SESSION ONE: MIDDLE EAST & SOUTH ASIA
Campers Arrive | June 26
The day we anticipate during orientation arrived today! First came the Palestinians, the Americans and our Afghan Peer Support who is studying in the United States. Next came the Indians, the Jordanians and the Egyptians. Late at night will be the Israelis and the Pakistanis. All of those that have arrived have been greeted by music of drums, guitars and horns. People were singing and dancing with joy as the buses pulled in to Camp and rolled down the inside road, with our head counselors, Zaqloub and Mariah, leading the incoming buses on the golf cart. All the counselors immediately ran to the buses to unload the suitcases and get them safely under cover, as the rain was pouring all day long and still is …
This year, we have made a concerted effort to have all the different personnel in Camp work together as smoothly as possible. The counselors, delegation leaders and facilitators are going to be working together in a whole new way. It is bound to benefit the campers to have this kind of cooperation among all the adults, who come from all over the world and are working together at our Camp for the first time.
The campers today are taking attitudinal surveys which were designed by a researcher from the University of Waterloo in Canada. Everyone will fill out the surveys immediately upon arrival, on the last day of Camp, and one year later over the Internet. This way, we can see what impact our program has on the participants.
As you know, we are in the midst of constructing a field house for rainy days like the one we are having today, but it hasn’t stopped raining long enough to complete it! We may have to just provide everyone with hip boots and go on about our activities as usual.
Orientation | June 27
Day Two is really the first full day of Camp—but it is still not the actual way Camp runs on a daily basis. Rather, today is a day of orientation and preparation for all the days that will follow. The campers learn what “Line-Up” is (all-Camp announcement time), make a name button for themselves so we can all begin to memorize 160 names, visit the doctor and nurse for a quick check-up, take swim tests, and start getting used to the rules of the dining hall and elsewhere. For fun, they learned how to play “Steal-the-Bacon,” often known as the most fun game at Camp.
On this day when the campers were experiencing Pleasant Lake for the first time, the water was unusually rough, with whitecaps and waves accompanied by strong winds. It became more of a test than it might have been otherwise if the water had been calm as usual. The campers also learned the rules of the swim docks, as well as the rules for boys and girls during swim time regarding keeping a respectable distance away from one another (there are separate swim areas for boys and girls). Some campers asked if Pleasant Lake is bigger than the Sea of Galilee. The answer is that it might be smaller in distance but it has more water in it. Plus, Maine has hundreds of lakes like this one. Right now, the entire East Coast of the U.S. is soaking in water from heavy rains—and Maine is no exception! Just when we thought the rain would go on for another forty days and nights, it subsided this morning and out came the sun! It is wonderful when the weather seems to conspire with our spirits as we began to build another Camp community here in the woods.
Tim, our Camp director, began the day with a call for respect from everyone here. Respect seems so basic and easy now. It will become more challenging as the casual discussions and formal dialogue groups get more deeply into sensitive issues from the ongoing conflicts at home. Tim also talked about listening more than talking; Tim’s famous quote is, “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.”
Tonight the campers had their first taste of dialogue group and then they had their first “Bunk Night”—a time for them to bond with those they will be living with for the next three weeks.
Flag Raising | June 28
The official opening of Camp is the Flag Raising ceremony, which happened this morning. The objective is to give each delegation a chance to honor their own country while showing respect for all the others at Camp. The Peer Support (PS) campers (returning campers), one from each country, speak to the new campers to welcome them, reassure them, and tell them a little about the Seeds of Peace experience they are about to encounter. Many PSs reflect back to their own experiences when they first came to camp and exhort the new campers to take advantage of every second they are here. Their enthusiasm and confidence help the campers get over the homesickness which is beginning to set in for some. Others look to them with awe and wonder if they will ever get to that stage of maturity. The PSs who spoke this year were Ahmad from Afghanistan, Nour from Egypt, Shaili from India, Tal from Israel, Zeid from Jordan, Neeta from Pakistan, Salwa from Palestine and Bill from the USA. For Flag Raising, when we raise each country’s flag and sing its anthem, we have a rule that we must have three people from any country to include that country in the ceremony. This year we had enough Canadians (from our camp staff) to allow them sing. Some of us who love to sing and know the Canadian anthem couldn’t help joining in!
You just don’t want to know about the rain that came again today after the Flag Raising ceremony was over. Some people seem to have moats around their cabins and, really, those are much better with castles. Rubber boots are becoming the fashion statement this summer—replacing those dangerous flip-flops from last summer. We hope to cut down on the number of turned ankles and stubbed toes with the new flip-flop-less camp fashion code.
Tonight was the “Counselor Show” where each sport and activity we work with at Camp was introduced by the counselors in a musical, theatrical or humorous way. All of it was held together with upbeat music which culminated in the band playing an enthusiastic version of Lean on Me, while everyone stood up and enjoyed being part of a Camp community in the beginning stages of coming together. The facilitators and the delegation leaders also performed, which added to the feeling of unity. In a way, the evening program is a chance for us to regain and celebrate the creative accommodations and mutual understandings beginning to happen in this special place.
Wake Up! | June 29
Camp Director Tim, rings the bell every morning accompanied by his very loud voice, which is probably heard in the nearby town of Casco, saying, “Allllllllllllup! Allllllllllup! First bell.” Fifteen minutes later, we hear the same thing…only it is the second bell. By the third bell, you’d better be heading toward the 7:30 AM morning Line-Up.” Some folks like to cut it pretty close. Two boys from bunk 18 managed to slip in late, undetected; and, a counselor from bunk 1 sat down in the front row wearing her pajamas and brushing her teeth! No kidding.
The kayaks and canoes got taken out on the lake today, giving Middle Easterners and South Asians brand new skills in a completely level playing field. Some activities, such as soccer and basketball, are very familiar to them, but learning something new for everyone is a good bonding experience. Canoeing requires coordination and cooperation, even between ‘enemies.” Kayaking builds individual confidence, which might carry over to conversations in which the camper will feel more like speaking up. All of the activities at Camp lend themselves to enhancing the confidence, understanding and empathy we hope to build upon while Seeds are at Camp.
Some people find that Camp is very different from what they were expecting. One boy said that the way his older brother and cousin described it, he was sure it was going to be a very hard life, kind of like a jail. To his enormous surprise, Camp is really beyond his wildest dreams, with so many kinds of sports and so many friendly and helpful people. Even his dialogue group was able to find compromises on their rules of conduct so that he found himself aligned with people from the opposing side of his conflict. Another camper said that she was surprised that her table counselor cares about whether or not she eats a balanced diet. If she were left on her own, she would have dined on cookies alone. Another camper is used to having his family cater to his very restrictive, self-selected diet at home. Now, he has to choose between eating more varieties of food or pining away for the one type of food he normally eats. Soon he will make the right choice. Widening his appetite to include new types of food will coincide with opening his mind to new perspectives. All the aspects of living together congenially at camp conspire to develop young leaders who can think for themselves and are not afraid to try new things.
Today the rain came suddenly in a storm and then left us with more comfortable air. We have great sleeping weather tonight and everyone, except the counselors with nights off, is taking full advantage of it.
Breakthroughs | June 30
People progress pretty rapidly in this Camp environment. The boy who wouldn’t eat anything but one type of food yesterday is eating the regular Camp cuisine today and expanding from being a computer geek only to someone who is interested in playing some sports too. And tonight, at the “lip sync” competition, another few reticent campers made attempts at humor on-stage, for the first time in their lives. These seem like minor breakthroughs, but they are not. One eye-opening experience or one attempt to stretch beyond intimidation can lead to more breakthroughs in other areas. Then there is a chance for growth. That’s what we hope to see.
This was one of those morning Line-Ups when the benches are wet from the night-time rain and it is counter-intuitive to sit down in dry jeans. Some people solve the problem by drying the benches with towels. Others perch themselves on the very edges of the benches. But today I noticed three counselors sitting on each other! Every now and then they would reposition themselves so that a different one was on the bottom. The two on the bottom were hidden enough to take little cat-naps and nobody got a wet seat.
The cricket equipment was brought out today, even though we don’t have a counselor who can teach it. But, that didn’t matter to the girls who were playing cricket and teaching the counselor at the same time. “Steal-the-Bacon” seems to be a universal favorite, not that any of the campers would ever fight for real bacon. The game involves strategy, cunning, speed and very careful footing. One side can lose a point by simply stepping into the sand pit a second before one should. It is easy to lose one’s balance in any direction while trying to fool one’s opponent. It takes a full three weeks to become highly skilled at this game. The PSs are at a great advantage because they have done it many times before. They are often the best coaches for the uninitiated. When a PS from an opposing side of a conflict in real life takes the time to teach a skill to a new camper, the barriers of fear and distrust start to fade away. Later on, a glimmer of trust will replace the old barriers, perhaps in dialogue or while passing a bowl of food across the table.
Since this day was Friday, we had a Muslim prayer service in the early afternoon and a Jewish Shabbat service later on. All campers are invited to observe the worship services of other religions. This helps dispel the mystery of the way others pray together. It also gives one a different impression of a person who is praying. Suddenly it becomes clear that people of all religions are respectful and humble before God. There is always a prayer for peace, as well.
Serious Talk & Musical Outbursts | July 1
At Camp we mix the fun stuff with the serious stuff, almost all day long. Many of the people who come from regions of conflict sometimes miss those opportunities at home to just have a good time. So, we provide many outlets for humor and surprises. The serious stuff gets interlaced between the lighter fare, giving it ample time but not letting it dominate the days here. This morning, for example, Tim began the day at Line-Up with a story about children in Maine playing on teams together that are made up of people of all races and backgrounds. He talked about not judging people by the way they look and the commonly accepted stereotypes we use to describe certain types of people. That serious discussion was followed by a surprise serenade by the PS boys in bunk 18. Leslie (our associate Camp director) was overwhelmed, to say the least. This group of boys from Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, India, Pakistan and the USA kept Leslie laughing for a very long time.
This afternoon the campers met with their respective adult Delegation Leaders to discuss their experiences thus far. Prior, the Delegation Leaders met with the facilitators to provide them with an up-to-date report on what the campers have been doing. Sometimes we think of these delegation meetings as the ‘reality check” for the campers since the Delegation Leaders represent their home societies.
This evening’s activity was what we call “Pirate Night.” For this activity, the counselors dress up as pirates and hide, with bags of gold, all over Camp. Mixed groups of campers look for them, just like in hide-and-seek, and when they find a counselor/pirate, they are given a piece of “gold.” In the end, the group with the most gold pieces wins the game. The competition was fierce! But, around here, these games are always fierce no matter what the contest is, including bunk cleaning awards.
The PS group is getting ready to join in with the local town of Otisfield, Maine by marching in their Fourth of July parade. They already sound great with many drums, cheers and marching formations. I am sure they are excited for this small road trip off of Camp grounds on Tuesday.
Group Challenge | July 2
For enemies to live together as if they were friends or family is easier said than done. But, the camp setting and the camp activities, along with a supportive and talented staff, make it happen every year. One of the ways it happens is to have several activities that are not familiar to anyone. Water skiing, canoeing, sailing, the ropes course and Steal-the-Bacon are examples of activities like this. When they all start out as novices, it topples the power imbalances and cuts across the economic advantages that some campers have over the others. Today, after the facilitators and the group challenge counselors met, some of the dialogue groups were guided through low level group challenge courses. The idea is to disrupt (on purpose) the way the groups operate so that the participants who sometimes dominate the dialogues are forced to allow the others the chance to shine. Once this happens in group challenge, the quieter or shy members of the dialogue group, who have helped the groups succeed in the physical course, will transfer that confidence to their group discussions. Each time the group meets with the group challenge counselors, the requirements get harder. Eventually, they will move from balance boards to low level tight rope walking to wall climbing and then to the high wire walking and the “vertical playpen,” which are about 30 feet in the air.
The ‘homesick” factor seems to have dissipated. One camper who said he was sure he wouldn’t like Camp and wanted to go home three days ago told us that he LOVES Camp so much! He is one of the happiest people here. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of the second week of this Camp session. And we will celebrate with a bus trip to a minor league Portland Sea Dogs baseball game … Sea Dogs, Sea Dogs, woof, woof … they already know the cheer!
Sports, Discussions, Fireworks | July 3
This morning, before breakfast, a group of campers and counselors took off across the lake in kayaks and canoes just as the rest of us were sitting at morning Line-Up listening to Tim. We watched them as they paddled almost out of sight, but then the last canoe kept coming back into view. Realizing that the three people in this canoe were going in circles, but trying not to view this as a “Three Stooges” episode, we tried to help them in a serious way but most of us couldn’t stop laughing.
Later on, some boys from the Middle East who were scheduled for basketball got into a discussion about the history of their countries and realized their narratives and history lessons were clearly not aligned. At first they played a rough game of basketball while they were arguing, but the counselor decided that it would be safer just to have them sit down on the court and talk things out. This would have escalated into a big shouting match had the counselor not employed a simple method for limiting the discussion to one speaker at a time. Each speaker had to be holding a single paper cup which got passed from one to another. Even after the bell rang for lunch, the conversation continued. The second week of camp has many of these kinds of incidents. Not everyone is ready for the tough discussions at the same time. While this group was having a heated discussion, two other campers were still playing basketball.
Late in the afternoon, we boarded four big buses and headed for the Sea Dogs baseball game. Everyone had a great time eating and cheering even though the Sea Dogs were losing—the game itself is secondary. The evening culminated with a fireworks display in honor of the Fourth of July (Independence Day for the USA). On the bus on the way home, one counselor asked the PSs to tell stories from years past about Seeds of Peace. Most of the stories were serious, except for one young man who told about the time his laundry came back with a few items missing. A girl in the camp found one of these items and noticed his name on it. When the girl offered to return it to him, he eagerly followed her, not realizing until it was too late to avoid embarrassment that it was a pair of Scooby-Doo underpants. “Scooby-Doo” just might be his new nickname from now on!
The Fourth of July | July 4
“From all over the world reunited, we’re a message of peace we have started…” With this chant, the entire group of PSs from Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine and the USA, accompanied by drums and brass instruments, marching and dancing, first woke up the Camp and then the Otisfield community for the Fourth of July celebration. They danced in formation—New Orleans style—which allows for individual variations. This was a metaphor for our work with the PS campers, which combines group process with individual character development. Later, the PSs spent their dialogue session talking about what they consider to be their character flaws with the goal of strengthening their individual personalities, beginning with their time at Camp.
Meanwhile, the new campers, who make up most of the Camp population, have begun to delve into the hardest issues of their conflicts both in their dialogue sessions and in informal conversations all around Camp. This is a time of intense pressure. All the campers are high achievers and used to excelling in any group situation; here at Seeds of Peace, they are meeting their match. Sometimes we forget that having to express oneself in English, when it is not one’s first language, is a struggle in itself—let alone expressing such sensitive issues in English. It can be exhausting. For some of the campers the exhaustion gets expressed in physical maladies and for others it is apparent in loud arguments and crying. But, all of this is important. It has to happen for the sake of mutual understanding. John Wallach used to call this period of Camp “detoxification.” He understood that the poisons had to be released for the healing to begin.
Due to all the rain we’ve had, the baseball diamond and the tennis courts were almost useless. But yesterday, the counselors and some of the older campers decided to take matters into their own hands by acting like farmers, pulling out weeds and turning over the soil. This was a good sign that they are feeling like this place is theirs. It is said that home is where the heart is, and we hope this will be everyone’s second home.
OLP | July 5
On a bright, sunny day, the Peer Support campers got ready for their two-and-one-half day overnight trip, known as OLP (Outdoor Leadership Program). We pronounce “OLP” like it is a word which lends itself to humorous remarks—no doubt it is uttered more than once as the PSs trek up the steep mountain carrying heavy backpacks. Now they will know how an ant feels, carrying something on their back many times their weight for the greater good of the community. The objective to their packing is to bring exactly what they anticipate they will need—but without knowing if they will encounter rain or hot sun or both. All the things they will share will be divided up between them. This experience is designed to help the group form strong bonds, regardless of their nationalities.
Today was what some would consider a normal day at Camp. Walking around Camp, a visitor would see what looks like a normal camp for teenagers: campers playing Frisbee, drawing in art class, playing volleyball or soccer or basketball. Tim, our Camp director, visited all 22 of the boys’ and girls’ bunks for “inspection” and then gave a cleanliness rating for each bunk. The camper also has the opportunity to surprise the inspector with poetry, funny notes or treats during the day. Campers eagerly await their ratings on a scale from 1 to 10, which gives the person rating them 22 chances to make jokes at the Line-Ups throughout the day. In all, this becomes a fun process.
The Delegation Leaders had a visiting lecturer, Dr. Mohammed Dajani from Al-Quds University. Dr. Dajani is working with the adult educators on their personal narratives. In fact, he is collecting stories about events in Israel and Palestine from people who remember the early days of the conflict because he believes that these personal stories are as important to record as way these histories are recorded in textbooks.
The evening activity was called “Digital Scavenger Hunt.” The campers took digital cameras and were given a list of images to capture around Camp. Teams were assigned by eating table, the group campers sit with daily in the dining hall. This evening activity therefore gave the campers a chance to know their table-mates in a different dimension aside from asking them, “can you please pass the salt?” By the end of the evening, the sunset gave everything a rosy glow and then turned dark, for a good night’s sleep. We hope the same was true for the OLP trip group as they settled into their tents.
Artistic Activities | July 6
Let’s start backwards today. This evening the activities were all based on art. The campers had a choice between making banners for Sports Day tomorrow, tie-dying, writing a song, working with clay, or learning African dance. The counselors had stations all over camp and the campers decided which activity appealed to them. They were all good, but the African dancing was really amazing and many boys and girls showed up to learn this art form. hey were so good at it that they are planning to get up early so they can perform at Line-Up before breakfast tomorrow. As the campers left their dialogue sessions earlier this evening they must have seen the clear indigo blue sky with tinges of pink all reflected in the lake. To top that off, there was a bright shiny moon making its way over the expanse of Pleasant Lake. All was calm again, just like it had been in the morning.
With the PSs gone, one might expect Camp to feel less full, but the new campers just seem to expand their noise level when the PSs vacate. In fact, they sort of take over—they become the ones who try to skip out on activities they don’t really like. Reading the notice on the door of the infirmary about waiting to see the doctor or the nurse until after meals, one boy attempted to get out of soccer by saying that his legs were too stiff. When this got him nowhere, he insisted that he had to go to the Camp Store to buy a bottle of water. We have water coolers all over Camp, so this excuse also fell flat.
The dialogue sessions are at their most interesting and difficult stage this week. People are confronting each other while learning how to listen, even when they hate what is being said, and how to speak as if they are explaining something to a friend. We ask that they be hard on the issues and soft on the people. This is not at all easy. And for the Seeds who are now facilitators, they are faced with the burden of being reminded of their own process when they were campers years ago. They are doing an amazing job though. Their burdens are also assets, when used well.
Sports Day | July 7
Long before any of us were born, this place was a summer camp. The father of Joel Bloom, the man we honored today, was the owner and camp director of Camp Powhatan, the camp that stood where Seeds of Peace stands today. Seeds of Peace owes a great deal to Powhatan—not only for maintaining the facility as a wonderful camp, but also for embracing the concept of Seeds of Peace; they not only helped us start Seeds of Peace, but they continue to support us. Therefore, in honor of Joel Bloom’s 90th birthday, many Powhatan campers (who are all adults now) collected money for a permanent scholarship in his name so that inner-city youth could come to Seeds of Peace as part of the American Delegation. The first recipient of the scholarship is with us this session.
The PSs were back at Camp today and we were glad to have them back because they decorated and cleaned up the dining hall for “Café Night.” During this activity, we encourage socializing with people the campers haven’t really had a chance to discover and meet yet. Before Café Night, the Seeds saw a film about Seeds of Peace Founder John Wallach. Both Tim Wilson and Janet Wallach were there to speak about John’s enormous heart and clear vision for Seeds.
Sports Day at Seeds of Peace doesn’t compete with the World Cup, but it is exciting nonetheless. It is a day when local camps come to Seeds of Peace to play us in sports. Today, our girls basketball and boys soccer won their games. We lost at girls softball, since most of our team was just beginning to learn the game. Many of the campers took advantage of the fact that it was visiting day and invited their relatives who live in the USA to join us, so that added to the number of fans! The new campers got into painting their faces with blue or green paint and banging on makeshift drums. Now, late at night, the drums are quiet, most people are sleeping and the moon is parading across the sky over the lake, just like a dream.
International Day | July 8
Sometimes everything just falls into place the way it would if you had been able to plan it that way. At the end of the second week, Camp is usually buzzing with conversations in every language but English as the campers struggle among themselves with observations about the people on the other side of their conflicts. The morning and afternoon were taken up with long dialogues, knowing that this evening would be spent sharing an international feast together and listening to singers from the Middle East and South Asia who had come to visit Camp. For the picnic, our kitchen staff worked all day to produce lovely and abundant dishes that tasted like home to the Middle Eastern and South Asian campers. Everyone was encouraged to wear national clothing and there were many beautiful dresses and tunics, making it also a feast for the eyes. After we all ate more food than we usually do, there was spontaneous folk dancing and then we changed back into our green shirts.
Then the music began. Eran Houja, a Seed who is a music major and just happened to show up today, joined the Israeli singer, Smadar Levi. Eran played the guitar while Smadar sang in Hebrew and Arabic. Then the Pakistani singers, Shumaila Hussein and Nauman Lashari, took the microphone. They were accompanied by our own music staff who were all enjoying combining styles of music from all over the world. The campers and adults were swept away by this music and a really good feeling enveloped everyone who was present. The high spirits of 160 campers couldn’t be toned down; in the end, when a PS camper was asked how he would characterize this evening, he said, “It was 160 people, but one soul.”
World Cup | July 9
Truthfully, we thought that showing a replay of the World Cup final to the campers tonight would have been enough. Wrong! The campers, counselors, and facilitators insisted that watching the World Cup in real time was more important than anything else; three billion people all over the world would be watching the game and Seeds of Peace should be counted among them. Several days ago we began looking into how we might show the game on a big screen in the big hall. To our surprise, we found out that we could get it at Camp, despite our remote location, but we didn’t tell the campers about it since we wanted to make it a surprise. So, while 20 members of foreign news agencies watched our lunch-time Line-Up, Dor and Christiana, both facilitators, began to discuss the prospect of the World Cup, both in English and in German. After much talk about not showing the game at Camp, Dor and Christiana announced that we would in fact show the game, live at 2:00 PM today. The campers erupted in whoops and hollers and high fives!
After lunch most of the campers and counselors got together with their bunkmates for the camp bunk pictures. They always have a good time with these. Some of the poses were definitely unique this time.
Tonight, the PSs are getting ready for their trip to Washington DC. While they are there, they will do a community service project with elementary school children in Washington through Junior Achievement, and they will be guests at an evening reception. Tomorrow they will visit many congressmen and senators until they get back on a plane to head home to Camp. The rest of camp will have a “normal day” and will begin rehearsing for the ever-popular Talent Show.
PSs visit Washington | July 10-11
Peer Support campers (PSs) awoke at 2:30 a.m. to drive to Manchester, NH, for their early morning flight to Washington, DC. Needless to say, everyone slept on the 3-hour bus-ride and the 1.5-hour flight. But they hit the ground running once they arrived, first by going to a charter school in SE Washington to teach basic economic practices to elementary school students (ages 6-12). Junior Achievement materials gave them the structure for each group. For three hours, the PSs taught and played games with children who were eager to learn. Our group had the best time teaching them all the table cheers from the dining hall too. In the evening, there was a wonderful dinner party at the home of a Pakistani family in D.C. in honor of philanthropist Esther Coopersmith. Ms. Coopersmith was one of the very first people to support the idea of creating Seeds of Peace. Many ambassadors and Congressional leaders were in attendance, and Seeds spoke to the guests about their experience.
The next day, the group spent much time on Capitol Hill, where senators and members of the House of Representatives work. The Seeds met with Senator Hillary Clinton and observed from the gallery the speeches on the Senate floor. The most fun and important part of the day was a 2-hour pizza lunch in the Senate, hosted by Seeds of Peace and attended by many Congressional leaders including Cong. Nick Rahall, Cong. Nita Lowey, Cong. Joseph Biden, Cong. Joseph Crowley, Cong. Jim McDermott, Cong. Mark Udall, Cong. Howard Berman, Cong, Jim Moran, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Cong. Tom Allen and Cong. Dennis Kucinich. Senator Carl Levin sponsored the luncheon. Later the group met with Sen. Olympia Snow and Sen. Susan Collins, both from Maine. At the lunch, the Seeds spoke to the legislators and asked many questions of them. This was one of the times when it was really appropriate to speak about political issues between the US government and the rest of the world. The Seeds’ speeches touched on US involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the registration of Muslims upon entering the USA, and civil rights issues for prisoners of war.
By the end of the day, everyone was soooo ready to be back at Camp, even though the DC trip was an amazing experience for all of them.
Talent Show | July 12
The news from the Middle East and South Asia has an impact on everyone here—both the campers and the adult educators—especially when the news has them worried about the safety of their loved ones back home. No one should ever get the impression that Camp proceeds as if nothing is wrong. We do not hide the news that is happening in the world outside of Maine; it is posted daily for all to see. We expect that that the news about increased tensions and violence in the regions where our campers come from only reinforces the need for programs like Seeds of Peace to keep going. As Tim, our Camp director, said this morning at Line-Up, we are here in Maine with a job to do. No one with us at our Camp is responsible for what is happening in the regions of conflict represented here. We have a job to do and we will continue as we always have done. Even when our founder, John Wallach, passed away, while we were in the midst of Color Games, we finished the games.
The morning Line-Up revealed that the first row, usually occupied by the ladies of Bunk 1, was empty. Even after three wake-up bells, they were nowhere to be seen. So, Tim took the storm-warning horn, walked over to their bunk, opened the door and honked them to attention! He then walked back to the rest of the campers, chuckling all the way, and waited for their entrance. They streamed out of their bunk, one by one, until the three highly-esteemed counselors brought up the rear.
We had dialogue groups in the morning and afternoon so that we would have enough time for the Talent Show and the beginning of color games. We took pictures of the dialogue groups for the first time this year. These groups form bonds just as powerful as the bunk groups. It is in these groups that they share their differing narratives, lay out their impressions of each other, and learn to listen and speak in a way that allows deep understanding. Throughout the day these groups also have fun activities together such as soccer and baseball.
The Talent Show always brings out the best in us. The acts, selected in try-outs, included delegation performances of ethnic dances and songs, bunk group dances, special activity group performances, small groups singing and musical instrument playing. Jesse sang John Wallach’s favorite song, Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream, and Tim concluded the show with a song about freedom.
And, then, since it was raining hard, we had the surprise (for the new campers) opening of Color Games in the Big Hall. Usually, this occurs at the fire pit, where a big bonfire dominates the scene. But, perhaps we will be able to have a bonfire when we are closing Color Games. The coaches and the rules were introduced. The full Camp was divided into two large teams, Blue and Green. From now on until Color Games ends on Saturday at noon, campers are either Blue or Green. Regardless of their nationality or religion, they have new “identities” just for these three days. But, as any former camper can tell you, their color identity seems to stay with them years later. They form bonds from all the competitions, working hard as a team to reach their goals. Winning and losing together makes some of the other arbitrary differences among human beings fade into the background, at least for this short time and maybe for the rest of their lives too. It will be the high point of their camp experience.
Color Games | July 13
The team that wins the giant rope pull before breakfast on the first morning of Color Games usually has a pretty good first day; this time was no exception. The Green team took the rope pull victory and ran with it all day long. However, the Blue team was only 200 points behind by dinnertime. So, it was not exactly a rout, as it sometimes is when one team gets discouraged while the other team has a field day.
We had many laughable moments as people tried to play soccer and Frisbee on very wet and soggy fields from all the rain. In fact, even the rope pull was done in the rain. Luckily, by mid-morning, the sun came out and it became hot. All the bunks rotated through softball, soccer, basketball, tennis, Frisbee, volleyball, street hockey, ping-pong and Steal-the-Bacon. Now we are starting with the “all-star” games, the very serious competitions between seasoned players.
No doubt all the former campers reading this report can recite all the cheers for their team, even now. Each year, the team members support each other by various gimmicks—like holding their hands clasped above their heads or walking like a human chain, hand in hand. The coaches for each team work morning, noon and night to prepare for all the competitions. Tonight they are no doubt working on their programs for the Variety Show. A good night’s sleep for the coaches is out of the question, but the campers gladly went to bed early.
The White team is made up of counselors and facilitators. This year they have become a comedy act, as well as referees for all the activities. They have their own cheers, such as, “We’re White, we’re White, and even if we’re wrong, we’re right!” And they made their own scoreboard, which is way ahead of the one showing the scores of the Blue and Green teams.
It is so wet here in the woods that many of the tree trunks are literally covered with green lichen which is hiding their true dark brown color. The stream that runs past the art shack is flowing like a waterfall. The frogs are out hopping around everywhere, especially the tiny, newborn ones. We are as close to being in a rainforest as we can be, except for the beautiful cool breezes which make Maine the place to be in the summer.
Color Games, Day II | July 14
The second day of Color Games began at 7 a.m. with the pre-breakfast running race, with each team passing a baton from one player to another at four positions around the road that loops through Camp. The boys race was decisive but the girls had a tie when an amazing athlete, named Chloe, caught up to another girl who had been significantly ahead when she received the baton. Later Chloe and Danielle got to compete head to head and toe to toe in the all-star soccer match. Boys’ all-star soccer and basketball were great. The all-star games are fun to watch because they are played so well. But, the swim relays give everyone a chance to compete, so that is a good thing as well. Lest anyone think that we are only about sports on these days, you should also be aware that there are competitions in creative writing, drama, cooking, artwork, dancing and chess. Sailing had to be postponed twice because the wind died down to nothing just at the time it was scheduled.
Almost everyone loves the variety show competitions on the second night. Each team has to come up with a skit about “what Tim is really saying,” an a capella song, a group dance, a pantomime about “the other side,” and last but not least, their own original Camp song, performed by the entire team. The skits were hilarious. One team had “Tim” being born and immediately saying, “Been there, done that!” They also had him missing the school bus, later on in his childhood and then crying bitterly as the school bus driver yelled back, “If you ain’t on the bus, you ain’t on the bus!” These quotes are Tim’s favorite sayings at camp.
Campers sometimes have relatives who visit them. We ask them to follow the campers around in their activities. One camper’s mother was here today. She had been undergoing months of medical treatment in the USA and really wanted to be able to see her child, after a long absence. At the end of the day, she said that although she had endured many weeks of intensive medical treatments, the best treatment she could ever have was her visit to our Camp. Here she found the hope and inspiration that will give her the courage to go on.
Color Games, Day III | July 15
The final day of Color Games began with a brand new race for us, called “Pass the Bucket.” Before breakfast, the Blue team lined up along the road by the bunks on one side of the boys’ dock and the Green team lined up on the other side. Runners filled buckets with water and the buckets were passed from one team member to another using both hands, with the objective of filling a trash can with water all the way at the end of each line of campers. They also had to pass the empty buckets back to the runners, who would keep filling them and passing them back. Often a full bucket had to be passed in one direction at the same time as an empty one had to be passed in the opposite direction. Green finished first but the Blue team never got dispirited.
Some all-star games and the sailing from yesterday took place after breakfast. Then we began the Message to Hajime in earnest. There were 103 actions that the teams had to complete as fast as possible, concluding with the memorization of the message itself. Every time an action was completed, such as drinking a can of Coke quickly, a runner would pass the baton to the next station, where another action, like completing an algebra problem, was taking place. There were other actions, like an egg toss, a 3-legged race, walking with a book balanced on one’s head, a ping-pong rally of six volleys, drawing the flags of all 8 delegations at Camp, etc. Between each action, a runner was led either on foot or on a bike by a counselor who kept cheering and pointing them in the right direction. Midway throughout the race, one could tell that the counselors are running on adrenalin only. Of course the weather was also an issue, as it was one of the hottest, muggiest days we have had here. As both teams completed every task except the message itself, Camp settled down to a hush, so that one person from each team could memorize the passage in English, which was unfamiliar to both and kind of complicated. Tim and Bobbie, sequestered in separate rooms of the big hall, listened as both campers recited the passage perfectly on the first try. Leslie opened the big hall door and the group burst forward to announce the end of the game.
Down at the boys’ dock, both teams and their coached waited to hear the scores and find out who had won. At last they learned that the Blue team had taken Hajime but the Green team won the overall Color Games so they went into the lake first. They were soon followed by the Blue team. Playful splashing and hugs abounded. It is a sight to behold when you see all these “enemies” congratulating each other and exchanging team shirts.
Tonight Bobbie conducted a Quaker silent meeting for those who wanted to sit quietly and share insights. Most of the campers and some of the counselors attended the meeting, which began with about twenty minutes of shared silence in a circle. Then, one by one, people began to speak about the realizations they have had at Camp, the value of their experience and the wisdom they have gained. Quakers believe that every human being is equal in worth to every other person on earth, all of whom have an “inner light” or God’s wisdom inside themselves. When a community of people sits silently, they are bound to come up with some thoughts that will help the others cope with their lives. Given the fierce hostility going on in both regions of conflict represented at Camp, this silent meeting helped people become more centered and prepared for going home.
Bunk Night, when the campers spend the last hours before bedtime with their bunkmates, was the perfect ending for this day. Each bunk was reunited, as the blue and green temporary divisions of Color Games were put aside.
Making Memories Last | July 16
The heat and humidity are making a swim in the lake a necessity. The Super Special Sailing activity group did go sailing across the lake to Casco today to get an ice cream cone. Three hours later, they had their ice cream. They were up against a stoppage of wind for a couple of hours. Most people can walk to Casco in less than two hours. You have to love sailing to do it the way they did.
The rest of us were putting photo and autograph albums together for two hours. Bobbie takes pictures constantly at Camp. The culmination of so much photography is the day the albums are given to the campers, along with several pictures to add to their own collection. From then on, the campers go from person to person asking for messages to be written on the blank pages or pages with pictures. They creatively design their own way of remembering their experience at Camp. A company called Creative Memories donates hundreds of albums and supplies for this project. After the campers go home, these albums not only serve to remind them of their important relationships and experiences at camp; they also provide an illustrative way to show their friends and families what they have done for the last three weeks.
Following a delicious cookout, we had a memorial service for Asel Asleh, a beloved Seed, who was killed by Israeli police during a demonstration against brutality on October 2, 2000. At the age of 17, he died in his own village, Arrabe, in the Galilee. This summer, because the Seeds his age are now facilitators and counselors, we were able to have a memorial tribute made by Seeds who were in camp with Asel. Tomer Perry, Manar, Adi and Sawsan were close to Asel. Tomer noted that he is now a counselor in bunk 15 where he and Asel were campers. Asel, who was a prolific writer in Arabic, Hebrew and English, left behind many letters and essays, some of which were read out loud tonight. Tomer sang his original version of the SOP song, just as he had last summer, I am Asel of Peace. There weren’t very many dry eyes.
The adult delegation leaders spent the day cooking a glorious international meal at a local church, as a final activity for their group. They have some very fine cooks among them. Later on tonight, we made a bonfire at the fire pit close to the lake. The coaches from the Color Games each took turns speaking about the lessons they learned as they encouraged all the campers to do their best, all through the competitions. The campers listened with rapt attention and deep respect. It was a good way to unite Camp just before going to sleep. Tomorrow is our last day of Camp before the new Seeds depart for homes far away and far from the peaceful life they have had on Pleasant Lake.
Last Day of Camp | July 17
The last day of Camp began with a PS prank that required the cooperation of the state troopers who guard Camp day and night and most of the administrative staff. The staff kept Tim, our camp director since 1993, occupied. In the early morning hours, all the green benches from the Line-uUp area were moved to where the bell is located. The PSs woke the other campers, who all assembled on the benches. When Tim came out to ring the bell and call out “Allllllllup!” he was met by the campers and a sign that said, “We’re one step ahead of you!” This is a phrase that Tim often uses when speaking to them. They had also painted his golf cart. See the photos of that because it is beyond description.
Everyone had their final dialogue group this morning. After lunch we gave each camper a research survey to determine if Camp has had an impact on their attitudes toward one another. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the lake—free swim for the last time. At night, we had a funny slideshow done by the PSs. Then we had an in-house band play both familiar and original music. Our music staff is out of this world this summer. Then we had a Café Night for album-signing, which is being done in earnest. This was followed by a bonfire in the fire-pit, a wonderful final speech by Tim, which received a standing ovation, and singing of Leaving on a Jet Plane, The Winds of Change, and the ever-popular Seeds of Peace song.
The PSs always end the session in the trophy room, where they have spent several hours each day with Wes. It is home for them. It is hard to say goodbye to them, once again, and hard for them to say goodbye as well. But, we will all be leaving early in the morning. And thus ends the first session, 2006.
The South Asian Trip to DC | July 18-19
The South Asian campers have two and a half days in Washington, DC added to their Camp session, as part of their particular program. The objectives of this visit to DC are to enhance their knowledge of the US system of government, offer them opportunities to speak with government officials whose policies and decisions affect their own countries, and enjoy a visit to a very important and beautiful city, together, as friends, rather than separately, as they arrived three and a half weeks ago.
After their first shopping trip since coming to the USA, the group enjoyed a nighttime visit to the Lincoln Memorial. The following morning, they had a rare opportunity to speak with the chief justice of a newly-formed Copyright Royalty Court, Judge James Scott Sledge. They met with the judge in the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. Judge Sledge explained our system of democracy, the court system and his court in particular, as well as the laws and policies regarding intellectual property.
The National Museum of the American Indian was a great place for lunch and informal touring of the exhibits there. The campers learned that one Indian custom, the talking stick, was very much like the way we pass around an object in group discussions, to designate who the speaker is, while the others are encouraged to listen. They were also fascinated by the dream catchers, which look like spider webs and are believed to keep bad dreams at bay.
In the afternoon, the campers had a high level meeting at the State Department, which funds most of the programs for South Asian campers. They met with Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Richard Boucher and his assistant, Larry Schwartz. The campers asked many questions about US foreign policy in South Asia, as well as in the Middle East. They discussed the role of oil consumption, the invasion of Iraq, the nuclear agreement with India, scholarship money for graduate students and the relationship of Afghanistan to the Indo-Pak conflict. The State Department officials expressed their intention of having Afghans included in all the programs for Indians and Pakistanis, given the interests of everyone in the region as well as the USA.
At night there was a boat ride on the Potomac River, which runs through Washington. The campers watched the landscape of greenery and monuments glide by as the boat made its way along the river. With homemade pizza and their favorite popular music, the campers celebrated their stay in the USA together.
By the morning, the campers were packed and ready for the last few hours of their Seeds of Peace summer. As the morning progressed, they were all trying to capture each precious moment left with hugs, both singly and in groups. The Air and Space Museum was barely a distraction from the impending separation that going home would mean. At the end, the campers from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan put their arms around each other and sang our camp song, I am a Seed of Peace. This also happened when the Palestinians and Israelis arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv. They did the same spontaneous thing, even in the midst of an active war.
SESSION TWO: MIDDLE EAST & MAINE
The pre-Camp report | July 23
It was only a few days ago when our staff said goodbye and farewell to the campers from first session, but we have to prepare immediately for the campers who are already en route for the second session. This time, most of the campers will be from the Middle East (Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians and Jordanians) and the rest will be from the State of Maine. Aside from missing the campers who just left us, we are all gearing up to welcome a new group of young people who will come in separate delegations all day tomorrow.
We are cognizant of the fact that the Israelis and Palestinians will be coming from active war zones, while the Egyptians and Jordanians will also be carrying emotional baggage, as neighbors to the war between Israel and Hezbollah going on now, in addition to the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Maine campers will have heard about the war, but only from a very remote position. We expect to have more challenges than we had in the first session. “Having fun with people from the other side” might not be acceptable behavior, at least for the first few days. It is always a challenge to pull together the divergent and oppositional groups at Camp into a supportive community, but this time around, it may be a lot harder.
During the interim between First and Second Session, Camp was cleaned and repaired, making ready for another round. The counselors all got a few days off and the new facilitators arrived from the Middle East. They are mostly graduate Seeds who have been trained as facilitators and come with the valuable experience of having been campers years ago. The staff was briefed on the crises in the Middle East by Aaron Miller. That produced a lot of discussions which continued informally for a couple of hours. Finally, the staff was re-oriented by veteran Seeds facilitator and former head counselor Wil Smith. The staff went through a number of exercises, but the most fun was forming a “human cinnamon bun” with Leslie, our pregnant head counselor, in the center. The staff dedicated themselves to doing the best job possible and caring for each other. Then it was time to get some “preemptive” sleep. Tim will ring the bell at 7 a.m.
Arrival Day | July 24
We woke up to a glorious, sunny, breezy Maine summer day. It stayed sunny all day. Each arriving delegation was able to experience the beauty of this place, with the sunlight sparkling on the water in the lake and the blue sky overhead with pristine, white clouds. What a way to begin!
First of all, everyone got on the right plane, made good time and got to where they were supposed to arrive, without losing luggage! This is a “first!” By 10:00 PM, every new camper had eaten, taken their suitcases to the bunks, met their counselors and bunkmates, taken research surveys, played some games and climbed into a sleeping bag for the night. They are sleeping next to their “enemies,” safely, and will awake in the morning to discover that their bunkmates are having the same reactions to being away from home and are brushing their teeth, taking a shower, just like everyone else they know.
The frogs in the creek near Bunk #1 are croaking with gusto, as the skunks and raccoons make their way around Camp looking for new food supplies. In the early morning hours, the loons on the lake will sing their mating calls. Some campers will wake up very early, since their inner clocks will be off by seven hours, but others will want to sleep until noon. So we shall compromise and all wake up to the bell at 7:00 AM.
Clap, clap, bang-ba-bang! | July 25
Every camp has its traditions. Ours is no exception. For instance, the table cheers get passed on from one session of Camp to another. By the second day, the campers know some of the table cheers and you can hear the roar of “clap, clap, bang-ba-bang … ooooooooh” coming from the dining hall right after the plates have been cleared. Before each meal, Leslie leads the campers and counselors in a blessing that someone made up many years ago, “For Friendship, Health, Love and Opportunity, We are Thankful!”
Today the new campers were taught the Camp Song, the lyrics of which were composed by a Seed from 1993, Amgad Naguib. There are all sorts of variations on how it can be sung and it ends with two energetic cheers, making it fun to do together. At the Line-Up before dinner tonight, all the campers sang the song in unison. Well, they sang as much as they could remember! Tomorrow at the flag raising ceremony, they will sound even better.
Making a name button is also a tradition but today the PS boys combined that with flaunting the rule about jewelry (it is discouraged). They must have had too much time in the art shack because they came out with homemade “bling” from which they dangled their name buttons. It is a tradition for the older returning campers, called PSs, to make fun of Camp rules a bit. Toward the end of Camp, they invariably come up with a prank that pokes fun at some aspect of Camp life. However, there is always a price to pay if they take the pranks too far. Tim can always find jobs for them at 6:00 AM, when he gets up.
Since we gave everyone a swim test, the lake was rough and choppy, just like it always is for swim tests. They also got Frisbee lessons and began to see the beauty of the “Steal the Bacon” game. Some female campers figured out that the “Steal the Bacon” game is mostly strategy. So they decided that it was all about “the face.” If you make a scary face, it will throw off your opponent enough to steal the bacon from right under her nose.
We had three camper birthdays plus the birthday of our new COO, Steven Flanders, today. Everyone had to skip around the room, twice, as is our tradition, and they were given the chance to choose whom to take to dinner. The campers decided to take every single camper with them but no counselors. Hmmm … could this be the beginning of something? No doubt, after tonight’s “bunk night,” the campers will see the wisdom of remembering their counselors, who just might bring them snacks occasionally.
So, we have begun the job of creating a community from divergent and even hostile groups at Camp. The rules and traditions contribute to this creation, along with the sea of green T-shirts, the songs and the shared challenges. This commonality provides a safety net for the days ahead, when difficult conversations will test their new relationships and capacity to work for peaceful resolutions to conflicts.
The flags and the anthems | July 26
Second year campers, known as PSs, spoke at the flag raising ceremony, which is held at the beautiful front gate of our Camp, and each delegation sang its anthem. The flags remain raised and waving in the wind, outside the gate, as the campers turn their attention to becoming part of the Seeds of Peace community inside the gate. The Seeds of Peace Song is sung by everyone and then the whole Camp symbolically proceeds to enter the camp together. Reporters from many media sources attended the ceremony and interviewed several campers. No doubt, this small event is one of the few rays of light as opposed to what is being reported from Lebanon, Israel and Gaza.
This was a hot and humid day, so whenever that happens, we take advantage of the lake. After rest hour, the entire Camp stayed cool by swimming and boating all afternoon. There also were tennis lessons, baseball, “Steal the Bacon” and “Group Challenge,” our ropes course. A seven-year-old boy named Jake was visiting Camp. He became so enthralled with “Steal the Bacon” that he literally took over the game at one point. He was darting through the long legs of the teenage girls, reaching for the ball before they even noticed and running back to the starting point faster than anyone else. No one minded and in fact, he made everyone laugh. Whenever people laugh together, we know that another layer of fear and hatred is being lifted.
Often at Line-Up, groups perform something for the whole Camp. Today the PS boys from Bunk 18 performed a song about living the farthest away in the last bunk. Here are the words:
We live so far away (in the outback!)
It takes us half a day (just to get back!)
Late to Line-Up
We can’t help it
Bunk 18’s so far … away!
In the outback
We have seen all kinds of messes.
We just want to lay them out for you.
Here are a few:
When you wrap up your laundry
And think it will come back clean,
You should not be too surprised
If everything you’ve got turns green.
If you are worried about stinking,
When you run into a skunk,
After two weeks with no time to shower,
Wait till you smell your bunk.
Tim’s on the golfcart,
Leslie’s on the golfcart,
Zaqloub’s on the golfcart,
State trooper’s on the golfcart,
Maintenance’s on the golfcart,
Even Tim’s grandson gets to ride the golfcart …
But we have to walk … from the outback!
Tonight, the Counselor Show about all the activities at Camp was a lot of fun. Skits about basketball, music, dance, art, tennis, soccer, the waterfront, etc. kept the campers laughing and cheering for their counselors. Earlier, the campers had their dialogue sessions, at which they started to talk about some of their similarities and differences. But at the end of the day we like to pull the whole Camp back together for some fun before going to bed for the night. It isn’t all fun and games at Seeds of Peace, but we try to end each day with an enjoyable activity. Tonight was just right.
Casco Days begin | July 27
Casco is a little town at the other end of our lake, about 2 miles away from Camp. Really good canoe paddlers and sailors can go there for ice cream, but other than a general store, a church, a fitness center, and a retirement home, you would not call it “the big city.” But, when Leslie was announcing who would be going to the Casco Days fair tonight, she told them that they would be going to the big city at the end of the lake! If they were disappointed, they certainly didn’t show it. An old-fashioned country fair is lots of fun! You can toss coins for prizes, ride on little cars, eat cotton candy and fried dough, drink Coke or lemonade or just walk around and socialize. In the end, there was a fireworks display, which would have been fine if so many of these young people hadn’t come from Jenin, Haifa and north of Haifa, where similar sounds these days mean danger. The fireworks didn’t spoil the evening, but it must have been a sad reminder.
This morning, everyone had their first “special activity.” These are unique activities, devised by the staff, to expand the curriculum. Everyone chooses from a long list of possibilities. “Meet the Parents” is one example. The campers are invited to sit down with people who have been working at Camp for a long time. Today they went to Bobbie’s cabin and saw pictures of some of the facilitators at Camp when they were campers. They heard about how Seeds of Peace got started, what the good times and the hard times have been like, and some of the most memorable stories. Tomorrow and the next days, they will hear from other people who have been part of the staff for a long time.
Howie “Kapowie” is an entertaining singer beyond compare. He teaches the campers all sorts of participatory songs that just make everyone laugh. His songs called “Cuckoo” and “Mary Mack” are the favorites. If the kitchen workers are not quite ready with dinner, we bring Howie to Line-Up and let him entertain the whole Camp at once.
Delegation Leaders are the educators who come along with the campers from their homelands. One of them, Khader, came with the Palestinian delegation this time. There were supposed to be four delegation leaders coming with the new campers, but two of them didn’t get visas to come to the USA and another one had to drop out for a family emergency. So, that left Khader, who was the head of the delegation. The night before he was to leave for Camp, he played soccer with his young sons. Unfortunately, this game resulted in a major shoulder injury. But, he couldn’t let that keep him from accompanying his delegation. He had been to Seeds of Peace once before and he knew how beneficial it would be for the campers. So, he put his arm in a sling, grabbed a suitcase with his good arm and came to Camp anyway. There are many other dedicated delegation leaders, but Khader surely deserves our applause this time.
More power to you | July 28
Tonight there was a heavy downpour from a strong storm just before dinner. Because the soil around us is mostly sand, the water just accumulates in large puddles or pours down to the lake in fast-moving streams, whenever the rain comes heavy and hard. It’s not a good feeling when the electric power goes out just when you know your dinner is being prepared in the kitchen. Nevertheless, our dinner was served right on time. But doing the dishes might not have been possible.
With the power out, we moved into survival mode, hauling buckets of water to flush the toilets and finding candles to light the cabins. No one could take a shower because our water pump is run by electricity. The evening activities had to be changed to “Bunk Night.” Even Casco Days must have come to a complete halt. Counselors were scrambling to come up with hours of entertainment, since no one was ready for bed at 7:00 PM. We ruled out mud-sliding, out of a fear of broken bones. The old-timers among us remember when Tim showed us how to do a running mud-slide, after a rain such as the one we had today. But, that was then. This is now. We don’t do that anymore. The power returned at “lights out” time, so that solved the quandary about what we should do when it was “lights out” and when there were no lights on.
There is a lot of music in Camp, thanks to the extraordinary music staff. They all play multiple instruments and enjoy making music all the time. The type of music is varied, sometimes familiar, sometimes new and different. But, they never fail to engage people, even the ones who are still not sure if this place is “for real.” Our Camp is a bit like “Brigadoon,” the magical town in the musical play that only appeared once in a hundred years. The Seeds of Peace Camp appears once a year for the summer only, but it feels so natural to live this way that it is hard to believe that it will have to end again in two weeks.
Second Place in the Casco Days Parade | July 29
“The big city,” Casco, has a big parade on the last day of Casco Days each year. There are entries in the parade from many small towns and businesses in this area of Maine, as well as the fire departments and a collection of antique cars. People come from all over the state and there are tourists here from everywhere. The paraders dress up in costumes with a variety of themes and there are several kinds of marching bands in it. Nearby camps, like ours, also enter the parade competition. Usually, the camps just compete among themselves. But this year, Seeds of Peace was so magnificent that we were entered in the “overall” competition and won second place! This was a thrill for the PSs, our music staff band and Delegation Leaders, as well as Wes and Tim, who conceived and led our New Orleans style performance, with capoeira dancing. Camper and counselor runners also participated in a country road race with 500 other people this morning.
Today we had an unusual bunk inspection. Generally, the bunks are cleaned by the inhabitants (campers and counselors) right after breakfast and then they are inspected by the head counselors, Zaqloub and Mariah. But today, the bunks were inspected by the state troopers who guard Camp. The trooper who inspected the male bunks thought some of them were downright scary. But, on the female side, the bunks were judged to be pretty near perfect. There was one exception to this rule, though. Boys Bunk 15 got a perfect score of 10. Then came a new wrinkle on this system: two counselors, Sarabeth and Pavan, went behind the scenes and inspected the abodes of Zaqloub, Mariah and Tim. Tim, our camp director, got a 9.3. Suffice it to say, Zaqloub and Mariah must be spending too much time riding around on their golf cart during morning clean-up.
This was also the day the campers have their first delegation meeting with their delegation leaders. At this time they are encouraged to use their native languages and share experiences at Camp. This is usually almost as comforting as a phone call home. The delegation leaders go through a similar process in a program designed for adults, so they can relate to what the campers are experiencing. While the delegations were meeting, the counselors and facilitators met together to check in with each other on how the campers are doing. The delegation leaders had already met with the facilitators earlier today. So, everyone is up-to-date with the campers, until whatever tomorrow may bring!
Strange things are happening | July 30
Sometimes, the strangest things happen here. Yesterday, one of the novice water skiers got up and then went down in the lake and emerged without his swim trunks. Last night, at the Casco Days fair, a very tall boy went into the “moon bounce,” a trampoline contraption designed for little children, and hit himself so hard with his knee that he needed thirteen stitches above his eye.
We are also at the point when the dialogue groups are beginning to break through the surface of their discussions and are grappling with the hard issues. Up until now, the facilitators have been careful not to allow their groups to get too deeply into the hot issues, so that some bonds between members of opposing sides of the conflict can form and act as a cushion when the discussions become more intense. Now that one week has passed, it is time to give the groups a chance to expose the stereotypes, the different versions of history and personal narratives.
It was a gorgeous, sunny and dry Maine day, great for taking pictures. So we took most of the bunk pictures. Tomorrow will be another beautiful day. Those big tall guys from the NBA will be inaugurating the new field house with its first basketball master class. The maintenance men were busy putting the basketball standards together, just as the NBA players began to arrive.
National Basketball Association Day | July 31
Today the tall ones arrived at Camp, with much fanfare and welcome. Those of us who are vertically challenged were in awe of these contenders to the tall pine trees which populate our Camp, but some of them were not that tall. B.J. Armstrong, Jordan Farmar and Andrea Stinson are normal-sized. But, LaMarcus Aldridge, Etan Thomas and Brian Scalabrine really do need to sit down to converse with regular folks. Every one of them was really interested in what we are doing here at Camp. They spent all the time they were off the court interacting with the campers. They gave master classes as well as elementary classes, with the same careful attention and endless encouragement.
In honor of NBA day, we were able to use the new field house for the first time. Howie and Daniel made up a special song for them and the special activity dance class created the “half-time entertainment” for the games they played tonight. There were three games: one with the male counselors, one with the female counselors and the third with the all-star campers. Of course, the NBA players prevailed in all the games, but during a “knock out basketball” warm-up game, Amy, one of our counselors, knocked out one of the NBA players. We might have to make her a plaque to put up in the trophy room! Rock on Amy!
Tonight was our International Dinner, which puts an extra burden on our kitchen to make food that resembles the kinds of dishes that are common primarily in the Middle East. It is never as good as “Mom’s cooking,” but it does have some of the cherished flavors the campers have been missing. They are encouraged to wear their native costumes, which certainly brighten up the event. In fact, this event is a photographer’s dream with the mixture of colors and designs. Invariably, someone comes along with a drum and then the dancing begins!
The dialogue sessions were also part of this day. The serious nature of the discussions, especially in light of the war going on in the Middle East, should not go without mention. We have fun at Camp, but part of each day is spent learning about the narrative of the people from the other side of the conflict, learning how to listen to statements contrary to one’s own beliefs and how to speak in a way that allows others to hear what one has to say. This is far from easy, when so much is at stake.
The Peer Support trip to DC | August 1-2
Twenty-six peer support campers, Wes, Danielle, Howie and Bobbie left Camp at 4 a.m. for a two-day trip to Washington DC. (Let’s hear it for Leslie, who got out of bed to send them on their way!) The kitchen packed bags of breakfast snacks and lots of water for everyone. They started hydrating in preparation for the temperature in DC, which had a heat index of 110 degrees F, although the thermometer said “only” 95 degrees F. Either way you measure it, the heat was almost intolerable.
The first stop was the Minor Elementary School, where the Seeds taught money matters to children in grades kindergarten through sixth grade. First the Seeds were taught the curriculum for Junior Achievement, so they could use that method to teach the students. They were also invited to see the “Talent Show” that was done by all the students in the school. The Seeds responded by singing the Seeds of Peace Song for the children. Then the work began. The students were eager to learn and the Seeds were delighted to work with them. The younger the children, the more play-time had to be allowed. The kindergarten group played many games, but the most fun seemed to be the one called “Cat and Mouse.” Many of the Seeds left the school feeling like the trip was worth all the effort already!
In the evening, there was a SOP event at a very popular new restaurant called Busboys and Poets. It is owned by Seed Alia Shallal’s father, who did a great job MC-ing the program. Many SOP supporters were present as members of the PS group took turns talking about their SOP experience and fielding questions from the attendees. When the event was over, the Seeds gratefully settled down for a good night’s sleep.
In the morning, the group went to the White House for a private question-and-answer session with Ambassador Michael Kozak from the National Security Council. He is the Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Organizations. The Seeds were encouraged to ask political questions, which they had no problem doing. They asked about the war in Iraq and Lebanon, the Palestinian and Israeli Conflict and the contradictions between policy and actual practice in US diplomacy.
Then, three of the Seeds spoke at the Arab Educators conference, which is also run by Seeds of Peace, held at American University. Thirty school principals and teachers listened to the Seeds describe what they liked most and liked the least about the way they are taught in their respective Arab schools. The educators asked many questions about their SOP experience as well. At the end, one of the school principals tearfully expressed her gratitude to the Seeds for restoring some hope in her.
The other Seeds visited the American Indian Museum, where they dined on Native American food.
The whole group then spent more than an hour in a roundtable discussion with Robert Danin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Once again the Seeds used this chance to speak with a key policymaker about the US role in the Middle East. Dr. Danin was also quite interested in hearing about what happens to the campers after they return home to their families and schoolmates. Several Seeds spoke about the way they have had to combat negative reactions and try to convince others that the SOP experience showed them how to think critically and have empathy for the people on the other side of their conflict.
Tomorrow should be a normal day at Camp. These campers will be ready for that!
Normal days | August 6
The past several days have been fairly normal, despite the disheartening news from Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Many campers with us at this time are from Haifa, the northern parts of Israel and deep into the West Bank. They come from all economic strata, including refugee camps. The cool crisp sunny days in Maine are thousands of miles away, but home is always on their minds. Coping with the worry about what is going on at home, while being so distant at Camp, is one of the most difficult challenges faced by the campers. It is no wonder that it manifests itself in many different ways.
Sometimes, the concern for home keeps some of the campers from talking openly to their bunkmates. That is why “Bunk Nights” are so important. Spending 90 minutes either in the cozy quarters of the bunk or alternatively in some other special place in Camp, with one’s bunkmates, playing a new game or creating a group project, can increase support in their bunks and ease the tension. That is what they are doing tonight. In the afternoon, several sports activities took on a more “laid-back” approach. Sometimes, a game of football is just too much. It might be better just to sit near the garden and talk.
This session we have tried a new approach to religious services. In the past, we have always invited everyone to attend each other’s services, be they Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Christian. But this time, we decided that the first service for each religion should be closed to those who are of different faiths. Then the following week, we had a special program in which every kind of religious service was explained to the whole Camp. After that, everyone was invited to attend them all. It looks like this is a more intelligent approach.
Board meeting at Camp | August 7
Once a year we like to invite the Board of Directors for Seeds of Peace up to Camp. Just being at Camp inspires them to work even harder to make Seeds of Peace a better organization. Their meeting lasted for hours, during which time several staff people told them about the changes at Camp. By far the most significant change is the presence of facilitators who were once campers themselves. A Seed facilitator and a Seed counselor also spoke with the Board about increasing the role of graduate Seeds in the decision-making process of Seeds of Peace.
The campers continued to have a fairly normal Camp experience today. Some of them varied their activities by taking lessons in African dance or yoga. Some went sailing, kayaking or canoeing. This evening they had a digital camera scavenger hunt. Instead of collecting objects, they photographed them. From the squeals of laughter heard around the camp tonight, it must have been a lot of fun. Tonight a rainstorm made just enough noise to lull everyone to sleep.
Creating memories | August 8
Sometimes it’s the funny stuff people do at Camp that keeps the program alive and entertaining. This morning, the PSs evidently were responsible for altering the color of the drinking water. Tim was ready to punish them with an early wake-up task for tomorrow morning, but he eventually gave that up. The whole Camp decided to coax Tim into letting everyone sleep late by lying on each other every which way on the benches, looking like they were sleeping at dinner Line-Up. The medical staff had also been urging us to give the campers some more time to sleep. So, Tim announced that the first bell would ring at 9:00 AM – a whole two hours later than usual!! Yay!
Sometimes it is the special art project that creates a lasting impression. A group of campers and counselors have been working together all week to create a mural on an old unused climbing wall in the woods. It is very tall, so they had to strap paint brushes on the ends of broom handles to reach the desired heights. One of the counselors, Nour, took wonderful pictures as the project progressed and was completed.
Other times there are challenges that stay in the minds of those who stretch to meet them. Today there were several people at the advanced ropes course who were taking risks and overcoming perceived weaknesses which will stay in their memory for years to come. One girl kept saying that she was too short and too fat to reach the element above her on the “vertical playground.” The counselors just would not accept those excuses and kept encouraging her to try different methods, which they knew could work for her. At last she took their advice and was able to reach the very top of the element and stand up with her partner. She found out that she only thinks she knows her limitations, but she will have to challenge herself more to find out what her true limitations really are. The days are rapidly approaching for her to test herself more than she ever has … Color Games are just around the corner.
The Talent Show and the start of Color Games | August 9
On a beautiful sunny and relatively cool day, everyone was energized. Of course, the fact that we all slept two hours later than usual might have been part of the reason that all the faces seemed to glow and people walked with heightened energy. The next time any of us will sleep late however, Camp will surely be over. From now on, it is gangbusters!
People had to audition for the Talent Show, with a theme of “The Oscars.” So, although Camp is filled with talented teenagers and adults, only those deemed to be the best were selected. First there was a ten-piece band that played like they had been performing together for years, but of course they had just formed the band last week. There were Hebrew and Arabic singers, who encouraged their audience to sing along with them. There were Debka dancers and African dancers, who were amazing. Even the delegation leaders had a funny skit and a beautiful video and song. They sang, I See the Moon, mixing English, Arabic and Hebrew throughout the song. At the end, there were three people who did not audition, but they did OK anyway. Noa Epstein (now a facilitator, and former camper) and Bobbie sang John Wallach’s traditionally favorite song, Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream, to honor his memory. Then Tim was given the “Lifetime Achievement” award and he finished the Talent Show by singing a song he wrote himself, My Life Has Been Golden.
Just when the new campers thought the evening was ending, all the counselors burst into the Big Hall, running and screaming like crazy! This signaled the start of Color Games! Tim then chased all the adults out of the Big Hall, while he explained the history of Color Games and the rules. During that time, the adults donned white Color Games T-shirts and held lighted torches in rows for the campers to walk, skip or run through. A big campfire glowed in the fire pit, as campers proceeded to the benches. Then Tim introduced each of the coaches for the Blue and Green teams, as they entered the area from land, lake, tree, auto or truck, in funky glory. Each one was more creative than the other. But, Sara fooled everyone by acting like one of the adults holding torches.
Tim called each bunk to the front where he was, calling off the names for the Blue and Green teams. Until their names are called, the campers are without an “identity,” so they get pretty anxious about which color team they will be on for Color Games. One by one, they find out to which team they will be loyal and unyielding in their effort to win. The teams each had their first meetings late tonight. Tomorrow will be the first test, right before breakfast—the all-Camp rope-pull. Stay tuned for the results.
First day of Color Games | August 10
While Color Games has two main colors, the staff at Camp who are not Color Games coaches for Green or Blue are actively involved as judges and referees in all the competitions. They are called the White team. As a group, they tend to offer some comic relief to the rest of the Camp, coming up with their own cheers, scores and competitive stunts. Their theme is, “We’re White, we’re White, and even when we’re wrong, we’re right!” Early this morning after the Green team had won the all-Camp rope-pull, the Whites picked up the long rope on one side and challenged the new Black Team, with one member—Wes. One of the White team members advised him to just drop the rope during the “pull,” which was very good advice. Of course, the White team celebrated their victory, just as if it had been a fair contest. During lunch, they had an “art event.” They made geodesic domes and other concoctions out of mini-marshmallows and toothpicks. However, when they are in their roles as judges and referees, every move is taken seriously. The Color Games of Seeds of Peace appeal to the highly competitive spirits of the campers, given that they are mostly high-achievers at home.
Seeds of Peace folklore has it that the team that starts off winning will end up losing. But that is not always true. What does seem to be a pattern is a tendency for one team to start off stronger, while the other team slowly gains more consistent strength. We generally see them going down to the wire, neck and neck. But this is a whole new group of people, so anything is possible. At lunchtime the Green team was ahead by a couple hundred points and the same was true at dinner. Rain put a damper on the “all-star” games tonight, but they will be played tomorrow.
It’s cold tonight, as the weather pattern is slowly inching toward what is typical for the end of the summer in Maine. The moon is full and bright over the lake. Most people are snuggled inside sleeping bags, except for the Color Games coaches, who are working til the wee hours, preparing for tomorrow’s events.
Second day of Color Games | August 11
The second day of Color Games, the pace picks up, beginning with the Race for Peace before breakfast, then the all-star games and the “Pass the Peace Pitcher” activity, the art competition, and creative writing, music, swimming, and cooking competitions. Behind the scenes, everyone was thinking about the variety show because it takes so much creativity and practice and it is worth so many points. On top of that, we have old Seeds visiting Camp from all over, including Egypt, Jordan, the Balkans and other parts of the USA.
One new camper commented that she is beginning to feel like she never wants to leave this place. She is worried that she will never see all these people again. Gradually, most of the campers come to these realizations as the last few days pass by quickly. But, Camp is the common experience all Seeds have and it is what continues to bind the community together, as soon as someone talks about Pleasant Lake or bunks or dialogue sessions or sings the Camp songs. If Seeds of Peace didn’t offer ongoing programs after Camp ends, the Camp experience would fade into the deep recesses of the mind, almost like a vivid dream. But, it doesn’t have to be that way, if Seeds participate in all the age-appropriate follow-up programs they help initiate.
The Green Team Song really captured how the campers are feeling tonight. It is called Never Forget.
Last night I had a dream so strange
Where I was not with you.
Camp was empty I alone but
Something through me stirred true
Lives were echoes through the trees
So real that I could touch
Singing a song so real
And it went as such:
I won’t forget you
Please don’t forget me
I won’t forget you
Please don’t forget me
People die and lives pass but
I am in control
Friendships that I will make last and
Values that I hold
Lives were echoes through the trees
So real that I could touch
Nowhere in the world has making
Friends ever meant so much
I won’t forget you
Please don’t forget me
Go Blue! | August 12
The score was very close because the Blue team won the variety show last night and the Green team won the Message to Hajime this morning, but in the end, the Blue team just had more points. Remember how the Green team scored so well in the first round of competitions? This is a familiar pattern in which the opposite team eventually takes the lead. Although last session the team that won competitions in the beginning also prevailed at the end. It’s largely a matter of team spirit, use of talent, and luck. The teams are evenly divided. We are less interested in the outcome of the competitions than in the outcome of the relationships, while the games are played and afterwards. Those who do their personal best and help others achieve their best, regardless of nationality or religion, get the most out of Color Games. One of the new campers noted that he had the chance to see what kind of person he really is and he found out about other people’s characters as well.
The Message to Hajime is one of the most engaging activities any camp could have and our Camp, in particular, does it very well. About 100 assignments are given to both teams, and runners from each individual contest carry the baton on to the next contest somewhere else in Camp. Our 44 acres seem to expand as the runners and coaches crisscross the land from one spot to another. Every camper has a role to play. But the most stressful role is the one played by the final team member who has to memorize and recite some strange passage, in English, exactly as it appears on the paper, faster than his/her opponent. Lior, a visiting Seed from Israel, was the messenger for his team in 1999. He could still recite the passage, seven years later!
Tonight was Bunk Night. It looked like some of the bunks would be devouring pizza, for a treat. The counselors and the bunkmates are back to being a little “Camp family” just two days before departure for their real homes.
Tim’s last day at Camp, unless he comes back tomorrow …
| August 13
This morning we heard Tim wake us up “Allllllllll Up! First bell!” as usual. Our Line-Ups were mostly about lost laundry, which was eventually found in various places all over Camp. The whole Camp boarded five buses for the trip to the Sea Dogs baseball game in Portland. Three people caught foul balls and many people ate too many hot dogs, hamburgers and Sea Dog biscuits. Lois, our diminutive nurse, admitted to eating TWO Sea Dog biscuits. In fact, people had eaten so much at the game we had to put off dinner by an hour.
Behind the scenes, several of us were working on a surprise goodbye event for Tim, who has been the Camp director for Seeds of Peace since the first year, 1993. Fourteen summers later, he needs a break! But, he won’t have a break until everyone has thanked him properly and bid him farewell. Tonight, we at Camp, plus many friends imported from all over Maine, the USA and the Middle East, did our best to show Tim how much he means to the Seeds and the staff at Seeds of Peace.
Tomorrow he will begin a new job that he has had before, coaching football at Dexter High School in Maine. We are trying to get him to come back at night for our final campfire.
Last full day of Camp | August 14
The day began with a Quaker silent meeting at 7:00 AM in the Small Hall. Many campers and counselors gave up the chance to sleep a little longer so they could share this experience. From the silence, about ten people spoke about the value they placed on their time spent at Camp and the changes they have made in themselves. In the morning, scrapbooks were given to all the campers, along with bunk, dialogue, delegation and other Camp pictures. They eagerly assembled their memory books and began passing them from one person to another for signing and writing messages. This book, donated by Creative Memories, makes leaving Camp a little more bearable. They will continue to sign them for each other until the moment they part tomorrow.
After lunch they took the same attitudinal surveys they had taken upon arrival three weeks ago. For the essay questions, they are permitted to write in their native languages. Then they were presented with “life after Camp” by older campers and staff from their regions. Bobbie told them about SeedsNet, a daily Listserv digest of letters between Seeds that has been functioning for seven years. This helps everyone stay connected and provides a safe forum for discussion.
Early in the evening, Tomer Perry conducted a memorial service for Asel Asleh, a Seed who was one of the first people killed in the second Intifada just as it broke out in October, 2000. Many of the Seeds facilitators and visiting Seeds had been to Camp with Asel and remember him well. They took turns reading aloud letters he had written to SeedsNet and other emails. Tomer also played the guitar and sang. Micah was joined by other campers as he performed an original vocal piece based on the Rumi quote, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”
Later on we had a Café Night, followed by a campfire at which the coaches from Color Games spoke to the Seeds about their own impressions and thoughts. The last campfire always ends with guitars and singing, and this was no exception. Tim did come back to say goodbye, so we sang the song we performed last night for him once more.
Still later on, the PSs had a traditional farewell meeting with Bobbie in the trophy room. Some of them brought sleeping bags there so they could spend their last night in the place they have grown to love. This is where they have met with Wes and Danielle for hours, every day they have been in Camp. It is a special place, where open, honest communication through talk, dance, drums and other instruments has brought out the best in everyone. It is a very special place.
Tonight there is a soft rain gently falling between the trees, like the tears that are surely making their way down the cheeks of many campers and counselors, the very last night of Camp.
Parting ways | August 15
We did it! We had a great summer, despite everything that got in our way or even threatened to get in our way. The campers’ experience remained front and center for all the staff. Neither war, nor bad weather, nor sports injuries, nor airline regulations ever caught us unprepared. The campers have been launched back from our version of “Brigadoon,” the story of a magical village in Scotland that only appears once in a hundred years but where the spell is broken at last by the power of love. Our Camp becomes a village only in the summertime, and then disappears, only to be recreated the following summer. What keeps it existing in our lives throughout the year is the power of the friendships formed in three short, intensive weeks.
The buses pulled into Camp in three successive time-frames. First the Israelis and some of the Palestinians were the ones who had to leave. The first batch of departing campers is always the hardest one to load onto the buses because everyone is involved in the reality of parting friends. We have learned to allow a lot of time for the goodbyes. There is always one more person to say something to and one more person who needs a hug, one last time. Eventually, all the departing campers were prodded onto the buses. Then the counselors dashed across the playing fields to wave goodbye as the buses made their way down the Camp road. This process was repeated when the rest of the Palestinians, the Egyptians, the Americans and the Jordanians were the next ones to leave Camp. The last bus took all the Mainers home.
All the counselors were feeling tired and a bit “down” but there was no time for them to feel sorry for themselves. Right away they began cleaning up Camp, carrying things inside for the winter and gathering all the laundry for pick-up. Soon they began to have fun together, riding around in the golf-carts and other vehicles in high spirits. They worked very hard all day. Then tonight, they kind of had a musical slumber party in the Small Hall. Walking into the hall, one could see a mountain of sleeping bags open and spread out. Looking more closely, counselors could be seen lounging on the sleeping bags, enjoying the music provided as always by our great music department. Over the summer, as in previous summers, the counselors form close friendships too. Now they must come to grips with their own separation from friends. And, they are still feeling the bittersweet pangs of having said goodbye to almost 350 campers this summer.
We all hope and pray that the campers, who courageously made their way through untold obstacles to come to Camp, will arrive home to a more peaceful atmosphere than what it was when they left it three weeks ago. In any case, the campers who have now earned the right to call themselves “Seeds” are entering the world of reality, made sweeter by the Maine Camp experience and the support of 3,200 other Seeds who form the global community of Seeds of Peace.