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Above and Below by Lindani Mchunu

I have two conflicting stories to tell. Yet before I get there I would like to highlight the three types of buoyancy and speak directly to them in both my stories.

Negative buoyancy– takes place when an object happens to be denser than the fluid displaced by it. Here the object will sink because its weight happens be greater than the upward buoyant force. Think of a submarine as it stores and releases water, depending on whether it’s ascending or descending.

Positive buoyancy– takes place when an object happens to be lighter than the fluid it displaces. Therefore the object will float, meaning the upward buoyant force is greater than the weight of the object. Swimmers always experience a great amount of buoyant force.

Neutral Buoyancy– takes place when the weight of an object is equal to the fluid it displaces. Fish are well adapted, controlling their buoyancy with a swim bladder to remain suspended.

You will immediately realise that buoyancy has no subjective meaning, there is no good or bad buoyancy, out of these three it all really depends on the object and its weight relative to the fluid it displaces, whether it sinks or floats. One only requires a certain type of buoyancy depending on the intended outcome or function that must be performed. In our instance we want boats to have a positive buoyancy because their function is above water, we then do everything to make sure we do not take in any water. Yet submarines must take in water to dive and submerge themselves. There is no right or wrong here, only function and form.

My first story is about my inability to remain buoyant on the 16th of August 2020. Our academy is predominantly funded by government agencies, ever since I took over I have worked quite closely with these agencies to ensure that we get a share of the funding they disburse for various skills development programs around the country. One of the agencies we work with is based in Port Elizabeth and has supported our program for the past two years, in fact, we transformed the academy to what it is today mainly from the funding of this entity.

Since early 2019, when we renewed our agreement with them they committed to funding 20 new students. We got the learners from Khayelitsha and an orphanage in Woodstock. Everything was going well throughout the whole year until 2020 began. I had planned that by March 2020 we would have a new signed agreement with the funder for the next three years and this would ensure that we continue to subsidise the 20 learners already on the program and recruit more.

Well as we all know that the Corona virus, with one fell swoop, wiped out any plans that many of us had made for the future. When the learners left in March I thought they would be returning soon, I thought this virus was a passing storm. As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months it became clear that indeed this was not a passing storm, this was hurricane season. The funding was not coming, government agencies had not been allocated budgets and it was July.

So we had to make a very hard and difficult decision, we had to tell the 20 learners that they cannot return to the sailing program until we get funds. So I did what had to be done. On the 16th of August at 10: 00 am I sat in the Chart Room with 14 young black kids and told them that they can no longer come to the program until further notice. I am not sure how to really describe the feeling that was in that room. All I know is that I sank.

We all sank to the bottom of despair. I held back tears, I saw glossy eyes everywhere. One of the learners said, “I thought you were calling us back to tell us we can come back sailing”. Nothing could have prepared me for the feeling that I felt in that room. Sailing to most of us is a love, a passion, a past time maybe even an obsession. Yet there are very few of us that see sailing as lifeline, a hope, a promise of a better future. There are very few of us who come down to the club because we seek refuge from a world that offers very little in the way of peace, opportunity, success, safety and security.

So to lose that very thing that represents so much more than just donning wet weather gear and going out on the water, is to suffer an indiscriminate sense of despair. A despair that pulsated through the room, a despair that lingered on every word I spoke as I sat there and made my speech. We all wanted to float, yet we just kept sinking and at that moment I knew we were heavy, we were all heavy and not even the water around us could suspend us. This story ends here, no happy ending in sight yet. Just an object that sank to the bottom, heavy with emotion, not drowning, but resigned to sinking.

My second story also takes place in August. When the lockdown began our academy closed its doors like all other businesses. Our kids could no longer come and sail, they were stuck in their homes trying their best to follow lockdown regulations, one of the cruelest ones being social distancing, and I’m not sure how you do that in shacks and densely populated areas. Since our kids were at home with no access to laptops and desktops for them to further their studies, we at the academy thought about how we could help. To my luck and surprise one of the members at the club sent me an email during lockdown and spoke of an online learning platform she has, which she would offer to us for free, for any of our learners who were in grade 11 and 12.

I was excited of course, this is what I was looking for. As we kept engaging, we discovered even better news, we could load our curriculum online too, for our students to do theory and practical sailing test sheets. We were excited until we realised now we need devices. The devices were prohibitively expensive and as the months went by it seemed we were not going to find reasonably priced ones. I couldn’t take overpriced devices to any possible sponsor during the Covid-19 pandemic, no one had money, and times were hard.

In my last attempt, I reached out to other institutions that were facing similar challenges and to my luck I found one that had just secured devices at a reasonable price. I made contact with the supplier and they dropped off a demo. It was everything we needed and more and the right price. I was happy. Then magic happened. On the 7th of August two weeks ago, I wrote a newsletter to members of RCYC, informing them that I had secured reasonably priced tablets and I needed sponsorship, funding any assistance, they could give. I am happy to report that the members of this club heard me, the very next day, I received an email all the way from Spain and it said “Lindani we read your newsletter and we would like to help”.

Exactly two weeks after that email, I had funds in the bank and we are procuring 35 devices in total! From sinking with those kids in despair to once again ascending to the surface and gasping for air after a long period of not breathing. This has been my experience here at this academy, when all seems lost someone throws a life ring, someone keeps saying keep going. All is not lost when all are not lost. No matter how bad the world may be, no matter how much despair one might experience, life is always ready to give hope to those that seek it out.

I am floating again, yet I left some kids at the bottom, I must gain strength once more from this small win, I must take in as much oxygen as I can store, the kids I left in that room full of despair, need to know that all is not lost if all are not lost. There are so many plans I had for our academy this year, so many of them have been delayed, some might never come into fruition. Yet what I do know is that there will always be people willing to keep going even when all seems lost.

Remember buoyancy, be cognisant of your weight in relation to the fluid you wish to displace. Remember to be light when you want to float, remember to be heavy when you wish to dive and remember equilibrium when you wish to be suspended. It all depends on what we let in and what we let out. What we accept and reject. It all depends on function and form. It all depends on the object and its objective. See you on the water, above and below, we remain resolute in our forward motion.


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