• 30 hours of professionally facilitated dialogue for every camper.
• 19 alumni Seeds who have returned to Camp
as Counselors or Facilitators this summer.
• 5 consecutive Color Games won by the Green Team.
• 34 Camp sessions that have now been conducted by Seeds of Peace
over the last 18 years.
• 4,337 Seeds in our worldwide network.
Pre-Camp Report | June 21
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.” —Rumi
Seeds of Peace is the field Rumi was talking about, way back in the 13th century. Over the course of the next two months, we will describe how Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Pakistanis, Indians, Afghans and Americans will discover their common humanity and turn enemies into friends.
For the past seven days, the counselors, facilitators and other staff members have been preparing themselves to lend support and encouragement to more than 300 campers, who tonight are traveling to Maine, where the state welcome is “Maine: The way life should be.”
Since we will be expecting the campers to take many life-expanding risks while they are with us, it is beneficial for the staff to experience a similar process first. This past week the staff has gone through swim tests, slept in bunks, eaten Camp food, had dialogue sessions, as well as completed certification courses for the waterfront and the ropes course. The people who work for Seeds of Peace come from diverse backgrounds and have a wide variety of talents. About one third of the staff is made up of former campers from all over the world. This group of Seeds (who are counselors, facilitators and delegation leaders/educators) makes us very proud. They are in their mid-twenties now, but we have known them for ten or more years, watching them blossom and mature into the people they wanted to become.
While the campers are making their way across the Atlantic Ocean tonight, the staff is rehearsing skits for later this week, adding the finishing touches to their bunks, creating the Camp band for the summer and learning such mundane things as how to use a toilet plunger.
By midday tomorrow, the new campers will begin to arrive on buses from US airports, and, having prepared as much as possible to deal with all kinds of issues, the staff will turn their attention to the campers for the rest of the summer.
Every delegation is accompanied by their own educators, who also have a special program at our Camp.
Two distinct Camp sessions, three weeks long, will take place and be over before we know it. But for now, let’s begin the tale of the summer of 2010.
Although we have had a busy week preparing for the arrival of 164 campers from the Middle East and South/Central Asia, nothing can adequately prepare you for the burst of excitement and sheer energy that erupts as the buses roll in and discharge waves of tired campers.
Between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m., four groups of delegations joined the hoopla of drums, tambourines, saxophones and noisemakers. Each group cheered the next arriving group until all the campers and staff were gathered together, some doing the “Electric Slide,” some playing instruments, while everyone else clapped and called out, “Seeds of Peace!”
The campers meet their counselors and bunkmates, move their suitcases into their bunks, eat a meal in the Dining Hall and take a survey to help us determine if their attitudes toward one another will change, over time. Bobbie, the co-founder of Seeds of Peace, welcomed the campers to the 18th summer and told them that they will have a unique opportunity to see what it would be like if they could live together in peace with the very people they have considered enemies. It was explained that this is only possible if everyone is equal to everyone else at Camp, even to the point of calling everyone by their given name. Bobbie also pointed out that the motto of Maine is taken seriously at Camp – “Welcome to Maine, the way life should be.”
The Camp schedule is planned ahead of time for every minute of the day. But quite often, something spontaneous happens that enhances our experience. Tonight, while the last bus of campers was eating dinner, we found out that this was the birthday of one of the Egyptian boys. So, two of the counselors created an impromptu birthday cake out of a pile of bread, brown sugar and some plastic spoons. We sang the birthday song and had Mahmoud skip around the room twice, like we normally do for birthdays. This may be a birthday that will be remembered for a long time.
This wasn’t an easy trip for any of the campers. But they took the risk of coming here and now they will face many challenges. Sometimes they will have the most fun they have ever experienced, but there will be other times which will be quite difficult. The staff is here to support them. We honor their courage.
This second day sets the tone for the whole Camp session. The campers spend the day with their bunks, touring the Camp facilities, taking swim tests, seeing the doctor and nurses, learning the Seeds of Peace Camp song, making name buttons, eating in the Dining Hall, learning games, cheers, and songs, and generally getting acquainted with their new surroundings.
Most campers are brimming with enthusiasm and have enough energy to fly to the moon and back. All of them called home today and they will be able to call home again once or twice a week. We serve healthy food, but it is different from what they are used to eating at home. The whole atmosphere is weird for the new campers, but we try to make it feel supportive, if not familiar.
One way to make people feel secure is to set forth expectations and parameters in an open, direct way. The counselors do that in the bunks and Wil, our assistant camp director, as well as Leslie, our camp director, and Sarah, the head counselor, all make the Camp-wide expectations clear. By now, everyone knows that we expect everyone to be where the schedule indicates they should be.
At night we usually have an all-Camp activity. Tonight, we are having a “Bunk Night” to further engage the bunk-mates with each other. Each bunk holds representatives from all sides of an area of conflict, such as the Middle East or South/Central Asia. Living together in harmony with historical and current enemies will require much effort and new learning. It will be accomplished over time, guided by patient and experienced counselors. We have only just begun.
Long ago, we decided to honor all the countries represented at Camp by raising their flags on high poles, outside our gate, similar to what is done at the United Nations. The wooded road leading to the Camp creates a surprise when people suddenly see the colorful flags surrounding the entrance, with a huge boulder in the center with “Seeds of Peace” carved into its sides.
On the second day of Camp, we all gather outside our gate to pay tribute to the countries the campers represent, with speakers, anthems and cheering for one another. At the end, we raise the Seeds of Peace flag and sing the Seeds of Peace Camp song while walking through the gate, back inside the Camp, where no other flag is permitted.
The Peer Support campers (the ones who have been chosen to return to Camp for a second summer) prepare speeches for this occasion. They reveal stories about their own first Camp experience and lend some sage advice to the new campers. They are a tough act to follow, but Tim Wilson, our former camp director, rose to the occasion and delivered his own sage advice.
Occasional thundershowers didn’t really dampen any of the enthusiasm. Several bunks have come up with uniting themes and songs, which will carry them through some of the rough times ahead. Dialogue sessions began today too. Every camper spends 110 minutes a day in a dialogue group made up of campers from all sides of their conflict. The group facilitators are trained by Seeds of Peace, if they work with Middle East campers. The facilitators for the South/Central Asians were Camp counselors many years ago. Inspired by their work at our Camp, they became trained facilitators and now bring much relevant experience to their job.
The evening activity was the ever-popular Counselor Talent Show. While the show was really sensational, the loudest applause went to four Palestinians who finally made it to Camp. We have two more coming from Afghanistan this week and then we will have a full Camp! The new campers wasted no time joining the crowd of energetic teens enjoying the counselor show.
Just to add to our good feeling about this session, we discovered a “blessed event” happening in front of one of the bunks. A determined mother turtle laid and buried five eggs, while many of us cheered her on. After she left her buried eggs, we placed a protective fence and a sign there to keep the eggs safe. Witnessing the common concern for the turtle and her eggs, one could sense a uniting factor among the onlookers, a respect for new life.
Every delegation has one or more delegation leaders who are usually educators in their respective homelands. This morning each one of them addressed the full Camp, at Wil’s suggestion. Wil, the Camp’s assistant director, asked them to talk about why they chose to come to Seeds of Peace. Every one of them spoke about their own commitment to working toward peace.
A couple of them are also parents of Seeds, so they have absorbed their dedication to peaceful solutions through them as well.
One man spoke of missing his daughter’s birth when he was at Seeds of Peace Camp last year and now missing her first birthday this time. A new delegation leader joked about wanting to return next year as a camper because they seem to be having such a good time. Also impressive were two delegation leaders, one Israeli and one Palestinian, who had established a strong friendship when they were at Camp two years ago. Their ongoing friendship is quite evident.
Wil asked the campers to consider why they had come so far from home whenever they feel the natural pull toward campers from their own delegation. This is the time they have designated for meeting and knowing people who are not like themselves. Otherwise, there would be no need to travel thousands of miles.
Getting past the comfort level of staying with one’s own delegation takes courage, but they were chosen to come here because people who know them thought they could handle it.
This being Friday, the campers who are Muslim or Jewish observed the Sabbath. Otherwise, everyone was active in sports and had very good Bunk Night activities.
Bunk activities included a campfire, jewelry-making, a game of Steal the Bacon, and dyads with specific questions who were walking or sitting all over the Camp.
Each year the Young Leadership Committee of Seeds of Peace visits Camp to get reinvigorated about Seeds of Peace. Watching the campers interact is the best way to take in the beauty of the Seeds of Peace idea. In fact, this morning we inaugurated a new way of expressing what we do here. As has been noted, the motto for Maine is, “Welcome to Maine, the way life should be.” We have adopted a new version of that motto, which is, “Welcome to Seeds of Peace, the way life could be.”
Our visitors today included former campers and counselors who now work hard to raise money for Seeds of Peace as members of the Young Leadership Committee. Others came from various cities in the US, with backgrounds that are representative of the populations we serve at Camp. They interacted with the campers on the playing fields and at a cookout.
The special activities today included a lively game of cricket, a mixed girls and boys game of soccer, singing, dancing, rugby, origami, and a girls’ fitness activity called Super Girls. The dialogue sessions have reached the point of wanting to create ground rules to keep the space safe for everyone, as they look toward more intense conversations in the coming weeks.
Tonight the whole Camp participated in “Seeds of Peace Idol,” a lip-sync activity which involves dancing as bunk groups. This activity brings out the creativity and playfulness we haven’t otherwise seen in these new campers, even with only 30 minutes to prepare for the competition. It appears that we have a very high level of dance talent at Camp this time!
Tomorrow being Sunday, the Catholic campers will go to Mass early in the morning and the Protestant campers will hold their own service at Camp. At another time, there will be a Hindu observance and a Quaker silent meeting. We do our best to accommodate all the religions represented at Camp.
Next week, campers will be invited to attend any or all of the religious services. In this way, they will see for themselves that all religions have traditional prayers for peace.
Our normal days are abnormal, by normal standards in conflict areas of the world. So, when we say it was a normal day here, it doesn’t mean that everything went according to the schedule and all the people got along perfectly. It just means that we moved one day closer to being able to come together as a community or family. We expect some people in uncomfortable dialogue sessions will come out for a few minutes of “fresh air” and then return to the discussion. We expect some people to cling to members of their own delegation out of fear of the “other.” And we know that some people will warm up to the Camp life faster than others. But for the most part, everyone is glad to be part of Seeds of Peace. Three campers have learned to swim and another two have learned to water ski. Many are learning to play softball or baseball. They are sharpening their skills in basketball, soccer, rugby, volleyball and street hockey. Some are putting together a music video. The more new things they learn to do, the more likely it will be that they will have to courage to look at their conflicts with a broader perspective than they had before.
The last two people to arrive at Camp showed up today. One waited for six years get his visa approved and the other got his visa several days into the Camp calendar. Although they were very tired from their long trip from Kabul, both of them were overjoyed to join in the activities.
In the meantime, the adult educators are going through their own broadening process, including many hours a day in dialogue. Tonight they met with American educators from Maine and in the afternoon they met with their delegations to find out how the campers are handling their new experiences and to help them feel supported in what they are doing at Camp. This can only be accomplished if the delegation leaders from all the countries fully trust the Camp staff, which is something we try to achieve with open communication.
Music and humor are used a lot to relieve the tension and bring us together. Wil began the day by singing a Bob Marley song which has a line, “Don’t worry. Every little thing’s going to be all right.” Pretty soon, others joined his singing and this relaxed the campers at the morning Line-Up. Sometimes the humor comes from Leslie’s little son, Sam, who loves to mimic Wil. When you hear his 3 1/2 year old voice asking “Are there any counselor announcements?” how can you not laugh? We can always count on our music counselors to jump into a lull with a funny song they have made up or stolen from someone else. Shared laughter and music are a sure sign that we can appreciate each other’s human qualities. It is a good start, anyway.
With the first week under our belts and the second week opening up, campers are reaching a fork in the road: they can decide whether to remain on a treadmill, or move forward into the confusing territory of self-reflection, open listening and trust. For a minority, the risk of coming to this Camp was the limit to their courage. We watch those young people with a measure of sadness. They are missing an opportunity that may never come again. For the majority, though, the daily risks of bunking and eating with historical enemies, as well as the risks of learning new challenging activities, are building toward something greater than they can imagine now. Identifying enduring values and learning how to consider “facts” with a critical eye are things not easily embraced in polarized communities. And these young people come from conflict areas which are highly polarized.
Today, two female campers apologized to all the other girls because a prank they played last night caused all of them to have to move to a small, crowded location. One girl was Egyptian and the other was Israeli. They didn’t have to do this. No one knew that they were responsible for the mishap. But they valued honesty and trust and they were not afraid to act on these values.
At another point today, we witnessed the rescue of a broken motorboat, with two staff people in it, by a camper who towed the boat from the middle of the lake to our shore using only his small kayak. He made the effort because he cared and he was confident that he could do it. Heroic deeds require a wide circle of concern and a willingness to take risks. We recognized his good deed in front of the entire Camp.
It was pouring rain all last night and early in the morning. But the sun struggled to come out all afternoon and finally made it. We are supposed to have warm sunny weather for most of the week. That didn’t happen all last summer or the summer before, so we are more than grateful! We know it is possible to run Camp in constant rainy conditions, but it is so much easier in the sunshine.
Yesterday at Line-Up, Assistant Camp Director Wil kind of embarrassed Omar, one of our counselors, by telling everyone that Omar had all the boys in his bunk set their shoes outside for the night, to air them out. But it rained heavily during the night and now all the boys had wet shoes. This morning, in solidarity with Omar, many campers placed their shoes outside on the steps. Wil just smiled and said, “They got me!”
Every day after breakfast the campers clean their bunks, with varying degrees of effort and success. One aptly named double bunk is called “The Dirty Thirty.”
Sarah, the head counselor, goes through each bunk with Sam, Leslie’s 3½-year-old son, and records what he has to say about the tidiness or lack thereof in the bunks. If he says that it looks “scary” or “yucky,” this is duly noted. Clipboard in hand, Sarah reads out the scores at lunch Line-Up. Out of a possible ten points, bunks are rated on cleanliness and neatness, as well as poetry or artwork left for Sarah. Actual bribes are frowned upon. The prize of a pizza party goes to the bunk with the highest cumulative score after two weeks go by.
The dialogue sessions are getting more intense in a good way. One camper noted that she can no longer sit there as an observer. Now the discussion is “up close and personal.” She has become part of it because it has an impact on her own emotions. Yet, when the dialogue session is over, after 110 minutes, it is over for that day. Sports, drama, boating, music and art take over, and the rest of the dialogue will continue tomorrow.
When they start wanting to be photographed with their new friends, we know campers have reached a new level of comfort. People who might have been homesick earlier are putting their arms around bunkmates and teammates, waiting for each other along the paths and joking with each other more.
When one of them feels bad for any reason, they are helped by friends from other delegations as well as their own.
As we assembled for morning Line-Up, Jake suggested that we consider the fact that the moon was still visible on the right side of the lake before us and the sun was shining on the left side. By sundown, the positions of the moon and sun would be just the opposite. So, we are perfectly positioned to appreciate the universe.
This morning was devoted to picture taking. The entire Camp population assembled on the soccer field for a huge panorama picture of everyone together. As the camera panned the bleachers full of campers, two counselors could be heard running behind us so they could end up being photographed twice! That made many of us smile even more!
Besides that, we took pictures of bunk, table and dialogue groups. It was noticable how the mood changed from one type of group to the other. The dialogue groups were somber, whereas the table groups were playful. The bunk pictures were full of pride and bravado. The funniest picture was of Seeds who are now Camp staff—they decided to just make a pile of people.
Peer Support campers (PSs) took over Camp programming this afternoon. They organized socializing games, interreligious and intercultural dialogues, and ecological projects. All of the programming was done with great care and sincerity. Counselors played supportive roles but the PSs basically ran everything themselves, with the campers enjoying every bit of it.
Tonight we had our popular World Cup Ga-Ga Games. We divided the Camp into four countries: Spain, Argentina, South Africa and Brazil. The four teams played in the semi-finals and then the final, which was between South Africa and Spain. Spain won. From the level of enthusiasm, an innocent observer might have thought that these were the campers’ real countries and that they had been playing this game all their lives. Not so. This made-up game seems like a combination of dodgeball and handball, played inside a circle of benches. Music from the competing countries accompanies the game, while the campers scream and scheme to win. They should sleep well tonight!
We have reached the point in the Camp program when we can use humor and song to get the messages across, instead of lectures, and the skills taught last week are being put into service this week. People are making astonishing gains. For example, one of the smallest campers seems to be so determined to do well that he made it to the top of the climbing wall in a record 14 seconds today. The all-girls karaoke special activity group created a new version of an old song and the boys listening to them spontaneously joined in with a bass part. I came upon a “Steal the Bacon” game, which is done in a sand pit, and found everyone learning silly camp songs instead. A step dance activity morphed into an hour of congenial discussion.
All is not bliss, however. There are times during the day when the challenges are not only physical. Now that the campers have made good friends from the other side, what they say to each other in dialogue really matters and often hurts. Sometimes, the facilitators have to give the group a chance to air their frustrations in separate sessions for each side of the conflict.
Frequently the transition from the dialogue sessions to sports, art or music activities is very difficult. We try to keep all the motivation to “win” out on the playing fields and not in the dialogue sessions. Dialogue is not the same as debate. There shouldn’t be any winners or losers. The objectives are mutual understanding, respect and concern. There will be no medals in the end. The potential rewards are much greater than that.
A seriously disheveled bunch of delegation leaders returned from a two-day camping trip tonight. They had frozen all last night beside the sea and then went ocean kayaking in the rain today. They all felt like coming back to Camp was “coming home.” There is nothing like an ordeal to bring a group together and that kayaking trip sounded like a genuine ordeal. After a hot shower and a warmer night in their cabins, they should be ready to rise and shine with the rest of us tomorrow.
These educators are Indian, Pakistani, Afghan, Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian and American.
The first thing they did upon their return to Camp was celebrate a double birthday with a delicious dinner and strawberry shortcake. Applause all around!
Fridays, the schedule is different from other days. Dialogue is suspended just for that day, while the facilitators have a day off too. A Muslim prayer service occurs in the early afternoon and a Jewish (Shabbat) worship service takes place right after our early dinner. This week all the worship services are open for observers.
Of course the services are not as elaborate as they are at home, but the general idea is conveyed. It is always an eye-opening experience to see how others pray, particularly if you have been misled about the others’ way of worshipping.
At morning Line-Up, the delegation leaders spoke about their camping trip so the campers would see how they model the kind of cooperative behavior that we hope the campers will emulate.
In the morning and late afternoon, another camp sent teams over to ours to compete in boys and girls soccer, boys basketball and girls softball. Although our teams are made up of traditional enemies, the heat of competition trumps national animosities every time. The other camp has experienced teams, but they still couldn’t beat us in soccer or basketball. Our girls softball team played well for people who have just started to learn the game. Some had only held a baseball bat once before in their lives. Even soccer for the girls is not played at home in many countries represented at Camp.
In the middle of the day we had a sing-along with all the teams before hosting them at a cookout. The songs usually have a message but are delivered with humor. Everybody Like Hummus, The Moose Song, I Guess You’re Just What I Needed and What is Love (Baby Don’t Hurt Me) are some of the most often-sung songs. Elliott, a counselor with an endless treasure trove of silly songs, has introduced a new one for us called I Wanna Be a Pizza Man.
Tonight was a Bunk Night. One bunk held a “beach party” for their campers in the sand pit where we usually play Steal the Bacon. Another bunk had a traditional campfire complete with S’mores. They taste just as good as ever.
All day we lived in anticipation of the dinner that would be cooked by the Delegation Leaders—a dinner with dishes from the home countries the campers have been missing for two weeks.
After lunch, our cooks turned over the kitchen to the Delegation Leaders and let them do all the chopping and cooking on their own. Together they produced a wonderful combination of South/Central Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Maine doesn’t have all the ingredients to make everything perfectly, but it certainly came close enough for everyone here to really appreciate. Qabili Palou and maqlouba, hummus, lots of rice, potatoes with rosemary, kibbeh, and baba ghanoush all disappeared pretty fast.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the International Dinner is the national costumes that the campers wear for the occasion. Today the warm, clear sunny weather accentuated the vivid colors and sparkly beads on the magnificent dresses and caftans. Many family members and former campers and counselors joined us because it really is a spectacular event.
Former camper and counselor Marian Bazeed had to “sing for her supper,” as she has done for many years. She sings Wanting Memories by Sweet Honey on the Rock with a crystal-clear voice that always moves people to tears and cheers.
Actually, we all had to sing for our supper after the kitchen lost electric power several times, delaying dinner by an hour. Singing together passes the time and also brings us closer together. We really didn’t mind the delay at all.
Otherwise, it was a day like all of our days, filled with hundreds of endearing human interactions no single person could possibly capture.
America’s Independence Day is not celebrated inside the Camp, any more than any other national holiday would be. All flags remain outside the gates.
However, the town of Otisfield, where we are located, always invites us to participate in their low-key, traditional Fourth of July parade. We sent only the Peer Support campers, the Delegation Leaders and some staff members. Leslie stayed at the Camp, but this year her little son, Sam, really stole the show by riding in a fire engine, wearing his red fireman’s hat. The PSs started working on a parade act yesterday and were close to being ready when they had to line up with fire engines, dressed up goats, llamas, white chickens, antique cars, another camp and a baseball team.
The facilitators tell us the the dialogue sessions are beginning to get calmer, as a new level of understanding and trust is being created. Even the doctor reports fewer and less frequent infirmary visits, which is a sure sign that people are feeling more comfortable at Camp.
The often unsung heroes at Camp are the counselors, who put in very long days and are on duty 24/7, with very little free time. They are continuously responsible for the health and safety of the campers. They also provide much of the fun at Camp, breaking into songs or changing their lesson plans at the drop of a hat. Tonight, for example, inside activities became outdoor activities when a temporary electric stoppage took away indoor lighting. One counselor seemed like the Pied Piper tonight, as groups joined him in learning new and clever songs. Another counselor moved her drama class from the stage to the outdoor table tennis court.
The camper-counselor relationship is very special. We have several bunks keeping in touch over multiple years by daily email exchanges. These connections keep the hope alive as much as the relationships between campers.
Air-conditioning at Camp means jumping into the cool, clear, natural waters of Pleasant Lake. Forty-four acres of Camp land, shaped like a banana, are next to a beautiful lake. The water we drink is from natural springs nearby but the water we bathe in, and wash dishes with, is from our lake. With hot, sunny weather reaching 90° F, the cool lake was the best place to be most of the time. We shortened rest hour to a half-hour so everyone in Camp could have extra time in the lake. All the canoes, sailboats and kayaks were in constant use. Campers were purposely flipping their boats over so they could spend more time in the water.
Land sports and ropes course activities took place in the morning when the temperature was a little cooler. The group challenge course always culminates with a high wire exercise. Today there was a group of Middle East campers who were preparing for the high ropes when one boy, Adham, said he had a phobia about heights. (Other people were just plain scared.) But after they put on the harnesses and helmets and were given an explaination about the safety measures employed there, everyone took the chance to either walk across the high wire and switch places with a partner or else they climbed to the top of the verticle playground with a partner.
Adham was paired with a girl named Reem for the high ropes. They each climbed up two telephone poles at opposite ends of the high wires. The objective was to make their way walking on the wire to the opposite pole, crossing past each other in the center. Reem became frightened right away. One of the instructors told Adham to give her some encouragement. As he got interested in supporting Reem’s motivation, he forgot his own fears. He was able to help Reem and he helped himself in the process. They both reached the center, crossed past each other, gave each other a high five and proceeded to the opposite poles.
The returning Peer Support campers climbed a small mountain and held a several-hour dialogue session at the top today. After returning to Camp and taking cool showers, they got to work on creating a Café night for the rest of the campers. First Wil and Bobbie spoke about John Wallach and then the film about John that was made for his memorial service in 2002 was shown. Then the campers were asked to pair up with someone from a different delegation who they wanted to know better and have a conversation. Nice desserts, colorful decorations and easy-going music created the right atmosphere.
Café Night is always a wonderful way to end a day at Camp.
Some of us long-time Portland Sea Dogs minor league baseball fans have yet to be present when our team has won. Tonight was no exception, although the New Hampshire Fisher Cats had to play hard to maintain their one-point lead.
If you were to look up into the stands to see how the Seeds of Peace campers were reacting to the game, you would be hard-pressed to find more than one or two people who were actually watching the game. Everyone else was cheering and stamping their feet, for reasons unrelated to baseball. They were just having fun together, setting aside for now any hard feelings that might have been generated by the daily dialogue sessions or other impromtu discussions around Camp.
The heat of the day seemed to have started earlier than usual today. By the time bunk clean-up was over, the sun was already scorching the playing fields. Activities such as creative writing in the shade made a lot of sense. Sailing and canoeing were also very popular. Land sports were not. Due to the heat, most activities stopped often for water breaks. Even having a beard became unbearable for many of the counselors, so they called for a “Mustachio Bashio” during lunch Line-Up. All counselors, male and female, were invited to compete. Creativity reigned.
The South/Central Asian delegations have been working with Steve Wessler, an expert on intolerance and hate. Steve helped the campers understand how much bullying during childhood can destroy self-confidence and scar individuals for life. They spoke about the reasons for bullying and the ways to build compassion and empathy in children’s groups.
Several years ago, St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, found a way to feed the neediest families nearby with their own organically-grown vegetables and other donated food. Since PSs are expected to reach out to needy people in their home communities after Camp ends, we wanted them to meet the people who originated this food distribution program not far from our Camp. We went to their organic farm first to see how that kind of farming is managed.
Then we went to the food pantry to assist the volunteers when the local families came to get food. Rebecca, who started this program, explained their underlying belief that all people have worth and should receive our respect. She spoke about the indignity of having to ask for basic needs and how easily any of us could end up in the same situation.
The volunteers bag the groceries and carry them to the car for their clients, just as they would if money had been exchanged. Our Seeds filled bags with donated rice and raisins, played with children who had come with their families, filled baskets with farm produce, etc. Afterward, we shared a dinner with the volunteers and thanked them for allowing our campers to participate in something so worthwhile.
Preparations and rehearsals are underway for the Talent Show tomorrow night. While the campers work hard to polish their considerable talent, twelve counselors will secretly be huddling together to prepare for another event, even more engaging than the talent show. Shhhhh!
A new evening activity made its debut today. Table groups were given white T-shirts and were asked to create a Seeds of Peace shirt symbolizing what they think Seeds of Peace is all about. They were in competition for the best design so they worked hard on them. Each table had two representatives explain their designs.
Late tonight, familiar strains of music were heard after lights out. Tomer Perry, a former camper, counselor and now a facilitator, was singing songs he and his bunkmates, “The 17 Bad Seeds,” created for their talent show in 1997. Hopefully, he will have a chance to perform the funny songs about Camp life for today’s campers. It is amazing how so many Camp creations stay locked in our memories and are surprisingly still current.
We should have anticipated that a group of campers who are the top 164 out of 8,000 would be extremely talented, but tonight’s talent show was way far to the moon and back. The Palestinian, Indian, Afghan and Pakistani delegations had prepared their special national dances at home.
Other campers found compatible partners for bands, dance groups and vocals too. One girl played the piano so well, we forgot that it wasn’t a Steinway. There were a rap group and hip hop dancers on the one hand, and classical ballet dancers on the other.
Behind the scenes during the day the Color Games coaches were preparing for their roles and their special entries at the choose-up meeting near the bonfire. Two of them entered as the Blues Brothers. One female arrived in a gilded cage. Another came on a boat and still others were carried in on the shoulders of fellow counselors.
Once the 12 coaches have entered, there is always a tense time when no one knows which color team they will be on—Blue or Green. Identities hang in the balance! Members of bunks come forward to find out from Wil what their fate will be for the next 2½ days. They put arms around their shoulders, hold on tight and then get divided up equally between the two teams. Each delegation has close to the same number on each side. Boys and girls are evenly distributed. Special skills and talents are fairly divided between the teams as well.
The first event will be a 7 a.m. rope pull for the entire Camp.
The rope pull was the first thing in the morning, 7 a.m., starting with all the girls, then all the boys and finally with the entire Blue team vs. the entire Green team. Well, it is one way to get the juices flowing in the beginning of the day, but you wouldn’t want to make a habit of it. There is such a sinking feeling when you sense yourself and your team sliding in the wrong direction. But, what a glorious thing it is to feel the power of your team pulling the other team toward you.
As Wil said, “Don’t worry about winning. Just be the team with the most points!”
Most of the sports competitions all day were between bunks. Everyone competed in their best sports, such as soccer, basketball, tennis, Ultimate Frisbee, Ga-Ga, Steal the Bacon, ping-pong and group challenge.
It was sunny and windy all day, with a very choppy lake, which made us glad the boating competitions will be tomorrow. Usually, we play these games for fun, but when there is a three-day competition going on, the tension and concentration can be draining. Hopefully, the wind will die down by tomorrow.
Even though we had Color Games today, we had religious services for the Muslims and the Jews at Camp, many of whom took time out to participate in group prayer. Outside the religious services, campers are wearing face paint to show their loyalty to their team and keep their spirits high. In fact, whenever anyone is not assigned to a specific competition he/she is assigned to cheer for their side. One and a half days are left, with the peace canoe and race for peace competitions set for 7 a.m. Art, music and drama competitions will also be scattered throughout the days.
Oh, and in case you want to know who is ahead, the Blue Team has 500 points and the Green Team has 550, so far.
The Peace Canoe competition began at 7 a.m. with a loud foghorn announcing the start and the Camp bell declaring the finish. The event requires brawn and skill in equal measure. Ten boys or girls need to figure out how to paddle the huge war canoe from the girls dock to the beach near the Pines.
Before they can say they have “arrived,” they must touch Wil’s hand as he stands in water up to his chest wondering if he will have to swim out to bring the canoe in or if, wonder of wonders, the campers will make their way to him.
They do always make it to Wil, some more directly than others. The entire time, the team coaches, and anyone else who has some advice, scream out instructions to the campers in the canoe. After boys and girls groups from each of the teams accomplish the task, a runner races to the bell. The sound of the final bell means that it is time for breakfast.
Swim events were held in the morning, racing to beat the rain that was on its way to Camp. Sunshine in the afternoon helped us make up the time lost in the morning. All-star teams, including boys and girls soccer, boys baseball and girls softball, boys and girls basketball, Steal the Bacon, volleyball, Ultimate Frisbee, chess, dance, and creative writing more than filled the afternoon.
What the campers never see is a baseball game played by the counselors on the “white team” who support the coaches and campers with Color Games. It is played while the teams have a meeting. Leslie likes to be the pitcher for this game and the counselors generally show off their hitting, throwing and catching skills. They are very impressive, even though many come from countries that don’t have baseball as a national sport.
Tonight was the Variety Show. Each team had two hours to prepare a new Camp song to be sung by their entire team, a comedy skit about Camp life, a capella singing, instrumental music, a dance performance, and a drama without words. Walking around Camp during the two hours of preparation time, one would be very impressed with the concentration and focus these highly-talented campers brought to the tasks.
Tomorrow is the final day of Color Games. Although the Green Team was 400 points ahead at dinnertime, the Blue Team could still catch up to them with the scores from the Variety Show and from the events in the morning.
The Race for Peace road race began, as promised, at 7 a.m. Runners were trying all sorts of warm-up exercises, including dancing, stretching and jumping in place. Teammates lined the road, cheering on their runners, who passed the baton onto the next runners four times.
As the onlookers ran across the open field to catch a glimpse of the runners on the other side of the oval shaped road, it didn’t take too much imagination to think of them doing the same thing on Tuesday, when they will be running to wave goodbye to the buses carrying departing campers. But, we can wait for that. The Blue team won both the boys and girls road races. That put them 100 points closer to the Green team.
The morning was devoted to the Message to Hajime, named in honor of a Japanese journalist who visited Camp one session in 1999. Originally, the game was called Message to Garcia. But we never knew Garcia, so we had no problem changing the name. In this game, there are about 110 challenges stationed around the Camp, ranging from math problems to running backwards around the baseball diamond, chugging Coke, wrapping bandages on an arm, singing the Seeds of Peace song, etc.
The final part is the toughest. One person from each team has to memorize a passage that is hidden under a plate, topped with whipped cream. One person on each team has to eat the whipped cream off the plate for the memorizer. Then the fate of the teams rests on the shoulders of the memorizers. One boy said that he has had to memorize many things for school, but this is the first time the pressure has been so great.
In the end, the Message to Hajime and the entire Color Games were won by the Green team. Each team ran into the lake fully clothed and soon the Camp was reunited with hugs and splashing. As is traditional, a circle was formed and everyone sang the Seeds of Peace song.
Somehow the World Cup final was scheduled for this afternoon—perfect timing! Most of the campers were happy to just sit on benches watching the match. This time the campers divided into groups cheering for Spain vs. The Netherlands. And the old competitive spirit re-ignited.
Since the conflict-related killing of one of our Seeds, Asel Asleh, in 2000, we have held a memorial service for him at Camp. At this memorial service we also acknowledge the deaths of nine other Seeds who have died of other causes. As it happens, some of Asel’s friends from Seeds of Peace are working at Camp this summer. They were able to speak beautifully about what his life and death have meant to them.
This brings up many unresolved issues concerning the relationships between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians living in Israel, as well as other Arabs. After Color Games is a good time to focus back on the tough issues facing these campers at home. Tomorrow they will spend their final day preparing for their return home, not just physically, but emotionally as well.
When we reach the last days of Camp, we are filled with conflicting emotions. I think that is true for all of us. People who just yesterday looked like they would never get the point of Seeds of Peace are showing that they really do understand that all people are worthy of their concern and compassion. That courage is something you earn after you face your fears and do the right thing. That people are taught divergent versions about the very same incidents. That kindness is never wasted.
Everyone wants to go home, but they also want this session of Seeds of Peace Camp to continue a little longer.
On Monday morning, a Quaker silent meeting was offered by Bobbie along with several other people who have experienced the beauty of the traditional Quaker focus on the Inner Light of God in each person. Voluntary attendance, as for all religious observances at Seeds of Peace, was in effect, yet almost everyone was there.
Out of the silence, campers and staff members spoke movingly about their eye-opening experiences at Camp. Some were quite worried about life after Camp. Some tried to reassure the people who were coming to grips with their sadness. Fortunately, in anticipation of the emotions of the day, we had scheduled dialogue sessions, the gift of photo albums and necklaces, a giant slideshow of the whole session, and a big bonfire with the Color Games coaches showing their appreciation for the enormous efforts made by the campers.
Somehow, everyone packed their luggage and began leaving Camp at 7:30 a.m. Each delegation’s departure was delayed by hugs and kisses, last minute book-signing and crying. Some people attempted lighthearted responses, but most campers would have none of that. They left reluctantly, wanting this session to go on and on. Still, all of us can feel profound joy in knowing that, for the 45th time, another session of Camp ended with everyone on board. Living in peace got the vote!
In a few days, 155 new campers will come through our gates. Our challenge is to gear up for their arrival with the same level of energy we had for the first session campers. This won’t be easy, but we will do it.