x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Event builds on the strength of workers

How I overcame the fear of fire-walking.

'Howmany of you think you'll be injured?"

In a crowd of about 25 people, more than half raise their hands, some laughing awkwardly and others maintaining a cold look of dread.

"How many of you think that you only came to observe?" asks Carol Talbot, a learning and development consultant with Matrix Training Solutions in Dubai.

More hands rise from the crowd, including my own. You can hardly blame us for being apprehensive. Before entering, we all had to sign a waiver acknowledging the fact that we could be seriously injured.

As Ms Talbot delivers her lecture, behind her, in the distance, a controlled tower of flames flickers against the clear night sky.

"It's like going into a business meeting. You think, 'I hope I don't mess up; I hope I don't forget what I have to say'," she says. "Similarly, right about now you might be thinking: 'I hope I don't burn my feet'."

If you plan to walk across the burning-hot coals, she says, you need to remain focused on what you want, rather than what you don't want.

Standing at the back, taking notes, I notice a young woman sitting stiff and uncertain in the last row. She put her hand up for both of Ms Talbot's questions.

I also have no intention of participating. A big part of me is thinking that this is all just a gimmick. Will walking across coals in front of 25 strangers really improve my chances of success? But I'll play along, for now. But when the time comes, I take off my shoes and socks and make my way to the fire.

Between the flames, the drums and the fire-eaters spinning their batons, the scene is intimidating to say the least. The young woman from the back row is pacing and fidgeting with her long brown hair.

"Those are real coals and these are real feet," Ms Talbot cautions, the sound of smouldering coals nearly drowning out her words. "Walk with purpose and look straight ahead."

There is no order or queue. People walk when they are ready, but it doesn't take long before a handful of bold characters dip their feet in the water buckets and walk confidently across. Suddenly, the young woman I noticed before steps up. She takes a deep breath and strides forward, falling into the arms of three friends on the other side.

"I'm going through a divorce," she tells me. "It's a really difficult phase in my life and I just wanted to do it."

I toss my notepad and pen on the grass and take up position at the start of the scalding carpet. With one deep breath, I start walking over the coals, head held high. It's over quickly. I recall feeling a hot sting on the soles of my feet. And that night, as I washed off the ash, my left foot was definitely scalded.

Did the sting make a difference to my life? No, I don't feel as if I have undergone a drastic transformation.

But as I completed the walk, the whole crowd screamed and cheered. Everyone was smiling and as I scanned the crowd, I saw the young woman was dancing to the drums.

Whether you believe in it or not, we all need something to push us forward.