Alison looked nervous, but there was little I could do about it. She had picked the swarthy French guy as her buddy, so fixing up her hoses wasn’t my responsibility. By that point we were at the water’s edge. Still, I just couldn’t resist clipping her secondary air supply properly, so I just reached over and did it. She turned and looked at me, then swung around to the French guy and said, “Uh, ‘scuse me, I’m switching buddies.”
It was only my fourth scuba dive, and my second time in the clear aquamarine waters of the Red Sea at Aqaba. I couldn’t wait to revisit the colourful corals and experience the feeling of flight in schools of darting clown fish (a la Nemo). As we walked backwards on the sandy bottom in our gear and flippers deeper into the water, Alison said she had taken the plunge over 200 times. She was an advanced diver. This didn’t surprise me; the brilliant photos on her Web site and her stints with National Geographic were a testament to a lifetime of adventure as a skilled travel photographer. So here we were on the same press tour in Jordan, getting deeper. It was day 3 of our week-long tour, and I had been impressed by Alison’s calm and warm personality. She had spent a few months with the Dalai Lama, and it showed. This made her nervousness about this dive (and the fact that she had suddenly picked me as her dive buddy) even more peculiar.
The water was at our waists. We were side by side. She turned to me with a look of urgency in her sharp blue eyes.
“I had a bad accident in Laos a couple of years ago, and I’m not sure how my body will cope with this dive. Can you keep an eye on me? My doctor told me not to do this. I could hemorrhage.”
“Ah, OK. Sure,” I said, “how bad was it?”
We were now floating.
“Well, pretty bad. My heart and lungs were ripped out and now my organs are held together by a mesh bag.”
Then we were under. We descended to about 100′ – the maximum depth for a recreational dive. Every few metres we exchanged a glance and a thumbs up. I kept expecting to see blood seep from her ears. Hello, sharks!
The dive was beautiful and remarkable only for its sights, not its tragedy. Alison emerged intact and relieved. She’s a good buddy. Until I found a published account of her accident on-line today, I didn’t know just how serious her accident really was. She wasn’t kidding, and now I can understand why she was nervous.
>> Check out the incredible photo collection of Photo Journalist Alison Wright.