After 5 days, we are greeted by the sight of our beautiful mountains which is finally visible and our hearts sing with joy! The fires have finally been contained and everyone breathes a sigh of relief as the worst is over. Certain areas are still burning but it’s under control or so we thought…
Cape Point is burning and Scarborough decided to follow. Opposite Kommetjie Ostrich Farm as well. Stoppit now please it’s not a game of tag!
After my initial disappointed for being turned away at Lakeside Fire Station the day before, I duly make my way back there as promised and hope that I will be able to volunteer. I told the guys at Fish Hoek that I was first going to Lakeside first, see how it goes and then go back…..It was not to be…
From the train, I was shocked to see the hiking trails clearly visible which use to be covered by forests and fynbos. Not to fret though, the fires destroyed alien vegetation and re-growth will happen. It will take some time but it will happen.
I arrive at Lakeside Train Station and it’s no longer covered in a haze of smoke as the day before and I get to the Fire Station with trepidation but and I am allowed to volunteer! YAY! Introductions are given and most of the volunteers are not there yet as it’s still early and given a run down on proceedings. We were given those reflective yellow jackets and name tags. Halaal section is away from the non halaal section as to not allow cross-contamination.
It was also a good thing that I came back the next day as one of the supervisors mentioned that they were running low on certain items and I could tell her that Fish Hoek is fully stocked with these items and she promptly got hold of them and a collection was organized. It’s also a good thing that I was there as the muslims making donations appreciated seeing someone in a doekie around the Halaal food. Day old food is given to shelters and under privileged schools. I am told that by now, firefighters are tired of sandwiches and I would be too by eating it every day and yet sandwiches are being donated all the time. I make me cup of coffee and start cleaning up any litter, tidying up here and there. Sorting out the water bottles, energy bottles, soft drinks and energy canned beverages. I am blown away by the volumes of donations received at this hub! I have seen nothing yet! The pics I took were early morning and regret not taking more photos when there weren’t any place to stack more beverages.
As I am a rookie still I do not understand the collective groans made when the first donations of water arrives. I was to join in with the groans soon after lifting, carrying, bending and stacking, 100s upon 100s upon 100s litres of water.
The joke was that the firefighters were putting out the fires with bottled water as there was so much. It was even funnier when one of the guys said that even though he is tired of all this water, ironically he was thirsty and proceeded to drink a bottle in one go. I was soon to experience just that as you get so busy, you forget to drink water and become dehydrated. I’ve been suffering from headaches since Wednesday for just this reason. I still have a headache which I mostly ignore and haven’t taken any pills for it. I just need to drink more water. It does make composing my thoughts and trying to remember the sequence of events over the last few days difficult though.
I was flattered that even though I was a newbie, I was included in selfies, and the get together of volunteers they were planning shortly 😀 The group photos were a laugh as the ‘photographer’ had to take a pic with almost everyone’s phone.
One guy was telling another how great Truth Coffee is and I chimed in. They are one of the top 5 coffee joints in Cape Town! You can only imagine my reaction as a Coffee Snob when Truth came in and set up their machines with enough filter coffee for 400 cups and we could always let them know when we’ve run out! They donated their cups, white and brown sugar sachets plus stirrers. I hugged Miriam! I shouted to one guy who was talking about Truth not even an hour earlier to come see what we have. He says I lie and my response is I speak the Truth! Miriam showed me how to make the coffee and their flasks holds the coffee hot for up to 4 hours. We had 3 flasks J
Donations stream in all the time which means constant lifting, carting, bending and sorting of goodies into various boxes, buckets and trays. 100s upon 100s upon 100s of snack packs were made. I think there was more stock of energy bars, chocolates and sweets than your local superette. Firefighters arrive for their meals, snacks and refreshments and we are at their beck and call. I was timid at first until I built up the courage to hug them all! Thanked them for saving my mountain. They really appreciated it as well as it uplifts them J We had group hugs and they would come back for more 😛 Metro and EMS are part of the crew as well and we eventually build up a repertoire. Everyone knowing my name by my tag but I can’t even remember a third of their names.
Our hearts dropped when ever a fire truck left the station with sirens as we know it’s yet another call out of flares.
EWN news was camped out on the balcony out back (the lookout) with live updates. Other news reporters and print journalists and photographers were in and out. Politicians were in and out, other important people I don’t know were in and out. I could tell they were important by the greetings they received. Turns out that Carte Blanche was there as well as my parents saw me for a second carrying something…
Then lunch time rush happened and I acted as waitress around the fire department. Carrying food and refreshments with my crate up and down the stairs, back and forth, taking orders and going back for more until every last fireman and woman, metro and admin staff were fed. When the rush died down, I sat down for the first time that day and my feet and legs are throbbing. (You don’t realize how tired your feet are until you sit down) and had something to eat. I can’t even remember what I had. 2 Masseuse came in to give fire fighters massages J. We drink and eat when your body reminds you. There is more than enough food and snacks so don’t feel guilty when we do grab a bite. There is no time to run out and get something. We do have time to chat and joke and get to know each other a little at the various stations viz dispatch, collections, sweet and meal lines. Then there are also the beverage sorters and hunters. Dipping your hands and arms in a bucket of water filled with ice is no joke when hunting for something specific one of our heroes ordered (heroes include EMS and metro). It burns! We did also run out of ice and as the ice truck was taking a bit too long we resorted to social media which responded so well that we didn’t know what to do with the excess ice lol. The 6 deep freezes and truck from Ice Man were packed to capacity. At this stage it was groan not more ice J We just packed them over the several containers of beverages. Don’t get me wrong, we do appreciate every donation as they generously made the effort and time to deliver the goodies. Schools, NGO’s (Islamic Relief, Nakhlistan, Mustadafin Foundation etc), various organizations from different faiths, restaurants, take-aways, bakeries, companies and retailers came in with donations. My day ended when Mustadafin foundation came in with a huge pot of hot akni and dished it into bakkies. Our heroes enjoys hot meals (although it may not be hot by the time it reaches them so should rather say they appreciate a cooked meal more than a sandwich, burger or hotdog/boerewors roll). My shift may have ended but there’s still the night shift to serve our heroes throughout the night. Night shift may not mean that shifts change as some volunteers stays until dawn before getting some rest.
Earlier that day, I did not know that I was to return the next day being Jumuah as I have to go to mosque and then there is the issue of lunch for my kids. If I was to return, I would leave before jumuah so that I can be in time. Only later the night I asked my mom if she could make lunch for my kids as well and I could go to jumuah in Steenberg. How I would get there, I did not know yet.
I had to rush as I still had to feed my kids and take my daughter to karate. No rest just yet and when I get off the train in Wynberg and walk to the taxi rank, a guy mentions ‘shjoe tietie maar djy lyk moeg’ I just smiled in response. My day was well worth the exhaustion J and when I finally got into bed I suffered a case of ‘you are bone tired getting into bed but your mind says haha not yet biyatch’.
So I’m up early again with morning prayers with not enough sleep or rest. My knees are so sore! I embarrassingly admit, when I’m praying alone, I used a chair. What I can’t fathom though is that as I am a hiker and can endure hard long hikes, how are my knees sore?! Anyway that is a mystery to be left alone.
I arrive at the fire station and see that the night shift has taken down the bigger gazebo (can’t remember the specific name for that ‘tent’ right now) and moved most of the things into the smaller tent. Most of the goodies have been moved into the storage room. The night shift is getting ready to leave and we were less than a handful to feed the breakfast crew and we had very little food. We had to ration breakfast and limit to firefighters only. We could still give them all as many beverages as they wanted though as there was still 2l cooldrinks and crates and crates of Parmalart yoghurt, steri stumpies and juice. Cans were low but water and energy bottles still in abundance I was now the barista to our heroes’ lol and soon we had lots and lots of muffins to give them in addition to sandwiches. We got to have left over Charley’s cupcakes 😀
When I was carrying a rather heavy crate with ice over to the tent, a staff member from Life Health Care Hospital asks if he could help and I say no thank you I can manage. I did first feel how heavy the crate was before adding more bags so could manage. Only later I found out they were there for massages!
Slowly but surely the rest of the exhausted volunteers arrived and I gratefully went for my massage. Started out with an exfoliating foot rub, followed by a foot spa. I then had someone working on my back with those laser handheld machines and then she was massaging me. Another one started on my hands and had 3 staff members working on me at the same time! We were in a public room so couldn’t undress (besides my bolerol) for a full body massage but very much grateful for the pamper session.
When I get back from my massage, we were over stocked with meals again! As there were only about 50 firefighters in the field, we had meals for about 1000 people and were still getting donations throughout the day. We had to turn them around and send them to shelters etc. This way, the shelters and schools will get fresh meals instead of day old food.
It’s time for me to get ready for mosque and everyone asks me to pray for them lol (not even being the same faith) One of the ladies mentioned that she has been several places all over the world but Cape Town muslims are the best! I got a lift to mosque with the maintenance water pump crew on their way out and sitting down made me so darn sleepy! I embarrassingly admit that I dozed off here and there :$ From the mosque, I take short walk (which seemed like 30kms with my sore knees) to the train station and take the train back to Lakeside. I get a warm welcome back from everyone as if though they haven’t seen me in a while (these are people I just met the day before and was treated like an old friend)
Nakhlistan came in with another delivery of gatsbys but had to turn them away as well but not before donating a box to us at the department which I delivered to those who wanted. We could take home to our families as well and this is where we feel guilty and had to remind ourselves that it was given specifically to us. We are not ‘carrying’ donations away. I bring up this part because later the day (shortly before my time to leave) another volunteer was feeling too guilty to carry her bag out so I did it for her. Getting to the driveway, I see a food run was about to happen and ask If I could go with and run to the volunteer to carry her own bag out lol and jump into the back of the bakkie. Off we go with sirens and a police escort. Sheesh but that was a wild drive!
We go to Tokai Forest first and see firsthand the aftermath. There is still a forest of trees but everything ground level is burnt to ashes.
We could thankfully not see further up and didn’t go further as we were on a food run after all. One of the firewomen was so tired she could barely stand and that image will haunt me forever. (I’m starting to tear up again) She was the only one who got a hug and a kiss from me. She hasn’t seen her family since Sunday, sleeping in the bush, monitoring and putting out flares. I know she sleeps in the bush as a volunteer on a food run the night before saw this with her own eyes and she was close to the flames around her.
We see two firefighters fully outfitted with hoses and all coming up and wanted a close up but I was distracted by the haunting image as the firewoman was leaning against a tree for support, and we were off again for another drop in the forest.
The Fire and Rescue driver woman had a family emergency so we got a lift back with metro cops. Driving towards Silvermine, I asked if we could take a 5 minute detour just up and down Ou Kaapse Weg just to see. They were kind enough to indulge me J My smile faded as we drove up and up, burnt everywhere and finally at the top we turn into the picnic area (can’t drive further than the gate which is closed) and I was shocked by what I was looking at. I always say that a camera can’t capture what the eye sees and OMG even though I saw the pictures, it was heart-breaking! Seeing the devastation with my own eyes! I could see the parking area from the gate! There were also volunteers picking up glass bottles not realizing that they could actually be destroying new growth sprouts. I was still in shock on our way back to the fire station and we continued to chat and joke until I had to explain where I was and what I saw. I broke down into tears. I know what it looked like before; I know what it looks like now. I have lots and lots of before photos and we’ve all seen the after photos….
It’s late and I have to rush home as I’m taking public transport on Friday night. One of the volunteers said hell no and proceeded to ask others which way they are going. Fortunately for me, SPCA was still there and situated in my area and got a lift back with them.
The lady even jumped at the back of the cramped bakkie filled with donations for the wildlife so that I could sit comfortably in front. They wanted to drop me off at home but I said no, I have someone picking me up and while waiting, I helped them unload the bakkie only for 2 minutes before my lift arrived.
I had another case of ‘you are bone tired getting into bed but your mind says haha not yet biyatch’ episode.
Today was clean up day, operations were closed. Some volunteers were there for the 7th straight day but I have weekend commitments. Everyone is on standby for flares (which eventually did happen and will happen for the next few days)
Tuesday I volunteer for the SPCA as we go out into the mountains and help the wildlife. (I wasn’t selected to go today which may be a blessing in disguise with the universe telling me to rest my knees) There will be other opportunities
Until my next hike (which is in 5.5 hours but I have to be up in less than 4 hours) so ciao for now.
- I did not mention any names as to not offend if I forget a name. I will however mention that one of the volunteers was a DJ from Durban. At the beginning of the raging fires, he mentioned on air that he is with Cape Town. Someone asked where is he, he replied that his with Cape Town in spirit. The producers promptly sent him down to come help J
One of the Volunteer’s husband asked her if she signed the Attendance Register as they see so little of her so thanks goes out to the families of these volunteers who makes the sacrifices as well J
My Status on Friday night:
3 days of volunteering has been an absolutely amazing experience! the gees amongst the volunteers, firemen and women, metro police, sanparks, spca and city council was phenomenal! the enormous amounts of donations received was overwhelming from various Islamic NGO’s…Nakhlistan, Islamic relief (I’m too tired to remember the other major one now who provided hot meals) various restaurants, individuals, organizations are but a few…truth coffee has to be named again and vida e…we thank you and salute you grin emoticon
life medical health place (too tired to remember name for the foot, neck, back shoulder and hand massages
next I will be helping the animals grin emoticon
I have loads of pics and stories to share which I will write in my blog once I’ve recovered smile emoticon
we know everything happens for a reason and after 11 months I still haven’t been able to secure a job and if I had, I would not been able to help so Shukr to my Maker for this experience which I will carry with me for the rest of my life…even though it was under disastrous circumstances
it was my intention to help out couple of hours on Wednesday which turned out to be 25 hours lol…the true thanks goes to those volunteers that’s been helping since Sunday for around 15 hours a day, every day, who hasn’t cooked for their families since Sunday, who does this at every fire which breaks out (not only this week)….it honestly feels weird when people dropping off stuff thanked me when in my mind I’m only there to help, thank the rest of the guys and gals with exhaustion written all over their faces and bodies and yet some of them are there right through the night and no one complains I would have loved to stay longer but I had other commitments at night and traveled via public transport which we know ain’t that safe…. I am grateful for the little I did