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P1030064Apologies for the quality of this ‘photo of a photo’, but it shows me at the street children’s centre in Rwanda with one of the local staff and some of the boys. The cooking fire was out of shot to the right, just beyond where the two boys are standing…

I recently finished creating a set of thirty six writing prompt cards based on the theme of the elements, which I ‘baptised’ and tested with a few writer friends recently. I’ve been sharing a few examples of the exercises with you over the last few days to see what you think. Today it’s one of the six exercises inspired by the element of fire. I’ve also included what I wrote in response. Enjoy:-)


A Fireside Gathering (10 minutes)

There’s something magical about sitting around a fire, feeling the presence of others rather than being able to see them clearly in the half light of the flickering flames.

Ask yourself to remember such a time, an experience of being around or in front of a fire, indoors or outdoors. Who was with you? What were the sounds, smells, feelings that arose as you shared that warmth, and how did the fire itself contribute to the unique atmosphere of the gathering?


It was a necessary, practical fire, used for cooking three times a day. I sat chatting with the two boys who were on the rota for the evening meal. There were long periods of comfortable silence, interrupted occasionally by the wood ‘popping’. There weren’t really flames any more, just the hot orange glow of embers perfect for cooking. I could hear water boiling, and the comforting smell of wood smoke mingled with the rice scented steam.

There was a a hint of electric light spilling on to us from one of the bedroom windows nearby, but otherwise the fire was the only light, the sun having long bedded down for the night. There was something safe and informal, permissive, in the shadows that allowed only glimpses of what our faces might be showing, telling.

I was running this street children’s centre in the east of Rwanda, and the boys I lived there with had taken to calling me ‘boss boss’, but such glorified rank and status had dropped away in the presence of the fire, and one of the boys asked, “Why doesn’t God love us?”

The question appeared to come from nowhere and I didn’t know how to answer. I was aware that most of the boys were catholic, and I didn’t share these beliefs, so I wanted to tread carefully with what I said. “What do you mean?” I replied.

“Why doesn’t God like black people as much as whites? Why are we always poor, no school. We must’ve done something wrong.”

“Is that what you really think?” I said, replying with another question rather than commit myself in any way to knowing about God’s preferences.

“Maybe,” came the reply. And then we just continued to stare into the fire.


And on the subject of Rwanda, if you haven’t yet checked out today’s earlier post please do, if you have time, or go straight to: