Today I headed to the Aw Baw Daw at 3:30 for what has now become my regular, thrice-weekly English lesson. When I arrived, people were saying something using the word "fei" (I think it was fei mai). This word has many uses, and refers to everything involving fire, light and electricity. At first, from the pantomimes, I thought they were talking about a fireworks display, but it quickly became apparent that they meant something was on fire that wasn't supposed to be. I had been wondering about the presence of the big red tanker truck that was always parked at the ABD, and I became illuminated as three office guys threw on their flip flops and headed out the door, asking if I wanted to come as they went.
So, we hopped in the cab and roared off. And they were probably the most laid back fire crew in the world. As we went, one of the guys kept playing with siren, honking it at girls and pretty much anyone else, and the other two cracked jokes back and forth and asked me how to say some fireman terminology in English.
At first I had been under the impression that a house was on fire, and my head filled with visions of running into a burning building and manning a big hose and I was excited and nervous, since I really wanted to help, but had no idea of what to do or how to do it.
But that didn't really matter. We shortly arrived at the site of the fire about 10 km away. Or rather, we arrived near it. It turned out that it was actually a field that was burning, explaining why there wasn't a great sense of urgency. Fields are regularly burned here (it was fallow), and the only thing that made this special was that apparently it wasn't intentionally set ablaze, and presumably steps to control the fire had not been prepared.
Anyhow, we got to the end of the little side road and started out onto the rice fields, but the guy driving decided the truck wasn't really the right vehicle to navigate the humps between rice paddies (typically gone over by motorcycles, pickups and tractors). So we sat for about 10 or 20 minutes looking at the smoke a few hundred meters away contemplating what to do. They made a few calls and talked to some onlookers to try to figure out if there was another way. They even had a guy scout ahead on his motorcycle to see if the way got better or worse (it got worse). Then we turned around and kept on going down the road to a house that had a private road out to the fields, closer to the fire. They scouted that road, decided it was too narrow, made the decision that a tractor was better equipped to deal with this fire (it could push dirt around and whatnot, and actually get to the fire), then we headed back to the ABD. Honking at pretty girls and joking all the way.
The only disappointing thing about the experience was that they wouldn't let me get up on the back of the truck to wave at my students playing volleyball when we went past my school. Actually, one guy was all for it, but the other two said it was dangerous. They did tell me they'd call me for the next fire, though.
We got back to the office about the time we usually wrap up the English session. I hung out for a few minutes (to see if the whiskey they'd been joking about would turn up) then headed home to tell everyone about my awesome experience.
So yeah. My status update is that things are going really well for me. I'm still doing more outside of my house and spending more time in my community, and I'm feeling really good about it. I wouldn't have gotten to ride in a fire truck if I hadn't started doing this, and I'd probably still feel frustrated and question my presence here.
Whoop whoop! (That's my fire truck whoop.)