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The Intern Diaries: Chloe's Week 1

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My arrival in Kalk Bay was dark and bleary-eyed, exhausted after two full days of traveling from O‘ahu, Hawaii to finally land in Cape Town. 


I looked out the window at all the quiet and empty closed-up shops as my cab pulled up to the curb on Main Road near midnight. A polite boy on the sidewalk helped me lug my heavy suitcases up to the flat I’d be staying in for the next seven weeks during my internship with the I AM WATER Foundation, and then I was asleep. 

In the morning I woke at 6:30 a.m. with the kind of eager urgency that can only come from the excitement of being in a foreign country on one’s own for the first time. I walked out into a bright and bustling Kalk Bay and made it to the Ocean Deck & Shop in time for the weekly yoga and swimming workout, where I met Hanli and Peter, my new bosses.  


As a student at Bennington College in Vermont, I am primarily studying dance. However, since I am interested in starting to make marine science more of a focus in my studies at Bennington, I hoped that this internship would allow me to get my toes wet and explore the possible career options that could arise from my love of the ocean. Peter and Hanli have got a great schedule planned for me, from meeting with marine scientists and discussing their work, to hosting beach clean-ups and helping lead the children’s snorkeling excursions. I will get to see what goes into running a non-profit while also getting lots of valuable introductory knowledge of the causes and effects of the various issues that our oceans currently face. 


But in all honesty, the main impetus for me to come to Cape Town and work for I AM WATER arose from my desire to learn how to freedive. Having grown up in Hawaii, I had spent some time snorkeling near the reef, sometimes holding my breath to dive down and get a closer look at the fish or swim through an underwater cave. I would swim down and bury myself in the sand, turning up to gaze back at the golden sunbeams shimmering down through the water, forgetting that I was holding my breath at all. For just a moment, the beauty of that world literally left me breathless, and I wanted to chase that feeling. 

My first formal freedive wasn’t quite like that. On the first day of the course, Peter led us through some breathing techniques and then we practiced holding our breath on land. I was nervous, anxious to be the next prodigy freediver! My dance background made it easy for me to notice where I was holding tension in my muscles and needed to relax. But it was devastatingly hard to clear my mind of the fear that was telling me I wouldn’t be able to hold my breath any longer. During the first dives, all I could see was the rope in front of my face. No colorful fish to distract me from my own mind. But I took comfort in watching the color of the water darken as I dove down and brighten as I ascended, enjoying the ombre effect along with the dream-like sensation that always comes with being underwater. 


On the second day I returned to the water with more comfort. On every dive, I reminded myself that I am capable of more than I think--a practice I very often find to be just as valuable in my life on land as it was underwater. Peter dove down with me and we sat at the bottom of the rope for a bit. I watched him slowly lace his fingers and fold his hands over his stomach as if he were reclining back in his living room chair with a warm cup of tea. We counted the seconds. Then I began to slowly pull myself back up the rope, luxuriating in the graceful movement of my arms underwater, one after another, the beginnings of a dance. I left feeling tired but happy, and ready for more dives to come. 


In one short week I have already become so comfortable in Kalk Bay, my perspective having changed drastically from that first dark view of Main Road from my cab window. I have become more comfortable with Peter and Hanli too, and am excited to share more of my ideas with them. It’s been a great beginning and I can’t wait to see what new kinds of adventure, discomfort, and growth the next six weeks will bring. 

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