Judgement Tea

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I met an unassuming, quiet girl this week during my working day. She wasn’t feeling very well throughout the trip to sea and she lay at the bow of our boat under layers of clothing and towels. She was mostly fast asleep all morning, curled up small and unresponsive to me trying to assist. I didn’t spend a great deal of time with her – knowing she wouldn’t want to talk when she felt so seasick. She appeared to be your regular young girl on holiday with her boyfriend, perhaps straight out of university, and I left her in peace to rest.

I met a confident, gentle, well spoken Asian lady this week during my working day. She was on her honeymoon and she joined our boat for the day with her husband. Whilst the other guests onboard couldn’t decide whether to go shark diving she was the first to volunteer and she calmly got ready with her husband by her side,  slid into the cage and they enjoyed their first dive with a beautiful white shark. I admired her confidence, her ease at being the first to volunteer without hesitation on what was a cold and foggy day. She was tranquil in a situation that most people find challenging at first if they have not dived with sharks before. I assumed she must be a regular diver with plenty of experience; she had the grace of a mermaid.

I meet different people every day in my work, from all walks of life and they come to spend time on our boat for many reasons. Part of the joy of my work is getting to know these guests, hearing their life stories and being inspired by who they are. Everyone has a story, absolutely everyone, and it is a privilege to be able to listen to their stories when they decide to share them and take home their words of wisdom and apply them for my own growth.

I love sharing my knowledge as their guide on our marine safaris but I wonder if they realise they also guide me?

So, these two guests I mentioned earlier…When we returned to the harbour I escorted our group to the shop for mugs of tea, hot chocolate and coffee. Hands were warmed around colourful mugs; steam rising to soothe cold cheeks as it had been a brisk morning in the elements.  I was afforded more time to get to know the guests as they shared their excitement at seeing the sharks and other wildlife. I asked the quiet young girl if she was feeling better now that we were ashore. What followed was a conversation in which she explained to me she was visiting Cape Town to investigate moving here in the next couple of years and because she was celebrating opening her first school in Tanzania.

She is from Italy and has spent the last few years working in Tanzania with local underprivileged children and one day decided to build a school for them. She has funded it herself, built the school, obtained the teaching materials and books from overseas, will be teaching the children and is training the future teachers. She has achieved this on her own, overseas, away from family support and her school is opening next week.

By the way, she is 24 years old.

She had the good grace and honesty to laugh and admit that most people are surprised when she explains what she has achieved. She knows she looks like every other girl her age, dressed in the latest cool clothing, and hanging out with her peers. Yet one day she woke up and decided she wanted to create a school so she did it. Without any prior experience or qualifications to do so. I was speechless at how she had a dream, a BIG dream, decided that it would happen and made it so. She didn’t tell herself she couldn’t do it, she didn’t give up and she didn’t expect others to make it happen for her. She just took one step at a time, tackled each hurdle with confidence. Her walk turned into a run and now she is considering where to open her next school.

Remember the confident gentle honeymooner that was first into the cage? As we talked about how much she enjoyed her cage diving experience her husband gently took her in his arms and told me this; with an incredibly proud and loving smile upon his face and in his eyes:

His wife only learned to swim four weeks ago. She was terrified of water, absolutely terrified and throughout her life she had only been able to go calf deep in water before having a panic attack. She literally fell apart mentally at the thought of going into water but she wanted to overcome this fear so she could cage dive with her husband. She wanted to give him this gift with all her heart and so she spent time with a coach in the final weeks before her wedding, learning to swim and overcome her fear. As if pre-wedding preparations and stress were not enough, she took on this challenge as well. It turns out that on our boat she was terrified, she didn’t want to get in the water at all and she felt her old familiar panic rising at the prospect of not only being in deep water but also with a shark nearby. Yet she did it without a word of complaint or hint of nervousness to the guests and crew around her. She did it, she loved it and the look in her husband’s eyes told me everything I needed to know about overcoming your fears and about true love.

We are so much more than we appear to be to the world around us and first impressions, whilst important, can be so misleading. They are subjective and based upon peoples’ own experiences in life and their own judgements and expectations. They are a trick of the mind and only a tiny flavour of the depths we all hold.

I never would have known from the demeanor of those two guests that each would have such a story to tell. I was wrong about them and these two people left a lasting impression.

The stranger in the street, your colleagues, your loved ones, the people that pass you by as you walk your life. They are where the real magic lies, where you can find everything you need to encourage and inspire you if only you truly see them without judgement. Let them in just the way they are and listen with your heart rather than your subjective mind.

As I left work that day I was reminded just how important it is that we all hold back from judging people if we are to let them in. Not only when we first meet someone but throughout our time together. To really get to know someone, to let them truly touch our hearts we must let go of our expectations and our own history. Only then can we see the real person, hear the real story and go home to share it with others. Go home and cosy up with a mug of steaming tea, a smile in our eyes and the phrase

You’ll never guess what happened to me today

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4 thoughts on “Judgement Tea”

  1. There might be something to be said for the Asian community here aswell. The culture has grown from one where traditionally the woman looks after the man and they want to do what they can for him (though I’m not saying love doesn’t have a very large part to play in these stories as well!). The reason I say this is because I had a very similar experience while training as a Divemaster in Tenerife.

    A man and wife (he of North Eastern European origin, and she of Asian descent) came to learn to dive. His primary reason for learning was that he owned a small boat and wanted to be able to make basic repairs on the hull of the boat without having to get it out of the water, and figured being able to scuba dive could make this a great deal easier. His wife had only learned to swim in her adult life after a drowning scare when young, and didn’t like the water at all – she couldn’t put her head under water without a panic. However, she wanted to do this course aswell, not only to try and get over her fear, but so she could help her husband with his boat.

    He was an excellent student, getting every skill right first time, fluidly and easily. She managed to hide her fear until it came time to go fully underwater and after half an hour she still struggled with resting on the bottom of a clear swimming pool that was about 2m deep – so her head would only have been 80cm or so from the surface.

    After an hour or so we had to move on to the next section which was an open water dive. Now there are no skills involved in this, so it was thought if she could at least manage this, it would go a long way to her breaking down her fear. As it happened, she never even got past trying to descend.

    As we walked back to the dive centre while her husband and the instructor carried on with the course, we chatted about how she may be able to take a few steps back, to enable her to get to the point of succeeding what she was trying to achieve that day. It turned out she had never even put her head fully below water since her incident until that day in the pool, and suddenly she was trying to spend half an hour plus in an environment that terrified her. She asked if there were courses designed to reach the start of an open water course. I explained that there weren’t really, that was the first scuba course, but suggested she start by learning to snorkle. Once she was happy with swimming and breathing while her face was in the water, then she could perhaps experiment with duck diving (obviously no breathing during that!). Once fully comfortable with that, then perhaps if her husband had some scuba gear by then, she could just try sitting in shallow water and get used to breathing with her head underwater.

    I’m frankly amazed she got as far as she did and while this example didn’t end with her achieving her aim, she had tried to jump a number of steps that would have gone a long way to helping her over her fear and as I understand it – cage diving with sharks is done with a snorkle, so if you can imagine the fear your customer went through, and how much more intense it might have been for her if she was attempting to scuba dive – though to be fair the scuba student didn’t have sharks (that they knew about 😉 ) anywhere near them!

    1. That’s amazing! What an incredible lady facing her fears like that and such a great story, thank you for sharing it 🙂 She must have been terrified yet she had the courage to try in the first place despite her fears and believe she may be able to do it. Any I bet one day she will do it too, as you will have inspired her to keep trying and approach it differently.

  2. What a great story – in fact two completely amazing stories. Off the mark first impressions are one thing, but the girl who built a school is astonishing! (And inspiring …)
    PS I’m following you from up here in Scotland – I’ve done quite a bit of travelling in the past but not in recent years so I’m very much enjoying your postcards from South Africa! Thanks so much – happy sharking 🙂

    1. Hi Anne 🙂 That’s awesome you’re following from Scotland…I used to live in St Andrews. It is such a beautiful country and I’m glad you are enjoying my postcards from SA! Have a great week x

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