Camp


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Camp is over. Leaving hurt more than I expected given the number of times I leave places and how much I am accustom to the feeling. Two days have gone by and my thoughts are starting to drift from camp back to my work. But before they’ve drifted completely, I would like to take some time to reflect on what camp – specifically Camp Winnebago – means to me and why I continuously want to return.

  1. The boys. Winnebago attracts a certain type of boy. Not necessarily the boy who can, but the boy who will (as is stated in our motto). These boys may be rich – as all boys who attend summer camp are – but they are down-to-earth enough to go to a camp with no electricity in the bunks and no curtains on the showers. They show exemplary character at an incredibly young age. They are intelligent and (for the most part) aware. They continuously impress me, and I want to watch them grow over the years.
  2. The humor. This image is of me singing a song I learned called the Self Worth Song. The most notable line is, “I like myself, I’m worth a lot. I like myself, I’m worth a lot.” Every word is accompanied by an utterly ridiculous hand motion. Singing this song is comical, but it makes me happy and I enjoy it. So does every other person at camp.
  3. The outdoors. Natural beauty is brings out one’s inner beauty, and teaches one to shine when there is nothing but people and nature around.
  4. The sports. I love being active and I love playing sports. Thus, I love being at a place that encourages activity and sports.
  5. The sportsmanship. Many people say that it’s not about winning or losing but how you play the game. Most of the time, these are simply words spoken but not believed. At Winnebago, boys live these words. The best athlete in each division will encourage the worst. The campers will even encourage the counselors. I was playing softball (my worst sport) and I almost caught a fly ball but it bounced out of my glove. Instead of being angry that I missed the catch, all the boys on my team cheered that it was my closest catch ever.
  6. The counselors. Sure, some of the counselors like to use summer camp as a way to party every night. For the most part, however, the counselors at Winnebago are there for the boys. They know when to be serious and when to have fun. They like to teach and they like to learn. On the whole, the counselors are interesting and driven people that enjoy spending their time with 9 to 15-year olds.
  7. The lake. It is beautiful. Enough said.
  8. The character. Winnebagans in general have excellent character. Boys will stop what they are doing to help another. They care for each other, and they are genuine. They are positive and supportive. They listen and ask questions, and they value individuals for who they are. It is hard to find this much good quality character in one place at one time.
  9. The comfort. The vibe at Winnebago is one of the utmost comfort. Comfort in trying something new. Comfort in making a fool out of yourself on stage. Comfort in making new friends and in reconnecting with old ones. Comfort in being yourself, and knowing that everyone else will encourage and support you in everything that you do.

Winnebago attracts some of the best people I have ever met on so many levels. I find myself drifting back to camp so I can continuously surround myself with these people.

(Photo by Tom Hoegeman)

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Final week of camp goes by in a blur. There are no more regular activities, but the time is easily filled by After Supper League games (played by counselors and the three oldest divisions of boys), wrapping up your activity, writing final reports, and, of course, rehearsal for the staff musical.

I spent final week running around like a headless chicken, trying to work on several different activities at once. Ultimately, my time went to slalom course documentation for waterskiing and choreography for Guys and Dolls. I enjoyed the chaos and I tried to make the most out of my last few days with my fellow counselors and the boys. The boat was rocked. Now it is time to sit down and rest.

(Photo by Tom Hoegeman)

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Soccer. Football to the rest of the world. All it requires is a ball, a field, and a couple of sticks for the goals. Cleats and shin guards and other equipment is non-essential, making soccer a popular sport in any type of community. Simplicity is beauty. While Americans still have quite a lot to learn about the game, everyone else has embraced the sport fully. Its value in society far exceeds simply providing physical exercise.

At camp, soccer brings together staff members from all different activities. Anyone can attend if they have a good alarm clock.

Nothing starts my day off with more energy than waking up at 6am to play soccer.

(Photo: South Africa, 2007)

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Seeds of Peace is a summer camp in Maine dedicated to empowering youth leaders from conflict regions. The camp brings together 14-16 year olds from Middle Eastern and south Asian countries for three week long sessions that incorporate dialogue groups about conflicting issues along with standard American summer camp activities.

I drove to Seeds of Peace yesterday to pick up a friend for a rock climbing adventure. My friend is currently working at the camp, and gave me some insight into their activities.

The “Seeds,” or participants, attend normal camp activities. Well, at least they are normal by American standards, but playing football and going water skiing are not necessarily normal in the Seeds’ home countries. During these activities, the Seeds are encouraged to integrate as much as possible, breaking down the initial cultural and language cliques that inevitably exist.

Twice a day, groups of Seeds participate in carefully facilitated and often intense dialogue sessions. This is an opportunity to bring up many conflict issues facing their interacting cultures. While the tendency is to argue histories, the Seeds are asked to stick only with personal stories. These sessions can be tough, and the counselors can sometimes see the effect on personal relationships in their activities.

In the final three days of the session, all Seeds participate in a game called Color War. The teams are mixed and are forced to work together in this all-encompassing game. It gets intense, as if a valuable prize is at stake. In the end, though, all the winning team gets to do is run into the lake 10 seconds before the losing team. They run in with their team’s color painted on their faces, but as both teams enter the lake, the paint washes off and everyone enjoys the game’s culmination together. My friend described it as a very symbolic end to the session. While the Seeds may associate with different countries, or languages, or Color War teams, these surface level issues can wash away like the face paint and interacting peacefully and happily with each other is all that really matters.

The oldest boys at my camp will be visiting Seeds of Peace tomorrow. In years past, these boys have found this to be an incredibly enlightening and moving trip. I’m sure that tomorrow will be no different.

(Photo: Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey, 2009)

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Visiting day at camp is awesome for 3 reasons:

1) You get to see where all the boys come from. Often, this explains a lot.

2) We get catered food for lunch and dinner.

3) The parents bring candy which the boys aren’t allowed to keep, so the counselors must “dispose” of it for them…

Also, my favorite story from the day: One of my boy’s mothers told me that I could and should call her son a “tool” whenever he deserves it, which is often.

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I run the water skiing boat at camp. Today’s adventure turned into a saga. Here is my story, in convenient chapter form.

Chapter 1: The morning

I didn’t want to go out on the water. There were only 5 boys, and we tried to pass them off to the swim counselors. Alas, no luck. We took 3 of them on the boat and went to the middle of the lake. At the end of the second boy’s turn, I stopped to describe how to drop a ski. When I started again, I realized that the rope had spun around the boat. As soon as I started moving, I heard a grinding noise. The rope was caught in the propeller.

My co-counselor and I got in the frigid water. The boys in the boat laughed at us – this was payback for all those times we made them get in and didn’t get in ourselves. We tried to untangle the rope, but it was wound up tight. After a while, we gave up and radioed to shore. We needed goggles and a knife.

The head counselor came to our rescue in a trusty old boat named Gertrude. We made a few attempts to cut the rope before we realized that we needed more help. The knife was too dull, and the rope was too tangled. We decided to go back to the docks. The head counselor started Gertrude so that he could tow us in. Gertrude didn’t start. He tried again. Nothing. He radioed to shore to ask for advice. Still no luck. Fifteen minutes later, and we were both paddling back.

The lake is rather crowded over 4th of July weekend, and we lucked out. A pontoon boat came to our rescue. Our pontoon – ski boat – Gertrude train made an excellent 4th of July boat parade.

Back at came, my co-counselor and I attacked the tangled rope with two leathermans for about 30 minutes. Finally, it came free. We threw away the old rope and replaced it with a new one.

Chapter 2: The afternoon

The boys were excited that the boat was up and running again. We loaded four of them into the back of the boat and pushed off. I put the boat into gear, and it died. Just my luck. I turned the key again, heard the engine rev, but it didn’t catch. I pumped the gas and tried again. Still nothing. This went on for about a minute. Then I pushed out the ignition button and pushed it back in. I tried again for another minute. Nothing again. I repeated the procedure. Nothing. I repeated again, but this time the ignition button wouldn’t click into place.

There was no chance of this boat starting. I threw a rope to the nearby dock and a fellow counselor pulled us in. Upon getting to shore, over 50 boys attacked me with questions. “When am I going to get to water ski? Will this affect my turn? Are we getting a new boat?” I escaped as fast I could and returned at a quieter time to reexamine the boat. I think it’s a mechanical problem, but I don’t know much about boats. We’re waiting until Monday to get more qualified help.

At the end of the day, I was tired of being bombarded by questions, and I didn’t really want to talk to anyone. When I was walking up to dinner, an eight-year-old boy in my bunk came out of the library. “Aunt Jackie,” he said. “Can you help me?” I sighed inside. “Sure thing, what do you need?” “I’ve been searching in the library but I can’t find any books on mermaids!” I smiled. “I’m not sure I can help you with that, but I’ll try,” I responded.

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Camp Winnebago. Established 1919. This year is the camp’s 90th anniversary, and the current head counselor’s final summer. And, this is the reason I returned to the States for the summer.

My recent posts have been few and far between recently because I’ve been immersed in SALT (aka orientation) at camp. Today, the boys arrive. They are 9 to 15 years old, and they will be here for the 8 weeks. I can’t wait.

Many ask why I returned, why I made the trek all the way from Africa to Maine. The answer is simple: Camp embodies many of my values in life. It’s laid back and non-competitive, yet you are encouraged to always try your hardest. The people are supportive no matter what the outcome of the game or event. It’s a place where you can make a fool out of yourself in public and receive a standing ovation. It’s a safe environment for campers and counselors alike to push their comfort zones. Being here reminds me of what I missed while I was gone.

I love being able to be ridiculous again. I would often avoid drawing excessive attention to myself in Africa because I already received enough attention, but I can go over the top here with dances and skits and costumes. I enjoy how camp makes me live in the moment. At the same time, I struggle to maintain my thoughts and discussions on development and appropriate technology. This distance is rather difficult for me, and I plan on doing some reading to keep my thoughts fresh.

Yet I keep reminding myself that sometimes it can be good to let my mind wander for a bit.