I’m out at sea in a small boat shivering as if I were cold. But the wind is warm. It’s just fear. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve feared deep water. The reason is sharks. I grew up with a father obsessed with sharks. The story he told was that he watched a man taken when he was a boy. We grew up with posters on the walls of gaping jaws and a constant diet of shark films like Blue Water White Death and later Jaws 1, 2 and 3; with me at the drive-in hiding under the seat.
But on my recent trip Africa I made a pledge. I would tackle as many of my fears as was possible in a month. A “Fear Bucket List”. I’ve always believed a person can be summed up by the risks they’re prepared to take. One of my greatest fears is heights. Ladders make me queasy from the second rung up. But out in the middle of the great Serengeti plains I was offered the chance to go up in a hot air balloon to look down on elephants, lions and giraffes roaming wild. And so up I went, terrified but proud of myself.
Today is sharks. My partner wants to swim with whale sharks off the coast of Mozambique. Originally choosing to stay on the boat, I’ve listened to the pleadings of the dive instructor who assures me that this is “the experience of a lifetime”. Yes, there are dangerous sharks in the water, but they never swim with whale sharks. Thus we are quite safe as long as we stay next to the huge, gentle giants. So I decide to follow my motto: “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.
Standing in a diving suit brought along by the instructor ‘just in case’, I see a large black shape under the boat. We’ve been searching for hours now. With storms predicted for the next few days there’s no second chance to spot the illusive whale shark. The instructor screams “jump!”. The last thing I hear myself cry is: “How do you know for sure it’s not a dangerous shark?”
Then splash. I can hear myself breathing. I can feel my limbs so gangly and tempting. I can see the dorsal fin below me. For nights after this experience I will have bad dreams – we never truly conquer our fears merely confront them. But for now there’s only the exhilaration. And the breathtaking beauty: the color of the coral; a big turtle; an octopus on a rock; and the shark so majestic and graceful weaving it’s way along the ocean floor, richly rewarding me for my brave leap of faith.
Given the chance what would be on your Fear Bucket List?