Every evening I went swimming in New- Delhi. The pool was a separated one . One half reserved for women and the other half for men. A third basin was reserved for those,who couldn’t swim at all. Most of them were men, all of them deeply embarrassed that I would notice. They shouldn’t have worried: in the moment I take off my glasses, I am blind as a snake. The men on the other side of the pool tried to impress me with their ability of jumping dolphin-like into the water or to swim as fast as a shark. They shouldn’t have bothered: in the moment I take off my glasses I am blind as a snake. I never got so many phone numbers and was never asked so often: will you marry me? My answer was never yes but I always explained that a much better way to ask someone out, would be a question not quite so fundamental: Namasté, would you like to get a cup of chai? Or Namasté, isn’t it awful hot today, would you like to join me for a cold guava juice? They all eagerly agreed that such an opening would make much more sense. I closed my eyes, diving deep under the water, swimming away from a long day and all the pictures I am unable to forget. I swam and just tried to remember how the water feels on my skin and to forget everything else. The men grew used to me and when new men came, who peered at me under water, before asking me to marry them (one should always check first before buying ) the other men, pulled them out of the water, slapping them hard into the face. Nej, no said I, let it go, because I so desperately needed these forty minutes without blood and pain and anger. I swam and dived deep to forget everything beside the water under my skin. One evening a group of men started a fight, but I was too tired to find out what it was all about. The men responsible for the pool picked up wooden sticks, long and quite sharp, normally used to send off street dogs, separating the men, beating them hard. Then they left, but I dived deeper and tried harder to forget the day. I needed these forty minutes so badly. I wore an orange colored swim suit, the other women came to touch my hips, my breasts and sometimes my ears. ( My ears are quite nice. Seriously). I answered all questions regarding my breasts, hips and my quite, nice ears. In the cloakroom they all tried on my swimsuit. They liked it very much. Their only concern was that the nipples were showing. But I didn’t care, I needed the forty minutes in the water so badly. When I left I bought a similar swimsuit for S. a young Muslim teacher I taught to swim. She wore it over her long shorts and T-shirt. I think it suits her tremendously well. But I swam and dived deeper, the water under my skin,I swam away from the memories of the day. Even when the black flies came I didn’t care much. I was so tired, so very tired and so in need of the water, the silence and the forty minutes where everything was weightless and light as if I were swimming in an ocean far away from the world.
Tonight I sit on a desk in Dublin and New-Delhi is far way. In the news they say Refugees are not allowed into the swimming pool in a town in Germany due to anti-social behaviour or whatever you might call it. I still see me sitting in front of the entrance door of the swimming in South-East Delhi waiting to dive deep into the water, reading the long list of rules and complaints, while the men waiting with me were parading up and down, trying to convince that they were a perfect match. I still see Mrs Rajasthani shaking her head whenever I drove off to the swimming-pool. That’s too dangerous, Read On, she said, but I just smiled and thought how badly I needed these forty minutes in the water, alone.
I don’t have any answers. But having spent the greater part of my life outside of Europe I know for sure, that the freedom women enjoy in Western Europe is an exception and comes at a price, in New-Delhi, Kinshasa and wherever you might live or swim. I wish it wouldn’t be the way it is. The only answer I have is S. the young Muslim teacher and all the other women diving deep into the water, as long they are there, as long as they are coming back despite resistance at home, as long as we are diving deep under the water and up to the surface again ,I am not afraid.