointed at the beach we had just come from. 
So about three or four meters deep?
Sure... Something like that. If she was under the impression we had actually been diving I wasn't sure how to break it to her that that wasn't diving.

At the second site I offered to take Anjali out again, already knowing what the answer would be. She smiled and bobbled her head and said she'd had a lovely experience but was done for the day, then turned to her husband to tell him all about her lovely dive at four meters.

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Then there was the time I did a DSD with a snorkeler who didn't have any hands.

Well she did have hands, but she had some genetic disorder that caused her fingers to be all shriveled up and bent at unnatural angles.

I suppose I should explain that DSD means Discover Scuba Dive. It is a course that we take people on who have never had any diving experience. It is not a certification course, but just a sample dive to see if you like diving or not.

So how do you end up taking a snorkeler on a DSD? I'm still asking myself the same question.

I got a phone call late in the day, late for DSDs at least. Normally I would meet them at 10:00, go over a little classroom work for an hour, break for lunch for an hour, and then the boat would depart at 12:00. This phone call came at 11:00 though.

Hello Lexi love, are you busy? 

I am not.

Could you come down to the shop as soon as possible? I've got a couple of DSDs for you. 

DSDs? Has someone already done their classroom work?

No and they still have to fill out waivers. 

Right... In the hour I had before the boat left, I was supposed to drive to work, have the DSDs fill out paperwork, teach them the basics, get them fitted for gear, and get them on the boat in time.

I showed up at the shop to find two dark skinned girls with heavy London accents. It turned out that only one, Ivy, was doing the DSD and the other one, Cassandra, had decided just to snorkel since she was worried about the whole hand situation. I explained to her that it was my job to operate her BCD anyway and that she shouldn't let her hands hold her back, but she was already set on snorkeling. I was about to learn that that was an excellent call on her part.

I brought them outside to a table and gave them the bare bones version of all the basics they needed to know, then left them to fill out paperwork while I brought gear out of the equipment room for them to try on. I figured that Cassandra probably got enough babying because of her hands and decided the nicest thing to do would be to just treat her like any other person. So then after I handed both girls fins to try on and and pretended not to watch as the one girl struggled, I felt like a giant jerk when she asked if I could help her.

New plan, be as helpful as possible without being awkward about it.

Towards the end of the DSD spiel Cassandra asked if she was going to be able to get on the boat because of her hands. I had to consider for a moment, and envisioned the process of climbing up onto the dive boat. Don't act awkward. Don't act awkward.

Yes, I will climb up before you so that I can hold your wrist as you climb onto the boat. Hopefully that wasn't insulting. Hopefully it would be as easy as that.

The boat was already loading as I brought the girls back inside to fill out their final forms. One of the instructors who wasn't on the afternoon boat gave me a sharp eyebrow. I wasn't sure if he was scorning me for being late or just trying to figure out how I was going to handle this no hands situation.

When we neared the dive site I helped Ivy into her dive gear and handed Cassandra her snorkel gear. I gave Ivy the dive briefing, talking her through the four skills we would be doing, and all the while, Cassandra kept hovering like a lost puppy. When I finished the briefing she asked me what she was supposed to do. Normally when snorkelers would sign up to come out on the dive boat we would provide them with gear and then just ensure that they were back on board before the boat left. I asked her if she had ever been snorkeling to which she replied no. So feeling bad that no one was there to guide her like a DSD, I talked her through the baby steps of how to use a snorkel and told her that if she didn't want to go off on her own like snorkelers usually did, she was welcome to follow us at the surface. I'd be busy doing skills with Ivy though.

Then she asked if we had a lifejacket. Oh no, not only does she not know how to use a snorkel but she can't swim. All the boats I've worked on before are required by maritime law to carry enough life jackets for every passenger. I guess Thai dive boats are exempt from such rules because when I asked one of the head instructors where we kept the life jackets, their response was that we didn't have any. Well that's not good. So I fished the spare BCD out of the spares bag, secured it around Cassandra, and inflated her like a balloon.

Then came the giant stride entries. Ivy went first, and only took the normal amount of coaxing for someone's first giant stride into the water, maybe about one minute's worth. Jumping into the water with what feels like enough weight to sink you to the bottom like a brick can be scary. Then I had Cassandra follow us with a giant stride seeing as she couldn't climb down the ladder. What followed was an all too familiar scenario. I spent a good long while coaxing her to take a big step, then when she finally did she was flailing around in the water unable to float on her back, then the snorkel wouldn't clear, then more flailing about. Some people just have no spatial awareness in the water.

We finally got the floating on our backs part under control and began kicking our way towards the beach. I pointed Cassandra towards the roped off area for snorkelers and told her she could either go snorkel over there, all she had to do was float face down and breath through the snorkel, or she could wait on the beach while Ivy and I did skills and when we started diving she could swim above us. She opted for the latter and stepped onto a large boulder in the water so that she was standing ankles deep in the water, arms sticking out awkwardly like a doll's because of the inflated BCD.

It took Ivy and I about twenty minutes to get through the four skills we had to do, as she had to stand up in the waist deep water every time her mask leaked or the regulator was hard to breathe off of. People always freak when their masks leak. It's like they forget they're in the water or something. Every time she stood up I looked a few feet over to make sure Cassandra was still in sight. Every time I looked she was still standing there like a penguin in her inflated BCD, the water only up to her ankles. She reminded me of one of those cartoon guys with floaties around their waist and arms, afraid to actually get in the water.

At long last Ivy completed all the skills and we practiced swimming around a bit. As we got farther away from the beach I looked back to see if Cassandra was following us. Surely after standing there like a statue for nearly half an hour she'd be eager to do something? But then again maybe not, because she was nowhere to be seen. I led Ivy back around, stood up when the water was shallow enough, and sure enough there was Cassandra, exactly where I'd left her.

We're going to dive around the bay and then make our way back to the boat, so now is a good time to follow us. I promise I'll look up and ask if you're ok. I showed her the hand signal for "ok."

And off we went. Thank goodness we were swimming over nothing but sand because Ivy could not stay off the bottom. I'd finally get her buoyancy under control and look up to make sure Cassandra wasn't drowning up there, only to cause Ivy to look up as well which would ultimately cause her to start drifting upwards. Back to Ivy's buoyancy. Back under control. Turn around and give Cassandra the "ok" sign. She'd wave her shriveled hand at me. Great I have no way to distinguish between her ok and not ok signs. Surely if she wasn't ok she'd start flailing again. She seemed pretty calm for the moment. How did I end up trying to babysit a DSD and a snorkeler at the same time? Surely I was breaking all sorts of standards.

I paraded the two around for as long as I was comfortable with the juggling act (which was not very long at all) and then led everyone back to the boat, hoping that we had spent a decent amount of time in the water. Keep it short and quick and DSDs would be left wanting more, wanting to go on the second dive. Spend about an hour or longer at the first site and they would typically be worn out and sit out the second site. I was crossing my fingers for the latter and succeeded.