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Staying at Lily of the Valley, I quickly discovered that all staff members perform multiple jobs. A science teacher may double as a bus driver, the receptionist may help with violin lessons and the soccer coach may also be… a firefighter?
During the dry season in South Africa, the wide grassy plains are prone to burning. Many of these fires are set intentionally to keep out snakes, make hunting easier or clear land for green grass.
But when these get out of hand, they can become very large, and potentially dangerous, bushfires.
Why is the sky glowing?
I discovered this on my way to dinner. After sundown, the children are normally inside. But I noticed kids dashing back and forth from building to building and adults talking quickly, making calls and scrambling to find cars.
One young boy ran by me, and I heard him shout, “Fire!”
That’s when I noticed the red glow over the field next to Lily. A pickup truck swung by, loaded with teenage boys and several male staff. I grabbed my camera, hopped in and set off to fight my first bushfire.
To the Fire!
The ride was bumpy and full of teen boys chattering excitedly in Zulu. Everyone leapt off when the truck stopped, and with the cry of teens going to save the world, they went tearing off into the high grass. The only light was the fire we were trying to put out.
I had thought there might be equipment. Perhaps water. I was wrong. I ran with the group and discovered the four key steps to fighting a South African bushfire:
Step 1: Find a tree
This is harder than it sounds. We are in a grassland, not a forest. It is also pitch dark.
Once you find a tree (sometimes by running into it or tripping over it), start pulling off branches to make yourself a big, leafy club.
I quickly learned you don’t want it to be a thorn tree.
Step 2: Find an edge
These fires burn in lines. You want to fight it at the edge of the line so you’re not surrounded.
And if breathing is important to you, it’s also a good idea to stay upwind of the fire.
Step 3: Beat the fire with your club
That’s right! After I collected my bundle of branches, I proceeded to beat at the fire until it went out. It may sound ridiculous, but I found it surprisingly effective, and more than a little satisfying.
There’s something especially rewarding about beating a fire with a club, and judging by the hoots and hollers of the boys around me, everyone else agreed.
Step 4: Repeat
Eventually the bundles of branches burn, and you have to find more. Besides that, it’s just a matter of working through the grasses line by line until it’s all gone.
Not a big deal…
As I returned home that night, covered in soot and reeking of smoke, I could only marvel at the casual nature of the entire event.
It was exciting, yes, but not unusual. I talked to staff and students, and they said this happens every once in a while. They didn’t consider it a hardship or terrible chore.
I thought back on some of the occasional chores I’ve faced – cleaning the house, raking the leaves, mowing the lawn or even the sporadic “hardships” in my community: bad traffic, snowstorms or closed roads.
I could only marvel at how often I find myself complaining about these things, when here at Lily of the Valley, no one gripes about putting out a fire in the night.
About the Author: Brad Miller is a year-long fellow with WND. A student of Psychology, Biology, and Theatre, he's worked as an actor, teacher, balloon artist and last-minute fill-in guy for any number of projects. He loves camping and tinkering with broken and discarded things. Brad's passion in life is to unleash the potential in others.