Last week, we had a cyclone exercise at school. Much more interesting than your average fire drill, where everyone just lines up under the big tree in the playground, and not as awkward as the earthquake simulation, where they all have to fit under the (rather on the small side) tables.

In this cyclone exercise, we have to fit all the kids into the five or six largest rooms in the school and confine them there for however long it takes for the cyclone to get out of the way and let us carry on with our lessons. We then have to occupy them in these rooms and deal with any emergencies that may occur using a box containing everything from plasters and antibiotics to sanitary pads. No food or water, however.

This particular cyclone exercise was the first one ever in Mayotte, brought on by the large cyclone in Reunion Island just over New Year and the ensuing interest in all cyclone-prone areas. All the schools in Mayotte were to have the same exercise at the same time. Directions would be issued by the Vice-Rectorate to the different schools, who would communicate internally by telephone.

Our particular cyclone exercise went like this.


1. Headmistress goes round playground blowing (rather small and not very loud) foghorn. Teachers and pupils wonder what the strange noise is. Headmistress is recognized, and noise is finally recognized as what must be cyclone alert noise.

2. Teachers were supposed to look at their information paper to find which room they have been assigned to. Teachers received said information paper in their pigeonholes the previous week. Naturally, information paper is currently in the bin.

3. Teachers round up students, leaving everything in the room, and head to the assigned panic room. I had quite a lot of stuff with me - computer, videoprojector, speakers... - and was afraid of a kid going round the rooms and pinching stuff, so I kept the students with me while I packed it all up. They took their bags too, as there were ten minutes of lesson remaining and I didn't think we would be coming back straight away.

4. I took my students to the room. The room was closed, as its assigned teacher didn't start until 9. We did not know this. The administration, however, did, but had not remembered it at the time. Five classes and five teachers therefore stayed chatting outside, reasoning that it wasn't raining so the kids may as well stand there. Headmistress arrives and asks what the hell is going on. We explain. Headmistress is not happy. Headmistress calls for someone to bring the key.

5. A different opening is produced ten minutes later and kids file in. Three classes go upstairs, two downstairs. I go downstairs with my class.

6. Nothing happens for thirty minutes. Kids and teachers are getting restless and rather fed up. I investigate. Each panic room has one designated teacher who is responsible for the whole area and all kids and teachers contained therein. Designated teacher did not know he was also responsible for us. Designated teacher comes down, counts kids, writes down absentees and calls to say there are another fifty kids to take into account. He will give us more news when he has more news. Meanwhile, the kids who had left their bags in the classrooms (i.e. all except my lot) start worrying about their bags and want to go and fetch them.

7. Designated teacher receives phone call and comes to say that the "cyclone" has intensified and the windows and doors must remain firmly shut. Kids wish to go to the loo or request water. No can do. Kids stand, run and scream. Designated teacher explains that air is going to become scarce and that they must sit quietly and breathe as little as possible. They must occupy themselves with a nice quiet activity. Kids scream again. Three teachers - the two of us who belonged in the panic room plus the designated teacher - bellow simultaneously. Kids fall silent for five minutes.

8. In an effort to occupy some of the kids, I ask them to take out their English lesson from this morning and complete the worksheet. Kids suddenly decide they do not understand the worksheet. I explain the worksheet for the fifteenth time and write half the answers on the board out of frustration. Worksheet was not the best idea. Kids copy answers and ask if they can listen to music quietly with their earphones. Permission granted.

9. Designated teacher returns to say that the "cyclone" is now at its worst. Objects are flying and the windows must be taped shut. Obviously, windows are not taped shut. Kids complain that the weather is beautiful outside and that they really need the loo now. Designated teacher makes generous offer of chamber pot and sanitary pads. Kids laugh.

10. Cyclone alert is lifted and kids can go back to lessons. Kids are extremely excited, hungry and thirsty. Teachers are all completely knackered.


It was an exercise, it was the first time, and it was definitely important to give it a go and see what worked and what didn't. Now, all the schools will send reports back to the Vice-Rectorate with suggestions on how to make the exercise more efficient next time... or how not to drown in the first ten minutes because of a teacher who happened to start lessons later in the day.