False Alarm

It never would have occurred to me that I would be running across the lawn of a five star holiday resort in Mauritius in a dressing gown at 3am in the morning, responding to a Tsunami Alarm Siren.

At the time, I was vaguely aware of the insistent ringing in my ears which I thought was a dream so I tried to fob it off and go back to sleep, but it kept on and on – until eventually I realised it was coming from outside so I jumped up and opened our room door to see what was going on.

The elderly German lady (who is normally dressed for dinner with pearls around her neck) is standing at her door in a see-through nightie shouting to me “Can you hear zee smoke alarm in my ggroom?”.  To which I reply:  “Yes but I think it’s coming from outside”. And she shouts again “Yes eet’s coming from my grroom – can you hear it?”.

At that point her husband runs out with his walking stick to see what is going on and dashes past me.

So I try and get my husband to climb out of bed, but he’s not very keen and I eventually snap at him: “All men are running to reception.  Don’t you think you had better go and see if it’s a false alarm?”.  I stare in disbelief as he stretches and yawns and then casually climbs out of bed, puts long trousers over his boxers, gets a crisp white long sleeved collared shirt out of the cupboard, buttons it up slowly, tucks it into his trousers neatly, fastens his leather belt, finds his nice shoes, washes his face, brushes his teeth and then strolls out of the room.

I try calling reception in the meantime, but no answer.  Concierge.  No answer.  House Keeping.  No answer.  Room Service. No answer.  Kiddies Club.  No answer.

Within two minutes he is back.  “I think we should all go together”.  I give him one of those deadly unimpressed stares.

By this stage I have already flung on an oversized hotel dressing gown (the thick terry-toweling type that I have to roll up at the sleeves because I have a small frame and which make me look like Liberace in concert) and I am already thinking about how to wrap our passports and credit cards in plastic to make them water tight.  But because panic is creeping in, I grab my toddlers Thomas the Tank Engine bag and shove everything in there.

And then it’s a case of what shoes to wear, because my flip-flops will be too slippery and my high heals are clearly not going to allow me to sprint as fast as I can to get to higher ground.  But the only option is the flip-flops, which I slip on and then grab Noa, my little 3 year old toddler and we rush out towards reception.

On the way, we bump into everyone we see around the resort.  Some guests are in their boxer shorts and t-shirts, others are dressed perfectly in their designer jeans and Christian Louboutins– and me…. well I am the only one in my dressing gown.  And the funny thing is – regardless of what we are wearing and what language we speak – we are all in exactly the same boat!  We are all panicking, (without trying to show it), we are all walking quickly but secretly wanting to run – and none of us knows what is going on!

One of the snobby gentlemen that is usually dressed like Jay Gatsby and who won’t make eye contact with anyone runs up to me (this time in his pyjamas) and shouts something to me in French.  And I look at him and don’t know whether to laugh or cry – but I shake my head and shout back “I don’t know what’s going on”. And he looks at me in anguish and runs away.

At reception, there is one uniformed receptionist talking on the telephone.  Several guests are outside chain-smoking and several are shouting at the receptionist to get off the phone.  Eventually, the receptionist tells me that he thinks the humidity set off the alarm, but he can’t be sure and he is waiting for the maintenance guy to get back to him.  So I ask him if we should be climbing to higher ground in the meantime, just to be safe – and he stares at me blankly as if I have lost the plot.

By now, everyone is shouting and talking all at once.  Some of the guests have started crying and some of the others are laughing at the ones crying.

Not one staff member is in site to help calm the situation down.

Half an hour later, (which felt like days), we are assured it’s a false alarm and everyone starts making thier way back to their rooms.  But I am having none of it.  “Are you SURE?” I say to the receptionist.  “Yes Madam” he says.  “But how do you know for SURE?”.  He rolls his eyes and stares at my thickly rolled up dressing gown sleeves.  “Because my manager tells me IT EES SO” he says.  “But MAYBE he is wrong – phone him AGAIN”, I insist.

My husband grabs me by the arm, mumbles an apology and we walk away from reception.  (I am still looking toward the sea expecting the water to retreat and then a large wave to hit us at any time).

Back in the room, we read through the hotel catalogue and find the emergency evacuation procedure in the event of a Tsunami. We were supposed to gather on the sports field.  “And then what?” I say to hubby.  “Who was going to show us what to do next, because I didn’t see one staff member on duty”.  He doesn’t make eye contact, for fear that I will insist we move to the sports field and he can’t get back into bed.

When I did eventually calm down, I could not stop giggling, because I kept on thinking about the German lady who thought her smoke alarm had gone off in her room.

I was even more intrigued to see how everyone would behave towards each other at breakfast.

The South Africans sheepishly smiled at each other and started chatting.  The snobby Frenchman pretended not to recognize me and carried on as if nothing had ever happened.

But the most interesting of them all was the general manager, who laughed in a rather embarrassed manner and clearing his throat assured us that there would never be a Tsunami on our side of the island. “So why is there a Tsunami alarm and an evacuation procedure”? I ask him.

“What alarm and evacuation procedure?” he asks…..