Conquering your Fears: Lessons from Little Zeynep

All my life I’ve been afraid of water.

Where I grew up there was the Arabian Sea, and we would on occasion go for family picnics to Hawk’s Bay. But I remember the sea being gray brown, with choppy, salty, waves that stung your eyes were you unfortunate enough to dunk your face in. Which would be often, as it was Dad’s favorite pastime to push unsuspecting kids into the water. We would at best emerge sputtering and choking, and at worst could be stung by a blue bottle, our name for the local jelly fish. Ouch…what great fun!

On this beach there were no bathrooms or trash cans or lifeguards or warning signs of any kind. We were constantly told not to go far in the water as there was no one to come to our rescue and drownings were common. 

As for swimming pools, there were no public pools in Karachi where you could learn to swim. On top of that, being a girl, swimming was a challenging activity because I didn’t own any bathing suits.  So you went to the beach in your everyday clothes, got soaking wet and air dried yourself in the 100 degree Karachi heat.

All that added up to my mortal fear of water. After moving to the US, I taught myself to float (badly) at age 40, only because I didn’t want to one day fall and drown in my own pool. My four kids were swimming like little fish, and all I did was sit on the sidelines and stare at them wistfully. I would sometimes dangle my feet in, sometimes wade into the shallow end, that was about it.

And so I lived all my life with this wariness of water. Until now. 

Because something happened this month that made me take the first step to conquering my fear of water. Here's what happened.

We went on a family workcation to Turkey.  After a fabulous few days doing the Artizara photoshoot in Istanbul, we made our way to Turkey’s  fabled ‘Turquoise Coast’.

Here in Fethiye, one day we decided to go on ‘Freddy's Boat Trip’. Freddy had something like 600 five star reviews on Trip Advisor, and when I called to book and asked to pay, he said:

“Pay me if you like the trip”. 

Nice, Freddy. I was already impressed before we ever laid eyes on the boat. 

We arrived at Freddy’s boat early in the morning. It was docked in a river leading up to Calis beach, an unassuming wooden thing with twin Turkey and Trip Advisor flags fluttering side by side on its stern.

Freddy's Boat Trip Fethiye Turkey

Freddy's Boat Trip Fethiye Turkey

Thinking we would be met by a professional crew or something, I was surprised to be greeted by Freddy and his family: his wife, son and little daughter, Zeynep.

“I am chief Captain”, Freddy said, and “she is the head chef” motioning to his wife. 

But my eyes settled on little Zeynep, who was the cutest little button I had ever seen! At four years old she had the confidence of someone much older along with the trusting friendliness of a child who has been taught that everyone in the world is basically, good. Her little body in a purple striped swimsuit still retained its pudgy baby fat with skin and hair both tanned to a golden glow that a supermodel would envy. Zeynep immediately set about befriending our three girls, who spoke no Turkish and were many times her age, but that didn’t seem to matter to her at all.

We set sail and coasted from the river to the open waters of the Aegean Sea. 

It is impossible to describe in words the beauty of the water. Crystal clear, and a shade of blue so rich you feel like you’re gazing at a photoshopped picture, not the real thing. At the edges where the sea met the soaring coastline, it melded from deep azure blue to a stunning emerald green. 


Fresh squeezed juice was served, followed by an endless supply of amazing home made food, courtesy of Mrs. Freddy, head Chef. 

We ate, we sailed, we marveled at the scenery.


I took a stroll around the boat and saw that Zeynep had fallen asleep lying on a mat on the top deck, under the blazing sun now high in the blue afternoon sky. She looked like the vision of an angel cherub, the kind you see, and love and duas start automatically pouring out of your heart.

 Soon, we reached Aquarium Bay and Freddy docked the boat. 

It was really, really beautiful. Rocky hills covered with pine forest surrounded us.  The shimmering blue water looked deceptively shallow. But it was more than fifty feet deep and so clear you could see every rock and pebble on the sea floor. People were swimming around and snorkeling. My husband and girls jumped in and called for me to join. But I sat on the sidelines...and stared at them wistfully.

Mustering up courage, I asked Freddy for a life vest and put it on. I stood on the gang plank, where everyone had jumped off before me. But my feet seemed glued to the boards. I didn’t move. I stared at the tempting water, thinking about what wonderful creatures were waiting to be seen under the surface, while at the same time that other voice in my brain kept saying: ‘ The water is soooo deep… you can’t swim…you will drown.’

My hands grew cold and a knot formed in my stomach.


Just then out of nowhere, came Little Zeynep. She had awoken from her nap and came bounding down the boat. She had little golden floaty vest to match her hair, which was tied in a ponytail straight up, like a shiny tree growing on her head. She pushed past me on the gang plank. And without a moment's hesitation, she jumped, into the deep, deep water. 

Zeynep squealed with delight as her body hit the water with a big splash. I looked at her in awe. She had zero unease or anxiety about sharks or drowning or any other terrors lurking in the water. She was a just another little fish, carefree, at home in the sea. 

Then Zeynep turned around and locked eyes with me, still standing on the gangplank. Her fearless blue eyes were the color of the water but there was a puzzled look on her face. She seemed to say:

“What are you doing, just standing there? Come on. Jump!”


I did.

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