Fire in the Night in Baja Kunda, The Gambia

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Who doesn’t like sitting around the campfire with loved ones? Or blowing out the candles on a birthday cake? Or grilling up some backyard BBQ? When controlled properly, fire has its positive uses. But it also has its destructive capabilities, so we try to be as careful as possible. Though at times things can spiral out of control, and fire can spread quickly. This was the case one night in the village that I lived in during my Peace Corps service. A night that turned out to be another one of my misadventures.

I had just finished bathing and was getting ready to settle into bed. I saw a light from a fire that was somewhere in the village. At first, I didn’t think much of it because it wasn’t uncommon for some of the villagers to have large fires and do singing and dancing. But I then noticed that the light started to get brighter, and people weren’t singing, they were screaming and crying. At that point, I realized that something was very wrong. So I put on my shoes and sprang into action.

As soon as I left my house I noticed that my host mother was crying and filling up a large bowl with sand from the ground. She was seven months pregnant at the time and was gearing up to go help fight the fire. I knew that I couldn’t let her go and risk herself and my soon to be baby host sister. So I walked in front of her and said, “Ma, hani. Tau, M dema (Mother, no. Sit down, I will help).” She nodded her head and sat down on the porch. That assured me that she wasn’t going to leave. So I then started making my way towards the fire.

I walked through the narrow backstreet near my compound. There were a lot of people carrying furniture and other items out of one of the compounds that was near the fire. I continued walking and came to the street that had the building that was on fire. People were standing off to the side watching the spectacle in front of them. While others ran towards the building with bowls full of sand or water to try to extinguish the fire. That’s when I realized the harsh reality of the situation. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and no fire trucks were going to come to our aid. We were on our own.

I started to help and found myself in a chaotic mess. Everyone was in a frenzy, and people were bumping into each other and sometimes dropping bowls of sand and water. I tried to think of ways to organize things and fight the fire more effectively. At this point, I still wasn’t very good at speaking Sarahule. Though somehow I was able to get people to form a line so that bowls of sand and water could be passed up to people positioned on the rooftops. As they were in a better position over the fire.

Those who were on the rooftops tossed the empty bowls into the street, forming a pile. I ran over and started to collect them so they could be reused. I became very frustrated because there were all of these empty bowls and so many people were just standing around and watching. I went up to a random villager who appeared able-bodied and handed him a bowl while sternly saying, “Doree, sassa (Sand, now)!” He gave me a quick look of confusion, but then grabbed the bowl and took off. I was able to pass off the other bowls that I had as well.

We were able to get the fire under control after about an hour and a half. At that point, people started to return to their homes. When I made it back to my compound I asked my host mother for some water so I could bathe again. Fighting the fire left me covered with sand. She brought me a large container of water and then said something to me while pointing at my arm. Blood was trickling down my arm from a cut on my shoulder. I wasn’t sure how it happened, but it wasn’t too bad.

After bathing yet again and bandaging my arm, I laid down on my bed. I was feeling exhausted as the last bits of adrenaline wore off. But I had a hard time sleeping because so many thoughts ran through my head. I was worried that some people might have gotten hurt. Or that a family just lost their home. But I had no way of knowing for sure, and that bothered me.

The next morning I helped move the furniture back into that compound. After that, I met up with one of the village elders to find out more about what had happened. He told me that a family was cooking dinner and their gas stove went haywire. And before they knew it, the fire was taking their house. But the good news was that no one was hurt. He thanked me for helping out and told me that other people became motivated to help as well after they saw me working.

I hope you enjoyed this story! Yet another misadventure from my time abroad. This should go without saying, but please be safe with fire. If you like this post then please share it! Also, got a misadventure story? If so leave a comment below and tell about it. Thank you for visiting my blog, have a great day!

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