A word of introduction for Greg: This is from Scott Todd, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkmenistan Group III (1995-97). The document, broken into thematic portions, describes the Peace Corps initiated Turkmenistan Summer English Immersion Camp of 1997. The camp was held in Chuli, a region to the south of Ashgabat in the Kopet Dagh Mountains. The camp started as a secondary project of T1 volunteers and has continued to the current day. Funding for the camp is often a problem. If anyone reading this is interested in sponsoring the camp, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and put the words "English Summer Camp" in the header field.
Scott Todd taught English at the Turkmenistan's University and conducted teacher-training seminars with local English instructors. Scott now lives in Hawaii and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. I'm sure he would welcome any comments.
Scott Todd's Turkmenistan Summer Camp 1997 Journals
Table of Contents
Locals and American
Back to Serious Discipline
Fun and Games
There are times when it all seems to go right.
Once again this summer, I became a counselor at Turkmenistan's English Immersion camp, a project started two years ago by the first group of Peace Corps volunteers. The camp ran for two ten-day sessions, during each of which some 150 students, ages 14 to 17, and 60 adults came together to play games, discuss culture, swim, eat, and live in English.
We accepted applications for local counselors, and held interviews for the campers during March and April. Each city/region of the country was allotted a certain number of camp spaces. Ashgabat, the largest city, was given 35 spaces for each camp session--70 in all. There, around 200 kids showed up to interview.
Some of the children were remarkably fluent. Some had been at the camp before. A more typical interview, though, would go something like this:
Matt (PCV): So, what's your name?
Gulyalek (camper applicant): Gulyalek.
Matt: And how old are you?
Gulyalek: I am fine.
Brendan (other PCV): No, how old are you?
Gulyalek: I am fifty years.
Matt: Where do you go to school?
Gulyalek: I am go to school, yes.
Gulyalek: (no answer)
Matt: (very slowly) Tell us about your family.
Gulyalek: (at 1000 words per minute) My-family-is-not-large-it-consists-from-four-persons-my-mother-father-brother-and-me-my-father-is-an-engineer-my-mother-is-a-housekeeper-she-is-from-Chardjew-my-brother-is-thirteen-he-goes-to-school-we-live-on-a-street-with-many-trees-we-have-a-dog-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah...
Matt: (when the flood ends) Well, she knows the word "consists"!
Brendan: No, Matt--that whole thing is memorized. She probably doesn't even know what she said, and she probably doesn't have one brother and her father probably isn't an engineer. I've heard that speech before.
There is a word in Russian, "Zubrioshka." It comes from the word "teeth," and it means stuff that is memorized so that a student can chatter it away at a teacher during an exam, without knowing what it means. Interesting that such a word should exist.
Last year, in order to get access to the camp at all, the directors were forced to accept a certain number of the kids of government officials, some of whom could barely speak English. This year, too, attempts to get money donations or technical assistance to get the camp running have met with payback demands for English lessons or automatic camp acceptances. Some of our local counterparts don't understand why we don't just work within this. They think that we ought to just go ahead and knuckle under to such charges. "It's the system!" They say to us. We should use the corruption to our advantage, they think.
Of course, we're trying--hard--to demonstrate something else, something with integrity, and responsibility. It's more than just that the kids whom we are forced to accept and don't have the English inevitably become miserable--they don't understand what's going on and end up speaking Russian and being disciplined for it. We don't think that the corrupt system is the answer to our problems--we think it's the cause of them. The people in power don't respond to reasonable negotiation without thinking, "What am I going to get out of this."
A case in point is that of "Miss Katherine."
Miss Katherine is an English teacher in a high school in Buzmein. A bull of a Russian woman, she has always been enthusiastic about having the Americans around. Like many of the locals, Miss Katherine doesn't make a hobby of listening. She broadcasts, and interrupts as soon as she thinks--incorrectly--that she knows what you're saying, and it's very difficult to try to get a message to her. She also believes that when it comes to the camp selection in Buzmein, she is in control.
At all sites, the potential campers have been selected through interviews conducted by several people, through a proper list of accepted students and a wait-list for others. In the allotment of students for the various locations in Turkmenistan, Buzmein was originally given eight spaces.
"Eight isn't enough," Miss Katherine said at that meeting. "I need twenty."
Twenty is roughly the number of kids that will be sent from Krasnovodsk--Turkmenistan's fourth largest city. Buzmein is a small town.
As it happened, we were able to increase the number of campers accepted, and Buzmein was eventually allotted twelve students.
But when it was time to take the fees, Miss Katherine asked for four more registration forms. The directors balked, and only even later noticed that Miss K had handed in fifteen registrations and fees as it was!
She had unilaterally promised camp slots to several of her private tutees. Upon looking at the lists, it was discovered that several of these kids hadn't applied at all, and one of them had been actually rejected as a result of the interview.
And then Laura (one of the camp directors) was talking to her 10-year-old host sister from Buzmein, and the girl said, "Guess what, Laura? I'll see you at camp!"
Laura laughed and told her she was too young for camp, where the minimum age is 14. "No, Miss Katherine says she's going to take me along with her daughter."
Miss Katherine's daughter is also 10 years old. She'd decided that it would be really good for her to hear some English and partake in camp activities and be around the older kids, etc.
There are going to be around 40 parental counselors at the camp, and some women have already had to decline coming because they've been told that they can't bring their children, and haven't been able to find anything to do with them. It clearly has not occurred to Miss Katherine what the camp would be like if everyone brought their kids. Either that, or, more likely, she believes that she can do anything she wants. And we're back to "the system."
While even though last year, Miss Katherine had been a very enthusiastic if not annoyingly pushy camp counselor, this year she didn't impress anyone when she apparently decided that she didn't need to even fill out an application--something demanded of everyone including the PCVs and even the camp directors. When David, Matt, and Brendan (the other three directors) heard about the latest shenanigans of Miss Katherine, they had a fit. They wanted to dismiss her forthwith from the camp as a whole. Laura prevailed over them as a result of Katherine's enthusiastic support of volunteer activities, and Katherine is landed on the very thinnest of ice. One might call it Turkmen ice--which is to say, something of which there is not a whole lot. David wrote her a forceful letter, saying that if she showed up with any unauthorized campers or with her kids, she would be asked to leave immediately. She didn't bring her kids.
This year, Miss Katherine was again very energetic and vocal, and annoying. Her fellow cabin counselors could barely stand her. When our driver, Nikolai, would come to camp, she would overload him with piles of money from her cabin and lists of things to bring to her campers. Clearly she is a person who has never been exposed to the moral principle, "What if everyone did it?"
While I don't want to discourage anyone with enthusiasm, it seems to me in foresight that David and Matt and Brendan were right, not even because of her current behavior, but for what it portends about her in the future. What happens to the camp as, over time, it becomes less and less a Peace Corps project and more and more in the hands of the locals? If Miss Katherine has say over Buzmein in any fashion, then she'll run the Buzmein camper list as her own. And I imagine the horrible scenario of each site being like that. While ejecting her from camp would certainly offend her and make her go away, in the most practical of ways, that doesn't seem like such a bad idea.
And the culture reared its head on the first day of camp as well, when the campers arrived and I noticed that among its number was one of my university students.
"What's she doing here, Brendan? She's too old to be a camper."
Brendan said, "Basically, we were just informed that we would be taking her at camp. Her uncle is in the ministry or runs the camp or something."
"But she should be a junior counselor. I guess she didn't apply, huh?"
In May we got our counselors together, and selected our kids and a list of alternates--quite a few kids interview who are then not allowed to go. I went to Cheleken to interview a handful of kids, selected six, and three showed up.
The price of the ten-day camp was 65,000 manat (about $12) per camper from Ashgabat, and 45,000 manat (about $8) per camper from the rest of the country, who would also have to pay to get into and home from the city. Peace Corps volunteers also had to pay to go and work there, but local counselors did not. This price did not cover the true cost of the camp, which was about double that much. The rest was picked up by donations from (mostly foreign) businesses around the country, fundraisers and embassy assistance. Camp supplies were also donated from family members and organizations in the U.S., including some groups of returned Peace Corps volunteers. The camp directors worked fervently all spring to get the money and supplies together for camp.
On June 28, the counselors for first session gathered in Ashgabat, to get onto buses for camp. The two buses, promised by the Ashgabat mayor's office, did not arrive. David went to hire some others, which didn't turn out to be possible, and people went to the mayor's office, and through many channels and threats and promises, one bus was finally found and we all loaded into it and headed for Chuli.
Chuli is about an hour's drive away from Ashgabat, an oasis created by a small, cold spring that comes out of the mountains and winds its way through the area, past many old Pioneer Camps. The "Pioneers" were the old Soviet boy- and girl-scouts, wearing their red kerchiefs and white shirts and learning to march in line and say good things about Lenin and The Party. They used to go during summers and basically hang out at rather unstructured camps all over the FSU. Now those camps are still there, and groups are trying to figure out how to use them. During summers, they are still reserved and filled with kids, but the kerchiefs are gone.
Compared to Ashgabat, the oasis at Chuli is rather cool, and at night the temperatures dipped to the point of needing blankets, and we were all thankful for this respite. During the daytime, hundred-degree temperatures could happen but they were rare. The Chulinka "river," which was really just barely a spring, was straight from glacial runoff, so jumping into it was a brisk and usually very brief refreshment. More times than not, our every-other-night showers were also this temperature.
Our camp was at the source of the spring, the first (or last, as one wishes to see it) camp, at the very end of the road before the trails went up into the brown, rocky mountains. There was more than enough space for our 200 people, which meant that in past years there were boxers or soccer players there, but this year we were promised to be alone. Counselors and kids were divided into 14 cabins. In first session, this meant six of boys, and ten of girls, but in second session the ratio became even more skewed: twelve girls' cabins, and four boys. The fact is that there are more female English speakers than male. Given the different ways in which parents bring up and discipline boys and girls, this is no surprise.
For two days, the counselors were alone, getting training in the rules and procedures of the camp, doing role-plays of situations they might face and how to deal with the kids, according to the direction of our camp. Most of the counselors were teachers, but a classroom and a camp are quite different, and adults were now expected not just to tell kids what to do for an hour a day, but to be full participants, guides, psychologists, parents, doctors, coaches, all at once. We also got to know each other a bit, played some of the games and participated in some of the evening activities that we would be doing with the kids, such as some of the "Olympic Day" games (three-legged race, human chair, necklace pass, and several games that involved moving water around--or throwing it around), and the scavenger hunt.
We also chose city names for our cabins, and made a placard. First session, mine was called "Edinburgh," as we thought we could take a Scottish theme for camp. Our placard had the sword from Braveheart, a kilt, some purple mountains, a golf ball, and Nessie. For second session we chose Disney as our theme.
Then, one morning, amidst much clamor and applause and excitement, the kids arrived. One hundred and fifty teenagers, some exhausted from a night on a bus, some already jumping up and down and causing trouble. We did a couple of the camp cheers for starters, divided the kids into their respective cabins, and then camp began.
As I was filling out my camp evaluation form
after second session, I came to the question of how well I
thought I understood my role as a counselor. I said to Brendan,
"If I circle 10, does that make me an egotist?"
He laughed. "It just means you've been at camp four times."
But it's more than that. I feel like I hit stride at camp, that it was a personal high-point for me in my service. I connected to the kids in a meaningful and supportive way, and tried to (and, in my view, succeeded therein) help drive the camp forward. The place gets better and better; the campers grow more; and I think that I was a part of that. Every gesture I made was a part of my understanding, very well, what I was there to do for them.
On the baseball cap I wore when teaching sports, and on one of my T-shirts, was the question: "Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wednesday?" That was me. Every counselor and camper had a self-chosen "camp name," written on name tags that we all wore around our necks. Last year Jessica and I were Pugsly and Wednesday, our gender-bending tribute to the Addams family. This year Pugsly was gone, but I still am connected to the notion of this funny but spooky little girl in black. (Wednesday was definitely an ultimate-player-to-be.) The rest of the phrase is tongue-in-cheek. I don't think that anyone there was afraid of me, exactly. But I was Big and Bad because I had a vision of purpose, and very little escaped me.
I was lucky in several ways. Being male, old, and American meant that I enjoyed a certain authority. There came a point with a boys' cabin at which I could proclaim, "DO IT," and it would be done. Heather a.k.a. Dante told me that girls' cabins are different: sheer attitude and whining. I noticed some of that on the sports field, but developed a routine for it. "Everyone repeat after me," I would say. "Tsk, aaawwwww," I would whine. They would laugh and repeat it. "Good, then, that's enough of that for the whole day." Still, it was easier for me. I myself noticed, as well as was told, that local young women counselors could hardly expect to get any respect at all. Saying "DO IT" simply wouldn't work. I guess this lack of regard is something that's built too strongly into the culture and will take a long time to change.
There were three counselors for each cabin, but I led my cabins both times, almost by default because in both cases I was both the oldest counselor and the only one who had been there before, but also because it's somewhat in my personality to take charge like that. I've taught high-schoolers a lot, and had a feeling for connecting to them. My role also devolved by circumstance into providing some small assistance to the directors, particularly as concerned discipline. And I was something of a camp orator. I told the ghost stories at the two campfires ("Who's got my Golden Arm?" and "The Monkey's Paw"), delivered pep talks, gave the final good-bye on the last night before the camp sang its final "Day is Done," and at one point, reamed out the entire student body.
The "garbage" episode came the morning after the ice cream man had come. All around the square were dozens of ice cream wrappers. I picked up two pom-poms worth in less than three minutes, and I asked the directors if I could have a few minutes of the morning meeting.
"Someone ask me how I am," I said to the great assembly.
"How are you?" several girls cheerfully asked.
"Not very well. Look at what I have in my hands," I said, waving my enormous bundles of ice cream wrappers. "I just picked these up from all around the square. Look at what people do, oh yummy yummy ice cream eat it up and throw the wrapper on the ground. I picked up three wrappers from right next to the garbage box that is sitting there!" I vocalized, slowly. "I can't believe it! But I can. I live in Ashgabat. Every day when I go to work I walk through piles of garbage. It's everywhere, all along the street. You've seen it, right? Because everyone just throws their wrappers and their cigarette boxes and their cans on the street. Do you like this? Do you want to live in a city full of garbage? Imagine it just for a moment: if no one threw any garbage on the streets, and everyone picked up just one piece of trash each day, how long would it take? In one month Ashgabat would be clean. There would be no trash. But instead, no. I walk around this square and there's garbage everywhere." The kids were all looking at their feet, frowning. I have to seriously believe that no one had ever pointed out to them that this was wrong, before. "You, you kids, right here: you are the future leaders of Turkmenistan. You are the smart ones. You are the ones who study, who have learned something. You will have to decide how you want to live here, and how you will lead. Like this?" I threw the wrappers down. "Or like this?" I picked them up and walked to the trash box and threw them away. The kids were silent.
And then we sang, "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands."
I celebrated my 34th birthday at the second session. The whole camp sang, "Happy Birthday (dear Wednesday)" in the morning, and then gave repeat performances maybe five times during meals that day. At more than 1,000, it was certainly the most person-songs I'd ever experienced, probably in my whole life total. It was nice. The next day we subjected Brendan Dallas (a.k.a. Chunk) to the same thing.
The first day's camp activities include
choosing camp names and making name tags, going over the rules
(1. English only 2. Be on time 3. No boys in the girls' area, no
girls in the boys' area, etc.) and putting together an
introductory skit. The first evening's entertainment consists of
skits from each cabin, and getting them to put these things
together is like pulling teeth from frogs. In all my times at
camp I have always reached a point at which I thought it wouldn't
happen, what with maybe a half hour of prep time left and no one
having said a word. This time I tried something a little
different. Instead of having them stare at each other, each one
waiting for someone else to come up with an idea, I gave each
camper a slip of paper and a crayon, and told them to each write
down two ideas. Then we read them off. Edinburgh put on sheets
for kilts and did a little Scottish gigue and made a lot of jokes
that had "Mc" in them, finally ending up with our
saying, "Hey, girls, do you know what Scots wear under their
kilts?" We then, to the obvious horror of the four
directors, slowly lifted up our kilts, only to reveal that we
were all wearing track clothes as we said, "Shorts!"
Each morning I woke the kids up at seven. First I sang a song to them and bounced on the beds of the true sleepy heads. Then I gave them about five minutes to rouse themselves for real, after which I went in with my water squirt bottle. "Feet on the floor!" came the call. Anyone who didn't subsequently get their feet onto the floor got a shot of water. By the fourth day, I could go in and say, "Feet on the floor," and six kids would pop up like something from a cartoon.
Hiking in the mountains was offered to campers who wanted to go and were willing to get up before 6 a.m. to get started. Many of the hikes were led by Chunk, who had taken just about all of them in the previous year. Brendan is a very experienced mountaineer, who probably loves only bicycling more than hiking. (He can talk about bicycling for hours, the way that crew jocks can talk about crew, the way that I can talk about ultimate.) He'd found many good routes, and shown them to other counselors, so this year the hikes were led by quite a few people.
One day, though, only half of one group returned in time for breakfast, and by 10:00, the other half had still not returned. The six missing campers and two junior counselors had gotten behind the larger group, and some mix-up in communication had made the larger group think they'd turned back. But they were gone. Either they were lost, or one of them was hurt, or the whole pack of them were out making out. The latter two possibilities didn't seem very likely.
A search party (Brendan a.k.a. Chunk and Aimee Pease a.k.a. Stinky) went out to trace the original route, but as time went on, some of the rest of us had to do something about it. Joker (Tom Bartleson), X, and I grabbed our water bottles and headed off into the mountains on a different passage, thinking that any number of turnoffs could have gotten them lost. As we walked out, we conversed about what we were doing. Three guys, out wandering in the mountains looking on the very slight chance that we might find the missing kids, why? Because we're men. And men have to do something. Camp Director Laura Bartko (a.k.a. Dooby) was sitting in camp being consoled and told not to worry yet, but we men would feel better only if our arms and legs were moving and we had serious, determined looks on our faces; only if we were sweating while walking out in the heat, occasionally stopping to look for reflections in the glinting sun or listen for the sound of voices; only if we were discussing which mountain ridges we should be climbing next and where we might cut them off at a pass and thereby render necessary service to wounded parties. Joker was an EMT, carrying a small amount of supplies. I had grabbed my tube of Bacatracin. Because that's what men do.
All cabins had to be in the main square at eight. Breakfast was supposed to be at 8:15, but was customarily late. We sometimes played some games, and made some morning announcements including Cabin of the Day, and Campers of the Day.
Seven or eight campers were chosen by counselors at the staff meeting each evening, as being those who had been speaking a lot of English, and had displayed excellent attitudes. We also selected a "Cabin of the Day," which was one that had received no X's and had participated energetically in the day's activities. These campers and this cabin got to sign up first for the fourth-period elective.
Also at morning meeting in the second session, the camp sang a morning song: "Morning has Broken." It's a pretty, slow waltz, just the kind of thing that I need in the morning, but music has a powerful effect on energy level and mood, and "Morning has Broken" uniformly caused the kids to look like they were about to go to sleep on their feet, and made it awfully difficult to switch into the gear of, "I SAID A BOOM-CHICKA-BOOM," or whatever excitement the counselors wanted to create next.
Generating excitement and filling square time was the task of one committee of counselors, who were called, "Rah Rah." Thank god for Rah Rah. As their sole task (they were not, in second session, assigned to cabins), they thought of ways to fill the square time and distract the kids from mealtime lateness, and ran the Olympic Day and Relay Race Night. It was a task that I was glad not to have to do, and they did it well.
After breakfast--which was invariably porridge and bread and butter and tea, except for the one day that it was only bread and butter and tea--there was a clean-up period.
Each cabin was assigned an area of the camp: say, on the main square, in one of the open cabins where activities were held, or their own cabin area. They had to clean it. A lot of counselors didn't really understand the way to go about this. First of all, many of them, particularly local ones, did not assist in the clean-up. They were teachers who were accustomed to telling the kids what to do, and did so, and then sat around. They saw clean-up as being some work for the campers, not as being a gesture of cleaning up the space that we were all living in. This was a poor example to the kids. Another difficulty was the vague directions, which resulted often in a couple kids' working while others stood around. Counselors could be heard everywhere saying, "Come on, what are you doing? Clean up the area!" for forty-five minutes.
The way to solve this problem, as I had learned in the previous year, is to give each camper a specific task or area: "You sweep this half of the floor; you the other; you mop here and you from here to here and you the rest; you police this section for garbage; you get that stuff out of the river; this is your area; this one is yours and this one is yours, and I will do x, y, and z." When the task is finished, the camper asks a counselor to inspect. If he/she passes inspection, the camper is done. If it takes ten minutes, then it takes ten minutes and the kids can do something else.
After clean-up, activities begin. An hour long each, two of them were before lunch and two after. The first three activities were according to a schedule, and almost all were led by Peace Corps volunteers. They included aerobics, songs, American culture, health, sports, swimming, outward bound games, multicultural role-playing, drama, self-defense, dental care, arts and crafts, poetry, Native Americans, and a dozen others. Cabins went to most of them once, but were doubled up for sports, swimming, songs, and multiculturalism, so each of those met twice. Teacher counselors were not always teaching. Built in to the schedule were breaks, security patrolling, and working with kids who were in jail.
I coached sports. Coach Wednesday. There were four counselors assigned, and the kids learned to play softball on one day, and ultimate frisbee on the other. During first session, one coach was Aimee Pease a.k.a. "Stinky." It was a great help to have a woman sports coach, as she was an example to the girls' cabins. (I would strongly recommend that a woman be assigned to sports in the future.)
Coaching and sleeping were both somewhat difficult in first session, because I was in pain with a slightly cracked rib, and injury I'd received on the last play of the last game of ultimate in the spring, courtesy of an elbow during a perfectly fair play by Brandyn Woodard, who had been guarding me. I took a lot of ibuprofen, because that's all you can really do.
Kids met on the square to kill some time before lunch, which was invariably macaroni and something else.
Food this year was multiples better than last. Remembering the simple malnourishment we had suffered from eating nothing but macaroni, and not very much of that, last year, the directors had put part of the camp budget this summer into buying vegetables and fruit direct from one of the collective farms. It was brought in specially for us, so every day we had some cucumber and tomato salad, and every other day there was a watermelon or cantaloupe for each cabin. There was butter at breakfast, and there was canned meat in the macaroni. A couple of days, they baked the macaroni with onions and tomatoes and garlic on top. I said to Stinky, "I would order this in a restaurant."
Lunch and dinner were not quiet affairs in the beginning. I made sure of that. Early on in the sessions my cabins would "adopt" a girls' cabin, and routinely shout something in unison at that cabin. The girls responded. Sometimes we would just chant something about ourselves. These routines were picked up by other cabins, and never did a meal go by without some group yelling something throughout the hall.
At day three, the cabins were divided up into "eating tables." Thus boys and girls from all cabins mixed for meals. This was great. I got to know a whole lot of kids whom I otherwise would not have, including a few of my favorites.
After lunch was potentially one of the best times of the day: so-called "Quiet Time." Last year, the kids had to be actually within the walls of their room, so as to give the counselors some down-time. This year that was determined to be extreme, so kids were allowed to be on the grounds of the cabin area. They could then wash clothes or their hair, or play cards with kids from one of the adjoining cabins.
Third activity followed, and then electives. Electives were offered by anyone who wanted to teach something, so there were sessions on politics, rock and roll dancing, hair braiding, and many other things including ultimate frisbee every day.
This led us into dinner, which was the same as lunch along with soup. The kids would clear out to have a little free time on the square while the counselors drank tea and then went to the staff meeting in the open theatre. There we discussed issues of camp ("Counselors should participate in the activities: not just show up with their kids and sit around...") and nominate campers and cabin of the day.
Finally, there was evening activity. They were:
1. Drama Introduction night
2. Scavenger Hunt
4. (prepare for Olympics)
5. Dance/Haunted Forest
6. Relay Races/Movie
8. Relay Races/Movie
9. Gameshow/ Cabin Advertisements
10. Talent Show/Dance
At 10:00-ish, the whole camp gathered once again in the square. We stood in a large circle and had about a minute of silence to contemplate the evening, and then we all sang, "Day is Done." Cabins were brought together, and walked home to go to bed.
Which all made for very full days. Like many counselors, I brought a book with me to first session, and read not one single word of it. I wrote no letters and studied no Russian vocabulary. I was busy, and went to bed each night absolutely exhausted, and feeling like I'd actually done something that day.
Locals and Americans
Regular activities were almost
universally the purview of Peace Corps volunteers. Either the
local teachers didn't feel comfortable teaching sessions because
of their English, or were finding out how it was done, or simply
the reason was that volunteering is not an established part of
Local people basically need to be asked to do things, which they would then gladly do, but any time that volunteering an opinion (such as at evening meeting when nominating cabin of the day or campers of the day), or volunteering to do something were called for, it was generally Americans who had their hands up first, middle, and last. On the suggestion of some of our local counselors, we had some in-service training sessions to increase sensitivity to this matter both on their part and on ours. There was a difference in style that resulted from cultural upbringing, between our democratic and volunteer ways and their hierarchical ones. We needed to be reminded that just because the locals were silent didn't mean that they had no opinions or that they didn't want to do something. The locals needed to be reminded that someday they were going to have to do it all themselves. Surely when the camp becomes locally run, the methods and paradigms will change. For now, we're showing a set of new paradigms that will broaden the scope of their future choices.
This year's directors were constantly thinking about the ways to integrate local control. They held training sessions and discussion groups just with the local teachers, instituted the junior counselor systems and got them teaching, and established the positions of "head counselors" for two locals--one for the boys' area and one for the girls'.
I had once advocated that next year, one camp session be run almost entirely by locals, with a skeleton staff of Peace Corps volunteers whose main job was crisis control and moral support. This would be on the way to a totally local, self-sustained project in the future. However, I now believe that--while local control and sustainability are inevitably still the goal--this will take a little longer. I think that part of the reason that the kids come has to do with the novelty and style of the Americans, themselves. In one evening's skit, the kids even made fun of this, by repeating an act, "the way that the counselors would do it": by jumping around and whooping and high-fiving each other all the time. Occasionally local counselors would offer elective period activities, which would be poorly attended. It's possible that many of these activities were not inherently interesting, but it's also possible that one way or another, the kids want to be with the Americans. I would hate to see a situation in which the prospective campers found out that one session was to be run by locals, and then all decide that they wanted to go to the other session.
Therefore, the transition is going to have to be a bit more gradual, and done evenly. This year, one local was a camp director. Next year, it will be two, perhaps three. The Junior Counselors this year were required to teach some sessions of activities, in preparation for their becoming the main teachers of some next year. They, too, are learning the paradigms and styles that have made the camp so energetic and successful. Gradually, the Americans will be pulling out, while the new generations of campers come to expect that local leadership is the norm.
Discipline was given a new spin by this
year's camp directors. They thought that last year's
"jail" was too punitive, too designed to break the
offending campers' spirits, rather than to get them to understand
and follow the rules. This year, discipline would not be torture,
"Jail" was an idea instituted in the first year, but apparently badly. The purpose of "jail" was to deter the speaking of Russian or Turkmen at our so-called English Immersion Camp. Campers who were caught speaking not-English were given--on the back of their name tags--an "X" and a signature by a counselor, and a camper with three X's went to "jail." In the first year, the only action taken was that those students didn't go to activities, but instead were watched over by the directors. This didn't work too well, because the kids liked hanging out with the camp directors.
In the first session of second year (1996), the new directors at first thought that maybe the jail system wasn't necessary: after all, the kids were there in order to speak English, right? They wouldn't need any policing, but would do it by choice, right? Um, not quite. In fact, Russian and Turkmen were rampant. Kids would yell at each other across the Main Square in Russian. Most of us counselors took to having the students do ten push-ups if caught, but then the whole thing just became this game, in which the students tried to see how much Russian they could get away with. There were some campers whom I never heard speak English. The dining hall tables were nearly silent, because the kids knew that in a few minutes they could go outside and hold their conversations in Russian. It was awful.
So they reinstituted the jail system for second session of last year. As word got around that jail was horrid--cleaning latrines and being roundly chastised by counselors for destroying the entire spirit of the camp--most of the Russian stopped. X's were also given for any number of offenses, from being late to copping attitude. The thing that bothered some counselors, though, was the harshness of the treatment of the kids. It didn't seem to fit with the crime of having spoken a few words of their native language. (Of course, at Middlebury the penalty for speaking a few words of the native language is expulsion...)
Changes in the camp have a lot to do with the change of directorship and the needs of each year. Last year's directors--Katherine Hahn, Becky Minsley, Greg and Carol Lastowka--were more strict, more powerful, more severe. I truly believe that that was good for that year, the camp's second, in which the survival of the project depended in good measure on a certain rigidity of purpose. This year, though, the basic format and paradigms of the camp are more set and ready--thanks to last year's directors--and other areas of the camp experience, such as food, counselor roles, and discipline, could come more into the directors' horizons.
So this year, discipline was reformed. So as to prevent counselors' differential exercises of the process, three specific reasons were made for giving X's: speaking not-English, smoking at unauthorized times/places, and not wearing one's name tag. No more attitude X's (because some people would give them, and some wouldn't), no more lateness X's (because it's supposed to be the counselor's responsibility to get the kids to activities on time). More importantly, the exercise of discipline once in jail was changed. The campers had to pay a penalty for their malfeasance, of course, but it was to be enacted with humanity. The jail counselor was there to see that the jail work got done and that it wasn't fun, but was not there to be angry or to break the spirit of the offending camper. The work was no longer automatic latrine duty. Instead, garbage was picked up, walkways were swept, drinking water was pumped through filters for everyone to have. Following two periods of work duty, the responsible counselor was to sit down with the camper, and have him/her fill out a "contract." The contract indicated what the camper had done, and what the camper would do in the future to prevent coming back to jail. The "jailer" was responsible for counseling the camper, and checking up on her/him in coming days, to see if progress had been made. "Any more X's, Eden? No? Good, keep it up!" (Latrine duty did go to more serious discipline problems (e.g. activity refusers) and recidivists.) It was worth a try, and I think it all worked.
During preliminary camp training, discipline sessions involved getting the new counselors to understand their roles in this system: to be humane, realize that kids make mistakes, and to follow the discipline acronym, "FACE": Fair, Affirming, Consistent, and Effective. As happened throughout the training, it was demonstrated with role-plays, which showed counselors dealing with kids who slipped and said a word in Russian, or lost track of the time and were late, forget their name tags. I said to Chunk, who conveyed it at one training session, that all of this was fine and good, but it didn't get to the fact that the counselors will have to deal with some kids who are a pain in the ass: who are constantly a problem, refuse to do things, give major attitude, try to speak as little English as possible. Those ones are much more difficult to react to in a way that is fair and affirming and at the same time effective.
Each of the ten regular days of camp was named after a holiday. During first session, we had Valentine's Day right toward the beginning, which we would later rue because it hooked up couples way too early and led to nighttime forays. On "Christmas" the cabins assembled bags of food to give to other cabins, and on "Easter" we painted rocks and hid them. "Mardi Gras" was confusing to everyone, including myself, as we painted banners that said New Orleans-specific things such as "Carrolton" and then paraded through the square wearing masks. Halloween was, appropriately, on Olympic Day, when we were wearing costumes appropriate to our Cabin city names, and that night during the dance the counselors put on a "haunted forest." My role there was to be a head that looked like it had been cut off. One local junior counselor almost made me crack up when he went by and said, "Oh! Wednesday! May your memory live long!"
Another new and mostly positive addition
to this year's camp was the "junior counselor." In
prior years, there were campers--ages 14 to 17--and counselors:
19 and up. This meant that there were a couple of years in which
the kids couldn't come, and it also meant that some of the
counselors were pretty young. This summer, those in-between kids,
18- and 19-year-olds, were admitted by application as
"junior counselors." They had the authority of regular
counselors to give X's and marshal the students, but they lived
in the cabins with the campers. They went through a great
training regime, including teaching activity periods, so that
next year they could become full counselors. They were mostly
selected from the ranks of the very best campers from previous
years, and they are the vanguard of the camp's sustainability: it
is they who will become the future activity teachers and camp
directors, I'm sure.
A couple of the first-session junior counselors were asked to return for the second. When I found out that I would be paired up with the same JC the second time around, I went and told him this. "YYYYYEEES!" he said.
My JC, a very tall kid from Nebit Dag with the camp name "Snoop," had been a gem with the first session's cabin.
The kids of Edinburgh got along really
well with Snoop, me, Elizabeth (camp name: Namaste) and our other
counselor, a university student camp-named Tony. We took Scotland
as a constant theme, occasionally adopting outrageous
Russian/Scottish accents, and humming "Scotland the
Brave" whenever we left the square. Dressing up for Olympic
day, we wore our sheets as kilts, and attached red pom-poms to
the tops of our baseball caps. For their Olympic cheer, the kids
wrote and learned some words to the tune of "Scotland the
Brave." During morning/evening roll-call in the square,
instead of just shouting when we heard, "Cabin 12!" we
would yell back, "Kell the Bretesh," or "Wot d'ya
wont?!" (like the Scottish dwarves in the computer game,
Warcraft. Matt Fox a.k.a. "Rerun" would yell back, also
in a Scottish brogue, "Aye wont ya ta stop talking like
thaht!") By the end of camp, I had no voice left whatsoever.
Edinburgh featured a couple of boys who had not only been at camp the year before, but had been in my cabin. "Masterboy" and "Eddie" were pretty mature and very positive, and took leadership roles that I could only have dreamed about. Spirits were mostly high through the first half; we got a "Cabin of the Day" very early on; and at Olympic day, we won the team spirit award.
Not that we did not have our problems. First, there was "Dave."
On the first day of camp, we took our cabin to do some team-building exercises: name games and human pyramid and helping the team to get over the camp wall. Dave was reticent, and barely moved a muscle to assist. I though that he was shy, or perhaps not understanding, but I soon discovered that his English was really quite good. Though he was not quite all the way through puberty, Dave's problem was that he thought he was too old for all this child's play. By the end of the second day, it was coming to a head.
His girlfriend, Rachel, had decided that she was going to leave the camp, because it wasn't what she'd expected. "I have an Oxford English-English dictionary," she told the camp directors. "I didn't expect to come here and play games, but to speak English." She and Dave would hang out in the square and feed each others' unhappiness. When Rachel got her parents to come get her, Dave decided he wanted to go, too. But Dave's parents were not to be found, and he even admitted to us that he didn't think they would come to get him. He had already abandoned the Turkish-Turkmen camp earlier in the summer, and his parents wanted him to stick it out.
Rerun, Dave and I had a long talk, which mostly consisted of Dave's saying, "This isn't my cup of tea" and asking if he couldn't stay at camp but not do any of the activities. This was not an option. Rerun was irritated but patient with all of it, explaining that there was no way that Dave could go home the next day, so he was going to be there at least until Day Four, and he may as well try out the activities and see if he could like some of them. Dave was not a person who tried naturally. He wound up sulking back to the cabin.
The next evening, quite by surprise, Dave's father showed up, just to check in. Dave was rushing back to the cabin to pack up his things, when I walked by. I went to talk to his father. I explained that we didn't want Dave to leave, that he had just gotten there and hadn't had time to adjust and to know what the camp was about, and that if his father hadn't shown up he would probably have stuck around. One could tell that Dave's father, a businessman, was a good listener, and thoughtful. He shook his head, and said that he would talk to his son.
He, Namaste, Rerun, and Snoop went back to the cabin. They talked with Dave in a mixture of English, Turkmen, and Russian, for nearly an hour. Rerun and Namaste tried to show him that he didn't really know anything about the camp, yet. His father said he'd been expecting to take Dave to Turkey for all of August, but how could depend on his son for a month if he couldn't last ten days at camp? Dave was stubborn and determined, though. Finally, as Dave had his bags in hand and was walking out after much talk of the persuading, gentle kind, Snoop said, "Can I talk to him for a second?" Yes. "Can I speak Russian?" There didn't seem any harm in it, because he was leaving anyway. Snoop walked Dave to a corner of the cabin complex and talked to him for a total of ten seconds. Dave came back, put his bags by his bed and said, "I'll stay at least until Friday."
Snoop wouldn't talk right then about what he'd said, but later I got him to fess up. Their conversation consisted of Snoop's saying, in the most slangy of ways, "If you leave now, you're a pussy."
Snoop had been recommended to be a JC by Rerun, who at the time expressed reservations about it. "He's just such a guy," he said. It's true, and that's just what we needed. Snoop must have been watching all the touchy-feely and persuasive talk with Dave and rolling his eyes the whole time. He knew just what to say, and accomplished in one sentence what three adults couldn't pull off in an hour.
Dave ended up finding some enjoyable daytime sessions, excelling in anything that required sitting and talking, and he adored the third evening's activity: Clue.
Clue, as we did it, was the brainchild of Jeremy Roth a.k.a. Anansi. It was based on the board game, with a list of suspects, weapons, and locations. The suspects were the counselors, who took on roles such as the blue trolls (under the bridge), the turquoise surfers (in the swimming pool), the white jocks (on the sports field), the fishermen (in the swimming hole), and the old Scots (guess who! Me and Rerun, trying our best to sound like Billy Connally). There was also a robot, a troupe of actors, tree fairies, and more. The kids ran from place to place to interview us, and each of us was given a certain number of things from the list, which we could alibi. "Aye," Rerun and I said, as Captain McBlack and Lieutenant McKnight, "We had tea with Sir Earl Grey and Madam, but only to tell them that we hate the British..." (We heht the Brretesh.) He and I developed a whole series of routines that we ran on the kids (Campers: "Did you see the paintbrush?" Us: "Do we look like artists to you?"), who loved the whole game. Yes, we counselors were being awfully silly: isn't being an adult wonderful?
When Dave's father returned that Friday, about four days later, Dave said that he was going to stay until the end.
Around the mid-point of camp, I found out that there had been some sort of a fight in my cabin. A couple of the bigger boys had been pushing around a smaller kid, and Dave had stepped in. A couple of blows were actually exchanged, apparently. I took the four boys involved aside. They told me that it was all over and everything was fine, now, but as I sat not saying anything except asking them to tell me the story, it became apparent that all was not fine. They were still fuming at each other. I talked to them for a long time about how adults have to learn to get over these things, that we need to learn to let go of things inside of ourselves. We talked at some length, and then I separated them, and addressed them each individually. I think that one of them I couldn't get to, but the other three all shored up, and I felt that their post-talk handshake was sincere. Although the cabin would never be quite totally together again, I was moved by the whole learning-experience aspect of that afternoon. I thought that a few kids had grown up, just a little, that day.
And my last cabin trouble came the night that I woke up to the sound of voices on my cabin porch at 2:30 a.m., and went out to see Brendan (Chunk) talking to one of my boys. Two of my cabin kids had been caught in a girls' cabin.
In the camp there is a girls' area, and a boys' area. Genders mixed in the square, during evening activities, at meals, and during electives, but there were strict rules against girls in the boys' area, and vice versa. These are good rules, and when it came time to talk to my cabin about our problem, I explained thus:
"How many of you boys are Turkmen?" (About seven of them raised their hands. The others were Russian.) "Now, if I go to any girls' cabin, and ask them how many are Turkmen, how many will raise their hands?"
Eddie said, "Two or three."
"That's right. Probably averaging around two. Now, why is that? Is it because they don't want to come? Because they don't speak English? I know that those things aren't true, because Turkmen girls come to the interviews. They come, and they know how to speak English. This is amazing, because some of them get almost no English classes at all, but somehow they've learned. They're very smart. They come to the interviews, and we take them, and often, often, they don't come to the camp, anyway."
"Their parents don't let them," Swan said.
"That's right. They don't," I said. "Why not?"
"They don't think that girls should go to camp."
"Yup. Their fathers don't believe that girls should wear shorts. That girls should run around. That girls should swim, or play sports, or sing on stage, or do a lot of the things that we do in this camp. Like meet boys. We have a really hard time getting Turkmen girls to come here. Now tell me something," I said. "What is going to happen, when the parents find out that there were boys in a girls' cabin at 2:30 in the morning?"
The thing that made me most upset, was that one of the kids caught out was "Masterboy." He'd been in "Beautiful Tahiti" in the year prior, and was a natural leader even then. The oldest in the cabin, the representative to the Camp Council, and on his way to becoming a JC the next year, I placed great faith in him, and he admired me a lot. I saw him on the porch, and as he went past me, back into his room, he could not look me in the eye. The next day I gave him the most effective penalty I could think of: I made myself busy enough in other places, not to see my cabin all day, so he had to spend the day himself, thinking about what I was thinking. After dinner, I finally took him aside alone. Masterboy was a good kid who'd made a mistake, and he was in grave remorse about it. He looked physically ill. We discussed it, and later that evening, he himself talked to the cabin about the reasons for the rules.
Two days after Masterboy was busted, our daily holiday was "Thanksgiving," and campers were allowed to come forward and say what they were thankful for. Masterboy came to the center of the square and addressed the camp.
"I'm thankful for the directors of this camp, who brought us here, for everything that they do to help us. I'm thankful that they forgave me when I made a mistake. And I'm thankful that Wednesday is my counselor."
I, also, delivered a Thanksgiving message. I had written it down, and this is what the paper says:
"I'm thankful for the campers at the English Immersion Camp, and for the experience of being here. Last year I had Beautiful Tahiti, and then Atlantis. Those cabins came together like my family--my family for twenty days. Now I have a new family--Edinburgh. But not only Edinburgh, but Venice, and Cairo, and Nome and New Orleans and Santa Barbara and all of you. Sometimes we are very tired, and we all make mistakes, but if we love each other enough, then we return to the goodness and the joy. I realized the other day, when I got made at you all for the ice cream garbage, that the reason I was upset, is because I feel so much for you. You are my kids, and it broke my heart to think that my kids would grow up in a country full of garbage. But now I know, that you won't. I don't have any kids of my own, but I hope that someday I will. And I hope that they're a lot like you."
I meant it.
My first jail duty was on the morning
after the camp directors had decided to send a boy home.
"Michael" had already had several run-ins with
counselors, who often simply couldn't find him, and he'd been to
jail twice for speaking Russian and was basically on probation.
So when he was found to have been drinking at the first dance,
that was pretty much the end of it.
I had my two "jailbirds" collecting firewood for the campfire the next night, and it irritated me quite a bit that I had to give one of them an X during jail when I found him smoking. At the end of the jail periods I had them fill out their contracts, and they told me that they'd been caught speaking and listening to Russian. We discussed the whole process of learning to think in the language, and how to tell people around you not to speak Russian in the English camp without sounding like a dork, and they signed them and went off to their afternoon activities.
At lunch I said to Rerun, "I had to give an X to Jim today because he was smoking during jail. How weird."
Rerun looked at me more surprised than I'd expected. "No way! I told him during the first jail period that he couldn't smoke, and that if we found him doing one more thing like that he'd be out of camp."
"Out of camp? For three X's?" I said.
"No no no: he's one of the boys who was drinking with Michael last night."
"What? He told me he'd been caught listening to Russian."
It was at about this time that David Neal a.k.a. Professor X was returning from Ashgabat, where he had escorted "Michael" to his plane back to Chardjew. He told us that, in tears of repentance Michael had confessed to the drinking and had named all the people who had been with him. They included both of my jailbirds--who had already denied it--and one other kid who was his cabin's representative to the camp council. Having been out and out lied to by two of them, I asked to be party to the subsequent dealings.
"Jim" and "Falcon" were brought in to talk with me, Chunk, and Rerun. I started. "Jim, look at this jail contract. It says you were in jail for listening to Russian. But that isn't really why you were in jail, is it? Why were you in jail?"
He looked down at and at the two directors. "Because you think I was drinking."
"For drinking? Then why did you tell me that it was for X's?"
I had to repeat the question. He said, "I think if I tell you true, then you will think bad of me, and be hard to me." Jim's English wasn't all that good.
"Well, that could be. The whole purpose of jail is so that we can make sure that you know that you did something wrong, and what it was, and then we can all work to make sure it doesn't happen again, but when you tell me a lie, I can't help you, and I can't help the camp."
Rerun asked, "Jim, I told you during first period of jail not to smoke, right?"
"Then you smoked again during second period of jail?"
To the bitter end, "Jim" lied and made excuses, later saying that he didn't remember Rerun's telling him not to smoke, and that he had actually gotten X's for speaking Russian so everything he told me was true as far as it went, and when faced with Michael's confession, still denied the scene, all in broken Russian.
Jim and Michael were best buddies, and all four of the accused were friends from Chardjew, it seemed unlikely that Michael would lie and accuse his friends, but something didn't add up when we talked with Falcon and the fourth, "Trey."
Falcon didn't sound defensive, he sounded confused. And Trey was positively shocked to be accused. "If I had been drinking, I wouldn't have been able to lead the newspaper dance. I was at the dance all night; there are many witnesses."
I would later say to a director, "You know, Trey sounds very convincing, and I'm inclined to believe him. But I have to keep in mind how much better Trey's English is, than the rest of theirs. He used a third conditional ('If I had...') and knows words like, 'witnesses.' It could be that he's just a smarter kid and can play this out. One way or another, he can defend himself."
It became clearer and clearer that not only was Jim lying, but that he had no sense of contrition or even an acknowledgment that there was something wrong. The directors, waiting for an ounce of shame, were to be disappointed, and after too much time, decided that his last chance had been spent, too.
Trey seemed more clear. His denials were convincing and indeed a lot of people were ready to vouch for his continual presence at the dance. Why Michael had fingered him was anyone's guess.
The problematic case became that of Falcon. While Michael and Jim had been problematic campers, anyway, Falcon was well-liked, had only one X, and had started telling a different truth: that he had indeed been with the other boys, but had not had drunk. Jim was meanwhile pouring out his own teary airport confession, when he finally did come clean that he and Michael and Falcon had been drinking together, but he couldn't remember who drank what.
In an effort to follow the policy of Fair, Affirming, Consistent, Effective, the directors were preparing to send Falcon home, as well.
I stood in the darkness of that late night with Stinky, and one of Falcon's counselors, Andrea Craig a.k.a. Zoot. "The stories don't match," I said, "unless you want to take a view of what each person means. So here's what I think. Michael brought the alcohol, and he got drunk. He shared the bottle with Jim, who drank but didn't get hammered like Michael did. And Falcon, he may have had a sip to be social, but in his own mind that doesn't count as drinking. That's the only way that all of this can make sense." At this point only the directors wanted to send Falcon home. At around 2 a.m. I took Chunk (Brendan) aside. He was my roommate at camp, my best friend there, and I knew that he would respect what I had to say. I told him about the conversation with Stinky and the other counselor.
"Brendan, you guys are really tired, and you're taking this very personally. You have put this camp together and now you feel that these campers are lying to you. To you. Really, you should all go to sleep, and rethink your decision in the light of the morning. There's also something else I want to tell you about this case," I said. "You've got this policy about being fair and consistent. You want to be consistent, here: you threw out Michael and Jim, and now you want to send Falcon home, too. Falcon isn't like Michael and Jim, though. I'm really sorry at this point to be throwing a wrench into your thinking, but here's the thing: sometimes fair and consistent aren't the same thing."
When Stinky and I later compared notes, we laughed, because she and I had been like tape recorders--me to Chunk, and her to Professor X. And it made something happen.
Falcon's parents were called the next day, but he stayed at camp and was a joy. He spoke no more Russian, participated to the hilt, and was grateful to be around. Unlike Michael and Jim, Falcon's run-in with the discipline system caused a change in him, a reform. Finally, all the decisions made in this episode were the right ones.
Because the campers had been regimented 100 percent of the day in previous years, they had asked for some time simply to hang out in the square, talk, be unscheduled, so at this year's camp they had the time after dinner, when senior counselors were in staff meeting, and junior counselors were supposed to be keeping track of them more or less. This open time turned out to be the opportunity for this drinking that we hadn't seen in previous years. Fearing for the camp's reputation and looking for structure, the camp directors decided after first session, that as a blanket policy, any campers caught drinking would be sent home. I have to confess that while they insist this policy was stressed repeatedly during the training period for second session, somehow it escaped me, which would become a problem when some other kids were caught drinking at the first dance of second session.
The disco (a word used here generically to mean a dance or party) was finished, and the awards had just been announced for Olympic Day.
The exception to the routine schedule
was our Olympics, which was a morning-to-evening schedule of
inter-cabin competition. Events included carrying each other
around, a basketball and frisbee accuracy competition, running
with a tennis ball on a spoon, water balloon toss, squirting your
counselor in the face for big prizes, that kind of thing. It
began with costumes--togas on the Rome cabin, Mickey Mouse ears
on Disneyland--and a cabin cheer competition. In keeping with the
previous year's good spirit, I always encouraged my boys to write
a cheer that cheered for the other teams as well as our own. They
would write it all mostly, and then I cleaned up the grammar and
the rhymes, and we learned it. Our cheers this year were:
(To the tune of "Scotland the Brave")
Venice, Hong Kong, Cairo, Gotham
City, Baghdad, Rio, Santa
Barbara, Las Vegas, Buenos
Aires, Nome, Honolulu
Cancun and New Orleans and Di-
Rectors, we thank you for a
Great bunch of men and women
Here at the games.
Scottish sportive spirit that will
Help us to win it, Oh!
Purple Scottish mountains Oh!
Golden Scottish highlands
Great Scottish sportsmen for the
British they're a nightmare for
Sport they are a dream because we
Are a super team.
(To the tune of "Go Down Moses")
When Chicago plays the game
Kingston wishes luck
New York has such pretty girls
Mumbai doesn't suck
Good luck, Campers, way down from Disneyland
Hi ho, Hi ho! Ready, get set, go!
Hershey plays with Samarkand
They are very cool
Rome and Sydney want to be
Just like Liverpool
Dancing girls from Tokyo
They dance very good
Singer girls in Havana
Stars in Hollywood
Good luck, Bedrock, way down from Disneyland
Yabba Dabba Doo! Ready, get set, go!
On the night before Olympic Day, I went in to give my customary good-night pep talk to my cabin. This time, it was about team spirit.
"Some of you know, that I play ultimate frisbee, and have played in some big tournaments. In many sports, you know, there is a 'Most Valuable Player' award." I described this at some length until they understood. "But ultimate frisbee is interesting, because they don't give that award. At the biggest tournaments in the world, they don't reward people for being good players. Instead, they give to one player from each team, the spirit award. This is the only thing of value.
"Now tomorrow, you'll play some games, but I have to tell you, that they're really not very meaningful. There will be the race where our legs are tied together, and carrying a tennis ball on a spoon, and throwing a water balloon, and passing cups of water around... And you know, if you win at the end of the day, what will that mean? You'll forget about that before camp is over.
"But tomorrow they're going to give two awards that you would remember for years. Spirit is for the team that has the most energy, enthusiasm, togetherness, understanding of the meaning of playing games. Sportsmanship will be for the team that cheers the hardest for other teams, and plays fair, and helps out. Those are the only two awards worth having. Let's do it. Let's take them both."
I knew that a team couldn't get both, because they gave one award to each team, but the boys didn't know that. They didn't disappoint me. Edinburgh and Disneyland both cheered for other cabins so much that all the other cabins were eventually cheering for us. It was led by me, really, but they did get whipped up and start instigating their own singing, chanting, and "Hi ho!" our Disneyland signature cheer.
And for Disneyland, I took one for the team.
During quiet time, as the kids were getting a mid-Olympics break, I was getting my hair cut off. Off off. First Dottie (a.k.a. Toothbrush) buzzed it down, and then Tom (a.k.a. Joker) shaved it. Tom's head was also shaved, so the two of us looked like matching cue balls. We painted my head in a black pattern; I stuck two big round ears on my head, and returned to the games as Mickey Mouse.
With my head shaved, I look like the bald guy from "You Don't Know Jack."
Not that all went well. My competitiveness reached even into the depths of competitiveness for the non-competitive spirit. The Rah Rah committee had been running the Olympics and were getting frustrated. It's a kind of organized chaos, but Rah Rah thought that it had to go more like clockwork, so as they yelled and kids--revved up--didn't listen to them, the frustrations mounted. They snapped orders and got mad, and more than one counselor while noting that the Rah Rah folk were doing a hard job and rather well, remarked that they should lighten up. Finally, at the "spoon race," Namaste, who had already snapped at me more than once, asked me if I had a spoon. "No," I said.
"The counselors were told last night, that you were supposed to bring a spoon for your cabin." The tone of voice was beyond pissed. I was irritated, but tried to make a joke of the whole matter. I got down on my knees and started blubbering.
"Oh, Namaste! Forgive me! I didn't know! I am guilty and will try to amend my ways! I'm sorry: forgive me, forgive me!" She stormed off.
Jason (a.k.a. Evergreen) came up to me. "Thank you for doing that. I've wanted to do that all day."
But after the set of races was done, Sarah (a.k.a. Idunno) told me that I might want to smooth things over, because Namaste had left the square in tears. I had hardly expected that. Namaste is a big, athletic girl who acts pretty tough and had been my co-counselor in first session, but I guess the mounting emotions of the day had been pulled loose. Knowing that she probably wouldn't want to see me, I wrote her an apology, and later it all got patched up face to face.
Wet, wet, wet after the water races, exhausted from the whole day's excitement, we nonetheless had an evening to go, and it was "Halloween." The evening's activity was the dance, and a simultaneous "Haunted Forest." My role was the beheaded head, but this time I had an added attraction because my head was shaved, and we painted it all white and gave me bloody eyes and lips. So I became a ghoulish beheaded head. Kids were toured through in groups of ten. The haunted forest closed up as the dance wound down, so all the monsters went onto the dance floor for a couple dances before bed.
The final event of the evening was to announce the winners of the games. And for the fourth time in four times at camp, my cabin got the spirit award.
Back to Serious Discipline
It was harder than ever to get the kids
quiet and circled to sing "Day is Done," even though I
knew that all of them would be asleep within seconds after lying
down. As my cabin gathered, Stinky called me over to where she
was standing with one of my boys.
"Professor X thinks he's been drinking--you wanna give me an opinion?"
I said, "Sherkhan, give me a little breath, OK?"
He blew on my face, and it seemed obvious to me. His best friend from the cabin, "Bull," was at that time jumping around and whooping by the other boys. I pulled aside my fellow cabin counselor, David Linn (a.k.a. Riff Raff). "Take them home and put them in bed, OK? I'm going to keep Sherkhan and Bull. Stinky, you wanna take Bull over there to that bench?"
Determined not to make the same mistakes that we'd made the previous session, I immediately got Bull and Sherkhan separated, sitting on opposite sides of the square. Professor X also suspected by scent another kid from the adjoining cabin, and by association one more since all four were good buddies from Ashgabat, so he went to get them, and Stinky and I went to work with Shekhan and Bull.
I actually did learn some practical things in college courses. In Psychology 101 I learned about two games: "Prisoner's Dilemma," and "Good Cop/Bad Cop." Stinky turned out to be the perfect partner for both.
At one point Professor X looked over at Bull and Stinky, and when I noted that he probably needed a friend to talk to X said, "Well, he's sitting with the most compassionate person in the world right now, so..." That just about summarizes Aimee Pease. She's no softy, but she's the nicest, most sincerely interested person I've probably ever known. She asks questions and wants to know the answers. You can get through an hour of talking with her and only then realize that you've talked about nothing but yourself, and yet feel that this was the right thing to do. She's smart, tagging you for not thinking something through, but never unkind.
I started alone with Sherkhan.
"OK. First I need to tell you about last session. You probably know that last time we sent some kids home."
"Do you know why?"
"They were drinking."
"Ahm, sort of. We didn't send them all home for drinking. We sent home kids because they were drinking, and they lied to us. Drinking is a problem. Lying is a big problem. Do you understand?"
"Now, here's what happens. We will always find out the truth eventually. The question is, from whom."
This is the prisoner's dilemma. You capture two guys for a crime and separate them. You want both to confess and they then have a choice. If they both keep their mouths shut, they each do two years behind bars. If both confess, then they each do four. But if one cooperates and the other doesn't, then the first gets six months, and the other ten years. The prisoner has to ask himself, "Do I trust him? What happens to me if I talk? What happens if I don't?"
"So," I said, "You are here, and Bull is over there. Now I'm going to ask you both some questions, and if the answers aren't the same, then I'll know something is wrong. Do you understand?"
"All right, now here's the thing. I think you've been drinking." Helping them along, helps.
He nodded. "Yes."
"Who were you with?"
"Before the dance." I then got him to tell a more detailed story, about being in the cabin and eating melon, where the bottle came from and what happened to it afterward, but I knew I didn't have the whole story yet. I went to Bull. I told him the same things about drinking and lying and the questions I would ask. He had already spent some time with Aimee, and it was clear that he was ready to talk. A third name came in. "I was with Sherkhan and Body."
"Body" was the boy that Professor X had suspected, and was bringing to the square right at the time. We put him alone on another side of the square. I went over to him.
"Body, you see who's over there?" I pointed at Bull. Body nodded. "And you see who's over there?" I pointed at Sherkhan, and Body nodded again. I went back to the situation he was in, and told him that I was going to ask him a question, but I didn't want him to answer me right away--just think about it. "I want to know, have you been drinking, and with whom."
I then went back to Sherkhan. I pointed Body out to him, and told him that his story and Bull's didn't match. "I now have not just two stories, but three, and I'll know everyone is telling the truth, when the three stories match." And then I left him, and went to the middle of the square. Aimee came to me.
"He's now saying there were four of them."
"I'll be right there. Go back to him, huh?" By this time it was well past midnight, and it looked like we were in for a long night. Professor X went to get his fourth. I went to Body.
"Do you have something you want to tell me?" He confessed that he and Bull and Sherkhan had been drinking. We talked for a while. I went back to Bull.
"You got something you want to tell me?"
This was the essence of Good Cop/Bad Cop. Big Bad Wednesday is stern and straightforward, handing out the threat of punishments and the warnings. Stinky is the voice of tenderness and compassion, hearing the confessions and making it all right, but assuring Bull that he would be better off telling me. She would also talk to the other boys.
"Moudou was there, too."
I got Professor X to walk Moudou right past Body, his best friend and for the moment clearly his protector, and I went back to him. As I walked across the square, X said, "From a distance, you are really scary."
I realized that my face was still painted, from the haunted forest earlier in the evening. My bald skull was death white and my red eyes and bloody lips must have made my Bad Cop act a bit too convincing. I went to wash it all off.
Before the evening was over, at around 2 a.m., the count was up to six (two from my cabin, two from another, and one from each of the other boys' cabins), but we didn't see any reason to wake up the other two, but would deal with it in the morning. Sherkhan had told me this was the first time he'd ever really drunk, which I would normally think was of dubious credibility except for the fact that he seemed so drunk, usually saying that he couldn't remember, and not always making sense, even though he'd been a party to drinking a single bottle of vodka with five other guys. And this was five hours before.
Four counselors took the four boys to separate rooms to sleep--two empty cabins, and two counselors' rooms, because we still didn't want them together. When together, they become reassured, sometimes even cocky, and facing each other there will be no confessions, and no accusations. They only get better one by one.
The following morning, we took our four
boys to the end of camp and talked to them separately for a
while. I made Sherkhan my project. He was in my cabin, and had
been among the Ashgabat ultimate players before camp. I thought
he was a pretty good kid, but clearly he was running with a shaky
crowd, led by a boy named Abu, whose story is longer than this
one. He talked to me for a long time, about his future hopes, and
largely about his father, whom he clearly worshipped. His father
was a computer programmer who spent a lot of time in Dubai. As a
side business, he bought products there and ran two little shops
in Ashgabat. He had taken Sherkhan to Dubai on a number of
occasions. The worst thing Sherkhan feared, more than the
possibility of being expelled from camp, was what his father
would think. I was no longer a Bad Cop, but a good counselor. We
talked at length, even though all the stories were the same,
finally, within the first half hour. After Sherkhan had come
clean about all the boys--he didn't know the names of the last
two--I asked him if he felt better, now.
"Yes," he said. "It's like in the church, when you say...I don't know the word..."
We still had one who was denying it all. Moudou, though, had already been caught on the first night, trying to go over the bridge into the girls' area at 2:00 in the morning. He claimed he'd been stargazing, even though he was caught in a place where the trees blanketed the sky. He had already been told that he was on his last bit of thin ice. One way or another, he was with the drinkers, and had lied about that continuously. A problem in every way, there was no one who was going to vote to keep him at camp: this even though he was the younger brother of a former counselor (whose camp name was also Moudou), a person who would have been a director of the camp had he not gone to work in India.
The final step is to let all the kids face each other. They can know what they said. But we left out a step, which is writing it all down. So with Moudou sitting in the group and still denying it, suddenly stories started to change: he was there, but I don't remember if he drank. He came in later. He left while I was changing my clothes. Whatever. It didn't matter. The kids were sent to jail while the directors and Stinky and I decided what to do with them.
Rerun and Professor X were convinced that all six boys should be sent home. They thought that a very clear message needed to be sent, and that we had said that this would be the consequence of drinking. Stinky and I tried for less, saying that the kids who had been honest should be shown that this was something we valued. It was, after all, the pitch I had made and the way that we got all of the information. I said, "If the kids had known that being honest was of no value, we'd be sending not six, but two kids home. We would never have gotten the other four. You're going to have a really hard time getting any answers if people know there's no reason for it." Chunk was in Ashgabat so his voice couldn't be heard.
The directors were right in that a few sessions of "jail" didn't seem stern enough, was not a strong enough message. I tried for the idea of informing their parents, "jail" for all elective periods, and no ending dance. Finally, though, it wasn't my decision. Stinky and I also suggested bringing it up to the camper council. I didn't get the full story on that but apparently that meeting was messy. The directors finally decided that the six boys had to go.
Chunk would later say that he wished they were sending seven home. "Boombastic," one of the junior counselors, had been with one of the boys and almost surely knew they were drinking, and when the six left he gave them a hero's send-off, complete with speaking to them in Russian. Boombastic was also one of the junior counselors who was supposed to help teach sports, but he behaved the way that I wouldn't tolerate from the kids: not participating, standing in the shade, picking berries; and when it was his turn to teach, being unclear and impatient with the kids.
Boombastic would run into problems nearly every day, as his cabin was often late; clean-up was roughshod mostly because he liked to lie in bed during it; he could not get his cabin quiet at night because they didn't have respect for his authority because he acted like one of them; and it all culminated in his leading his cabin in mocking Miss Kiss's singing during the last-night talent show. He had to be pulled away, and was put therefore onto security detail to sit on the cabin porch throughout that evening's dance. He got so upset about this that he actually cried to the directors. "You cannot be made of stone, he wailed," though they couldn't figure out what was so wrong. Then, in a last ditch effort to get them on his side, he pulled out--a love letter. It had been written by a girl camper, "Dew." Dew was at my eating table, and was really a very beautiful girl. She was also 15 years old, and the rules against JC/camper liaisons had been pounded home relentlessly. Why Boombastic thought that the directors would look favorably on his desire to shmeck with a camper, is anyone's guess. The guy was clueless. In his final evaluation, he even talked about coming back next year as a full counselor. Stinky had to tell him that that was not going to happen.
But Boombastic was something of an exception. The Junior Counselors, while still young and prone to some poor decisions, generally comported themselves with authority and competence. Some were fabulous, such as those who were asked to be junior counselors for both sessions: Snoop, Violet, and Liberty--Jason's host sister, who had been a camper for the two prior years.
Junior counselors were supposed to be in the cabins at midnight. During second session, though, we couldn't find one JC--a girl named "Indiana Jones"--during a routine cabin bedcheck at 1:15. It was suggested that she might be found in the company of the senior counselor named "MTV," in whose embrace she had been found on more than one occasion before. The camp search began, and I discovered them lying on the floor of one of the activities cabins. I was not subtle in my flashlight approach, but still they didn't get up until I was already upon them. It was obvious: they had been talking and necking, and fell asleep. They were embarrassed, not really understanding that I thought it was all more than fine that they be necking and talking. The problem arose when our cop showed up.
There was a Turkmen cop staying at the camp, a guest of one of the local camp directors. I had met up with Geldimurat one day, and he had shown me his police identification and assured me that if there was anything he could do, we should just knock on the door of cabin 15. At first, it was good to have him around. He chased out more than one group of people who had come to "have a rest," meaning a picnic on our grounds, including a group of fat Turkish men who had decided that the perfect place to hang out was at the girls' swimming hole. (Ainabat, a.k.a. Odie, had tried to throw them out. But she is young and female, and the Turkish men just laughed at her.)
On this night of Indiana Jones with MTV, though, he showed the colors of a true asshole. He had apparently seen my flashlight, and he appeared from around the corner. "Who are these?" he demanded.
"Don't worry, Murat, they're ours. I've got it all under control."
"Give me your flashlight," he said, yanking it out of my hand. He pointed it at MTV. "I want to be able to recognize this one later."
He then launched into a Turkmen tirade at MTV.
"Murat, really," I said. "Don't worry about this. This isn't your concern."
"What do you mean this isn't my concern?" he said. Murat's Russian wasn't really all that good, and he shifted right back to talking Turkmen with MTV. He had been drinking. Indiana Jones translated some of it for me when I asked. Basically, Murat had decided to be the morality police. He was even threatening to haul MTV in to the station. Murat finally turned to me. "I'm going to my cabin. Bring him there!"
Of course, I had no intention of doing any such thing. I just needed to call off the search for Indy, and was sure that the directors would want to talk to her. She hadn't been an exemplary JC, either. MTV was slow-moving, because he'd stepped on some glass and cut his foot to shreds the previous day, and hobbled on his bandaged leg and a great stick for a cane. As I was leading them back to the square MTV said, "Wednesday, please don't think badly of us. I'm going to marry her."
I couldn't suppress an almost sympathetic laugh. I wanted to tell him I wasn't angry: more like jealous. "Believe me, MTV," I said, "I'm not judging you."
"No, it's true, Wednesday," he said. "We weren't doing anything. We were just talking. We lost track of the time..."
"Guys, if you want to know the truth, I think it's all fine. I think that young people should have intimacy. Don't worry about it." You know, did he think I would be happier about it because he was telling me he was going to marry this 18-year-old?
I got them to the square, and the cop showed up again, this time with two others: a teenage boy, and a man who worked at the camp. He was yelling and even with my practically non-existent Turkmen I knew what he was talking about. He was saying that they were immoral, even illegal. That the president of Turkmenistan had signed a law against loose young women like Indiana Jones. That MTV was criminal and he was going to have him sign a confession and go to the police station.
The "law" that Murat was talking about was ancient history. During January, when I was in the states, there had been a brief curfew, and an announcement that young unmarried women seen dressed "inappropriately" or in the presence of foreigners or otherwise acting indecently would be arrested as prostitutes, assumed to be guilty and have to prove their innocence--by paying a fine. The curfew and this ridiculous sexist harassment were met with protest by the foreign community and the embassies, and the dictator of Turkmenistan came on TV about two nights later and said it had all been the fault of the mayor of Ashgabat (as though the mayor of Ashgabat would make any decisions on his own) and the law was rescinded.
But Murat was adamant. I kept trying to get him to go home. It wasn't working. Perhaps a director would help. At one point he was talking to Odie, who is one of the directors. But Odie is a young Turkmen female, and Turkmen men don't listen to young Turkmen women. I think I've mentioned something like this before. During the distraction, however, I tried to get another counselor to help MTV hobble back to his cabin--get him away so that the excitement would die down. But the camp worker started yelling at him. Apparently he wanted to be the morality police, too. I went to fetch Professor X.
David wasn't able to do anything more than I had. Finally he went to talk to Murat for a while, and then came out again. He went to MTV. "Listen, he just wants to yell at you for a while. If you can swallow your pride, and just go in there and take it for ten minutes, this will all be over."
MTV hobbled into the cabin. David stayed in there with him, as did Odie. Two of our Turkmen counselors stood just outside the door to listen.
They were in there for more than an hour
and a half.
The cop yelled, threatened, badgered, and was basically true to the form of what we think of Turkmen cops, anyway. Any friends he had made in the first few days, he lost that night. Part of the time was spent writing MTV's "confession," the first draft of which had him and Indiana Jones having sex. David wouldn't let him sign anything, until Murat confided to him that there would only be one copy of this paper, and that he would give it to David as soon as MTV went to bed. We asked our local counselors for their take and advice on this, and they were in agreement: the paper meant nothing; the cop was just a blowhard. MTV got some wording that he would take and signed it, and was allowed to go to bed. As soon as he was gone, Murat tore up the paper, and handed the scraps to David. The whole thing had been a big performance.
It was 3:30 in the morning. I noted to Aimee what has often been noted before: the most difficult job in Turkmenistan, would be to be the judge of an asshole contest.
But all of these discipline and cop troubles turned out to be mild compared to the trouble caused to us by one single camper. "Abu" is a name that lives in infamy among all the second-session counselors.
Allan (his real Turkmen name) was originally a member of Disneyland, one of my charges. A big kid who had clearly spent a lot of time pumping iron, he was good-looking and smiling, seemed a sort of leader type. Right from the very beginning, though, I could not get him to speak English with the other campers, even though his English abilities seemed to be fine. I had to talk to him several times before the "X" rule could be laid out to the cabin. "Yes, yes," he would say and then a few minutes later be speaking Russian to someone: usually to his buddies, Bull and Sherkhan. During our opening team-building exercises, Abu's version of doing the task was to try to do it all himself. Abu, Bull, and Sherkhan came to me at one point and said, "Wednesday, in Cabin number two is one of our good friends: Body. Can he move into our cabin?" I explained that quite the contrary, we tried to keep good friends separated because we wanted the campers to make new friends, and for the cabins to become the units--not to have cliques within them. Abu argued the point, long after Bull and Sherkhan seemed to have understood it. I knew that we had to get these three separated somehow.
Body, Bull, Sherkhan... does this sound familiar?
Jim Dasney (a.k.a. Sideshow) and Joker had a different problem in their cabin. They had Mike. Mike was a camper I'd had the previous summer, a boy of boundless energy and adolescent mood swings, who seldom shut up and whom many counselors couldn't handle. I have a personal appreciation of such kinds of kids, though, know a little bit about dealing with them, and had found Mike--with his fabulous English and enthusiasm--to be a positive leader in my cabin the year before. So I offered a trade. They took Abu. I took Mike.
Joker would tell me later that when they first met Abu, he and Sideshow had thought he seemed pretty cool, and might even wind up being the Camper Council representative from their cabin. This misconstruction was corrected within the hour, as Abu's misbehavior reared its head so rapidly and repeatedly. Just minutes after the camp directors had taken Abu away from my cabin and made the swap for Mike, Abu was back on my porch, smoking a cigarette and chiming in on our cabin meeting. "Abu, do your counselors know that you're here?"
He was constantly smoking when and where he shouldn't have been, and between that and speaking Russian, he had garnered six X's before the first day (a half day, really) was over. But it got worse. He made passes at female local counselors, and later made sexual comments at the Americans as well. He was all over the female campers. His counselors often couldn't find him. He was intrusive during meetings and activities.
And through it all, there seemed to be a group of boys who admired this behavior, or at least didn't see it as being abnormal. As had been true in other sessions, those who had "jail" duty scheduled for Day Two expected to have those periods free, because surely no one could have collected enough X's in ten hours, to warrant jail. But no: jail was maxed out that next day.
Abu's actions got to the point at which the camp directors literally saw him as dangerous. To several of the advising counselors, including his cabin counselor, the question was one of transfer: was Abu merely problematic to himself, or was he going to be trouble to others? It was apparent in the behavior of his friends, that Abu was not going down alone, but taking a whole lot of people with him. His own cabin counselors were advising sending him home after the very first day, and by day three, it became clear to all that we could not have him around.
The camp directors called his father, who didn't even seem surprised. Within a couple of sentences, he merely said, "I'll come and get him." But then not long afterward, he called back, and said that he was worried about what his son might do if expelled. "He might come back and try to disrupt your camp, or do something harmful." It was a worry that we had, but he was already doing things that were harmful. Fearing his nature, the directors hadn't even told Abu they were going to send him home when the father finally did arrive. Abu had done no activities in day three or four--he had been in jail the whole time.
Sure enough, he left with threats on his lips, about how he would be back. Indeed, later that very evening for some reason Abu was still hanging around the main gate of camp, disturbing the Clue game, talking to campers in Russian, harassing the two counselors who were posted there.
We were particularly worried at the final night's dance, and had extra security positions all over camp. Chunk said he was going to try to telephone Abu's home, just to be sure he was there. I was working at the main gate that evening with Odie (Ainabat Yailimova) and Bruno, when Chunk came up to us and said, "Guess who was just caught in the camp?"
Abu had returned, along with Sherkhan, Body, and two kids who had never been campers. They were dressed up and were clearly headed for the dance. Sherkhan was even wearing his name tag. They had come in through the back gate, and one can hardly guess what they had intended to do. We started talking about how to deal with this, and had come up with what seemed to me the right idea just as the five boys came down the lane, being marched out of camp by X and a few other counselors, and our local cop.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute, David what are you doing?" I said.
"We're sending them back to Ashgabat," X said. "They say they've got a car somewhere."
"Are you kidding?" I said. "They'll be back. We'll be dealing with this forever and our kids won't be safe. Let's keep them. Let's keep them here until the dance is over and the campers are all in bed, and then let's send them home in a police car."
The five boys were already walking away, but they were stopped. I looked right into Sherkhan's eyes, but he couldn't hold the look even for a second. He knew his father was going to hear about this. Body and the other two boys were talking, and Abu was smoking and laughing with them. Sherkhan wasn't a bad kid, but he was sure mixed up with some bad friends. Or probably, just with one.
When we kicked Abu out of camp, I had predicted that he would eventually end up in jail, but I hadn't realized that it would be before the end of the week.
Namaste chimed in. "Don't let them go." Her voice was quavering. For all of Elizabeth's impression of athletic toughness, she's got a lot of soft under the crust. "I speak for all the females at this camp when I say that if you let them go we will not feel safe. What about all the girls here?" The female counselors had identified Abu by this time, as a potential rapist.
Dooby looked at the group of boys as if she could have murdered them all right there. "I want to kill him," she said.
Chunk told Dooby to go back to the dance. "I know you do, but that's exactly the reaction he wants, and you're giving it to him. One way or another, let's not give him what he wants."
The cop wanted to know what was going on. Using Driver as a Turkmen interpreter, I explained, slowly, clearly, what our fears were of Abu, and what we wanted to do. He agreed to call the police and get a car over, but in the meantime we needed a place to separate the group and keep them. We only had one room that locked, and it was on the main square next to the dance and we were damned if we were going to march that group through the dance. After much discussion, it came down to putting the boys, under guard, into the rooms of X and Rerun, and of Chunk and me. But we sure didn't want them in there with all of our stuff.
Rerun, Huggee Bear and I went to our cabins and started throwing all of our stuff, free form or on blankets or mattresses, into an empty cabin, creating an enormous mess, but freeing up the rooms. Just as we got the last bits out and the two rooms were empty, Chunk came up to us.
"They let them go," he said.
"Yeah. We told Anatoli (the local man who ran the camp) what was going on, and he came down to the gate and basically said, 'Thanks for cooperating and going home you guys.' The cop said there really wasn't much we could charge them with. So he let them go."
The counselors huddled. The dance was closed down about fifteen minutes before it otherwise would have, and security details were set up until dawn. I volunteered for all shifts, and at 5:30 a.m. ended up falling asleep so hard in a chair on the bridge to the girls' area that they could have walked right on by me. But they didn't come back. The boys with any sense had probably gotten scared of the threat of going home in a police car, and realized the seriousness of it all. But Abu had gotten what he wanted, really. He disrupted our thoughts, and kept some of us up all night. Someday, he will surely be going to prison.
Repsina (a.k.a. Ally) called the parents of the three returned campers. "Do you know where your son is?" They all said the same thing: "Yes. He's at the English camp."
"That's right. Why were they here?"
"They said that someone from Peace Corps had called them up and invited them to come back for the last night's disco."
"What? We threw them out of camp. Why would we invite them to come back?" Hello. Both Sherkhan and Body's parents were saddened to hear that their kids were with Abu, both apparently having promised not to hang out with him any more.
The next morning as we were getting ready to pack up to go home, we walked into the cabin where we'd thrown all of our stuff in great chaos. Rerun said, "Abu did this!" and we all laughed.
My cabin's co-counselors sought a city
name from fiction for second session. I pushed for Camelot,
thinking that the "knights" theme would be good for a
bunch of boys, and we also tossed around Wonderland, but finally
fell on Disney. 'Not that it's a real city, but I've always been
one to follow the purpose of the rule, rather than the rule
itself. It may as well be a city.
We had ten boys in Disneyland at the beginning, and eight at the end after we'd expelled Bull and Sherkhan. They were all good kids, all quite different, but nonetheless coming together as a real team of friends by the end.
Sixteen years old and going through all of the angst involved with that, Mike had big ups and big downs. A Turkmen boy in a provincial town, Mike had learned all of his English by hanging around in the evenings with a couple of the T.2s in Bairam Ali, and he was probably one of the best (non-native) English speakers in the whole camp. He had already been accepted on the Bradley Program, so starting in August he will be in the United States as an exchange student for a year.
Mike and Snoop was a bad combination, because neither could understand the other's energy level. Snoop tried constantly to get Mike into line, but Mike needed a longer leash than that. After one teary episode and a long, brotherly talk with Mike, I had to get the two of them together to talk about why it all wasn't working. They were more careful with each other from then on, and life was better for all.
I understood a lot about Mike. I opened that talk with him by saying that I wanted to tell him a story. "I knew this boy once, who was fifteen and about to be sixteen. He was a little small at the time, and quite smart, which was not always a good mixture. And he had a lot of energy. And a lot of people, who didn't have that energy, couldn't understand it. And they didn't always handle him right, even when they meant well. They couldn't really understand him. Do you know who I'm talking about?"
He knew that I was talking about him, but he played along anyway. "No," he said.
"I'm talking about me," I said.
On the other hand, even I had to get Mike with the program on occasion, but in general thought his energy was good and should be allowed to express itself. He certainly led the cabin in speaking English (and once Bull and Sherkhan are removed from the equation, Disneyland never had a kid in jail), and was elected by them to the Camper Council.
Mike and water was also a bad combination. I cannot now count the number of times that I had to stop Mike from being in water fights. Always involving girls, it was a strange kind of courtship ritual, I think. On the penultimate night's dramas, we even tried to make a joke of it, as several cabins had already doused the audience, and we set Mike up with a bottle of water to act like he would throw it, and then--the joke--not do it, which they all were sure he would. Unfortunately, they were right. Mike could not control himself, and wound up spoiling the act by throwing the water all over the place at the end. That was the low-point in his and my relationship, as I really ripped into him for that. Such chastisement always had the effect of making Mike sulk and do everything reluctantly until whatever pendulum swing would bring him back into overdrive.
All in all, Mike was the camper who required the most attention in my cabin, but as is often true it is the ones with whom you go through tension that end up meaning something to you. His good-bye to me in the end was truly a sad one. He's a boy who will go places--either good or ill. He has the ambitions to get a real education, and I have very high hopes for him. At the end of the camp, we cabin counselors gave him at award for "Leader of Cabin Energy."
In contrast to Mike: Snoop, Riff Raff, Braveheart and I never had any trouble with Mark, who rarely said much of anything, participated in everything with neither reluctance nor exceptional enthusiasm, spoke basically good English, and as a result of all this, we had almost no impression of who he was at the end of camp when we were deciding on awards to give to everyone. Finally we gave him the "Most likely to do something great without being noticed."
David seemed quiet at the beginning, until forced into doing the first night's drama activity. It wasn't so much that he balked. He practically took it as a personal assault. He railed against participating. I was unyielding in my insistence that everyone take part, and finally his role was to hold up the wooden frame that the others used at their "TV set" on stage.
It turned out that much of what drove David was religious. His parents were devout Muslims. David asked me on that first night if it was all right with me if he could leave the cabin at dawn (about 5 a.m.) to pray. While the other boys learned card games, David would sit and watch, fascinated by the challenges posed by the games, but would never play. The anti-theatrical stand was probably motivated by a no-icons rule.
And on day four I noticed that I couldn't get David to do anything. He was clearly very upset, and would not get together with the others in the cabin. I took him aside, and it all turned out, as I predicted, that he was being harassed. I talked with him for a long time, and I think went away feeling better, feeling spiritual in a way that his tormentors couldn't understand. I never found out exactly who did it, but I know that everything got better once Bull and Sherkhan had taken off.
David did a turn-around in the last week. He became much more vocal, more energetic, participated strongly in activities, made friends. I even saw him playing cards.
Having been his teacher in Geok-Tepe, Dan Chalk (a.k.a. Shaggy) was Fred's mentor. Fred said to Shaggy once, "We only need you for your good words and your great brains."
Last year, Fred was in the cabin next to mine, and once as I heard countless people in that room broadcasting in Russian, I went in to give the whole place X's (a common practice last year, that this year as far as I know was never needed). Fred protested. "No, no, I wasn't talking."
"You were listening."
"No! I can't speak Russian!"
Fred's English is better than his Russian. Though he is very soft-spoken, and his language comes a bit slowly, Fred's grammar and vocabulary are so good that he placed sixth in the English Olympiad in the whole country. (Unable to pay the admissions bribe when directly solicited by his examiners this year, Fred was not accepted into the English faculty at the university. They're going to hear from me about that one.)
He was one of the most modest, unassuming and nice kids anywhere. He was impossible to dislike, and cared about nothing as much as his English. This year he's going to try to get a job to practice his language, which will surely help him more than the university ever could. He's having trouble, though: foreign companies need people who speak Russian, too.
We gave him the award, "Most likely to become an English teacher." I hope he does, someday.
Gin was also a return camper, who had also been in that cabin (with Fred) that I gave blanket X's to. He didn't seem to hold it against me. Gin wanted to be a musician, and spent much of his time copying the camp songbook by hand, and writing out a chart of guitar chords.
Many of the Chardjew campers showed up a day late, a result of the plane and bus schedules. As a result, Magic came into the cabin after the rest had already consolidated somewhat. It didn't stop such a likable kid. However, on day three, he came to me and said he had to go back to Chardjew, because his grandmother was sick. I asked if he had had some contact with her since he came, and he said no. Then why did he come in the first place? I let him talk to Chunk about it, and Chunk's response was like hearing a tape recorder of what I'd said to him. It was clear to us that he was just mildly homesick, and that it would probably blow over. It did.
Magic got an award for being our cabin poet. Probably the most famous "poem" of the camp session came from him and started something like this:
Every day when I think of you, I think about love
But when I don't think of you, I don't think about love...
It was good that he had a sense of humor about it, so much so that he read it aloud with a big grin at the talent show.
Winnie the Pooh:
Bahram was the only small boy in the cabin, and was in fact probably the smallest boy at the whole camp. He looked like he was about eight years old (he was 14), and one could hardly help loving him when he chose the camp name, "Winnie the Pooh." He seemed to understand everything, and learned to play a couple of card games to the point of beating most everyone in the cabin, yet I hardly remember his saying more than a few words at a time. But he smiled incessantly, and everyone adored him.
It was hard to compete with Rocky for his golden and gentle spirit. Rocky and Winnie became good friends, and they were Mutt and Jeff, physically. Rocky was around six feet tall and was quite overweight. I was worried at first that he would be the fat kid who got subject to abuse, but Rocky's endless smile and wonderful humor spared him any of that. Everyone liked him immediately. He was the very first person at camp to get a "camper of the day" award.
On our "April Fool's Day" holiday, Rocky played a trick on Winnie, telling him to run to the square because I needed to see him. So Winnie and I planned one back. I got some paper and crayons from the supply room, and wrote a note. It said, "Rocky: thanks for sending Winnie over, because I need his and your help in order to play a good April Fool's joke on someone. Please take these crayons and write 'April Fool' (not April Fools) twenty times on this piece of paper, each in a different color. Then I'll show you what we'll do with it." Even though there were only sixteen crayons in the box, Rocky scoured for more and spent some time writing the page. When he got it done he showed it to me. "Great! Now I'll show you what we'll do with it," I said. I got a crayon, drew a big down-arrow on it, and taped it over his bed. Winnie was giggling like the child that he was. Rocky thought the whole thing was absolutely hilarious, shook my hand with a big smile, and left the sign over his bed for the rest of the session.
We gave him an award that said, "Nicest guy in the entire camp."
Rerun said after it was all over, "When that kid got on the bus for home still wearing his Mickey Mouse ears, I nearly cried." That was Rocky.
There are many other second-session campers I remember, too. At my eating table there were a few:
Holy Terror, who got her camp name from her mother, who found it in an English book. She was anything but a terror. She brought canned food to lunch every day and shared it with everyone at the table. She had an enormous smile made more enormous by her beautiful overbite. When I showed the videotapes of camp to the T.3s, nearly everyone could remember her.
Niks, a tiny rich kid from Dashauz who needed a personal invitation to do anything, and was constantly away from his group. I came to believe that there was something strange about him that we couldn't identify. Perhaps he was Mozart, tunes running endlessly through his head, but never getting what he needed to make anything of that talent.
Dew, the friendly 15-year-old girl whom many boys fell for, but who had the poor taste to have eyes for Boombastic.
Big Apple, who last year had been "Tiger" from Jessica's cabin. Her English had gotten a lot better from the previous year, and she is more charming even than she was then.
Dakind, one of the ultimate players from Ashgabat, who was never very good at it there but excelled as an example at camp. I'd never heard him speak English before, and his English was nearly as good as his attitude.
Brenda, whose yarn-constructed nametag said "BPENDA" because when she was making it she spaced out and put in the Russian R, which looks like a P. She was not charming, but had a certain memorable energy. During the Clue game, she tackled one counselor, pinned another to the ground, and she knocked over and sat on the fire that I'd been building since the beginning. A lot of Clue characters refused to give her any information. We all called her Bpenda.
The other Mike, who signed up to play ultimate frisbee in every single elective period.
And at the end of the session, I got a few love notes, which were very cute: some of them just play, but some of them almost desperate in the depths of their adolescent first love. When they asked me to sign their memory books, I just wrote that if they were only ten years older...
On the last day of each session of camp, we gave out the awards to our cabin. Everyone got one. And at the end of first session, the Camper Council gave out awards to a select few counselors: musician awards to our song leaders, and environment-awareness award to Anansi. I got one, too. For athleticism. Wouldn't they die to hear that at Andover? Junior counselors, too, received awards. Chunk told me about the one that they'd finally decided not to give to Indiana Jones: "Most likely to be seen on MTV."
Fun and Games
Teaching ultimate was up and down.
During the first session there was a whole crew of my female
ultimate players from Ashgabat, and I could put them on a field
to play with or against any group of guys. Often, though, when I
had almost solely newcomers, getting the guys to play with the
girls was the chore of the session. At one point Joker said to
me, "I bet that guy doesn't even know what girls are on his
team." It was an inspiration. I called everyone together and
told them to get mixed up.
"Mick, point to the girls on your team." He got one, but couldn't do the rest. The point was pretty clear.
"But they don't run," whined another of the boys.
He had a point. It was a close contest as to which was more difficult: getting the boys to throw to the girls, or getting the girls to do anything more than stand on the field. In fact, the girls who did put in a bit of effort, often found themselves with the frisbee. A little lesson that often got people moving was after Joker, Beavis and I as a threesome would take on an entire two teams together. We invariably won, because we understood the concept of running to the disc.
Some people eventually figured out how to play the game, and it was nearly everyone's favorite. As an elective, ultimate always got a full crew of ten to sixteen (depending on how many we were offering, which depended on whether we were playing on the sports field or the square), whereas basketball and soccer didn't get more than eight, and Rugby and American Football had to be canceled for lack of interest. Playing "keep away"--three people in a circle--was a perpetual game during square time, often with two or three circles going at the same time. Girls were equal in their enthusiasm and often in their skills, to the boys. With enough discs, I could convert the nation.
Coaching, and sleeping, were difficult during first session because of my cracked rib. 'Courtesy of Brandyn Woodard's doing a perfectly good job of covering me in the very last play of the very last game of ultimate in the spring. The crack was slight, and there's not anything one can do for it, anyway, except take ibuprofen. One learns exactly how many times one turns over at night, because every time it is an awakening experience.
In 1995 and 1996, the penultimate night's activity was the all-cabin "drama night." Each cabin had to come up with a skit and perform it. Getting them to do this was almost as much trouble as the introductory skits on day one, but it was often worth it, as the kids would eventually do it, and learn that they could and that it was fun and rewarding, and while some of the end products were inevitably lame, some of them were truly charming. Skits included an election for next year's directors, takes on the American soap opera Santa Barbara (which everyone here watches on the Russian channel), and four times last year cabins did skits in which they impersonated counselors, sometimes quite remarkably.
This year was one of experimentation in many areas, though, and so a group of counselors decided that rather than pull out our hair trying to get the kids to prepare, we would prepare some evenings' entertainment, ourselves. In second session, it was a cabin competition kind of game show, and in first it was "Shear Madness."
"Shear Madness" is an improvisational show that's been running off Broadway in New York and London. There is a drama, but the play centers around audience participation. The audience witnesses a scene in a barber shop, in which various characters come in. At some point, each of them steps into the "back room," where the landlady supposedly lives. At the end, it's discovered that she's been murdered. All the suspects are rounded up, and brought in one by one to be interviewed by the police, with the help of the audience. As the suspects lie, the audience corrects their stories based on what they saw on stage. Then at the end, the audience decides who did it. Audience members are also brought on stage to get their haircuts and provide other walk-on humor.
Our improvisational characters included Tennessee Brad (a.k.a. Tut) and Mississippi Tiffany (a.k.a. Spriggy) as an old southern couple, Brandyn (a.k.a. Jazz) and Colleen (a.k.a. Lego) as the barbers, Jeremy (a.k.a. Anansi) as a surly wanderer. I was Ivanov, a Russian mafia guy. "What for they say I am mafia? In Russia, I am was mafia. In America, I am businessman. Is big difference." I smoked cigarettes and bribed the policeman, and when "Cindy Crawford" (Mary Joy) came in with her bodyguards, I ran up to one yelling "Nikolai, I didn't know you were here!"
But the line that I liked the best I blatantly stole from our funny man in Edinburgh. One of the truly big jokes of Turkmenistan is its national oath, which involves saying that if I say anything bad about the country, may my breath stop, if I do anything against it may my hand wither, and for the slightest slander against the president may my tongue fall out. Anyway one evening I noticed that someone had written "Edinburgh" in crayon on our cabin wall, and I asked Falcon (not the one who had been disciplined for drinking, but another one) if he'd see that it got cleaned off.
"I didn't do it!" he said.
"I know, it doesn't matter, I just need..."
"If I lie, may my breath stop!" he said, and I couldn't stop chuckling. So I used the exact same line during Shear Madness, and gave him no more credit for it than a wink.
All in all, the kids liked Shear Madness, and it was a lot easier than getting them to come up with skits.
Campfire night was another time for us to entertain the kids. The counselors led singing; performed several brief, funny skits; told some jokes, and finished off with ghost stories. I made modifications to one my dad had told me many years ago about, that involved a robbed ghost who went after her victims chanting, "Who's got my golden arm?" And in second session I told the story of the "Monkey's Paw," which is much more grisly and really scary. Afterwards, with the campers in their beds, I and some other counselors cruised through the cabin areas, standing under windows to moan, "Who's got my golden arm," or make the snuffling noises of the demon-to-be in "The Monkey's Paw." There was apparently one cabin that was ready for this, and had their water bottles armed, but I guess I missed that cabin this year. Last year one cabin had gotten me good and wet. Good for them!
At the four dances, Colleen (Lego) and I waltzed whenever possible, which wasn't often because we were learning in the process that there aren't very many 3/4 time popular songs. "Kiss from a rose," and "Have you ever really loved a woman," and one day we danced as the camp sang its ritual, "Morning has broken." I also pretzeled with the teachers of rock and roll dancing, and a couple of the campers had clearly done some dancing in their time, too. The boy children of the local camp directors, who flew around the camp like gnats, became my fan club at the second dance, as I did any dance steps I could and they gleefully imitated.
But it was on the occasion of the "newspaper dance" competition that Lego and I really demonstrated that being adult doesn't mean being boring, and you can have fun and still compete. The newspaper dance is an effort to get boys and girls very close. A newspaper is laid down and they have to both be on it, dancing, as the music plays. The judges then come and fold the newspaper, and the dancing gets closer. They then come fold it again, and the couple has to intertwine feet and hold on to each other. They then fold it again, which inevitably means that one of them has to carry the other. All over the dance floor, boys were holding girls in their arms and being still, as though they just couldn't find the threshold, but in our case, I got onto Lego's back, and she still was still rocking back and forth and jumping, and I was hooting and laughing at the stern, concentrated faces of the still couple statues around us. Then they fold the paper one last time, and it becomes a contest of standing on one foot and holding someone the longest. Lego turned out to be quite adept at this, and we took the dance.
One last game, was the "How are we going to keep the campers in the cabin after lights out" game. This one was particularly worrisome on the last night, when we had nothing to hang over their heads at all. No jail the next day, no threat of expulsion because they were all going home anyway. The only real answer was a beefed up security patrol, constant bed checks, people sleeping outside.
I didn't expect my cabin to be out, because two of them already had been, had caught hell, and were helping now to keep the cabin under control, but nonetheless volunteered to sleep outside the windows of my cabin, and even set up an alarm. I got some dark yarn, and stretch a line of it through the trees about a meter from the cabin windows. On the cabin ledge, about a half meter from the concrete foundation, I tied the yarn to a metal cup with two spoons in it. It was straight out of Tom Sawyer. A couple counselors came to see, and went away laughing that I really had done it. I went to sleep on my mattress in the woods.
I was awoken by the clatter of the cup onto the concrete. It was 3:00 in the morning. I looked up and saw a figure just standing there, staring at the ground. After maybe a minute, the figure reached down, picked the cup up and put it back on the ledge, and slowly turned to walk away. I grabbed my flashlight and walked over to him.
It was Shaggy, also known as counselor and Peace Corps volunteer Dan Chalk. In a way, this whole story is pointless unless you know Dan Chalk. He was the first person I met in the T.3 group, and he introduced himself as a former Domino's Pizza delivery man. At the time I thought he was very strange, with his slow, multi-pause way of talking and his awkward movements. But over time, and not very much of it, Dan became the most popular of the T.3s. Gentle, slow, never with a harsh word but still with a sense of humor that makes his reading his journal entries the most awaited event of any T.3 coffee house, there is something truly special about Dan. The campers loved him as much as we do. And he's definitely the person to set off a booby trap. He smiled half-sheepishly and said, "I wanted to see your setup, and then I ran right into it."
The camp just plain got better. The food meant that the kids weren't malnourished; the counselors and junior counselors are weeding out into an energetic, positive, and experienced group; the kids seemed closer and more involved. And I felt truly connected.
I partially succeeded in some of my own, personal goals of the camp. Last year I'd really been one of the true hardasses, and this year I hoped to lighten up a bit and see if I could still get results. I did somewhat, and felt good about it. And there were self-realizations, particularly about my own extremely competitive nature, which are also good for inner understanding.
For whatever reasons, perhaps because of reformed discipline, perhaps because of the number of campers who had returned from previous years and led the camp spirit, perhaps because of the role of the junior counselors, perhaps because of an improved level of English among the accepted campers, I heard less Russian/Turkmen in second session than in first, and less this year than last. Something's going right, because the kids were speaking English.
English summer camp is surely the most successful project that this Peace Corps post has ever had.
As the buses pulled out finally, full of kids and flooded with tears, I couldn't help but get a little teary myself. The counselors stood back, waving good-bye. I went up to Rerun, now just plain Matt Fox, and put my arms around him. "You done good, guy," I said. "You done real good."