Opinion: Taming the Pool of Death. Thus, ending a 16-day sporting extravaganza that brought together approximately 11 000 athletes from 205 participating teams drawn from 192 countries to showcase their talents in 339 events – 33 sporting codes and 50 disciplines. The curtains have since been drawn on the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, as has been the case for 30 centuries.
Although there were no spectators due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which delayed the Games by a year, millions of viewers were glued to their screens across the world.
Zimbabwe was also represented, with Donata Katai, Peter Wetzlar, Ngoni Makusha, Scott Vincent and Peter Purcell-Gilpin resplendent in national colours, doing the nation proud. The country has been sending athletes since 1928, under colonial rule. Considered the penultimate of sporting glory, the Olympics interact talent from across the world.
But has it really captured the best that the world, particularly Africa, has to offer? To 15-year-old Anyway Tuiy, the answer is a bold no! He believes that he and many of his local heroes have been forgotten, or rather, are not known by the organisers and selectors to the jamboree.
Anyway is confident that if given a chance, like 17-year-old Donata, who, alongside Peter Wetzlar, proudly represented their country (Zimbabwe) in swimming at the Tokyo 2020 Games, he can bring home an Olympics gold medal.
He may scarcely know much about the Games, but he is aware that Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry, whom he idolises, is a revered Olympian with seven Olympics medals, two of them gold, four silver and a bronze, having participated at the Games five times between 2000 and 2016.
She won her first Olympics gold and the second for Zimbabwe at the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, with 11 000 athletes from 201 teams competing. Anyway is convinced that with professional exposure, his swimming skills are worth a go at an Olympics gold medal.
But odds are stacked against him. Or are they? Playing on repeat is the story of his beloved neighbourhood — Epworth — it is a tale of lack, where poverty boogies with dreams on a dance floor devoid of enabling social amenities.
And Epworth, a bustling settlement about 15km to the east of Harare, which started as a squatter camp during Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, invokes many possibilities each time it is mentioned—all of them negative. Despite oozing talent, the word vice features prominently in association with the community of Epworth.
The story of Epworth is told in relation to poverty —a slum without amenities, potable water and even street names. It is this framing that impedes Anyway’s aspirations, as it buries his story among the many that society considers worthy of scorn.
“My dream is to participate at the Olympics and become a professional diver one day,” says Anyway, nicknamed “Boss Kedha” by his friends, taking The Saturday Herald for a demonstration. He is spurred on by his colleagues, also getting into gear to showcase their daredevil swimming skills.
These are Yasper Guvheya (24), Itai, Leroy Nyakaringa (16), and Adam ‘Adamscrow’ Taibu (40). They are his trainers and source of inspiration. The Domboramwari Primary School Grade 7 pupil believes he has what it takes to be a member of the Police Sub-aqua unit in future.
He has not gone to school today because he hasn’t yet paid his fees. His buddy, Leroy, has dropped out of school at Form 2 owing to lack of fees, and now spends his time around these spaces.
The scene is the ‘Pool of Death’, an abandoned quarry mine in his Epworth neighbourhood. The once-upon-a-mine has earned the moniker Pool of Death because it has swallowed hundreds of people into its murky waters, either through suicide, murder, accidental drowning or infanticide.
Just standing at the banks of the pond, which is less than 20 meters from the main road, is enough to send chills up the spines of the faint-hearted. It is such a cringing experience that one would want to get over it in the shortest possible time.
Estimated to be about 100 metres at its deepest end, the pool is death personified as it snarls at life in its seeming stillness—with ripples twirling and bouncing on the flanks of the stone banks.
The puddle is more than a sanctuary offering the solace of death to burdened hearts, a tomb to scores of departed souls that soar on its tide or the Grim Reaper’s trap for an unfortunate mortal—it is also a source of life.
It offers water for the sprawling community. And to Anyway and his colleagues, it offers more than water; it is a lifeline, cache of dreams, and recreational facility. So, at the pool, death and life, though sworn companions are always engaged in a tussle. Imagining himself on the diving board at the Olympics, Anyway swings, twists and flips off the rock platform, and plunges headfirst into the water six metres or so below, as if his life depends on it.
We can only watch in awe from the not-so-benign safety of nature’s rock coping in the searing September sun. He swims to the swallower part of the pond, up the inner rock banks and climbs back to the stone coping.
He has been soaring on the wings of the wind, oblivious of the atmosphere of death around the pool, whose cloudy waters, said to change colour at least four times a year, he has been accustomed to for the past seven years.
“I started swimming when I was seven, and I came here in 2013,” Anyway says. He cut his swimming teeth in the streams of his neighbourhood, before he graduated to the Pool of Death, starting from the swallower part, until he was elevated to dare the devils of the murky waters.
He has never been to a swimming pool, having known only streams and rivulets of his experiences. “If a chance comes my way, I would like to have the experience of diving into a real swimming pool, not only to better my skills, but to also teach others, particularly schoolchildren,” says Anyway.
The 24-year-old Yasper “Boss NK”, who considers himself the chief instructor here, is cut of sterner stuff. He can give many Olympians a run for their gold with his stunts. He can do just about anything as long as he lands in water.
Without the added advantage of a tip from the diving board, he back-somersaults from the edge of the pool into the welcoming water below, like a pro, twists and effortlessly swims ashore.
He made his debut in the Mukuvisi River, Mbare, where he lived, in 2003 before relocating to Epworth in 2009 and joined the Pool of Death crew in 2013. Itai, a dancer, like 28-year-old Tafadzwa Kaparu, also here, does not disappoint, as his knowledge of the water is legendary.
To Anyway and his friends, who frequented the pool enough to tame it, death is a way of life, whether one dies or lives. Fear has become their companion—a partner, as they yoke expectation and shackle hope for it to remain within their reach.
An unending reserve of hope is a prerequisite in these parts. As in many other settings, where time and space are the levellers, what separates death and life is survival.
This is what sustains the everyday toils of residents of this area, particularly daredevils, like Anyway and his gang, who have turned the Pool of Death into a recreational facility, swimming academy and source of livelihood.
The belief that a man only lives once. Even though he knows his fate to be linked to the dark waters; the sustainer of life and the taker of it, he has to keep the body and soul together, and enjoy it while it lasts. At least for a while longer! He has to sustain not only himself, but the livelihoods of his loved ones as well.
So, as life and death tussle it out in the belly of the pool, and on the banks, as humanity lunges at itself, talents go begging. Forty-year-old Adam, who was taught to swim by his late elder brother, has been here since 1995.
In 1996, the gods of the waters adopted him as their son when his brother released him from under his wing. Nonetheless, he kept a hawk’s eye on his kid brother until he died in 2010.
Since then, the pool has been a source of income for him. It has remained faithful to him, his wife and eight children, seven of whom from three earlier relationships.
He says he has retrieved too many bodies from the pool since 2000 to be intimidated by death. “My friend and I have retrieved more than 100 bodies from the pool, and my estimation is that more than 2 000 people have been recovered from its womb since we were children.”
“I grew up here, so I am not making things up. My grandfather worked for Dyke, the white man who owned the quarry mine, which operated from 1970 to 1975, when it filled up with water and was abandoned,” Adam says.
He says they charge between US$40 and US$50 to retrieve a body. But for rescuing victims of missteps, most of whom are their community members, who come to do their laundry and fetch water here, they do not charge. “I can dive into the pool in my clothes and shoes in search of bodies, or to rescue victims of mishaps.
“If I locate the drowning victim or body, I release it from whatever may be holding it down and push it up to the surface with me safely behind,” says Adam. He says since the quarry mine was abandoned, locals converged to salvage whatever was left behind, with scrap metal being a commodity in mind.
“It seems there is nothing much to salvage, so we are now helping ourselves to the boulders in the pool, which we hammer for the quarry. We also sell bulk water for construction and gardening,” he says.
Like his colleagues, his dream is to use his swimming skills in a professional way. “Many schoolgirls and women do not find it proper to come here for lessons. But they can engage us if they have their own swimming pools at home or school,” Adam says.
Yes, the 2020 Games of the XXXII Olympiad now exist in the past, but the Olympics spirit lives on. There may just be a chance for Anyway and his friends, who, against all odds, have tamed the Pool of Death, not only for survival, but to hone their talents.
There are thousands of their ilk across Africa, whose talents endure the roaring rivers, shallow streams and filthy ponds of their experiences, but whose stories remain lodged in the murky waters.
Source – The Herald