SESSION ONE: MIDDLE EAST & SOUTH ASIA
Wednesday | July 11
Tomorrow is the big “Rope Pull” at 7:30 a.m., when half of Camp (the Blue Team) will compete with the other half of Camp (the Green team) in the first match of Color Games. For the next two and a half days, the entire Camp will submerge their real identities and live as if one of these two colors were their identity. The team with the highest cumulative score, after hundreds of points have been earned or lost by “wall-to-wall” competitions, will win.
Earlier today, all the dialogue groups essentially had their last meetings, working on the issues that divide them and listening to the narratives of the other side. Now it is time to put their beginning trust and acceptance of the other to the test. Can the desire to win a game overcome the prejudice and other divisive factors which normally keep people in their conflicts from relating to each other as human beings?
At noon, Wil sadly told the campers that one of our Maine Seeds, Aleigh Mills, had died yesterday. The cause is unknown, at this point. She was a nineteen-year-old college student, who had graduated with several other Seeds from Kent’s Hill School in Maine. She was in the third sessions of Camp in 2003 and 2004. Wil asked the campers to be understanding of the many staff persons who were grieving and might not be as energetic as usual.
In the afternoon, Sarah Bigney, our counselor/photographer, assembled all the bunks on the field and took official camp photos. At the end of the session, Sarah will create CDs of hundreds of pictures taken over the course of the past three weeks. Each camper will get a CD, from which they can develop their own pictures at home.
This evening, we had a long but very high quality Talent Show, organized by the Peer Support campers, somehow, with no spare time in their schedules. Many of the delegations performed dances or songs from their cultures. There were soloists singing and playing musical instruments, as well as groups of people who have just met at Camp performing sophisticated music together. There was poetry and a slide show created by the delegation leaders and then at the end, the PSs sang the song John Wallach used to sing, Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.
Just as the talent show ended, the counselors rushed into the big hall yelling about Color Games. The PSs knew to start shouting, “Color Games, Color Games!!” And the excitement began. By the time the campers were leaving the big hall to go to the fire pit, the two rows of torches, held by staff, guided their way. Then they were introduced to their Color Games coaches—six per team. The introductions are always funny and their entrances are dramatic. “For the Blue team, a first time coach hailing from just down the road. The coolest teacher at Oxford Hills high School—EK! For the Green team, coming to you all the way from Maryland, a musician, a lifeguard and an athlete—Ben!” The other five coaches for the Blue team are: Kyle, Naima, Gabe, Noor and David. The other five for the Green team are: Eldad, Sarah Bishop, Elisa, Moe and Zoe.
So, let the games begin! Even if it is raining again. We can handle it.
Thursday | July 12
Gal, one of our Seeds, created a site just for people who don’t happen to be at Camp right now. A very reliable person, present in the dining hall when all the scores are announced, rushes to her computer to post the scores for Gal, right away. The graphics are memorable.
For those of you who didn’t get the word about the Color Games site, at breakfast the Green Team had 75 points and the Blue Team had 175. By lunch, the Green Team had narrowed the margin with 325 points to the Blue’s 375. By the dinner hour, the Green Team had 500 and the Blue Team had 600 points.
It is fun to sit in on some of the non-sports competitions. The drama contest was between two improv skits, which were made up on the spot. The teams are given a premise, such as “waiting in line for the bathroom,” “on board an airplane,” “robbing a bank,” etc. The challenge is to create characters and plots, perform them well, and not go overtime. The art contest involved a group creation that would remind people of any one of the counselors at Camp.
Of course, for all the competitions, some counselors have to help out as judges and referees. They form the “White Team.” The White Team wears white T-shirts so they can remain neutral. During the time the scores are revealed, the White Team also provides a little comic relief with their own cheers and scorecard. Today they made a joke about Wite-Out and the campers didn’t laugh. Then we realized that Wite-Out was before their time. They only know about “delete!”
Tonight the all-star girls softball and the all-star boys basketball competitions were very impressive. Some people went to great lengths to be victorious, including diving for the ball a few yards away. Lauren, a PS, was covered in dirt as a result of her diving technique on the softball field.
Tomorrow we will wake up to the pre-breakfast “Peace Race.” It is a relay race for both boys and girls, all around the entire Camp. Camp is situated on 44 acres, so this is plenty far to run before Cheerios. But, these campers are tough and oh, so competitive!
Friday | July 13
The things which the child loves remain in the domain of the heart until old age. The most beautiful thing in life is that our souls remain hovering over the places where we once enjoyed ourselves.
Driving into Camp this afternoon with a visiting former camper reminded me how precious this place has become to so many people who have spent a couple of weeks, or even many summers, here. For the campers, this place has a magical quality. The visiting camper said he couldn’t stop smiling and felt as excited as he did the first time he saw Camp in 2003.
Right now, at the height of Color Games, the campers are realizing how much they love it here and how hard it will be to part with this way of life. Seeds of Peace tends to make what is ordinary, extraordinary, and what is extraordinary seems ordinary. This is an ordinary camp until you realize who the campers are and how ordinary it is for them, at home, to hate one another. Yet, here at Camp, they have bonded like a family, which is extraordinary. Living here has become comfortable and familiar. Ordinary. But, not permanent. Soon, it will be gone, except for the friendships and the memories. The friendships are in their hands and they can keep them, if they continue to make the effort. The memories of all past campers are in their dreams and, as Gibran said, are hovering around this place.
There are so many competitions during Color Games and not all of them are sports related. The dance contest was won by Green, as were music, art, creative writing, and cake decorating. But the Blue Team seemed to have the upper hand at sports. Tonight, before the wonderful variety show, the Blue Team had a score of 1,475 and the Green Team had a score of 1,375. One hundred points apart, but anything could happen with the variety show scores and the Message to Hajime tomorrow. No one could predict a winner with any confidence, at this point.
Saturday | July 14
The last morning of Color Games, Camp awakens early and prepares for the “Peace Canoe” race using big Indian war canoes. About ten campers are seated in pairs in the canoe and the person at the bow is supposed to tell them whether to paddle hard on the right or left or straight away. The person in the stern tries to steer the canoe with his/her paddle. The objective is to paddle the canoe from the boat dock all the way around to the point, where Wil stands in the water waiting to have his hand tapped by the camper in the bow.
Wil has done this before, so he was wise and put on a rubber wet-suit. Even though the water is warmer than the air at that hour, it can get mighty chilly just standing in the chest-high water. Loizos brought all the shoes to where the canoers would be landing, as a typically-helpful member of the White team. The first group of girls was from the Blue team. Then came the boys Blue team. Both of them were lucky that they made it to shore. The Green team seemed to have much more skilled canoers. They easily won that race.
Later on in the morning, a ninety-minute marathon of relayed objectives, totaling 105, which we call “Message to Hajime,” put everyone in Camp into action. The objectives ranged from jumping rope to solving a math problem to chugging a can of Coke to walking while balancing a book on one’s head to swimming from the boys’ dock to the girls’ dock, etc. This culminates in the timed memorization of a long quote. Only people who speak English as a second language are eligible to do this. Sometimes, the entire Color Games winner is determined by this part of the marathon. Wil and Bobbie were the judges, who would just say “try again” if a word or two were missed. The memorizing campers had to begin again and again, until, at last they would get it exactly right.
Once the message was delivered, the hushed campers sitting and waiting for their fellow campers to get the quote right rose to their feet and cheered their champions. Then, the entire Camp went down to the lake to hear Wil and Leslie announce the final scores. It turned out that the Blue team won the Message to Hajime but the Green team still had more points so they were the winners of Color Games. This was a particularly nice way to end the competition because most of the time the teams were evenly matched. In fact, throughout the three days of events, one team was 50 or 100 points behind the other. Everyone happily ran into the lake with their clothes on—a tradition which further unites the camp in the end.
The afternoon was given over to a two-hour nap and delegation meetings. After dinner, we had an all-Camp clean-up, which was sorely needed.
A memorial service was created and conducted by the friends of Asel Asleh, Omar Shirein and Aleigh Mills. Talking about campers who had died, two of whom were violently killed and one died in a horrendous car crash, released the floodgates of emotions. Many campers were moved to tears. There was a lot of comforting going on among former foes (according to their governments) who are now friends. They care about each other like family.
Sunday | July 15
Today we crammed a lot of things into our waking hours, but all of them were worth the effort. There is only one more full day of Camp remaining in this first session. All of us are trying to help the campers cope with the inevitable pain of separation and we do this in many different ways. One counselor from a girls bunk told me about what happened during their time in the bunk last night. The girls were sitting in a circle, telling each other what they appreciated most about someone in the bunk and giving them a candy kiss. An Israeli told the others about being scared the second night of Camp because she had gone through the entire first day without speaking one word to the Palestinian girl whose upper bunk bed was right next to hers. “How can I sleep next to an Arab who I haven’t even exchanged a single word with?” she thought to herself. As she turned her head to look at this girl, the Palestinian turned hers toward the worried Israeli and winked! This calmed the Israeli girl’s fears and she wanted to thank her for that.
Tonight, after dinner, everyone went to the big hall where the campers were given scrapbooks, sixteen general Camp pictures and materials for creating something special to take home. All this was donated by a company called Creative Memories. The campers typically use these books to write notes to each other. Seemingly, they could do this for hours. We spent two hours doing it and they were still going strong.
Afterward, we had our traditional campfire at which the coaches from Color Games give the campers some feedback on the three-day competition just completed. All the coaches say wonderful things but one comment really stood out. This counselor, who comes from Gaza, said, for those campers who have ever said that they are willing to die for their country, he wanted them to consider how much more useful it would be to their country, if they would live for it. Since they represent the brightest leaders in their countries, why not devote their lives to living for their countries, instead of dying, thereby missing the chance to help their people have a better life?
Earlier in the day, the Christians had their worship service, as well as the Hindus. Some people who knew Aleigh Mills went to a program at the Kents Hill school celebrating her life. Many of the older Maine Seeds attended, as well as Tim and Bobbie. Tim ended his presentation about Aleigh by having the hundreds of people there stand up and applaud her. It was amazing. Aleigh was a very talented and active Seed, who added new friends to her ever-widening circle every day. Her death is felt by many, many people.
Monday | July 16
Yesterday, when we awoke and went to Line-Up, we found the meeting area devoid of the usual rows of green benches. The PSs traditionally play a joke on the Camp at some point toward the end of the session, so some of us were not surprised. One time all the benches ended up at the bell. Many times before, the bell was stolen but now it has a very secure structure under it. There were times when a golf cart would be on the floating dock or a bed would be on top of the climbing wall. But that was then and this is now. This time the benches were at the boys swim area. Before breakfast, the benches were returned to their rightful place, but we did have Line-Up while sitting on the ground.
It has become a tradition for Bobbie to invite the campers and the staff to a Quaker silent meeting, on a voluntary basis. We like to do this after Color Games has worked its magic. The silent meeting helps to deepen the experience of being part of a community of human beings. The goodness inside each person generates compassion, honesty and wisdom. Out of the silence, people speak from their hearts to each other. Almost the entire Camp came to the big hall for the silent meeting, yet the assembled people were able to listen and speak respectfully, as if it was a one-on-one conversation.
The very last dialogue sessions and the “life after Camp” delegation meetings took place during the day. The campers were told about a new platform we are initiating for SeedsNet, which someone already has named Seedsbook, because it resembles Facebook. The new campers will be the first to try it out when they return home. Next we will add the email addresses of all Seeds now on SeedsNet. It will be a closed, secure platform only for the Seeds of Peace community, continuing the friendship and dialogues begun at Camp.
Lost and Found items were spread out on the field so their owners could reclaim them. Still, we know we will find many things left behind in the bunks and in other buildings. One of the things not left behind is the scrapbooks. They contain the precious letters the campers and staff have written to each other for the last few days. These hold the evidence of shared respect and compassion, culminating after only three and a half weeks. The scrapbooks will be brought out many times when the campers are at home, as a reminder that peace is possible and is much more fun than any of the alternatives.
Today, the goodbyes began at 6:30 a.m. when the Palestinians were the first to leave Camp. As Leslie said, the first bus is always the hardest. Hugging and crying and promising, the campers literally had to be led onto the bus, by hand. As each bus pulled out, the reality of the pain of separation seemed hard to endure. Yet, this pain is the price we pay for love. And, for this kind of love, the pain is worth it.
SESSION TWO: MIDDLE EAST & MAINE
Monday | July 23
What a joy it is to welcome back several more Seeds as facilitators this session! They are Bashar Iraqi, Inbal Leibovitz, Sahar Smoun, Uri Neeman, Galit Shaham and Lama Mashni. Nobody has to tell them what it feels like to be a new camper—they remember it well.
The arrivals have gone fairly well, all things considered, but as I write this, the Egyptians, Jordanians and Palestinians are still on their way. All of them have landed in the USA and they are now working their way up the East Coast from New York to Boston to Otisfield, Maine. That final three-hour bus ride is the part that seems way over the top. Some are due to arrive at 9:30 PM and the rest will get here between 1-2 a.m.. The usual drumming and singing will fall by the wayside as the rest of Camp will be asleep.
Aside from Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian campers, there are Americans and another separate group of Americans, the Maine Seeds. The Americans and the Maine Seeds had their own orientation sessions this week. All the others had orientation sessions in their own countries. In all cases, former campers take the lead in telling the new campers what to expect or at least what it was like for them at Camp. In addition, twenty-four second-year campers, the PSs, come to Camp, in part to help the new campers feel more comfortable, and in part to enhance their own leadership development. And, beyond this, each delegation is led by educators from their own countries, who experience Seeds of Peace firsthand and help the Seeds integrate what was learned at Camp after they all return home.
Nevertheless, being at Camp is a shock. As Leslie said to the staff today, the counselors and facilitators have to back up from the first session to the place where the second session campers are, and not expect them to be like the first session campers toward the end of their time at Camp. After three weeks, these new campers will also feel comfortable at Camp, but they definitely aren’t there yet.
Tonight we filled the dining room with all the Israelis, Americans, Maine Seeds and staff. A visiting Palestinian Seed and an American counselor celebrated their birthdays in our traditional way. We have “drum rolls” on the tabletops, sing “Happy Birthday” and then make the birthday celebrants skip around the room, twice! The roar of the voices in the dining hall was filled with excitement and energy. It is amazing how readily people join in when fun is at hand, and something as common as a birthday celebration can be a uniting factor.
Tuesday | July 24
The Palestinians really had a rough time getting to Camp. We were hoping to bring fourteen of them from Gaza, but at the last minute that fell through. So, we had to replace them, once again, with Palestinians from the West Bank who were on our waiting list. Those campers arrived tonight. But, most of the Palestinians arrived at 3:30 a.m. last night, after traveling for days. We let them sleep late and then welcomed them with our enthusiastic band and Bobbie’s introductory talk about taking the theme of Maine seriously—”Welcome to Maine, the way life should be.” They looked a little sleepy until they had a good lunch and put on their new Seeds of Peace green T-shirts.
Everyone had “Bunk Night” tonight, which is generally a low-key way to help everyone feel comfortable in their new surroundings, while sharing space with people who have been considered enemies back home. For the Maine campers, it is also important from them to feel comfortable with people from different parts of Maine. The bell for “lights out” rang early tonight. Everyone needs a solid night of sleep.
Nicolla Hewitt, the president of Seeds of Peace, arrived in time for the flag raising ceremony tomorrow morning. She brought along pictures of the damage to our main office in New York as a result of the steam pipe explosion that occurred right outside the building last week. There is shattered glass all over and most things were knocked to the floor. But, the worst part may be the contamination of asbestos. One of the Board Members has provided some office space. If it weren’t for the Internet, we would have lost a lot of records.
Meanwhile, about sixteen ducks have adopted our Camp as their home. They walk around like they own the place! Maybe they do.
Wednesday | July 25
Yesterday, we thought the ducks had taken over Camp, but this morning at Line-Up, a furry creature the size of a medium-sized dog was lazily turning over in slumber high up in a tree. It was a raccoon. We don’t know if it was the same raccoon, but tonight a raccoon ate all of the evening snacks for the campers, with total disregard for witnesses who tried to chase him off Leslie’s porch. Not long after that, Shawna and Sarah, counselors, encountered a raccoon in the basement of the Jilson, and it took an hour for the state troopers and Dennis to get him out of there. We don’t have to wonder which creature will be the next to make an appearance. Right! The skunks are next! And there are people who complain about the mosquitoes!
We had a lovely flag raising ceremony this morning, marking the official opening of the second session of Camp for 2007. We had Peer Support camper speakers from the Middle East delegations, from the Maine Seeds and from the United States. The Egyptian was Youssef, the Jordanian was Eyas, the Israeli was Or, the Maine Seed was Leila, the Palestinian was Oula and the American was Allison. All the delegations sang their national anthems, except for the Maine Seeds, who sang a funny song about the sixteen counties in the state. Nicolla Hewitt bravely took the microphone, following the six very thoughtful speeches by the PS campers. She also spoke very well, emphasizing the hope of Seeds of Peace against the background of failed peace plans and violence where the Middle East campers live.
This warm, sunny day was a great one for playing sports and swimming in the lake. In preparation for the Casco Day parade, the PSs, who will represent our Camp, began working in earnest on their original song and marching dance, all down the Camp road and back. They were a little tentative at first, but after about twenty minutes, they had a great routine mastered and can now just have fun doing it. As another camper once said, this is one of those ordinary/extraordinary happenings at Seeds of Peace. If you forget that they came from opposing sides of a generational, entrenched conflict, what they were doing seemed ordinary. But, once you think about the fact that Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Americans created a song about not giving up on peace and a marching dance to go with it, then you will have to acknowledge that this was also extraordinary.
Tonight the Counselor Show both entertained and educated the campers about what they can expect to be doing at Camp. The new campers have survived three days far from home and are starting to feel safe. For most, it will be several more days before they start to feel “at home” here, beside Pleasant Lake.
Thursday | July 26
Even though the weather is alright right now, we know for sure that we are likely to experience some storms while we are at Camp. Wil and Leslie demonstrated how air horns are used to alert the Camp to impending storms or the discovery of a fire. Lightning and falling trees would present the greatest danger in the event of a bad storm, so we try to keep everyone inside their bunks or other buildings during those times. Safety is our number one priority.
Tom Hancock, who is in charge of our South Asia programs, lives in Casco, the little town two miles from Camp, on the other side of the lake. This year he is the “grand marshall” of the Casco Days annual event, lasting three days. Tom looks like Santa Claus year-round and has an unmistakable, booming voice. He came to the morning Line-Up with stuffed toys to show the campers what they could win by buying tickets at the fair in Casco. The fair has lots of game booths, a Ferris wheel and an antique merry-go-round, cotton candy, French fries, Coke and fried dough. All the money raised at this three-day event supports the volunteer fire department for Casco. Half of our Camp went to the fair tonight and the other half is scheduled to go on Saturday night. They seemed to enjoy the fair which is very familiar to the Maine Seeds but something unique for the campers from the Middle East.
One of the nice things about having counselors who once were campers is that they tend to revive old traditions that have been lost over the years. The female PSs must have been taught an old cheer about Leslie, left over from when she was a counselor in 1998. As soon as Leslie began to speak, they called out “Ladle check!” which truly surprised her. Later in the day, Amit and Dudi got up in front of Line-Up and performed an old song about using sunscreen that was created by counselors many years ago when Amit and Dudi were still campers. It is called, “Wet and Greasy, You’ll Like It the Best!” After squirting lotion all over each other, they turn to the laughing crowd and say, “It’s the official sunscreen of Seeds of Peace. You’ll use it and you’ll like it!”
All this fun and humor unites the different natural groups in Camp. When we start to see everyone laughing at the same thing, we know we have jumped one of the first hurdles. Meanwhile, the campers are being challenged in their dialogue groups and gradually their responsibilities are increased, as well. Bunk clean-up scores have become important and they are expected to be on time for scheduled activities. Each day, the Camp moves closer to becoming a community.
Wednesday | August 1
We got back to a normal schedule today—no celebrities or diplomats around—just the usual group of 250 people. The delegation leaders had spent one night and two days at Cow Island, off the coast of Maine. As one of them reported at Line-Up, they found out that they were a lot braver and stronger than previously believed. All of them went kayaking in the ocean and lived in a very basic, rustic Camp. After their ordeals and challenges, they came home to our Camp as better friends.
Today all five of the special activity groups cooperated, even the knitters. The “pirates” hijacked the motor boats and took the “super heroes” out to the middle of the lake where they made peace and swam around together. In the meantime the photography and filming groups recorded the event. I am not clear on the part the knitters played but I am told they were included.
If you look closely at the people who are meeting together these days, you can see that the
Group Challenge team (the people who run the ropes course and other physical challenges) and the facilitators are meeting a lot. Also, the facilitators are meeting with the counselors a lot. This is the way Camp functions best. Although this is done in a way that does not attract attention, the campers probably sense that the Camp staff is operating on the same page.
Tonight there was a good deal of artwork going on. One group of campers sat at a table outside the art shack and each one depicted the home of the person sitting opposite him. It meant that they had to describe their homes in enough detail to make it possible for the other camper to paint it on paper. The entire Camp also had a program in which table groups (dining hall) competed by making certain objects out of clay. Somehow the whole camp seemed to lose interest in this activity until they were asked to make a sculpture of one of the funniest counselors—Shami! Hopefully, Shami was not too sensitive about the way he was portrayed.
I am going to be away from Camp for a couple of days. So, there will have to be a short break in Camp reports. However, I should be able to keep SeedsNet going by using an alternative email address.
Thursday | August 2
Having been away from Camp for one day, wondering what was happening here during that time, it was great to get back and hear about what I had missed. It seems like all the dialogue sessions have intensified their discussions. Some people are having a rough time separating what is uncovered in dialogue with just having fun together, especially right after the dialogue time. This is all part of getting below the surface to where the real hurt and humiliation lies.
At the end of a day like this one, the evening activity takes on even more importance than usual. We try to lighten the mood with funny, challenging group activities. Tonight the campers had a “Know Your Counselor” competition to see which bunks knew their counselors the best. All day they were trying to find out as much as possible about their counselors, so they would be prepared. Some of the questions included: How many push-ups can your counselor do? What kind of grades did your counselor get in school?
While I was away, another celebrity came to Camp. Natalie Portman, who acted in Star Wars, among other things, spent her time at Camp talking with facilitators, counselors who had been campers themselves, and delegation leaders. She also sat with a group of new campers in a question and answer format. She dressed like everyone else at Camp, which helped her fit in and not be considered a movie star every moment.
Tomorrow will be Sports Day (we will compete with other visiting camps), as well as visiting day for people in Maine. There will be a meeting of the Board of Directors of Seeds of Peace here as well. So, it should be “another boring day at Seeds of Peace!”
Friday | August 3
Wil began the day with a personal story about his parents and their differing views on race relations in the United States. It wasn’t an academic talk. It was very personal. Wil’s presence usually gets everyone’s attention, but when he recalled the memory of his mother’s beliefs as opposed to his father’s beliefs, he was speaking so much from his heart that he held everyone’s attention and emotions in the palm of his hand. In many ways, it would have been easy to follow along with his father’s condemnation of white people and allow the memory of his mother’s belief in the equality of all human beings to fade over time. But, after overcoming many barriers, Wil knows that his mother had it right. He invited the entire group of counselors to come forward as a demonstration that he and they CAN work together and respect each other. To say otherwise is a lie. The new campers needed to be inspired in this way.
Today, we had Sports Day, with two other visiting camps. It was a very hot day and there was no relief from the heat. People were drinking and pouring water over themselves throughout the games. Still, our teams, made up of people who supposedly are enemies, won two out of three matches. The basketball game with Camp Androscoggin was lost 10-8. But the soccer match with the same camp made up for that big time. Our very skillful team, coached by Walid, Azmy and Shami, trounced the other team 10-0. Girls softball won but, seriously, that group of girls they sent us was way too young. The general swim following the games was the most welcome relief imaginable. Maine Seeds were allowed to have their families visit them on this day, so the cheering section was larger than normal.
The Board of Directors of Seeds of Peace met all morning at Camp. Some also stayed on to watch the sports games. The Board gets updated on the Camp program and all the follow-up programs which run year-round for alumni of the Camp. One of the main jobs of the Board is to raise enough money to keep our organization operating and growing. The Seeds campers and staff may not realize how inspiring they are to Board members, but, they truly are very inspiring.
The day ended with “Bunk Night,” so each bunk had its own activity. One had a movie night in the big hall. Another had a campfire. The PSs could be heard laughing and cheering, as they started to make plans for the week ahead, including the Talent Show.
Saturday | August 4
Summers are short in Maine. The heatwave of the past week seems to be over and there may not be any more extended periods of super-hot days in 2007. Instead we can look forward to moderately warm weather with some rain and mostly cool, good sleeping nights. On this first day of cooler weather, there is much more sports activity and much less watching sports activity. The Winnebago boys camp came over to play softball and Frisbee with our teams today. They beat us in both games, but we still had fun with Jake Toll giving the play-by-play broadcast in a most hilarious fashion. In an attempt to scare the opposing team, Jake made up whole seasons of scores for our team members who, after all, only met each other two weeks ago.
Last night was Café Night, preceded by a video about John Wallach which his son made for his memorial service at the United Nations. Café Night is the perfect follow-up for the video because we attempt to have everyone go around the room, introducing themselves and getting to know people they have not really met at Camp so far. If we were to leave this to “chance,” the chances are that fewer people would get to know each other. Particularly during a week when the dialogues become more heated, people are prone to stick to their own delegations, unless prodded like this to do otherwise. In spite of this, there seem to be a number of solid, cross-delegation relationships developing.
Line-Up continues to be a great time for humor and and humorous ways to get the campers to follow advice. The “hit” of this summer’s Line-Up is the act that Dudi and Amit create every few days. Today they joked about using the sanitizing liquid which is available outside the dining hall. “Clear and cleany” became another “official product of Seeds of Peace,” and as the whole Camp joined in on the final lines, “You’ll use it and you’ll like it,” we could see that mutual enjoyment is becoming acceptable and comfortable.
The level of trust is also building, not just by chance but also by design. Dialogue groups are put through Group Challenge courses on both the low and high elements. Sometimes they have to help each other step by step to walk across low ropes or high ropes. Sometimes they are blindfolded. They have to trust an “enemy” to lead them to the finish line. Or they have to help people from opposing delegations climb up the vertical playground, which is a huge stretch for most people. Building trust at every turn creates the foundation for opening up to mutual compassion and caring, while the campers are here and when they return home.
Monday | August 6
Two funny stories from the infirmary:
One girl walked into the infirmary complaining of a stomach ache. Nurse Lois, who is a full-time nurse at a local high school, knows a real set of symptoms when she sees them. This girl looked like she was ready to revisit the reasons for her discomfort. Upon questioning the patient, Nurse Lois discovered that this girl had participated in the blueberry-picking special activity (where they ate much of their bounty), swallowed a huge piece of blueberry pie a la mode at dinner, followed by a brownie and yes, another brownie. Pepto-Bismol to the rescue!
On a recent night, four girls from the same bunk were seen by-passing their bunk when it was bedtime. A reliable adult asked them where they were going. They all said that they were heading for the infirmary. Then, they were spotted heading for the phones outside the dining hall, instead. So, that same reliable person pointed out to them that the infirmary was in the opposite direction. Curious to know what they told the medical staff, once they got inside the infirmary, the reliable person was told that they all needed to have neck messages.
Lost camper story:
Our reliable source also encountered a wandering male camper in front of the trophy room who claimed to have lost his way, after being excused from an activity in the field house to go to the bathroom. When he was told that the field house was way on the other side of camp, he acted as if this was news to him. Then he asked in a completely serious tone of voice, “Since I am here already, can I just use the phone?” The reliable source had a hard time keeping her smile from becoming a huge laugh, but managed to escort the lost camper back to the field house before doubling over.
Of course, not all the Camp stories are funny. Many are sad or scary or heartwarming. With 250 people living in one place, there are bound to be many stories every day. Some stories get told even without words. They are reflected in body language. The Peer Support campers have devoted most of their time here to communicating through capoeira, dance movements and music. Although the members of this group of 24 older Seeds either speak Hebrew, Arabic or French, as well as English, they can make each other cry or laugh or move, just through their body language.
All the campers are building a collection of stories to tell their friends and families when they go home. Perhaps they will talk about the way someone from the other side of their conflict helped them learn something or defended them in an argument, or shared a laugh or a cry with them. Perhaps they will talk to their friends about the small, mixed-delegation group that quietly left the field house today, when the rain turned into a fine spray, and sang beautiful songs to each other, in full, passionate voice, right beside the memorial benches for John Wallach and Asel Asleh.
Tuesday | August 7
To be a counselor at Seeds of Peace, one must not only be as bright as the campers, who are among the best and brightest from their countries, but also be unselfconscious, devoted to the campers and the job, very talented and a little crazy. Actually, someone should do a study of all the creative things the counselors do on their own, after Camp. While they are at Camp, we enjoy their antics and marvel at their patience.
An outsider might imagine that the counselors are exhausted from all the outdoor activities, all the instructional sessions with campers who may or may not understand English and may or may not want to participate in the activity. After all, just one teenager can wear out one’s patience, let alone 154 of them. But, not our counselors! Four of them woke up their double bunk (#17) today at 5 a.m., carried canoes across the field, loaded them in the lake and paddled them down to one end where there is a stream. There at the crack of dawn, the double bunk decided on one unifying name and then paddled back to camp in time for the wake up bell. Another group of counselors wakes up every morning for a 5:30 a.m. capoeira session with Wes.
Sometimes when you glance around a group of campers listening to one of the adults, you think they aren’t really paying attention. But, they are. You find that out when they get the chance to imitate the adults. For example, two former campers, now counselors, have been imitating their counselors who used to do the skit about “Official Seeds of Peace Products.” Today, we had two new campers, Justin and Hiba, doing the same kind of skit, imitating Dudi and Amit and making it even funnier.
Tonight the counselors were all part of a scheme for the evening activity which required them to act crazy, while the Peer Support campers took over their counselor jobs. Then the campers had to perform a variety of stunts in order to bring their counselors back to their normal sanity.
All of this entertainment happens because we know everyone needs a release from the serious dialogue sessions that are happening for each camper, ninety minutes a day. The Peer Support campers even went all the way to a beach on the coast of Maine to sit together for their dialogue. Most of the dialogue facilitators were campers here several years ago. It is hard for them to revisit the struggle with the new campers, but they must allow them to proceed at their own pace. The facilitators have learned to appreciate the knowledge brought to them by their counterparts from the other side of the conflict, which only makes it more frustrating to listen to the level of misinformation or lack of information the campers use in their discussions.
Today, three counselors from several years ago came to Camp for a visit. They were shocked to find many of their old campers now acting as counselors and facilitators. It was gratifying to see that the example they set, years ago, is still paying off for the campers with us in 2007.
Wednesday | August 8
The rain came down like curtains of water and mist. The lake was stirring and rolling in the morning, which is far from normal. Usually, the lake is quite still in the morning. The wind blew the tops of the trees into each other, cracking dead branches and scattering them on the ground. No Line-Up today.
So, what do you do on a morning like this at Camp? Certainly, all outdoor sports and special activities were struck from the schedule. There would not be any blueberry picking. No boating. No swimming. No softball. No group challenge on the ropes course.
But—we have a new field house for indoor sports, like basketball and Ga-Ga. We have the art shack for beading and drawing. We have cozy places to read Harry Potter. We have the small hall for rehearsing a dance performance for the Talent Show and the big hall for more Ga-Ga and more rehearsing. We have the music shack for jamming. Let’s face it. It was kind of nice!
Thankfully, by mid-afternoon the rain moved on, and we were able to go to the baseball game (Go Sea Dogs!) after dialogue and delegation meetings. Many “Sea Dog biscuits,” hotdogs, hamburgers and fries later, everyone is back at Camp on a cool, comfortable night.
Thursday | August 9
On this powerfully beautiful Maine day, with cool breezes and sunny sky, we all started to anticipate the end of Camp. The last dialogue and capoeira sessions were held. Camp pictures were taken. Bunks, tables, dialogue groups, delegations, counselors and facilitators, as well as all the Seeds former campers who are now Camp staff all gathered in groups on the big field while Sarah, our camp photographer, raced from one posing group to another. In fact, Sarah even went up on the climbing wall at the ropes course to “shoot” some of the campers on the high elements today. We were trying to capture the last moments of a normal day at Camp. There will not be any more of those this year.
The campers didn’t realize it, but while they were getting prepared for the three-hour talent show, the rest of Camp was preparing for Color Games. The talent show was filled with wonderful talent from band music to dancing, singing, improv theatre games and comedy. Just as the show was ending, counselors burst into the big hall with lots of noise and Wil came in on a motorized tricycle. After a short talk about the rules of Color Games, the campers ran through two columns of adult staff holding torches which lighted the way to the fire pit. Then the coaches were introduced in the usual dramatic fashion. Choose-Up, decided long before this night, put the whole Camp on two different teams: Blue and Green. A third team, the White team, consists of the staff who are not coaches. The White team actively supports the entire three-day constant run of activities and competitions. From tonight until Sunday noon, everyone has a new identity. This is the formal initiation for becoming a Seed.
The 3600 former campers are dying to know who will be ahead as the cumulative scores add up, who are the coaches and who will win the major competitions, like the rope pull, the peace race, the peace canoe race and last but not least, the Message to Hajime. So, for all those people out there, the following counselors will be coaches for the Green: Amit, Josh, David Moser, Loizos, Anton, Summaya and Shawna. For the Blue, it will be Annie Fenton, Dudi, Lindsay, Matthew, Noor (art shack), Sarah J and Aaron Shneyer.
Today something happened very quietly but, unlike the tree that falls in the forest when no one is there to hear it, this event made a big impression on those of us who saw it. Two boys were getting prepared to walk across the tight rope, forty feet high, for the first time. They would be instructed to climb up two poles which were far apart and then work their way to the middle, cross over each other and continue to the opposite pole from the one from which they began. On the ground, one boy, Jon, was sure he knew how they should do it and told the other boy his strategy. But, as they began moving toward each other on the high rope, Jon started to panic. Even though the second boy, Ted, had made it all the way to the opposite pole, he turned around and walked across the rope again to give a hand to his partner. In the end, they both succeeded, in more ways than one.
Friday | August 10
“We have met the enemy and it is us!” — Pogo.
Color Games turns the table on loyalties and identities for two and a half days. Each bunk group is half Green and half Blue. Dining table groups are split up. Dialogue groups are divided and most of all, delegations are half Green and half Blue. One half of the dining hall is for the Green team and the other side is for the Blue team. Look closely and you will see people on opposing sides furtively waving or winking to friends who are temporarily not on their side. But when they get up to cheer for their team, they are clearly divided.
The cheers get passed down from session to session and year to year. Occasionally something sounds new. Today the Blue team chanted, “We’re blue, we’re blue. What ya goin’ to do when we come for you?” Then the Green team shouted back, “We’re a mean, green fighting machine!”
The Green team started the day with a 100-point lead after winning two parts of the rope pull: the girls’ pull and the whole camp pull. The Blue team won the pull for boys only. During the morning, there were bunk rotations through many sports. In the afternoon, each side put forth its all-star team for basketball, tennis, softball, soccer and street hockey. There were other kinds of competitions, such as improvisational drama, art, group challenge and cake decorating. The Blue team won all of them. So, at the end of the day, the Green team was trailing behind the Blue team by 250 points. The Green team has 625 points and Blue has 875 points. That is, until tomorrow!
When we get up in the morning, there will be a relay foot race all around the camp road, before anyone can eat breakfast. Then there will be another full day of competitions. Since the teams are meticulously, evenly matched to the greatest degree possible, it usually all boils down to team spirit, individual steadfastness and luck.
In the meantime, the dialogue facilitators are taking a break. Two of them decided to go fishing in the lake for the first time today. Another pair became part of the cheering squad. Several visitors are with us as well, including Eric, Paul and Eva, SOP staff from the Middle East, several Maine Seeds, and Eric Tanner, an American Seed who just keeps showing up all summer. Only three days remain of Session Two, 2007.
Saturday | August 11
During Color Games, people always rise to the occasion by accomplishing things that they never thought would be possible. We raise the bar, and almost everyone jumps over it anyway. Evidence of this phenomenon can be seen in all the sports and talent competitions. For example, today we had two double plays in the softball game, which is just unheard of in our Camp full of people who have never played the game before. And the soccer match was so intense and competitive that we had to go overtime to break a tie and then had to follow that with a “shoot-out,” with all the players challenging the goalies from both teams. People swam farther than they ever dreamed. People ran faster than the speed of light! OK, not that fast, but amazingly fast.
The Blue team is ahead by a modest 150 points. The variety show tonight and the Message to Hajime tomorrow will decide who wins the whole Color Games. There were two great songs at the variety show which were sung by the entire teams. Here is the one from the Blue team. Tomorrow we will print the one from the Green team.
We Will Not Give Up
I found you in a field
No right, no wrong
Just what we see is real.
I found myself way up high
Blindfold on, you were my eyes.
Oooo, If I trust you
Oooo, Would you trust me too?
Oooo, Be the best we can
Here we stand.
We will not give up
No matter what they say
We will not give up
Until we reach a brighter day.
I wish the world could see
What we see everyday
What our world could be
Beyond the lake and the trees
I’ll take your kindness with me
I’ll take your kindness
I’ll take your kindness
I’ll take your kindness with me.
No o o o o. We won’t surrender to fear.
Ye e e e s. Sing so the world can hear.
We are here.
We will not give up
No matter what they say
We will not give up
Until we reach a brighter day.
Sunday | August 12
The final morning of Color Games is usually the highlight of the entire endeavor and this morning was no exception. Blessed with blue skies, a blue lake and many blue shirts, the Blue team kept its lead and won! But, it wasn’t easy. The Green team never gave up, never slowed down and forged ahead as if they knew they were going to win, even though they obviously thought they wouldn’t win when they made up a cheer that had “no regrets!” as its theme.
The peace boat race before breakfast went well, with one of the boys teams succeeding in 1.5 minutes. One of the girls teams, however, seemed like they were going around the lake in search of unicorns or something. The Message to Hajime had over 100 different tasks and the hardest of these proved to be the algebra problem. Neither team got the right answer! The actual message was about the definition of peace, written by a peace activist who is not known to many people.
One of the new campers asked what the prize would be, for the winner of Color Games. If anyone asks an older Seed that question, probably a smile would be the answer and then a reluctance to reveal anything beyond that. It is an invaluable lesson, discovered only at the end, and it is the same for both teams, no matter who “wins.”
After a 2-hour rest period, everyone went to the big hall, where they received the donated picture albums and pictures of Camp from the Creative Memories company. There they spent the afternoon, putting together their own books of memories, complete with autograph notes to each other. The large books will be passed around for notes to each other until they have to part on Tuesday.
Tonight, we held a memorial service for Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has died in the conflict in the Middle East on October 2, 2000, and for two other Seeds who have died this past year, Egyptian Seed, Omar, and Maine Seed, Aleigh. Asel’s cousin Rani Asla is a first-year camper this summer. He spoke very movingly about his memories of Asel and his reason for coming to camp this summer. Other Seeds and staff persons who knew Asel, Omar and Aleigh also spoke at this service held outside in the Peace Garden. Aferward, the campers had their final “Bunk Night” with the people who have been living together with them, like a family, for three weeks.
As promised yesterday, here are the lyrics for the Green Team Song:
We have crossed the Seven Seas
Flown to Otisfield
One hundred and fifty Seeds
Unsure if this is real …
Is there a place where
We all smile the same smile
We all breathe the same air
Our voices unite as one
Because friendship’s the language we all share!
Different hopes, different dreams,
On Pleasant Lake we calm the storms,
It’s The Way That Life Should Be …
We’ve found the place where
Sometimes we cry,
Sometimes we yell,
Our will tells us what to do,
It’s worth the fight,
As one family,
Together we’ll all push through!
Tuesday | August 14
Although it is sad to say goodbye to all the campers and staff who have made this summer one of the very best Seeds of Peace has ever had, those of us who struggle to make it better each year also feel very happy. Once again, we did it! All the wary looks of skepticism and mistrust from the first week have given way to connectedness and caring for people who are not the same and who might even be political enemies. During the initial period of Camp, it is fun to try to imagine what the relationships between campers and between campers and the staff will look like in the end. No one can predict who will become friends with whom, but we know that friendships will develop and hopefully will flourish over time.
After Color Games, Camp is always united. And beyond that, the campers are united with all the previous campers who have lived through the same kind of experiences. They leave Camp with a whole new extended family, scattered all over the world. In an effort to strengthen the ties, Seeds of Peace works just as hard on follow-up programs, globally, as it does on the initial Camp experience. “Life After Camp” is a presentation made at Camp which informs the campers about what they can expect to happen in their regions, at conferences, on SeedsNet (now changing to a new format with a new name, SeedsBook), and with the Olive Branch magazine and other online-focused publications.
The final day of Camp began with the traditional Quaker Silent Meeting, conducted by Bobbie. Just being able to sit quietly together for an hour, in a circle in the big hall, inspired a feeling of being “grounded.” As this feeling spread through the group, one by one, individuals spoke about the meaning of their camp experiences, their gratitude for having their eyes opened and their dreams for the future. Because so many people were moved to express themselves, the silent part of the meeting was very short.
Each dialogue group had a final two-hour session with their facilitators. Each delegation had a final meeting with their delegation leaders. Then it was time to pack. Somehow those big stuffed animal toys from Casco Days got squeezed into tightly-packed suitcases.
After dinner, we had a video of the camping trip taken by the delegation leaders and a slide show of photographs of the campers, all taken during the session by our camp photographer. After that, we all went to the fire-pit, where the coaches from Color Games spoke to the campers about their impressions of Color Games. Soon it was time to sing Leaving on a Jet Plane and I See the Moon. The PSs retreated to the Trophy Room for their traditional “turtle ceremony” with Bobbie, Wes and Nassim. Bobbie explained the symbolism of the turtle pendant, which is based on the fact that a turtle carries his/her home around with him/her wherever he/she goes. We want the PSs to consider Seeds of Peace their second home; the turtle pendant is a reminder to carry Seeds of Peace with them wherever they go. The new campers received silver logo pendants.
In the morning, the final Line-Up of Camp was at 6:45 a.m. The campers sat in a heavy silence, looking straight ahead at the lake and holding on to each other’s hands. Heads were resting on shoulders, arms were wrapped around the people close by and it seemed as if all the people were breathing at exactly the same rate. No one had to speak but Bobbie and Wil attempted to say something appropriate, anyway. Leslie explained which delegations would be leaving, starting at 7:30 a.m. through 11 a.m. Although campers have been begging for a chance to go shopping, even the prospect of hitting an American mall on the way to the airport didn’t make it any easier to load the buses. Wil invented a new method for combining hugging with walking: “Hug, step, hug, step” all the way to the door of the bus. The success rate of this method was questionable or maybe just a failure. No one wanted to leave! The Egyptians and the Jordanians were on the first bus. As their bus pulled out, everyone else ran across the field to wave goodbye and blow kisses. This got repeated with every bus until the last group left and all the counselors turned their attention to packing up Camp for the winter.
As someone who has played a role in every Camp session since the first one in 1993, I wish to applaud the entire staff both at Camp and behind the scenes. Thanks also to those who have gone before, who laid the groundwork for the good designs we have today. Thanks to Nicolla Hewett for the new life she has brought to this fifteen-year-old program. Most of all, thanks to the campers, who took all the risks and who are now, truly, Seeds of Peace!