When you’re in lockdown and can’t go outside, your house becomes your seemingly eternal safe haven. You’re making it comfy and cozy, so you feel secure. But I’ve learned that in quarantine, everyday can bring a surprise.
Yesterday morning, I woke up and went downstairs to get my breakfast. While my kids were having
Honey pops in front of the TV whole-grain pancakes with fruits, I started to smell smoke. I ran through all the rooms downstairs and realized some deep blue smoke was coming from the AC in our living room. As I yelled for my husband still upstairs, I took the kids to the front door then I stopped abruptly: wait, we CANNOT go outside, we are in quarantine! Yes, I’m so deep into this lifestyle that my mind stopped me from leaving the house during a fire. Stupid, well maybe, but I quickly realized that we have a garden, with a pool and an exit directly on the street at the back of it but also things for the kids to play and stay, so it might be the safest place for the kids. I took them around the pool and kept on screaming for my husband. Suddenly I was in fear that the smoke came from an upstairs fire that might already have knocked him out, so I sent the nanny to check on him while I was watching the kids. He finally heard screaming, got out of the shower and ran over the nanny completely naked. This had to happen. I can see she’s a bit traumatized now.
Anyway, I quickly realized that it was an AC fire because I just started the AC when the smoke appeared, so I turned it down and called security and maintenance… My hands were shaking, I couldn’t keep calm and when the new security guy told me he couldn’t help, I might have told him to go F… himself. Stress makes me really not diplomatic. Our maintenance’s boss was luckily more helpful. God knows I wasn’t a fan of him when we moved in this compound. This very tall Indian guy who always tells you “yes madam’, but who doesn’t do the job. This guy told me for every job he had to do in our house that he’ll talk to “Sir”, like I’m too stupid to understand how to replace a plug… He’s forgiven for everything now. He sent me an emergency team super-fast with masks and gloves, 2020’s must have.
I couldn’t see any real flames and I knew it had happened to our neighbors in the past so I didn’t know if I should call the fireman or not. But also, I had NO idea what the fireman number was here in the UAE!!! In my diplomatic spouse training before leaving on posting, I was taught by the Ministry many things, from table setting and wine serving to the correct response to carjacking, gun or knife attack (The classic ambivalence of our jobs). One rule caught my attention because I’m super organized and I knew this was a great idea for me:
When moving in another country, make a piece of paper with the number of the ambulance, police, fireman, your husband and the embassy and ALWAYS have it on you (tattoo can be an option). Because let’s face it, we don’t learn numbers by heart anymore, especially when you change your own every 3-4 years. Also, you might have all your belongings stolen, it’s nice to be able to tell the police or the person on the street who found you, which number to call… Truth is, here in the UAE, they know everything. If something happens to me, police is here within 4 minutes thanks to CCTV camera. With my fingerprint or my eye scan, they know my husband’s number, where he works and probably which road I took the last 2 years, how many times I eat cheesecake and my size of pants (but these two are linked). So why would I bother with writing numbers? FOR THIS KIND OF EMERGENCY. I got too comfortable, my mistake.
Turns out, in case of real emergency I have all the wrong reactions. My father was a part-time fireman, I KNOW what to do in these situations and I did not do ONE thing he taught me. I didn’t take my extinguisher, I didn’t cover my mouth, I couldn’t remember if I should open or close the doors, nothing, just shaking. But when my husband is there, he’s the one who is super-efficient in real dangerous situations. He’s panicking for small things (he might even have bought some toilet paper rolls too many, don’t tell anyone), but when it comes to the big threats, he’s the calmer of all, super rational yoda-like. So, I usually let him take the lead. This time he did it naked. Like Alan said in The hangover“Pants at a time like this?”.
The maintenance team went on the roof to get rid of the fire, they removed the burned AC unit components and replaced them. By 8:30 am this was all fixed and behind us apart for the burned rubber smell. I felt a year older. The weight of the stress, the kids. My husband asked me what I would save first if this would have really gotten out of hand. He already had a list in his head. I just thought about the kids, nothing else mattered.
And as any major event in your life when you are an expat, you can’t share this with your family and friends in the homeland. They don’t know, they will never know if you don’t tell them and most important, they can’t help you. They might worry for nothing, so why even bother and tell them? Sometimes I hide stuff like this because there is no point to worry them after all. Indeed, most of them will learn this story by reading these lines (or a google-translate version of them). Hence, I got support from my friends here, a lot of them suggested to break their quarantine to help if needed (maybe because they were looking for an excuse to leave or to have visitors, fair enough). I got support also from my “online friends”. This community of expats living around the world, knowing what it is, sharing the highs and the lows, understanding the feelings. And I talked to my birds, Piou-Piou and Lena, they ALWAYS tweet me.
After my coffee, I told Agnès to prepare for homeschooling. Her answer was: “Mom, the house was on fire, I think we should have a day off”. Yeah, maybe… we could use a couple of weeks off, but I have to admit I’m VERY pleased we are in quarantine now. We were supposed to be in Australia and our Nanny in the Philippines… Our house would have been empty and probably half burned before someone noticed and called the fireman… They say it all happens for a reason, in this case, maybe for the first time (or actually the second after the cancelation of all diplomatic receptions), I’ll thank you Covid-19 lockdown, for making me stay home.