Thursday, July 27, 2006

Burnin' down the house...or hostel

Yes...the title is literal! A few weeks ago I went to make some rice in the hostel kitchen...and well to make a long story short because my space bar is not working resulted in a huge gas fire!

The girls had left the flame on the gas stove, like they always do, so I just put my pot of water on. I turned it up a bit, and then suddenly flames came out of everywhere, even the knob that I was turning. My first reaction was to turn off the knob, but I would have had to reach into the flames. There was another girl in the kitchen and so she and I just backed away from the stove. I figured that the girls would know what to do, since they live here and always deal with gas stoves,but I was wrong. They kept telling me to just wait cause "uncle" (one of the older guards) was coming and he would fix the problem. Well first Uncle had to get permission to come into the hostel,cause no men are allowed, and when he saw the blaze, which was about four feet high and now working it's way across the kitche, he said, "Oho!" and didn't know what to do. One of the girls rolled in an old fire extinguisher which I had no idea how to use and figured was five or ten years out of date. Uncle looked at me and said, "yih pani hai?" while pointing at the fire extinguisher. "This is water?" I said, "Nahin, yih chemical hai."

It was at this point I realized nobody knew any better than I did what to do so with a Punjabi-English mix of instructions myself and the other girl who had been in the kitchen took charge. She went outside and turned off the gas supply. At this point, all the hoses connecting hte gas had melted and the gas was even burning inside the wall. I could smell the gas filling the kitchen, which is quite large, and it was difficult to breathe or keep my eyes open. I got a pail of water and directed Uncle to fill up a bucket with dirt to throw on the blaze first. We had had monsoon rains that afternoon, so we ended up with a few buckets of mud. Then Uncle and I, along with one other girl, went towards the blaze slinging mud at it as if it were our opponent. Uncle was desperately trying to be "the man" although he's a bit older so it would have been better if we girls had just handled it.He drenched a thick rug with water and threw it on the gas stove,which Iwasn't sure was the best idea but at least we'd already covered it in mud and gotten rid of most of the flame. The other girl and I concentrated on throwing mud into the pipes burning inside the wall in order to extinguish it for good. There were still some flames creeping out from under the stove,when finally a man who knew how to use the ancient fire extinguishers arrived. He put out the blaze once and for all. Whew.

Afterwards the crowd was joking about "michelle's sunday night special," which now included charred mushrooms, onions, melted plastic and a whole lot of ashes!

The good thing is, the fire incident led to the purchasing of new stoves and the installment of safer metal piping instead of rubber hoses, which had led to my dinner becoming a blaze...

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