Once upon a time, my previous host mother, Mina, trapped me inside her home overnight so I could protect her family from ghosts.
Weirdly enough, this gave me the inspiration to teach some of the students how to swim. I know none of this relates nor makes any sense but it will in a moment.
While I was staying with Yam and Bindu, Mina asked if I could spend the night at her home with her family while Aatma was away on business, so I could protect them from the ghosts that supposedly haunt her house. These so-called ghosts used to be two women who worked for Aatma and mysteriously disappeared until their bodies were found days later; one floating in the lake and the other near the house in the bushes. Both dead. She literally locked me inside the main room overnight with her, the kids, and some of the neighbor kids, so that I couldn’t leave and so that the evil spirits wouldn’t enter. I wasn’t a fan of being trapped in a room with a bunch of kids all freaking night, but fortunately for Mina, she makes some of the best dal bhat in all of Sarangkot, so that was my biggest draw. But what about those women? They were the extra help that Aatma hired to help cook for all of the students he required to live in his hostel home during examination season. That one died from falling over into the bushes and the other supposedly drowned in Phewa Lake.
Locals drowning in Phewa Lake isn’t all that uncommon. I hear about it entirely too much, to the point where it doesn’t faze anyone anymore. Can these people in Pokhara not swim? It seems to be the general consensus. The Nepali are hardened rocks and mountaineers—not water-loving swimmers. After all, Nepal is completely landlocked with very few, suitable lakes to swim in. This one in Pokhara, Phewa Lake, is the second largest in Nepal…and it isn’t even that big. Although this is coming from a guy who grew up in Michigan, home of the greatest freshwater lakes in the world. But still. Also, these lakes are dirty as all heck.
Phewa Lake. The second largest lake in Nepal.
Okay, so Nepal sucks at swimming. How about my students and family here? I conducted a survey. I first asked my brothers, UK, DJ, and Bipin if they could swim. No. I asked Aatma’s kids. No. I asked the students in the older classes. Most of them said no, with one or two saying they could in each class. I was skeptical of those ones because the people in Nepal can be the nicest liars you’ll ever meet. I even asked the teachers. All of them said they couldn’t except for one. Most of these people have never been in water that went as high as their waists. It blew my mind! That’s when I decided to give crash course beginner lessons to several of the students.
Until a female tourist with extra money decides to take the girls swimming, they were all shit-out-of-luck with me. My focus was on some of the boys from the higher grades—eight, nine, ten, and then the teachers. Each weekend I would spend two days giving swim instruction to each class, starting with class eight, which was Amish’s class. I would only take up to five kids at a time, and I picked them out based on their class rankings (and if they got on my nerves or not).
I would start by reserving two giant, interconnecting rooms at the Pokhara Grand Hotel. The very first real hotel that most of these boys have been to. It’s the only place I could find with a deep enough pool and private enough so there wasn’t a bunch of people interrupting our lessons.
The Pokhara Grand Hotel
It would be like a two-day swimming camp. The boys were excited. Of course, two days won’t be enough time to properly train someone how to swim, but to get them comfortable in the water and be able to do SOMETHING they couldn’t do before was my goal.
I would begin with instructing stretching warm-ups in the hotel room and then acting out the resting strokes they would begin with, along with videos I found on YouTube.
Once we went outside to the swimming area, it dawned on me that these kids have never been in a pool before; only ridiculously shallow creeks that runoff from the top of Sarangkot.
“Don’t go anywhere near the 5ft mark,” I warned them as we entered the pool. I was responsible for all of them, as there was no lifeguard on duty.
Getting them comfortable was necessary first, so I let them play for a bit before we practiced our kicks.
I wanted to see if they could at least doggie paddle on their own, in which they couldn’t do properly.
I spent the remainder of the day teaching them how to do an elementary backstroke, one of the easiest resting strokes to learn as a beginner. Two of the boys started to get it, while the other three were absolutely hopeless. By day 2, one of the adept ones, Samrat, felt confident enough to do the resting stroke the entire length of the pool, all the way to the deep end. Once he successfully did that, he began to enjoy his time in the water, swimming back and forth with ease compared to the others. He was my quickest learner by far out of all the kids I trained.
I kinda gave up hope on the others, at least for our short amount of time. They just had no idea how to control their bodies in the water, so I just let them enjoy the rest of their time before the day was up. Believe me, I tried!
As for each of the following weekends, I took the older classes out, finally ending with the teachers. Most of the boys were just as hopeless as the first batch, but I found that the older the classes got, the more difficult it was to teach them how to do a proper stroke. Maybe it’s like learning a new language? The younger you are, the easier it is to learn because you soak up everything like a sponge. Maybe that’s the case? Even some of the teachers weren’t comfortable in 5ft deep water…It was amusing to me at least.
I’ve practiced with each group for hours and hours each weekend, with adequate breaks here and there. It wasn’t enough time and they definitely require one on one training, but it was the best I could offer, and probably the best training they will ever get in their lives. Swimming is simply not a thing in Nepal, or at least in Pokhara. This pool I found, along with the few other hotel pools in Pokhara are primarily used by tourists, not locals. However, I was proud of the handful who got a stroke down and left the experience tremendously more capable than they were when they started.
Stick to your mountain hikes, Nepal.