These three youngsters with their beaming open-faced smiles could likely be anywhere in the world. They could be found scampering around in the leafy spaces of city parks. They could be found joshing around on the manicured lawns of suburban houses. They could be playing games on hot pavements, oblivious to the hustle and bustle…
Steven Spielberg has a lot to answer for. He traumatised probably a generation of teenagers, myself included, who regarded a night-time swim as something pleasurable and romantic. Especially those who would spend their school vacations in a hot climate such as myself in the Arabian Gulf. That all changed after the release of the movie "Jaws".
Till today I will sometimes when swimming on a summer's night in the balmy waters of the Mediterranean feel a shiver down my spine. I'll have swum out a few hundred metres then stopped,let myself float as I gaze back at the glittering line of yellow and orange lights illuminating the beachfront and then… maybe a bit of seaweed will wrap around my ankle, or maybe nothing, just my mind cruelly digging up an old image…and I'm freaked out. This is someone who generally regards herself as a daredevil risk-taker, (jump the queue outside an electronics shop on Black Friday? Pff!), but something about being alone in a huge body of black water, not being able to see what lies beneath me in the dark depths, thoughts of sharks lurking even in a generally shark-free sea, and I get jittery.
Imagine then if suddenly the shore line of orange lights all went out, the indistinct conversations of people on the beach was cut off and I am adrift in the seamless surroundings of black sea and black sky, nothing to distinguish the two except dots of stars scattered in the firmament. I am out of the dark water, but only just, as I balance myself against the sides of a heavily overladen dinghy crammed with people. I don't know how to swim and anxiously watch the sea lapping into the dinghy. I have a child in my arms, both of us shivering from the toxic cocktail of fear, cold and hunger coursing through our veins.
Why would I undertake such a perilous journey? I may well have never been to sea before in my life. I may never have ventured further than the outskirts of my town/village, most likely in the company of my extended family, most of whom I will have now left behind.
Why would I do this?
I probably will have witnessed people dying of dehydration, exhaustion and drowning, before my eyes. Will I be next?
I have aspired to capture this chain of thought in the face which illustrates the 8 of Diamonds card (part of the Malta Playing Cards project) even though I know that my worst nightmares don't equip me to fully comprehend her fears. Image on MOAS Instagram:
"Drowning is not so pitiful as the attempt to rise.
Three times t'is said a sinking man
Comes up to face the skies,
And then declines forever
To that abhorred abode.
Where hope and he part company-
For he is grasped of God.
The maker's cordial visage,
However good to see
Is shunned,we must admit it
Like an adversity."
"He feels himself buried in those two infinities, the ocean and the sky, at one and the same time: the one is a tomb; the other is a shroud."
#Victor Hugo, #Les Misérables
My painting "The Joy Boys" which has been donated for auction to raise funds for MOAS couldn't be in more stark contrast to the face gracing the 8 of Diamonds card.