Well, today the fire alarms went off again and because I was prepared for the ridiculousness that ensued, I'm having a much more calm and laughable reaction to today's events. Here's the breakdown:
The second half of my eighth grade class has just started and the girls are squirrelly to the max (there's another post coming with those stories). I'm trying desperately to get them started on an exercise and once I've finally got them quiet enough to hear the instructions, the air conditioning goes off.
In most classrooms, the on-and-off of the air conditioning is not a big deal. But in our school, the air conditioning is a deafening white noise that isn't all that noticeable until it goes away. The girls have also figured out that usually when the air conditioning goes off, the fire alarm is about to sound.
As soon as the noise stops today, eliciting squeals of elation from my giddy group of lovelies, the lights in the cluster cut off. At the same time the girls cry out, "Fire alarm!!"
Remembering the absolute chaos that ensued the last time we went through this exercise in futility, I command, "Do not move!"
"...but Teacher! We're supposed to go outside!" a few girls say, bouncing on the balls of their feet. Not out of fear, but out of excitement for the guaranteed 20-30 minutes of play they know is waiting just on the other side of the door.
"Yes, but we will sit here until we're crispy and smoking if you don't listen to me right now!"
I guess they pick up on the seriousness in my tone because even the girls who are packing up their bags stop what they are doing.
"You told me after the last 'fire drill' that you behaved horribly and out of character. You said you don't always act that way when there's a fire drill. So show me today how you normally behave. Do not let me out of your sight and walk quietly to the fire exit."
Of course, as soon as they hit the fire exit, they scatter like roaches and I don't see them again for the rest of the day. So much for them showing me how they should behave during a fire drill.
I am confused as to why the fire alarms are sounding at all today, and a fellow teacher makes the same comment as we stroll behind the horde of fluttering skirts towards the assembly point. Last week we had gotten a staff-wide email that Monday was scheduled for a fire drill. But if working at this school has taught me anything, it's to expect the unexpected.
After 10 minutes of standing around outside and fending off the question always on every student's mind ("Is this a real fire?!"), the rumor that this was not in fact an unannounced drill makes its way to me.
"According to Abla So-and-So, this is the real deal," one of the other English teachers says, shading her eyes from the sun, purse on her shoulder.
"What? No. They always say that, but someone probably just pulled the alarm."
"No, she said she was checking the halls to make sure everyone had left the building and she saw smoke coming from the maktabah [library]."
Hmm...interesting tidbit, but at this point it's still a rumor. We heem and haw about this and that until eventually we finally hear a confirmed report of smoke coming from someone who had actually seen it with her own eyes.
Uh-oh. My passport is in there! And my cell phone! Dangit! I've always prided myself on not being one of those teachers who tells the kids to leave everything and then grabs her purse before leaving the classroom... now I'm beginning to consider a change in philosophy! We ask the obvious questions: how are we going to get home (all the abayas and such are still inside the school), have the fire trucks come, will there be school tomorrow? The answer to all of these questions is, of course, "I don't know."
Not even two minutes after finding out that there was a bona fide fire inside the school, we see students making their way back into the building. We are on the far side of the field and have gotten no word from and administrators that it's safe to go back into the school.
"Teacher, we can go back inside now," one of my seventh-grade students says as she passes by me. Figures. The teachers would be the last to know such information.
I'm hesitant to believe it until I get word from someone with some authority, but I start strolling towards the building in hopes that I will run into an administrator or something.
As it turns out, there was a real fire. Apparently the wiring above one of the computer labs (or was it in the elementary school?) shorted out and started a small fire. That's why the lights in the cluster went out (or was it because the fire alarms automatically turn them off?). The fumes of burnt plastic are just too hazardous, so we knock off for the last 15 minutes of the day.
I don't know if the boys side has experienced the same craziness, and there are no signs of flames or firemen so I stand around comparing rumors until I hear from the Mister. No use in standing around outside in the sun waiting for him to finish his day.
Then the deputy headmaster is scurrying down the hallway waving her hands and saying exasperatedly, "Out! Out! Everybody out of the building! Yallah! Go!"
Oh...perhaps we should be evactuating.
I clock out (everyone has left the building...they're sitting directly outside the doors waiting for their drivers to arrive. Safety first.) and step outside the gate and that's when I see the fire trucks. Huh. So this must have been a legit situation. Judging from the firefighters' outfits, it wasn't all that serious. One of them was wearing khaki pants tucked in to fireproof rubber boots, a tank top under a sleeveless fireproof/waterproof fireman's jacket, an oxygen tank, and a firefighter's helmet. I guess the Saudi firefighters' policy is to protect the vital organs first.
I wait around comparing stories with one of the teachers whose classroom was close to the fire (her daughter's teachers told her to leave everything and just run...totally not a recipe for chaos). At last the Mister emerges and I get to hear his side of the story on the way home...