When you join a team the leader of which is a rock chick with her own band and with a soft spot for hard motorbikes, you can more or less expect your life to take unexpected turns from time to time. I work as an English teacher. I have tattoos and so does my boss but what we show our students is not our ink.... We show them the way and help them open the door of the land of many opportunities and a whole new world of freedom.
With the first third of teachers clutching bags of goodies on their laps and securely loaded into Lucy’s all purpose vehicle it was clear that this was to be an evening to remember. Whizzing through the streets of Prague alive with all pre-Christmas shopping madness and the peak of afternoon commute rush we were making our way to an unknown location hidden somewhere in the dark alleys, a world away from the pulsating heart of the city, yet a mere 10 minute drive from our lair. The evening chill was in the air but the urn full of hot water was soon to be loaded with the second “serving” of teachers and later skilfully mixed with some of the bottled goodies carried with love on our laps. Our feet were starting to tingle with excitement but it wasn’t because we were on our way to get a pedicure done… Far from it, actually!
Tom greeted us with a handshake and a peck on the cheek, a faceless silhouette embraced by a huge roaring fire giving out more heat than we could ever absorb - winter or not. Only when he turned his body sideways were we able to gaze upon his friendly face, disheveled hair and notice his bare feet, fully in harmony with the frozen ground underneath. Two extremes. Sub zero temperatures and the mother of all fires. My feet felt extra snuggly in my wooly socks and warm winter boots.
I should be slowly getting to the point, I agree. What’s all this random talk about frozen ground, fire and feet got to do with a bunch of hot griotka sipping people? Well, some companies take part in traditional pre Christmas office merriness, but we are different. So…..when Lucy suggested that we should all strengthen our characters by a little bit of good old fire walking, she received a little reluctant but unanimous YES from all of us crazy English teachers. And so the date was set and we all mentally prepared for “another day at the office” and a Christmas party far less ordinary.
I can’t speak for anybody but myself but my initial gut reaction to Lucy’s idea of fun was a neutral-positive one. Don’t get me wrong, I am not the hard-to-please kind, quite the opposite actually but I would expect to feel at least some apprehension or fear - alas no, pure calm and a surface unrippled by doubts or worries. I guess I have my mother to worry on my behalf, hence I never told her about this until it was over and done with. I have to be kind to that old woman.
Later, in full numbers and gathered around the fire, Tom told us all to grab two pieces of wood each - logs chopped previously for this special event. Those pieces of wood were to represent our fears and doubts and were to be thrown into the hungry orange flames. When the roaring fire consumed our insecurities we turned our thoughts to the positive realms and focused on what we wanted to achieve in the near future, leaving our shortcomings - imaginary or not - burning down to red coals.
Tom mingled in the international English speaking crowd throwing in words of wisdom and ensuring us that walking over hot coals was actually physically possible, all matters of hippie-ness aside. Apparently a thin layer of sweat is created on the surface of the souls of one’s feet and if moving with a sufficient speed - not running too fast and not lingering in one spot for too long - it’s possible to cross the burning path unscathed and unblistered, maybe only with those brave feet as black as the cooling coal. We were also ensured that out of the hundreds of walkers he had had throughout the years, some of them children as young as 4, none had been harmed in any way and indeed there was neither a first aid kit in sight, nor any other emergency procedures in place. In fact I had my first lesson the next day at 7am! Surely Lucy wouldn’t risk the reputation of her company by sending a teacher with smouldering feet, or would she?
I had no doubts and slowly the time came when we were asked to take our shoes off and get familiar with the frozen ground under our feet. This was somewhat unpleasant and I longed for some warmth on my feet and so did my colleagues. To any outside observers, had there been any, we would have looked like a bunch of crazy people dancing a wobbly one legged dance, arms outstretched for balance, taking turns in keeping our feet as close to the fire as possible to get some warmth back in but not to get scorched by the flames. All the while Tom kept busy building a glow-in-the dark runway made of hot coals.
With stories of encouragement told, Tom’s magic drum drumming and couple of griotkas down it was time to get down to business.
Before Tom even had the chance to perform the lead walk over the glowing path he had created just seconds ago, Mark had seized his opportunity and set off leaving black footprints in the hot coals, confidently and briskly walking over and surviving in one piece; arms outstretched in a winning gesture, big white-toothed grin in the dark. This set the mood in the team and we all took our turns tingling with excitement and a small dose of fear-respect of the glowing path in front of us.
To cut a long story short, we all did it. We walked on 600 degrees of hot coals glowing in the dark supported by our peers. We made our feet very dirty but our minds and visions were clear. We felt no pain, we gained no blisters, no burns, no harm. Our eyes focused forward, not looking down, we all walked on the hot coals, most of us repeatedly. It was a buzz and we’ve been buzzing ever since. No task is too big or scary for us now - watch out! We’ve walked on fire!
When the big pile of burning coals was all distributed and walked on and cooled down it was time to clean our feet with a supply of wet wipes, put our shoes back on and head to the pub to wash it all down with a well deserved beer or few. Having spent quite some time by the fire we soaked up the smokey smell and our aroma was extending well beyond our collective personal space. With those beers down, full of yummy food and Christmas presents delivered we then headed to our respective homes in various directions. I appreciated the extended space around me in the underground thanks to my fiery smell. Luckily I was merry enough not to care at all. Upon my arrival at home the door of the bedroom was promptly locked and threatened never to be opened again if I refused to wash. So I let the warm water take away the smells of the fire and the night but the sensation and achievement of something most people only watch on TV and never dream of doing has remained. I have filed it in the adventurous department of my life stories and useful party tricks.
So I dare you to cast your own fears into the fire and then bravely walk over them. It’s magic.
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.