Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Ego: it is a dirty word

The lack of anything like it where I live was all the justification I needed while in the Regional Capital this week to take an hour out from the gruelling schedule of world-saving talk fests to go for a long swim in the National Olympic Pool.

Although I’d never been conscious of it before, I realised as I approached the ticket office that afternoon that visiting public swimming pools in developing countries is something I seem to have done quite often over the years … curiously, only ever alone. 

But despite the solitude, there is a great deal to enjoy about visiting the local pool.  First and foremost, it’s the colour.  Growing-up and living in Melbourne for most of my life means one usually only ever swam inside, in the dim, grey light emitted from heavy clouds through permanently condensed windows.  By contrast, I am always dazzled when walking through the gate of a local swimming pool in a foreign country, to see the sparkling, rich azure of the water as it reflects the tropical, midday sun.

These brilliant hues never cease to give me a tremendous, emotional lift when I first lay eyes on them, and so it was this week, when, drunk and distracted from the brightness and cheer of my first sighting of the public pool, that I completely ignored the attendant’s directions to the male change room and instead wandered over to the grassy square at the Southern end of the pool, where I disrobed and dove straight into the electric water.  One, two, three strokes and I was off in a reflective trance …

Another thing I love about swimming pools in developing countries is the chance to feel like a bloody world champion.  I am by no means a brilliant swimmer, but I can and do swim a long way, especially in comparison with local people, very few of whom have ever been taught to swim, or have attempted to complete an entire lap.  By contrast, Donkey, with his steady, relentless stroke becomes quite a point of interest for the local populace, and it has happened on more than a few occasions that on emerging from the water, Donkey has run a gauntlet of admiring, doting smiles, handshakes and back slaps from balding, pot-bellied, moustachioed men (and in some cases, women).  I guess it could get tiring, but I love it!

So it was that on this recent, sunny afternoon that something roused me from my contemplations at around Lap 14, and I noticed there were many young people sitting poolside and in the stands, admiring my stroke and appearing not a little impressed by this athletic new-comer.  Full of piss and vinegar at my own self-importance, I puffed my chest and poked my Speedoed arse a little higher in the water and ploughed on ahead, musing over what it was that had caught my attention.  Assuming it must simply have been the attention of the masses, I made the turn and headed back whence I’d come.  Before long, my mind was again trailing off …

The pool in India was by far my favourite; so busy and so well appointed in that country which was otherwise pretty filthy.  I had really been part of the furniture for a while, and I do believe some came there in the mornings just to watch me.  Why did I stop, I wonder?  Oh hang on … that’s right … phlegm!  After about 4 months of daily swimming, I came to learn that if I hadn’t had my head down in physical exertion, I would have noticed that the general populous of South Delhi used the facilities not only for their morning exercise, but also for their respiratory ablutions, and once I’d come to recognise the hoiking and spitting (even from the pool attendant), it became increasingly difficult to ignore the floaties getting caught on my goggles with each lap…

I was just coming around for another turn at the Northern end of the pool when I was again, suddenly snapped-out of my musings.  “Whoa!  What is that stench?  Good thing I hadn’t bothered with the male change rooms”, I thought as I executed another crowd-pleasing tumble turn, and pushed-on.

The Chinese hot springs, too, had emitted an odour that had been truly something to behold.  Not so much natural volcanic pool as power station cooling pond, and the toxic, green slime along the blue-tiled walls was only slightly less offensive than the truly disgusting latrines adjacent to the poolside, which hung out over a chasm onto what would have once been a pristine mountain stream.

Last turn before home; the foul smell from the men’s bogs threatened to eject my breakfast into the sparkling blue, but I ignored the gag reflex by fantasizing that all the staff in the office blocks overlooking the pool had stopped their productive work days to admire my shapely back.

And with that, I was done.  I came-up puffing and gulping-in lungs full of air, and once I’d recovered a little, I turned to notice that I was now the only person in the pool.  Everyone else had gotten out at some stage during my session, presumably to admire my fetching figure.

I emerged from the water, all glistening and triumphant, and towelled-off in the sun.  Realising I had little choice other than to enter the male change rooms to get dressed, I took a deep breath and trekked to the other end of the pool.  But just before I reached the end, I finally noticed the cause of that stench; not the change rooms, as I had assumed, but rather a toxic, floating scum of [at least] human excrement congealing along the wall and extending about half a meter towards the middle (just centimetres from where I had just swum).

What is it about swimming pools and body fluids in these countries?  And what is it about me that I can’t learn from my mistakes and take just a few moments to give the water a bit of a once-over in the interests of a hepatitis and tuberculosis-free future?  Once again, I had been lured into truly murky waters by the Siren of my athletic and aesthetic self-delusions. 

The Skyhooks were wrong; Ego really can be a dirty word, especially if it leaves a toxic residue on your skin that can only be removed with turps.

The Skyhooks clearly never found themselves in a developing country on a hot afternoon.  The Ego can really be dirty if it gets in the way of basic concepts of public health and just a little common sense.  Pic:  http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/ego-not-a-dirty-word-for-skyhooks-star/story-fn9n8gph-1226446754662