Awesome, Rachel. Awesome!

I could smell the chlorine before I’d even heard the splashing. Moisture ran down the tile walls in intricate patterns. The excitement in that small room was deafening.

Every parent understands the urgency for swimming lessons, especially when you live by the sea. We invest in the skill, practice with them regularly, and happily sit for hours in a steamy room, completely ruining our hair-do for the day.

This was that season for me. Even though Jeffreys Bay was a small town, we were still privileged to find a swimming teacher who passionately taught lessons in the 10x10m pool at the local Policlinic.

When I entered, Rachel was halfway across the pool and swimming fiercely. Front crawl. No, she wasn’t traveling fast but, man, were her arms moving.   

Alongside the pool walked her teacher, loudly exclaiming so Rachel could hear over the sound of her own splashing…

“Awesome, Rachel! Awesome!”

I was slightly confused. Her teacher had been telling me for a couple of weeks now how difficult it had been to get Rachel to breathe properly.

“Shauna, please remind her to breathe.”

Of course, she would do it correctly while practicing on the sidelines, but as soon as she entered the water, she would just swim like crazy and completely forget about breathing. //

This sight before me didn’t make sense. I mean, I’m all for positive reinforcement, but this seemed a little ‘over the top,’ don’t you think?

I calmly made my way over to the teacher and asked her, “Why are you telling her she’s awesome? She’s doing it all wrong.”

The teacher stopped dead in her tracks and stared at me with that dear-in-headlights look. Then she burst out laughing.

Noooo! The Afrikaans word for ‘breathe’ is ASEM.

I’m saying “Asem, Rachel. Asem!  

Breathe, Rachel. Breathe!”


Well, that was a first for all of us. We laughed until tears ran down our cheeks like the condensation on the walls.

Culture shock even hits in the swimming pool!

It’s so funny to remember this run-in with language issues, but it’s also a great reminder, isn’t it?

It’s so important to make sure that we’re SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE.

  • Not just English verses Afrikaans, but do we understand each other’s intentions and implications?
  • How many disagreements have happened in our lives as a result of miscommunication? I thought you said this, but you really meant that.

Even when we’re all speaking English, we need to ask ourselves regularly, “Do I really understand you?”

Genesis 11:6 says it this way:

“Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, NOTHING they set out to do will be impossible for them!”

What a powerful thing to truly understand another person! Click To Tweet


Every Friday, I join an inspiring group of writers to write for FIVE MINUTES on a one-word prompt. No editing. No revising. Just WRITE. This week, the prompt word was BREATHE.

// indicates the start and stop of the timer.

For more information on Five Minute Friday, check out Kate Motaung’s site!

6 replies
  1. Katha
    Katha says:

    This is hilarious, Shauna! I remember a few incidents where I also stumbled across language…:)
    It takes a lot of effort and openness to not just be frustrated with the other person. If you take the time to ask and get to know the other person it’s normally pretty funny.
    Happy Friday! I’m your neighbor at FMF today.

    • Shauna Blaak
      Shauna Blaak says:

      Haha! I’m sure you also have some great stories. I sometimes equate culture shock to “feeling like you’re normal and then… WHAM, you’re simply on another planet.” How did I get here??? Fortunately for us, Afrikaners love to laugh at the foreigners. So it makes for some funny moments.
      Have a great weekend! (heading over to read your post now) 🙂

  2. Carol
    Carol says:

    This is a great story. Oh, the challenge of clear communications. Currently I am assisting my brother (mentally disabled) while he is at the hospital. My role is to sit in his room and clearly communicate his needs and the history of his illness as we try to find the right care for him. I’m stopping by from FMF.

  3. Lesley
    Lesley says:

    I love the story, Shauna, and the lesson you draw from it too. It is important to make sure we’re really understanding one another.

  4. Mary Hood
    Mary Hood says:

    Great take on the word breathe. And whenever I hear a swimming story I stop breathing cause I am not a swimmer! I made sure my kids got lessons! The may have to save me one day. I have never got the breathing right and I am still working on it. Visiting #81.


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