One of the smallest lifeguards stands beside a customer of apparently 2.10m.

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"Henry, Ronaldinho, Beckham – Mr, no diving in the shallow end – Rooney, very nice, Rooney, very very nice", he confirmed as he bit his bottom lip and tilted his head to the side like an over animated children's TV presenter. This opinion has unknowingly been repeated a few times to me, with altering interruptions brought about by the customers as we sit side-by-side on the pool-side during my daily lifeguard stint.

Without protest I accepted a less than part-time role as lifeguard in one of the pools in our family owned sports complex. Having completed my lifeguard certification some time before I reluctantly sit for a daily reminder of how time can pass so painfully slow. Although I grumble, the gossiping group of vanity ridden lifeguards provides me with much practice in Farsi, even if most of it is unrepeatable to any family members. As we ineffectively sit huddled together tea is poured, biscuits shared and whistles frequently blown, "Mr, No backflips!", "Mr, Non-swimmers go back to the shallow end!", "Mr, take a shower!". Hands rub other's legs and arms are held round shoulders as tips on clothing and personal hygiene are shared while we hawk the pool. "Daveed, it's very bad, very very bad" they remind me as I stretch before a swim during my tea breaks. "But shaving armpits is mostly a female practice where I come from", I protest to a wall of disgusted faces. "You must shave your chest and also down below" they insist. I don't want to believe this is true but I've seen the evidence. Their advice extends to my clothing also, I am often made to parade in my clothes as they pull on the material and guess manufacturers while suggesting clothing boutiques in Tehran, "very nice, very very nice" they say as I am made to spin before them.

Unlike my experience many years ago as a lifeguard in the UK and USA I have a greater challenge, the Iranian ability to swim is weak, yet the perception of their ability is something else. One such example still resonates among friends: like many visitors, the excitement of entering a pool leads them to carelessly race to the water. This one chap – forgetting he was unable to swim – jumped into the deep-end where we were quick to recover his flapping body. Oddly, it was but 10-minutes later that he repeated his error leading us to once again retrieve him. At the time we jokingly concluded that such a person doesn't deserved to live if they were to do this a third time. Yet joking aside, I have never been off my seat so much, these visitors are dangerously fearless and are also dangerously behaved to one another, laughing as they hold their friend's heads under water, repeatedly swimming into one another and often wrestling for the entirety of their visit.

The entrance brings many stories: war veterans with missing parts, scarred work-worn laborers and dodgy folk with hand-made tattoos

For me this the most level Iran gets, I am exposed to a variety of people and a wide spectrum of life. The entrance brings many stories, these can be seen branded on the skin as the customers exit the showers: war veterans with missing parts, scarred work-worn laborers and dodgy folk with hand-made tattoos. As our eyes make laps of the pool I share stories with the lifeguards. This is the stuff poor comedy is made of, a collection of partly amusing conversations rotating between girls, football and hygiene, broken by the frequent whistle blows and occasional rescues. From time to time we share insights into one another's cultural backgrounds with me often correcting strange perceptions of what life is like outside of Iran and them often leaving me cross-eyed with unfamiliar and seemingly perverse activities inside Iran.

There is however one subject mostly outside of Iran that I am unable to make corrections about, with the up coming football world cup I have been practically given a diary of game times, a list of players and predictions for every stage. "Brazil, very nice, very very nice" I am assured as the bottom lip is once again bitten before being released to blow the the whistle, "Mr, leave your pool-shoes outside!".


  • I don't know what it is about Iranians and swimming, we've got two coastal borders, you'd think we'd be better swimmers.
    Or at least know better than to dive in knowing full well we can't swim. I, perhaps in a minority, am very aware of my inability to swim and don't dare get into any portion of a pool that goes deeper than four feet.

    Your description of customers leaves me hungry for more, for images even, though I imagine photographing them wouldn't be that appropriate.

    This is so horribly cheesy, even by Iranian standards, but worth it even if just for the endless chanting of "IRAN" about two and a half minutes in. Team Melli!!!

    By Anonymous Tahereh, at 9:27 AM  

  • This is funny. And it reminds me of all the "shomal" moments when some of my family members would wade farther and farther out to sea, despite not knowing how to swim, until suddenly realizing waves can push and pull, no matter how tall you are. Then, about five people start screaming for dear life, and the young cousins have to go out there and rescue their wildly thrashing bodies...which is difficult when they're each wearing about five layers of heavy "swim" clothing.
    Good times.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:42 PM  

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