Rescuing 40 bathers all in a day’s work

Nasser Abu Mutair is anything but the bronzed wedge of muscle that has to come exemplify surf lifesavers the world over.At 40 years of age, and carrying a sizeable paunch, Abu Mutair prefers to watch over the Gaza Strip’s Sheikh Aijleen beach with a cigarette in one hand and a cordless microphone in the other.When he is not drawing a puff or barking orders at the swimmers crowding between red flags, Abu Mutair is flat out dragging flailing bodies from the Mediterranean Sea.In spite of his unorthodox appearance, Abu Mutair may well rank as one of the world’s busiest lifesavers.How many swimmers a day does he rescue? ”Yesterday I saved 35 people,” Abu Mutair said this week. ”The day before that, around more than 40.”Throughout the summer, Abu Mutair sits in his dilapidated watchtower – sponsored by the local Pepsi Cola bottler – from 8am to 8pm. ”Most of the trouble happens after dark,” he said. ”This is when many more modest people feel more comfortable.”On Tuesday two boys aged 17 went swimming about 9pm and were caught in a rip. ”Cousins,” said Abu Mutair. ”They drowned. Very unfortunate.”With swimming lessons not high on the list of extracurricular activities in the tiny enclave that is home to 1.5 million Palestinians, Abu Mutair says most people in Gaza have no idea how to take care of themselves in the water.In theory, Abu Mutair is employed by the Gaza City municipality. In reality, he has not been paid for three or four months. ”I do it anyway,” he said. ”I’ve been doing this job for 15 years. I love it.” Keeping him company in the patrol tower is a uniformed police officer.”When people don’t obey my orders, I send him down to give them a talking to,” Abu Mutair said.With strict dress codes enforced by Hamas, bathing is an especially treacherous pursuit for women, who must swim virtually fully clothed in an abaya – a coat that covers the body from head to toe.”Women get into all sorts of trouble because suddenly their clothes are so heavy when they get wet. Because most don’t know how to swim, things get very difficult very quickly.”Abu Mutair denied that four years of Hamas rule has influenced the dress code. ”I think women dress the way they always have,” he said. ”They understand what is appropriate and what is not. Nothing has changed here because of Hamas.”So if a woman wanted to strip down to just a pair of shorts? ”In that case I would physically stop her from getting onto the beach,” he said, shaking his head vigorously. He blanches at the thought of a bikini.With an estimated 90 million litres of raw sewage pumped into the sea each day, Sheikh Aijleen is not the first choice for everyone seeking relief from the heat.For Gaza’s privileged aristocracy, a class mostly aligned with the Fatah party of the Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, the new sensation is the Crazy Water Park resort, located several hundred metres inland from the beach. For $450 for 12 months membership, or $10 for a single entry, patrons have a choice of leisure activities.Not to be outdone by the Crazy Water Park and its Fatah clientele, Hamas is funding the construction of a bigger and better water slide resort for its own supporters.Heba Abu Sido, 18, whose father is the Palestinian Authority’s deputy ambassador to Morocco, tells of looking through family albums and finding pictures of her grandmother in a two-piece swimsuit.”Then you see my mother dressed more conservatively than my grandmother when she went swimming. Now my mother warns me if I leave the house with short sleeves. I don’t even think of going to the beach.”
Nanjing Night Net