That Time The School Caught On Fire

Living abroad brings an abundance of new experiences. You get to see how the local culture changes how people react to situations. Sometimes the reactions are identical to what I would do, and sometimes they are night/day different. This is a story of one of those night/day differences. This is a story of the time the school caught on fire.

I must admit, I have never been in a burning building before. The plus side is, the building was made of concrete, so it wasn’t about to go up in flames. However, there is plenty to make enough smoke to kill an elephant; I’m getting ahead of myself.

It started like any other day. I went to school, had my classes, growled at naughty boys (I would say 90%+ of the naughty kids in my classes are boys), and taught English. The fun started during my first class of the afternoon. We were learning the months, and I started to smell smoke. I assumed it was coming in the window, because they burn trash here. I closed the windows… this was the wrong thing to do.

We continued with the months. Despite the windows being closed, the smoke smell was getting stronger. There was a hole in the concrete wall, drilled to run power cables through it. The hole was grey with smoke, and it was quickly starting to come into the classroom.

“I think we should take the kids down to the courtyard,” I said to the translator. She calmly said, “No, we need to stay here.” The headmaster came to the classroom door to say the same thing, “Stay here. Have the children do their homework.” We opened all the windows, but the smoke was still heavy in the air. My translator said, “It isn’t this room on fire, we must stay.”

Soon there was a rush of groundskeepers past the door. They took out the firehose on the wall (which I honestly questioned whether or not it was real before this point), and thundered up the stairs with it. Our smokey room with the dry floor then experienced two changes:
1. The smoke grew thicker, and blackened (Despite my protests, the translator would not allow the students to leave).
2. The floor became un-dry, very un-dry (At this point the translator told the students to put their feet up on their chairs so they don’t get wet feet). 

Finally the bell rang, and sweet freedom was ours. We should have had a machete to cut our way out of the smoke it was so thick. The staircase on our corner of the building had become a river from the firefighting attempts. The class on the other side of the stairs emerged from their fiery furnace as well, and we all exited through the second nearest staircase. The kids, and teachers all laughing about the experience.

This happened early in my time here. Should it happen again, I am going to tell the headmaster we will be having class in the courtyard. If there were a fire in a western school, there would be a fire alarm sounded. The students would have an orderly exit from the building. After the all clear was given, then the students would return to classes. My school decided to give the all clear while the fire was still burning 2-10 metres (6-30ish feet) from classrooms filled with children.

This is a story from before Xiu Xiu was my translator in class


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