On a visit to the Atlantic Ocean

Okot Nyormoi
Okot Nyormoi, University academic, outdoor enthusiast 




Spring had come round again. At Wrightsville Beach (North Carolina) in our fourth floor room a large glass door opens to a balcony overlooking the Atlantic. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but endless expanse of water. Away from the shore there was calmness. The crystal blue waters shimmered. In the far distance the water appeared to rise, curve and merge with the sky. Nearby at the shoreline white waves rose and crashed in a perpetual attempt to overrun the beach.

Had I been raised in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa or on the coral Island of Zanzibar things would have been different. But, I grew up in landlocked Uganda and in a place far distant from the huge inland ocean they call Lake Victoria. Accordingly I am both repelled and fascinated by the sea. The sheer magnitude of the water, the booming noise it made and the unknown dangers that I imagined lurked beneath the surface were enough to frighten me the first time around. My wife was different and with her around I played it cool.

As we mingled with the holidaying spring crowd, how reassuring and delightful it was to observe that none of the other people appeared to share my concerns about the sea.

The beach is a feeding ground for birds, including sandpipers, seagulls and many others. Some of the birds were a delight to watch. Occasionally, a group of them would appear from a distant place flying in formations that even the best and the most daring of fighter pilots could not approach. They skimmed just inches from the surface of the water only to change direction with such speed and precision as to leave the mind uncomprehending.

On the beach I discovered a whole new world of surfing and surfers. The surfers were mostly young males with occasional young women in their midst. The surfboards varied in size, material, shape, weight and color. Equally varied was the attire the surfers wore. Surfers ventured far into the open sea, apparently without the slightest sense of danger that I felt.

There were others I found who came to the beach not so much for the waters but for the sand. You could and may count me among them. On that warm day how relaxing it felt walking bare foot on the sand in the shallow water on the beach. As the water rose and receded, I at times stood motionless while feeling the sand beneath move giving a sensation of sinking as well as being swept into the sea. I have since grown fond of jogging and walking along the beach.

In the morning we watched as the sun rose and turned the sea into a priceless golden hue. It was then I remembered. This is the same sun people in Africa see daily, hours before anyone in America does. Now the obvious revealed itself to me. This ocean was the same water that connected Europe that connected the Americas and Africa.

I knew that some of the water surely came from the small river my pals and I used to play on as children in Africa. Our river, the Atiwiyo, which I considered huge at the time, drained into the bigger Aswa River that in turn drained into the mighty River Nile that drained into the Mediterranean Sea, which is connected to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Atlantic Ocean played a vital role in European colonization of the Americas. The Atlantic was also a major conduit for slaves stolen from Africa. As I watched the sun rise over this immense body of water, I wondered what the world would have been if there was no Atlantic Ocean. Would 4 million Africans have been wrenched from their families and shipped to a strange land under conditions of unimaginable cruelty? Would the USA be the superpower it is today?