By Nourah Amer Al-Oseimi
Exclusive to The Times, Kuwait
Have you ever swam with sharks? Most of us would probably answer “no” to that question. Well, most of us aren’t exactly like Sarah Al-Mulla, 31, – a vibrant, fearless rescue diver. I have known Sarah for a few years but when we sat to discuss her many escapades across the ocean, I saw her in an entirely new light.
Her love for diving was first triggered after a snorkeling experience in Thailand in 2011. The instructor offered an “explore diving” session which sparked Sarah’s curiosity instantly – “I fell in love, from the surface of the boat you can see the fish clearly, when you go down it’s a different world. It’s so therapeutic.”
I pried further, I couldn’t understand how someone can be so entranced by a prospect that carried so much danger and uncertainty to it. “The serenity, the different types of creatures, you don’t know what might appear. It’s exciting. It’s an ocean, you don’t know what might pass by. I don’t know, I just loved it.”
When Sarah returned from Thailand, she was a changed woman. She trained and obtained her advanced diving license which enabled her to descend all the way down to 30 meters. “They train you in the pool and you have to sit on the floor of the pool. You have to remove your mask, remove your air and bring it back without panicking. That took me a while, it felt like I was drowning myself. There’s a technique to go back and catch your oxygen mask. It did come in handy. I was in Greece [in 2012] and the diving place was where a volcano erupted many years ago. When diving, me and my brother, water came in my regulator, so I pushed on the regulator to get the water out and it fell off. I kept losing air. I had to calm down and not panic. I used the technique and placed it back on my mouth.”
Sarah’s inquisitive nature propelled her to explore the Pacific Ocean and the Great Barrier Reef during her visit to Australia. “I saw a lot of beautiful coral, it’s endangered now. With global warming and heavy tourism, it’s killing the coral. But it was always on my diving bucket list.”
“In 2013, I went to Maldives, I saw giant turtles, some sharks.” I stopped Sarah immediately. She listed sharks on her list as though they were a regular fish she just came across. I had to learn more. Did she come across sharks often? What were they like up close and personal?
“I went diving with the sharks in the Dubai Aquarium, you can go before or after their feeding. There are so many types of sharks, Manta Rays and sting rays. I wasn’t scared for my life. Sharks are scary, but they command such respect when you see them. They own the place, we’re not allowed to touch them, so they don’t think that we’re trying to hurt them.”
This experience, however, does not come close to the most intense encounter Sarah has had with a shark. Earlier in 2018, Sarah went back to the Maldives to snorkel, and for the first time in her life, she was fortunate enough to spot a rare sighting of a whale shark. A giant, 7-meter-long whale shark. “I literally laughed and cried at the same time from excitement. I felt so humbled, he was swimming peacefully. The fact that we got the chance to see it, when some divers were exploring for 3 weeks trying to spot one, but they didn’t.”
Sarah was a fully trained and licensed scuba diver, but she had a desire to push herself even more. In 2017 she pursued a rescue diver license, which was by far more challenging.
“As a rescue diver, you’re equipped to help someone or find someone under water. In training, you have to play a real-life scenario where there’s a diver missing. One person would be the anchor and the other person would take a rope and go around and if they didn’t find anything, more rope would be released to go deeper to continue searching.” The whole process relies heavily on teamwork, trust and mutual respect. Diving is very much a team sport and heavily depends on the close-knit relationships fostered between all divers.
“I’m passionate about this, I do want to take it further. The community is so positive and encouraging. There are so many possibilities, you can become an instructor and open up your own training center. In the future, I’d love to do something like that, why not?”
I was moved when listening to Sarah’s various experiences and encounters as a diver, I was certain she must have learned a lot and grown as a person upon witnessing so much of the ocean’s majestic beauty. I found myself wondering, what were some of her key take-aways?
“You have to be respectful, you can’t touch the coral, you can’t touch the fish. You can’t feed them something out of their ecosystem. I saw a red snapper attack and eat a blue tang fish. I have such an appreciation for Planet Earth, you see it from a different perspective. When you have all these messages about preserving the ocean and taking care of it, you understand because you lived it as opposed to someone who isn’t part of the marine life. They won’t feel it as much. You feel more responsible when you see someone wanting to throw some litter, when you see a piece of plastic tangled around a fish’s neck.”
There are several local groups who work hard towards cleaning the sea and the beaches in Kuwait. Sarah believes this is such an important cause and works actively to support this community.
As our conversation came to an end, I asked Sarah if she had any advice for prospective or novice divers “Don’t panic, quiet the voices in your head, because when you’re under water you can think of so many things that can happen. Just enjoy it, enjoy the serenity and the fish and the colors. Just enjoy it. Don’t be intimidated by it, dive right in!”
To learn more information on how you can help reduce pollution in and around the sea and beaches in Kuwait, please visit @kuwaitdiveteam on Instagram
Nourah Al-Oseimi is a 25-year-old Kuwaiti who holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Nourah has worked in different places such as the Central Bank of Kuwait and the United Nations. She serves as a free-lance contributing writer to the Times Kuwait – Newsmagazine. Her column – Essentially Kuwaiti – will feature an in-depth look on exceptional young Kuwaitis and their efforts towards the realization of a New Kuwait.