Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sunday afternoon cookout

I was in the middle of a recently typical stay at home Sunday afternoon “nap and sweat” when I heard a distinct sound of snap, crackle and pop outside my window. Rousing myself from an URI medication-induced stupor, I joined Tuy and Aon on the front porch to watch this:

Thai people burn a lot of stuff.   The rice fields are set on fire after the harvest to clear out the debris and make way for the next planting.  Trash and piles of leaves are often incinerated in random piles.  It is not uncommon to be walking in town and see inch long pieces of burned up material floating gently down to earth.   On bus rides and road trips, I’ve seen more than one formerly grassy median aflame, likely from a flicked cigarette butt.   It’s the dry season and the ecosystem here in Thailand seems to be a tinderbox.

My neighbors in the shanty town across the dirt road have a trash pile nearby that’s burned pretty frequently, but apparently this one got out of control.   Tuy and Aon nonchalantly went to the market as I hung out watching the flames rip through the undergrowth.  Shortly after, the school secretary and janitor stopped by to check in.  I started filling up the 5 gallon buckets that were hanging around the front yard; a hose was nowhere to be found.  After they saw flashing lights of the fire truck in the distance, spraying the other end of the fire which was closer to a few other houses, they left. 

The Director pulled up on the secretary's  motorbike a few minutes later.   “I called them.” She said.  “I can’t believe no one else called the them.  How can you not worry?”   The fire truck arrived in front of the house a few moments later and the “hose guy” started getting ready.  He was wearing a red t-shirt.   The driver gets out of the water truck and he’s wearing flip flops.  The two of them heave the empty hose toward the biggest part of the fire closest to my house.   The water gets turned on and turned up with the driver revving the water truck’s engines.  Water is moving out of vehicle in more ways than the hose: the undercarriage is creating large puddles as well.  The slight young man in a t-shirt is working hard to move the water laden hose around.   The Director is telling him to be sure to spray the large trees that line the fence at the back of our house.

The firefighters then move onto the large open space behind the house along the road to school.  The hose guy fires up the master blaster from the roof of the truck and I see water pouring out of the cannon housing. The driver fires things up and the hose starts spraying silt-laden water over the fire.  It then becomes apparent that the water truck is running low.  The fire is patched out into smaller blazes at this point, but the hose guy borrows The Director’s cell phone and calls for another truck, which arrives shortly after.

As the sun sets, the fire seems to be mostly  extinquished. The stretch of grassland is laid bare, covered in ash and black  instead of greenery.  As I walk to school the next morning, I look back to the little blue roofed place I call home and feel a ping of grief for what was. However, despite the hotter temperatures ahead, the rains will follow shortly after and create a fertile climate for growth.   I can't wait to see what happens next.

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