SESSION ONE: MIDDLE EAST & SOUTH ASIA
Campers arrive | June 24
The campers have arrived, full of excitement, all in one long day. A group of counselors left Camp at 4 a.m. to meet the delegations at Boston’s airport, which is three hours from Camp. As Leslie said, this had to be one of the most challenging travel days in the history of Seeds of Peace! One large delegation got switched to five different flights and another one got switched to three. They were all supposed to be traveling on one flight. One delegation leader and two campers were held up at security so long that they missed their flight and will not get to Camp until early tomorrow. Nevertheless, everyone is in good spirits and thankfully sleeping in comfortable beds tonight.
From past experience and the recollections of previous campers, we know that tonight is very special. For many, it is the first time they have traveled halfway around the world, especially without their families. For all of them, it is the first time they will share sleeping space with people who are considered enemies. How can one be more vulnerable than when asleep? Yet all of them will give in to their exhaustion and sleep until morning. They will wake up early and discover that their bunkmates are either still asleep or up early too. No one will be hurt. Everyone will have slept through the night peacefully. That will be their first eye-opening experience.
A week before the campers are due to arrive, the entire Camp staff comes to Maine for an orientation and bonding experience. As usual, it is a little colder and more rainy than the regular Camp season, but it is almost as much fun. We are all anticipating the amazing summer we will have with the campers from the Middle East, South Asia and the United States.
We are not just preparing for a typical summer camp in the US, although that is what it looks like when Camp is in session. We are preparing to bring together teenagers from two conflict areas of the world, who during the normal course of their lives would never have the opportunity to meet each other in a peaceful, safe setting. Most of the teens have never traveled thousands of miles from home and certainly have no basis for sharing their sleeping and eating quarters with their enemies. As staff members, it is our job to help the campers overcome the strangeness of the Seeds of Peace experience and join us as one community for a month in the woods of Maine.
One of the ways we help the new campers adjust to Seeds of Peace is to have staff members who themselves are former campers from their own regions of the world. Former campers will recognize the names of their buddies, such as Lama, Bashar, Leena, Alia, Omar, Leo, Amanda, Jay, Elad, Devon, Ahmad and Radhika, all of whom are working at Camp now.
Another way we help the campers feel more comfortable is to conduct our sports and arts activities in an inclusive way rather than in a strictly competitive way. The process of getting people to support each other is more important to us than focusing on the most skilled and talented campers. During orientation, the counseling staff is taught how to be inclusive, no matter how competitive they usually are in similar situations. We also do not shy away from discussing difficult topics, including religion and politics, because those subjects will definitely be present in Camp when the campers are with us. What we emphasize is the manner in which these topics should be discussed—with respect and listening skills, all the way to the end of the sentence.
During this one-week orientation, we also try out the food, take swim tests in the icy water, prepare the 53 buildings for the Camp program, test all the equipment, and fix whatever is broken. Most importantly, we try to unify the staff, many of whom are new this summer and come from wildly divergent backgrounds. Situated on Pleasant Lake, with a half-mile of shoreline, our Camp will soon be filled with 250 people who will become part of the Seeds of Peace family. Most of them will arrive scared and wary of what might happen to them during their stay. It is very important for the staff to be comfortable as a group before they have to address the concerns of the campers. Happily, this is happening. In three days, our 16th summer will begin!
The first full day at Camp | June 25
Today was a beautiful Maine summer day, cool enough to feel comfortable and warm enough to wear just a T-shirt. That was perfect for our first day, since everyone got their own Seeds of Peace T-shirts and had swim tests, in between soccer and basketball and the best game of all—Steal the Bacon! The Steal the Bacon game requires quick thinking and fancy footwork to steal the “bacon,” which is really a tennis ball. It is played in a sand pit, where two, four, or more people on opposing teams have to capture the ball without getting tagged by players from the opposite team. Sometimes it is just a matter of seconds or a quick distraction that brings victory. The girl PSs (second year campers) challenged each other with two teams, the “Hot Stuff” team and the “Ninja Turtle” team. This would be unremarkable except for the fact that the teams were mixed with Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Indians and Americans. The drive to win outdistanced the complicated political struggles between them. This gets repeated over and over again with all the games on our playing fields.
The campers had their first Line-Up before breakfast, sitting on the green benches, looking out on the lake and trying to avoid the dampness that was still there from the night before. Leslie and Wil introduced themselves and all the other management staff at Camp. Aaron helped the new Seeds learn the Seeds of Peace song. Then we had a great breakfast of oatmeal and blueberry pancakes.
We have a fantastic new chef, named Earl, this summer. He is really trying to make healthy food that is similar to what the campers have at home. It isn’t easy, because many of the ingredients are just not available in Maine.
Today all the campers phoned home to reassure their parents that they were safe, but inevitably some of them felt homesick afterward. This is when the educators, who accompany the delegations from their countries, can really be helpful. Having someone familiar speak with them and listen to their concerns has the kind of calming effect they need. This is also the reason the first night in the bunk is a special one just to make everyone feel more at home. In a day or two, the homesickness will diminish and they will all start to feel like this Camp is their second home.
A rainy day in Maine | June 27
We began the day by learning the “humus song” from Ahmad, a counselor who is also a Seed. It was a very happy way to begin the day.
Bunk clean-up was followed by special activities. A favorite is sign language. One of our counselors is the hearing daughter of deaf parents. She was able to teach the campers signs they could use during the normal course of the day, and they were signing to each other all day. Other activities included water-skiing, basketball, and canoeing.
Friday prayers for Muslims and Shabbat services for Jewish campers were part of the schedule today. While these groups are praying, the rest of the campers always remain in their bunks and are not permitted to make noise. The noise came anyway, in the form of huge thunder claps and heavy rain. The intensive rain poured more water than our ground could absorb. Soon we had mini-lakes on the fields, and one of our boats got loose, drifting out to the middle of the lake on its own. Campers were asked to think of names for the new “lakes.” Since our big lake is Pleasant Lake, one person thought the huge puddle on the field should be dubbed “Unpleasant Lake.”
Dance is something which can be done rain or shine, so both the boys and the girls had the chance to do that today.
By evening, the rain was diminishing. The all-Camp activity was a reverse scavenger hunt. For this, the campers gather objects from their bunks and bring a big bag of these things to the big hall and the field house. A “king” and “queen” lead the hunt by asking for objects to be brought to them. Sometimes the bunks have the requested items and sometimes they do not, but since this is a competition, the campers do everything they can to convince the royal couple that what they have brought them is just exactly like what they requested. Some hilarious negotiations and pleadings come into play as the will to win takes over all reason.
We like to recognize each delegation formally at a flag raising ceremony, to show respect and appreciation for their participation. We ask each one to sing their national anthem while everyone else remains respectful. We all stand together just outside our front gate, while a second year camper (Peer Support or PS) from each delegation makes a short speech to the new campers and many guests from Maine. The media also likes to cover this colorful event each year. Once all the anthems have been recited and all the flags are waving high above us, we join together, arms around each other, and sing the newly-learned Seeds of Peace song. The only flag which flies inside the gate is the green Seeds of Peace flag. The others remain waving outside the gate. This makes the entrance to Camp very colorful and welcoming. The flags from both sides of the conflicts, hanging next to each other, reflect the equality we hope to maintain in our Camp.
Our first Camp director, Tim Wilson, who retired two years ago, returned to Camp to speak at the flag raising and to visit the Peer Supports.
This was the first time the campers had their daily dialogue sessions. Some groups had a calm start, but others began with difficult discussions, prompted by the flag raising ceremony. Each dialogue group, like each individual, has its own personality. They are led by a balanced team of facilitators who have been trained in the region of conflict by seasoned facilitators who have worked for Seeds of Peace. Most of the young facilitators are former campers, which serves to increase the level of credibility they have with the new campers.
We had a lovely afternoon of art and sports, some of which are entirely new to these campers, like Ga-Ga, Ultimate Frisbee, kickball and Steal the Bacon. While they were having a good time learning these sports, some of their counselors were putting the finishing touches on a show for the evening activity.
The Counselor Show is a fun way to show the campers what kinds of activities are in store for them during the Camp session. Since they only met their counselors a couple of days ago, they are not aware of all the multiple talents they posses until they perform on stage. A lot of it is really humorous. When you see a room full of Israelis and Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians, Indians and Pakistanis, and Americans all enjoying a show together, you have to admit that this place is mighty special. If you didn’t know better, you might have assumed that they were all the same nationality. But they are the same in deeper ways.
The rain in Maine continues | June 28
It is beginning to feel like a rainforest, except for the temperature. Sometimes it is a gentle spray and other times it is a soaker. But “wet and chilly” is the best way to describe it. Nevertheless, we had a full schedule which even included swim tests for the delegation leaders (the educators who accompany the campers from their homelands and have their own version of Camp). The waterfront staff tried to convince them that the water was warmer than the air temperature, but most of them can figure out that it is even warmer in clothing on dry land. However, they were good sports and took their swim tests without screaming too loudly.
Tonight we had the unofficial “World Cup” for the game of Ga-Ga. All of Camp was divided into teams from France, Italy, Spain and Brazil. Campers painted their faces in the colors of the flags of these countries and then entered into “life or death” competition in the big hall. Of course, as usual, the teams were actually made up of a mix of delegations. For the record, Spain beat Italy in the finals.
We often have former campers visit us, but today we had a record number. Rami drove Mariam, Mujib, Mir, Mustafa and Laith from New York. Karen also came. As often happens when you return to an important place from your childhood, Camp looked smaller than they had remembered. New campers think it is huge.
The PSs went to a conference on human rights in Portland today. This conference was mostly for Maine teenagers and included topics such as interfaith relations, prejudice, AIDS, and refugee resettlement. This was a great opportunity for the PSs to interact with Americans their own age around serious issues affecting their lives.
Every day except Fridays, campers engage in 110-minute dialogue sessions. These are closed, private sessions that are meant to ensure that everyone will have the opportunity to listen to the narrative of people on the other side of their conflict. It also gives them the chance to present their own narrative. In the end, we expect the campers to understand each side better than they did before coming to Camp. What they learn first-hand from their contemporaries often is quite different from what they have heard about people on the other side of the conflict all their lives.
Maine monsoons & the earliest prank | June 29
There were two hours this afternoon that did not involve rain, but the rest of the day was like monsoon season. Everyone has wet clothes piling up, so all of Camp cheered when Leslie announced that tomorrow will be laundry day. That can be both good and bad. It takes a measure of trust and optimism to send your laundry out to be cleaned along with the laundry of 200 other people who also wear green shirts and blue jeans. Someplace in a small town in Maine, there are people whose job it is to keep track of which batch of exactly the same clothing goes into which laundry bag. It can’t be easy.
At morning Line-Up before breakfast, we always acknowledge anyone who is having a birthday. Yesterday there were two of them, so each of them got a birthday cake delivered to their table for dinner. This morning someone said that we had forgotten a birthday. It was Nancy’s birthday. Table 6. As the birthday girl, she was allowed to take along anyone she wanted to breakfast and lunch, but then Leslie got curious about why she had missed noting Nancy’s birthday on her camper list. She told the counselor at the table that she was baffled. Pretty soon Nancy’s table-mates just couldn’t contain themselves and admitted that the whole thing had been a hoax so they would get cake at their table. Poor Nancy hadn’t even planned it. The idea was hatched by the combined effort of Israelis and Palestinians at Table 6. Everyone had a good laugh and we all had delicious cupcakes for dessert!
On a more serious note, the Pakistanis and Indians are working on a social entrepreneurship project with Ashoka. One of our counselors, Ben, also works for this non-profit organization. Today they compared what they would consider the ideal world with reality on many issues, such as wealth distribution, health care, and environmental challenges. They are working toward creating projects to implement back home after Camp is over.
The PSs started working on the music for the Fourth of July parade in Otisfield. They are composing the whole thing themselves. Perhaps they should prepare something with umbrellas!
Finally, we had a treat today when Mariam sang to the whole Camp. Those of us who have been in Seeds of Peace for a while will remember her singing many times, “I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me to see the beauty of the world with my own eyes.”
Sunshine! | June 30
The doves and the loons are playing night music while the campers are nodding off to sleep tonight. They have had a wonderful day of sunshine after a steady diet of rain and more rain all week. Many days in the summer, we start out with a foggy dew that lifts and gets burnt off by the late morning sun. This was one of those Maine days.
Bunk inspection made some groups happy and others not so happy. The scores went from 2.5 for one bunk to 10 (out of 10 possible points) for another.
Everyone had “free swim” this afternoon. We have two swim areas, one for the girls and one for the boys. They are far enough apart so that people cannot be distinguished from either area. This allows the religious campers to enjoy the water and learn to swim better.
We also had good weather for the beginning sailing class. The first thing they learned was how to return a capsized boat to an upright position. They deliberately overturned their sunfish sailboats and righted them over and over until they were confident that they could do it if they ever had to while sailing on our lake.
The Indo-Pak group continued to work on their projects for Ashoka. They were so intent on their plans that they didn’t notice their pictures being taken.
About this time in every three-week session, people show signs of being upset in their dialogue sessions and afterward. Tears and arguments seem to be unavoidable after the dialogue groups begin to deal with the difficult issues between the two sides of the conflict. That is why our all-Camp evening programs are so important. They provide an outlet for the emotions and give people a chance to enjoy each other again.
Tonight we had a lip-sync contest between the bunks. The PSs guided the bunks and helped them perform. Hopefully, all the pent-up emotions from the day have been neutralized by creating a show together.
Dialogue and dancing | July 1
One dialogue group began by playing a quick game of musical chairs without the music. There was always a person in the middle of the circle of chairs who was without a seat. The others would move over to the next seat as soon as it became empty, so the one in the middle must have felt left out. Next they played the “Telephone Game,” in which one person at the end of a line of people starts a whispered word down the line. By the time the word is whispered to the person at the opposite end of the line, it is nothing like what it was when the game started.
As they began to talk, the subject of speaking in English or in your native tongue in Camp was brought up. Some said they feel left out when that happens. Some say they wish they could understand the language of the other side. The parallels between the games and the discussion were typical of what happens here. Eventually, the discussion turned to religion and politics, as the members of the group felt more comfortable together.
Although the discussions in dialogue sessions can become very heated, they are balanced by activities which draw people together. For example, the PSs have spent hours rehearsing for the parade on Friday, creating their own music and dance together. And this evening, the counselors, delegation leaders and campers joined together for a variety of activities, including inter-cultural dancing, calligraphy in all the languages at Camp, the baking of pita bread, mystery-solving, and Ninja Turtle activities.
The dancing was really astonishing. The hora, the dabke, belly-dancing, the Electric Slide, and Punjabi dances were done by people from all of the cultures. It was a lot of fun to watch people learning the dances and not being concerned about whose dances they were.
The delegation leaders seem to have endless energy after spending two days and one night camping on an island. This morning at Line-Up, they made a lively presentation about their trip. This was followed by a somber warning from Wil that there are only two weeks left of this session, so everyone should make even more effort to get to know people on the other side and let them know both narratives.
Dialogue and canoeing | July 2
There is only one young child at Camp, Leslie’s son Sam, so he is showered with attention from all the campers and the staff. At 18 months, he is learning everyone’s name and expressing himself with more new vocabulary each day. This morning he joined Wil at Line-Up, giving Wil’s remarks punctuation and humor.
These days, the dialogue sessions are heating up as the campers feel more comfortable saying what is on their minds. The facilitators usually start their sessions with an “icebreaker” activity, but it doesn’t take much prodding to get the dialogues going. The news from the regions of conflict also colors the level of emotion and contributes to hurtful remarks. Sometimes, campers are very uncomfortable and want to leave the dialogue. But if they do walk out, they can generally be convinced that their voice is needed inside the dialogue session. Sometimes the painful interchanges still sting, long after the end of the discussion. Being a camper is very hard sometimes.
Yet most days are well-balanced with humor, music , friendships and accomplishments. Canoeing, water-skiing and street hockey are among the many new skills we offer at Camp. Art, dancing and drama are frequently new to many campers. For that matter, so is cleaning up the bunk for some. By the second week, most of the campers are willing to take risks to gain new skills not only outside the dialogue room but inside as well.
Today, Leslie got the chance to tell the whole camp about a canoeing story. Choppy water on the lake seemed like a great time to teach a group of new campers how to overturn and restore their canoes to the upright position. They were all good swimmers and had life vests on. Each of them overturned and righted their canoe about six times. As the water was getting more choppy, the head of the waterfront decided that they should come in to shore. Wil and Aaron Kurman met them on shore. Each of them acted very magnanimous, offering to paddle the canoes back to the boat dock for the campers. Wil took one canoe and Aaron took another. Within five seconds they had both capsized! Score one for the lake.
We all wear name buttons at Camp. But sometimes they fall off or we take them off and leave them someplace. The rule is that if a name button is found unattached to the person, he/she has to sing I’m a Little Teapot to everyone at Line-Up. Since this is a kindergarten song, most of us feel a little silly singing it, but some folks are doing it a second and third time.
Our campers can be happily playing a game or joking with a friend one hour and then really sad the next hour. We know that the process of discovering the humanity of the people from the other side is going to bring about these mood swings, but it is still tough to watch sometimes. This morning at Line-Up, Wil called the PSs up front and spoke about the need for them to back off now and not try to help the new campers get through the process. They need to find out for themselves what kind of human beings they are and what they hope to become. Wil reminded the PSs of the time when they were new campers, how it felt then and how they made it through the process on their own. As he said that, you could see their faces become somber and even tearful, yet when Aaron called the PSs up at lunch Line-Up a few hours later to help him teach a song he couldn’t quite remember, You’re Just What I Needed, the PSs laughed and sang with glee.
The dialogue groups are discovering their deeper feelings and also uncovering the masked statements of previous meetings. As the true feelings unfold, in a safe setting, they begin to see how really hard it is going to be to make peace. Deep, unwavering beliefs that clash with the ones on the other side are finally acknowledged. The work of the next week will be to examine these feelings and try to understand them. The facilitators will help everyone, through the group process, gain a deeper understanding of their conflicting narratives, leading to the humanization (even compassion) of the “other side.” This is a hard time for the facilitators, as well.
Tonight, while the PSs were practicing for the Fourth of July parade in Otisfield, the rest of Camp had a Seeds of Peace Trivia Contest. Some of the questions included: How old is Wil Smith? How many summers has Leslie been at Camp? How many times a day does the bell ring? What color are the inside walls of the Small Hall? What was the former name of Camp? What was the original name of the Maine Seeds? How old is Leslie’s son? What is Ahmad’s last name? Which counselor has sailed around the world? and What color is the bell? The answers will be given in the morning.
A very interesting special activity at Camp is the building of a model desalinization structure. The campers are learning all about the water problems in their home countries as well as in Maine, where they are quite different.
Parade, sports day, bunk night | July 4
The parade started early when the PSs decided to have their last rehearsal at 7:15 a.m. The lively drums and fancy footsteps were invigorating for all of us. Our “town” is mostly made up of homes spread far apart in a rural setting. Most of the local people support what we do, but many are still wondering what we are all about. Hopefully, seeing so many teenagers from other countries marching, singing and dancing together has conveyed to them our purpose.
Sports Day is a time when we invite other Maine camps to challenge our teams. Today, our basketball team and both boys and girls soccer teams won . We lost to the other camp in girls softball, though. Basketball and soccer are played in their home countries, but softball is new to our campers. They are at an extreme disadvantage when playing against American girls. All in all, our campers did very well, considering that they have grown up thinking that many members of their teams are sworn enemies.
Bunk night means that each bunk plans their own activity. Tonight these activities included a campfire, a cricket match, games and group chats, American football, canoeing, and a blindfolded hike.
The Fourth of July holiday gave many older Seeds and counselors a chance to come for a visit. It is always a joy to welcome them back and for them to get together again at Camp. They have come from as far away as Egypt, Australia, California, New York, and Washington, D.C., and from as close as Maine.
International Dinner | July 5
It was a wonderful day! Another magnificent sunny Maine day graced us as we prepared for the International Dinner. The whole idea of it is to share our cultures through national food (which our kitchen staff prepared all day with the help of delegation leaders), national dress, music, and dance.
We moved the evening dialogue session to the afternoon so all the campers could stay together after the International Dinner. All the sports activities and special activities took place as well.
There were so many former counselors at Camp today that they were prevailed upon to do the bunk inspection. This time they included the cabins belonging to the head counselors, Sarah and Aaron. Campers’ scores far outdistanced the scores of Sarah and Aaron, who accepted their very low scores with grace.
The beautiful embroidered and beaded dresses of the girls were rich with colors and traditions. The boys also had decorated garb which was proudly worn. At Line-Up, all the campers and delegation leaders joined together, arms around each other, singing the Seeds of Peace song. Then we shared a magnificent feast. Dishes were prepared according to the traditions of the Middle East and South Asia. All afternoon the smell of the spices wafted through the air, so by the time the dinner bell rang, everyone was ready!
After dinner we played music selected from each delegation, and people were free to dance or just listen. A visiting Egyptian Seed (we all call him Moose) from 2006 beat-boxed for the enjoyment of the crowd. Then the entire camp went to the Big Hall for a workshop activity which encouraged them to recognize the differences and similarities between the different cultures represented at Camp. Earlier in the day, there had been a presentation about religions other than Islam, Judaism and Christianity—Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Sikhism and Hinduism.
Ropes course, high elements | July 6
After several lessons at the ropes course, the campers are challenged to accomplish daring feats on the high ropes. Telephone poles are placed fairly far apart with ropes strung between them at about a 30-foot height. The campers have lifelines attached to their waists securely, and people on the ground hold the ropes like a pulley. While every precaution is taken to make this a safe experience, it is daunting whether you view it from the ground or participate in the air. The counselors are well-trained and certified to teach this activity. Everyone wears a hard hat and belay equipment. Still, if you look at the faces of the counselors on the ground, you can see the tension as they coach the campers across the span of rope stretched between the telephone poles. Those campers who excel in this are challenged to do it with blindfolds on!
We have reached the point in the Camp program when we can add some humor to mundane chores such as cleaning the bunks. Today, for example, Aaron, the head boys counselor, took the two-and-a-half-year-old son of our chef, Colby, around with him to rate the cleaning jobs in each bunk. Colby decided that the scores could be rated by the number of squirrels the campers earned. So, some bunks got 2 squirrels for their effort and other bunks got 3 squirrels. Then there was one which got a “Yucky!”
Tonight was Pirate Night, when the counselors hide and the campers have to find them and steal their “gold.” The bunks with the most gold win. Hopefully, they will get a good night’s sleep after running around Camp looking for counselors who are dressed as pirates. Anyway, that is the plan.
Home alone | July 7
At 6 a.m., we all awoke to the jolting sound of an airhorn for a fire drill. Most of us had to run to the field wearing our pajamas and nightgowns, but the delegation leaders were up early for their trip to Boston, so they were fully dressed. The campers and the rest of us looked like a tired slumber party. When all were present on the field and accounted for, we hopped back in bed for a few more minutes. Then the bell rang.
The PSs went on a hike up a mountain today. At the top of the mountain they had a dialogue session about becoming more honest with themselves and with others. All reported that this was a very important day for them.
In the meantime, the new campers were on their own! No PSs and no delegation leaders were around to support them. They used this day well, taking over the duties of the PSs and giving themselves time to talk with each other in small groups or couples. Recently, various people have advised them to “make one friend” like John Wallach used to say. This was happening all over Camp.
Tonight was a “choose your own adventure” evening activity. These adventures ranged from chess and card games to swing dancing or cookie baking. But the most raucous adventure was a Steal the Bacon match, played on slippery water slides instead of in the usual sand pit.
Sea Dogs | July 8
The only time the campers leave the area, other than in a medical emergency, is for the Sea Dogs minor league baseball game in Portland. They are so glad to see something in the US other than Camp that they tend to become very enthusiastic, cheering whenever the spirit moves them, not only when there has been a particularly good play on the field. Many of them never even notice the game going on. They spend the time cheering, eating, “shopping,” taking pictures of each other, and visiting. The ballpark officials give us our own block of seats near the outfield, so we won’t bother other people who might actually be interested in the game.
Stormy weather | July 9
A strong electric storm hit our area of Maine today, knocking out power and the Internet in various places. It also destroyed my computer. Thanks to my BlackBerry, I will be able to send you a short report.
Most importantly, we have a rehearsed plan of action in place whenever there is a storm. Everyone at Camp is perfectly all right. And, somehow, our power didn’t go out this time. Many of our neighbors have no power as a result of the storm, so we are lucky in that respect.
Today, the people who will be in the Talent Show tomorrow night had a chance to practice. And the sailors and water skiers had a morning of fun and major accomplishments.
Tonight we showed the campers a short film about John Wallach’s dream for Seeds of Peace. Then Janet Wallach spoke to the campers about John’s hopes for their generation of leaders.
In the meantime, the PSs decorated the Dining Hall for Café Night. The campers were then invited to join them for a festive social event with great desserts and music. The idea for this night is to make friends with people they haven’t really talked with yet. It isn’t easy to get out of one’s comfort zone, but since this was the point of the evening, the task was made much easier.
Talent Show | July 10
First of all, we are indebted to Gal yet again for creating a way for you all to follow Color Games online. It’s the next best thing to being here at Camp!
Each time we have a Talent Show, we all really enjoy seeing the people we have lived with for two weeks in a whole new light. Who knew that some of them could juggle and make karate moves or act in an ancient Pakistani play? Who knew that these athletic boys could do so many amazing tricks with a soccer ball? Who knew that some could sing like angels or play the oud or saxophone? We knew that we would be entertained by Indian dances, dabke and the hora. And at the end of the show, in keeping with this day being the anniversary of John Wallach’s passing, Jessie sang his song, Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream. And who knew that the delegation leaders would perform the “Electric Slide”? They were really good!
At the end of the show, Color Games began with screams and shouts. The campers were ushered down to the fire pit for the entrances of the coaches and choose-ups for the teams, Green and Blue. For the next couple of days, every camper is either Green or Blue. And the steady stream of competitive sports and other activities will last until Sunday afternoon.
Color Games second day | July 12
We began this day with a running event around the track that circles the Camp. First the girls ran and then the boys finished the race. The girls from the Green Team won and the boys from the Blue Team won. The whole day was spent in competition as the teams challenged each other in tennis, soccer, baseball, volleyball, Frisbee, art, dance, music, creative writing, cake decorating, canoeing, Steal the Bacon, swimming, street hockey and the ropes course. Throughout the day, the two teams kept almost even scores, so neither team lost any momentum.
Tonight we had a variety show with a comedy skit, a band ensemble, a capella singing, dancing, and a team song performed by the entire team. This was one of the finest variety shows we have ever seen. It was wonderful to see people from both teams cheering for each other. At the end, we all sang the Seeds of Peace song, which hasn’t been sung more than once or twice since the flag raising ceremony on the second day of Camp. But, what a difference! At flag raising, the new campers sing the song in an uninspiring way. After all, they have just arrived. But tonight everyone sang with conviction and strength. I am a Seed of Peace has never sounded better.
Color Games seems to be the most effective cure for any lingering homesickness. It is probably the most exciting part of Camp and it lasts for three days, without a let-down. Campers and counselors alike take risks they never dreamed of before joining the Blue or Green Team. The counselors who are the coaches drive themselves and their teams as hard as they can and then some. There are competitions in every sport and art activity and in anything else we can can squeeze into these three days. Rain or shine, we keep going until the final tally determines the winner. Tomorrow will be the second day.
The scores are announced in the dining hall after lunch and dinner. Some scores are not revealed until the very end. Tonight, the Blue Team was feeling pretty good when they were 100 points ahead, but then, at the all-star soccer match, Green won the penalty kick playoff. One thing is certain: they will never forget these Color Games days.
Message to Hajime | July 13
The peace canoes were given a boost by a strong wind which blew in the right direction, from the boat dock to the Pines beach area. The peace canoes are really Indian war canoes which hold about 12 campers. The person in the stern hollers “pull, pull” as everyone paddles in unison. They have to reach out and touch Wil, who stands waist-deep in the cold water at 7 a.m. Then a runner speeds up the hill to the bell to announce the end of the race for each team.
The highlight of Color Games is the final relay race, called the Message to Hajime, in which every single person in Camp participates in accomplishing 108 tasks. The final task is the memorization of a quote which is fairly long and challenging. The cumulative score for everything is announced at the beach when the last task has been completed by both teams. With both teams evenly matched and scoring evenly up until that point, the pressure on the two who had to memorize the quote was great. But each of them rose to the occasion. Blue won.
Blue ran into the lake first, followed by the Green Team. Pretty soon, everyone was splashing and hugging all their friends and teammates. Our tradition is to make a big circle in the water and sing the Seeds of Peace song.
In the afternoon, there were delegation meetings, a much needed rest hour, and the distribution of memory albums, which have come from Creative Memories for many years. This helps the campers come to grips with the reality of the end of Camp in a gentle way. They put pictures in the albums, but most of all, they sign each other’s albums with sentiments which will help them remember and treasure their Camp friends.
After dinner, we held our traditional memorial service for Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has died in a conflict, plus the other seven Seeds who have died of other causes. The campers were visibly moved by the service and next went to their bunks for the last Bunk Night. Two more nights of Camp are left.
Last full day & departure | July 14-15
Early in the morning, most campers chose to attend the traditional Quaker silent meeting which Bobbie offers them as a way to connect everyone spiritually, but without any specific direction. One of the campers broke the silence by saying that he felt privileged in a very deep way by this opportunity to either speak or not speak to everyone in the room. For the next hour, one by one, each camper who chose to speak told the others why this Seeds of Peace Camp has been important for him/her. Tears of empathy flowed across the usual boundaries of interaction.
Another traditional part of Camp is the PS prank at the end. This time the PS prank was exactly what Camp needed. They took a line from Rumi’s poem, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there,” and painted a sign facing the open field at the center of Camp which says, “This is the field …” We had talked about this poem, a favorite of Asel Asleh’s, at the memorial service the previous evening.
Campers also completed attitudinal surveys identical to the ones they filled out at the beginning of Camp. One camper asked if we were trying to see if their attitudes toward people on the other side of their conflict had changed. When told, “yes,” he said that he thought the change would be very significant.
In the evening, the campers were given a “life after Camp” presentation, so they will understand that their participation in Seeds of Peace has just begun. They also were shown a slideshow, made up of some of the best pictures taken at Camp by various people. Radika, an Indian Seed who is now a counselor, put the slidesshow together. Then we went to the campfire and the coaches from Color Games spoke to the campers about what they found out about themselves during the Games. We sang together all the usual goodbye kinds of songs. Then the campers went to bed while the PSs went to the trophy room to receive their turtle necklaces from Bobbie. These necklaces represent our hope that these older Seeds will consider Seeds of Peace their second home and will carry the spirit of Seeds of Peace with them like a turtle carries its home wherever it goes.
The morning began at 6 a.m. as the bell rang to get everyone up to send the Egyptians and Jordanians off first. Then the Palestinians left. Then the Israelis left. And by noon, all the South Asians and Americans had left as well. It is almost impossible to physically separate the campers. They know they might not see each other again. Even though some of them live only a five minutes’ drive away from each other, they are blocked from visiting by walls and check points. But the Internet will allow them to defy these borders. SeedsBook and Facebook will help them stay intimately involved in each other’s lives. They raced across the field to catch the last chance to wave to their departing friends.
The South Asians flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with USAID officials, ambassadors, and congressional leaders. A few days from now, the Pakistanis and the Indians will board separate flights and head to their respective homes. They will see each other again only when the situation there is safe enough for homestays, when they visit each other’s homes for several days.
Camp is very quiet now. But, it is only a brief interlude. We will be starting all over again, with a whole new group of campers from the Middle East and from Maine, on Monday.
South Asian Seeds in DC | July 16-18
Right after Camp ended, the Indian and Pakistani campers and their delegation leaders had a trip to Washington, DC. This is part of their program. It was a combination of visits with State Department officials, congressmen, and the ambassadors from both countries. They also went to the Kabul art exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Natural History, and an Indian restaurant. The congressmen and diplomats spent a considerable amount of time with them, fielding very difficult questions from the Seeds, who were polite but persistent. Accompanying the Seeds were senior staff and a Board member as well as Camp counselors Nour and Matt.
SESSION TWO: MIDDLE EAST & MAINE
Begin Second Session | July 21
It was the dawn of a new day as we began a new session of Camp. A peaceful lake and a cool breeze gently moved our staff toward another chance to build a community, however temporary, of people whose fear of one another would ordinarily keep them apart. No one should think it is ever easy to recover from the departure of the first session campers and get ready to greet the second session campers with high energy, after such a short break. The first session campers are sorely missed, but, as the delegations roll in all day, the momentum of excitement builds.
In addition to Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian delegations, we also have delegations from all over the United States and a special delegation from Maine. The Maine Seeds program focuses on leadership development and intercultural awareness.
A noisy informal band greets each delegation as the tired and hungry campers emerge from their buses. Each delegation is welcomed by Bobbie telling them about the joys of living beside a lake and how Maine has a road sign that says, “Welcome to Maine—the way life should be!” After many summers of excusing the campers for not seeing that sign, given how tired they were at that point, for the first time ever, someone said he had actually seen that road sign. He was Omar, from Jordan, obviously a young man destined for greatness!
Getting settled | July 22
The first full day at Camp is designed to lay the foundation for the rest of the session. Practical things like handing out T-shirts and sweatshirts, getting checked out by the doctor and nurse, making name buttons, taking swim tests and finding out which table and dialogue group are assigned to each camper are high on the list of “to do’s.” But, more important than anything is helping each camper feel more comfortable and safe.
Wil, the assistant director, began the day by explaining how we handle emergencies like lightning storms or fires. Wil explained that his main job was to make sure the campers return home safely in three weeks. He also talked about safety rules regarding the lake. Leslie explained how we handle dietary laws and special needs at camp. To be sure everyone understood every word she said, two counselors translated simultaneously in Hebrew and Arabic.
All throughout the day, small groups were taught the Seeds of Peace Camp song. Then at the final Line-Up, four counselor musicians helped us all sing the song together, in preparation for the finale of the flag raising ceremony tomorrow morning. Tonight, all the campers had a private chat with Wil Smith, to give them a chance to know him as an individual and not just as a disciplinarian. Afterwards, the campers spent a short time getting acquainted with their facilitators.
At our camp, we have long, long days. We are already dreaming before our heads hit the pillow. But the weeks are another story. The weeks are very short. Time will just evaporate by the third week.
Flag raising and humus | July 23
Speakers from among the Peer Support (PS) campers, representing all the delegations at Camp, spoke eloquently about their Camp memories and gave sage advice to the new campers. All the flags were raised and the anthems were sung. The funniest anthem was the one from the State of Maine, which is created from a list of all the names of the counties in Maine. Campers had been instructed to show respect for all the anthems. The campers from the Middle East didn’t immediately realize that the Maine “anthem” was not exactly official. All other anthems were sung with appropriate earnestness as their corresponding flags were raised at the entrance to our camp. Quite a lot of media representatives were on hand.
The Seeds of Peace song is the finale of the flag raising ceremony. Before we sang it, this time, Wil told two stories which occurred recently, in which the Seeds of Peace song figured prominently. The first story was about a Palestinian delegation leader who had to return home via Jordan. When she was at the checkpoint going into the West Bank, she was interrogated by an Israeli soldier who was curious to know where this delegation leader had traveled. The delegation leader said she had been to the Seeds of Peace Camp in the USA. The soldier asked her to prove it by singing the Seeds of Peace song. Of course she knew it very well and got through the checkpoint very easily. The soldier was a Seed!
Wil’s second story was even more amazing. When the Israeli delegation landed in Tel Aviv, who did they see at the airport but the Palestinian delegation. So, they formed a circle in the airport and sang the Seeds of Peace song for the entertainment of everyone there. That must have been quite an event for that airport!
We had two birthdays to celebrate today. The two girls were able to choose people they wanted to take to the dining hall with them and had birthday cake, a happy birthday song and a skip around the room. This is a wonderful place to have a birthday! But it doesn’t take a birthday to make the dining hall lively. The humus song and table cheers—bang-bang, clap-clap—punctuate the meals and serve to unite the campers in shared fun.
Storms and puddle-surfing | July 24
This morning, when the fog was so thick that you couldn’t see the lake at Line-Up, right next to the lake, most of us were hoping that the fog would burn off and turn into a nice sunny day. After all, Casco Days began today. Casco is the next town on our lake and the fair they hold this time every summer is something we like to support. The proceeds from the fair pay for their small fire department. But, hoping for sun was to no avail. It poured like mad! In fact, we had to ask everyone to leave the dining hall in a hurry and go to the big hall for safety. Tornado warnings were in effect for our part of Maine. Every single person in Camp stayed there for almost three hours until it was safe to be outside. When we emerged, there were several “unpleasant lakes” (giant puddles) on the field, but we made the most of the situation!
Some of the activities had to be modified, such as learning about the ropes course on the dining hall porch or learning how to waterski inside the boat shed. But the best adaptation was surfboarding on the unpleasant lakes in the field. Some people did some mud-sliding as well.
The PSs are hard at work on the music and dancing they will do in the Casco Days parade on Saturday. This is a much bigger parade than the July 4th parade was last session.
Tonight the rain continues to come down like giant waterfalls. Hip boots might become very fashionable if this goes on too much longer. The campers are being good sports about the constant wetness, but it is too bad that their introduction to Camp life is so soggy. Let’s hope for a drier tomorrow.
Sunshine! | July 25
Who knew we would wake up to a bright sunny day with gentle, dry winds? Not me. When you have more than 200 people wanting to swim, play sports and do other outdoor activities, such a day is a real life-saver. Due to the soggy ground and high water level of the lake, we had to make a couple of adjustments to the schedule, but for the most part, we were back to normal activities, including dance, capoeira, art-to-music, the Mafia game, group challenge, water conservation canoeing, sailing, and swimming. The girls had to swim at the boys’ beach, due to the water coming over the dock at the girls beach, but not while the boys were using it.
It is wonderful to meet all the new campers and discover their uniqueness. The many faces of Seeds of Peace are reflected in the individual photos taken while they were in discussions today.
Often when former campers return for a visit people are astonished at the growth that has taken place. Few have surprised people as much as Yousef Bashir (2005 from Gaza), who collected a lot of hugs and amazed looks as he made his way around Camp today.
Casco Days | July 26
By now, it should be obvious that “normal days” at Seeds of Peace Camp are few and far between. Today was a perfect example of that. At one end of Pleasant Lake, there is a small town called, Casco. For three days at the end of July, they hold a fair and other activities, including a road race and a parade. We just fit that into our regular schedule somehow.
The parade had over a hundred entries, including antique cars, other camps and a host of other local businesses which formed a parade through the town. The road race had hundreds of participants including many of our campers and counselors. In fact, one of our female counselors came in second out of all the women who took part in the race. The PSs prepared all morning for the parade with dancing and singing, using the theme, “To get something you have never achieved before, you have to do something you have never done before.” The hundreds of observers lining the main street often stood up and applauded as they performed. Later the PSs came back to camp and performed for the rest of the campers. They got the first prize award for creativity.
Somewhere in the midst of the Casco Days activities, the campers also had their dialogue groups, breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was a beautiful day for water sports—hot in the sun and windy on the lake. Tonight it is cool and pleasant, as the campers settle into their beds and nod off to sleep.
Waterski and Steal the Bacon | July 27
After an unusually serious morning Line-Up, with a moving talk by Yousef, a former camper from Gaza, we actually had a normal day. There were lively discussions in the dialogue huts at the same time as the other campers were having fun in water sports, green earth lessons, or land sports. The delegations each met for an hour separately to share the experiences of the first week in their own languages.
In the early evening, the sky looked like rain would soon be upon us, so we scrambled for alternative places to hold various activities planned for the night as part of “plan your own adventure.” But the rain held off, magically, and everything proceeded as planned in the end.
While we were trying to figure things out, David, one of the counselors, told the whole Cinderella story in spoonerisms. This trick involves reversing the letters of the key words in the story, leaving it understandable (if you catch on to the trick) but sounding funny. Earlier in the day, David also taught campers to waterski both on land and in the water. One must be multi-talented to be a counselor at Seeds of Peace.
Tonight there was a Steal the Bacon game, which was played mostly in the dark. This is the favorite game at Camp because it involves cunning, faking, running, tagging and falling in the sand. If you don’t have a pound of sand in your hair after the game is over, well, you just didn’t give it your best effort. First the “Monkey Business” team was beaten by the “Mighty Penguins.” But then the “Bug Spray” team was closed out by everyone.
The fun part of Camp is considered just as important as the serious dialogue sessions and group challenges. Both afford the campers a chance to see the people on both sides as human beings, worthy of concern and compassion. The campers all feel the warmth of their families when they get their turn to phone home.
NBA Play for Peace Day | July 28
Nine NBA players and one woman from the Women’s National Basketball Association came to camp today. They literally played and taught basketball all day long, including the evening. Most of them are taller than you might think was humanly possible, but they took on Seeds and counselors of all shapes and sizes.
They held master classes in all aspects of the game and then took on Camp’s “all stars” at the end of the day. Over and over, they took on four of our toughest players and ran circles around them. But, at the end, four new Seeds—Abud, Ramy, Abdullah and Waleed—legitimately defeated the professionals with swift teamwork, kind of under the big feet and long legs, scoring a basket to the tumultuous screams of delight from the campers.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Six of the older campers and all the basketball players took 90 minutes to hold a serious discussion about their experiences as Seeds at Camp and at home. The players listened respectfully and asked questions. Some of them even shared their own stories with the campers.
There was a lot of media coverage, particularly from the NBA. So, don’t be surprised if you hear about the NBA visit to Camp from other sources.
International Dinner and Seeds staff | July 29
The International Dinner was actually held last evening. The food was lovingly prepared by our delegation leaders, using ingredients closest to the original recipe as is possible in Maine. Maqlouba, hummus, mousaka and many lentil/rice dishes were in abundance. Of course we had baklava for dessert.
On this night we encourage the campers and delegation leaders to dress in their native costumes. This creates a colorful and festive feast for the eyes. After the dinner, we have dancing with music from all their cultures and also from other cultures as well.
This morning the special activities included sign language. Teenagers are quick to learn sign language, which is taught by the daughter of two deaf parents.
Drama also met today. A large group sat in a circle and were instructed to ask the person seated to the right a question. Then that person was supposed to skip the answer and turn to the next person with a question. The objective was to keep a straight face, no matter how funny the questions were, while trying to knock out the other people in the group with funny questions. It was hilarious!
Tennis can also be pretty amusing. The counselor told one girl that she was the “queen” on one side of the court, while everyone else stayed on the other side of the court, trying to take her place by winning the shots. This was a lively way to get beginners interested in hitting the ball.
No one who has ever been a camper or counselor here would believe that all our laundry is actually coming back to us when we send it out to be cleaned. We switched the laundry service to a man who feels honored to do it for Seeds of Peace! I guess we can put away that “lost laundry” form at last.
Sailing, canoeing and photos | July 30
This morning we all spread out on the big field and arranged ourselves into bunk, dialogue and table groups. Radika and Bobbie ran around to all the groups and took the official Camp photos. It is always interesting to see how creative people can get when there is a group picture. Also, the way people position themselves in the photo frequently says a lot about their perceived positions within the group. Some groups had a theme, some spelled out their numbers with their bodies, one group climbed on the bell, one group formed a pyramid, one formed a circle and others just arranged themselves into neat rows.
Sailing, waterskiing and canoeing are new sports for most of the campers from the Middle East, as well as for some from Maine. Part of the delegation from Maine represents thousands of refugees from African countries who have settled in Maine in the past 10 years. So there is a lot of teaching going on here. Our waterfront staff is so good at giving each camper encouragement and opportunities to risk trying something new, making mistakes and then trying again until it turns out right. Because we are highly safety-conscious, all people on boats wear life vests and pass swim tests.
Fun in the rain | July 31
Rainy days at Camp can get you down, unless you have some really funny people in attendance. And we do! Today the girls from two dialogue groups were in the art shack drawing pictures of Wil Smith, the assistant camp director, and Line-Up. No one thought anything of it. It just seemed like they were recording their impressions of line-up, where Wil is the person in charge. Wil tends to emphasize safety, rules and procedures in the beginning of Camp. Apparently, these girls had been mimicking him, as teenagers are apt to do, and for a joke they first presented him with their artwork and then proceeded to immtate his safety rules, to the complete enjoyment of the rest of Camp.
Humor is a gift. Shared humor, among people who normally just share a conflict, is an even bigger gift. The girls who made us all laugh were Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Americans. The audience was the same.
Undoubtably there was an impact on the campers when the delegation leaders (adult educators who accompany the campers from their home countries) made a presentation at morning Line-Up. They had just returned from a camping trip to Cow Island, on the coast of Maine. They were moved by the fact that this island had been a lookout station during World War I but now every inch of it is used for coexistence training. They spent two days living in tents, preparing meals together and kayaking in the ocean. Their faces glowed with appreciation and warmth for one another.
Sports Day and Board visit | August 1
Camps Winnebago and Fernwood came to Camp to challenge us in girls softball, girls soccer, boys soccer and boys basketball. Having a common “enemy” helped all of our teams pull together and play well. In fact, our teams played so well that we won all the games! Keep in mind that the campers on the other teams have been together all this summer at least and probably for years. They didn’t have to overcome any major barriers to get along with their teammates. But, our teams did. And softball is not a sport that is known in the Middle East. Yet our girls won, 5 to 1. The basketball game was so unbalanced that Winnebago had to send in one of their counselors to play against our team. And still the score was 68 to 37.
Our Line-Ups are getting more and more entertaining. Today some of the campers relived NBA Day in a comedy sketch. As usual, the campers zeroed in on the funniest aspects of that day. And, of course, we had one of those birthday glitches when Leslie announced that it was Ibrahim’s birthday but the real date of his birth was the reverse number of month and day. Ibrahim was happy to celebrate his birthday six months early but Wil only allowed him to take his friends to breakfast and there was no cake.
Lest anyone thinks our Camp is all fun and games, we should point out that there was a Board of Directors meeting here at Camp today. The Board wrestles with the funding, budget and policies of Seeds of Peace. After the meeting the Board members spent the rest of the day with the campers and the staff in informal discussions.
And, just in case anyone thinks we have run out of rain here in Maine, well, remember that the rain in Maine rains mainly every day! Our shoes may never dry out!
Interfaith dialogue | August 2
All day we go back and forth between serious discussions and just plain fun. This way, everyone gets some relief from the intensity of the issues being discussed. The campers as well as the delegation leaders have this kind of schedule. Living altogether in close quarters makes avoiding certain people impossible. So we have to make sure that levity and time away from heavy discussion are part of each day.
The former Camp director, Tim Wilson, spoke to the campers at noon Line-Up about the importance of making and keeping friends. Wil added the importance of being honest in dialogue, rather than sticking to old arguments. Listening to the expressed feelings of the people on the other side of the conflict is the key.
Laura, one of the seasoned counselors, organizes many things at camp, but today seemed to be especially busy for her. She organizes all the evening activities, the special activities in the morning, and the religious services, among other things, like giving instruction in swimming and sailing. Plus she is a bunk counselor.
Today, Laura organized a voluntary camper dialogue session about the different religions represented at Camp. Several counselors had been trained during orientation week in how best to conduct interfaith dialogue. There was a heavy emphasis on respect, listening and the use of “in my experience” comments as opposed to “my religion says” or “your religion says” kind of comments. First these counselors demonstrated how to use the guidelines and then the campers were divided into small groups for dialogue.
At the end of the hour, the campers were dismissed to sports activities. Laura then switched over to teaching campers how to sail a Hobie Cat.
Tonight half of Camp will have dialogue groups and the other half will have art and sports activities. Then the entire Camp will have a lip sync contest between the bunks. Again there will be a combination of serious conversation as well as skill-building and fun.
Just to show that optimism is alive and well at Camp, bunk 4 actually hung their clothes out to dry today. Then the rain came.
Sea Dogs game | August 3
Wil Smith promised everyone that, contrary to the Seeds of Peace tradition, the Sea Dogs would NOT lose their game when we were at the stadium in Portland watching it today. Most of us old-timers have always maintained that the main reason the campers like to go to the Sea Dogs game is to buy junk food and/or do a lot of cheering with drums, etc. No one actually watches the game. Their hearts are not in it and it seems too slow for them to watch. We have sometimes gotten into the fifth inning before they realize that there are players on the field. Today was the true test!
We had rain and fog all morning, but by the time the buses reached the baseball stadium, the sun was out and it was actually pretty warm in the stands. In fact, while everyone waited 2 1/2 hours for the game to start, people had to apply sunscreen and drink water. After everyone filled up on “sea dog biscuits” and other baseball park food, cheered and clapped and banged on drums, an announcement was made that the game was cancelled due to the field being too wet. No doubt the manager figured that he had sold enough food and drink for the day. But, since our campers still had a lot of fun, that just proved that the actual game is entirely immaterial. And Wil was proud that his prediction was right—hey, they didn’t lose!
As usual, half the Camp had dialogue in the morning and the other half had dialogue in the evening. The ones who do not have dialogue are engaged in activities including group challenge, volleyball, drama, art and basketball. Our own soccer and baseball fields are soggy wet from all the rain we have had.
Tonight we had a “choose your own adventure” evening, which included Ga-Ga, the Mafia game, a sports trivia game, cooking, Bocce ball and jewelry making.
Once again we are going to sleep with the sound of rain. This might be comforting if we didn’t already have too much water in all the wrong places. If only the water could be diverted to where it is needed!
Reverse rain dances | August 4
With daily deluges of rain, some of us have been reduced to trying anything—anything at all—to stop the rain and bring back the sun. Little Sam was heard singing the kindergarten song Rain, rain, go away while sloshing through the many unpleasant lakes around Camp. And today the PSs went on a hike up a mountain to have their “mountain-top conversation.” They reported that every time they became argumentative, the grey thunder clouds would roll in, but if they calmed down and spoke reasonably to each other, the clouds would drift off and the sun would appear again. They decided to dub this a reverse rain dance.
Meanwhile, back at our Camp, the sun did appear for about ninety minutes. It was glorious! Jackets and sweatshirts came off and we could have Line-Up outside beside the lake where it belongs. This morning we held Line-Up inside the big hall. We had to do that. The rain was falling and Wil had something important to impart to the campers. The dialogue sessions for the Middle East campers seem to be stuck in discussions that mostly reflect what they have been taught about the people on the other side of their conflict, rather than a reflection of their own observations here at Camp. Wil implored them to take this opportunity to think for themselves and use their hearts to see the reality.
During that short period when the sun came out, people were able to use the high elements of the ropes course, play street hockey and basketball. Drama, dance and art are going on constantly.
Each session has its own personality. This one has produced one spoof after another. It might have something to do with the amount of time the campers have spent indoors entertaining themselves away from the rain. They are pretty funny but they are all inside jokes. Let me just say that no one appears to be off-limits!
Swimming across the lake | August 5
At first glance, they looked like ducks in the lake, far off in the distance. Then their heads became visible. Then you could see an arm coming out of the water and then another. Soon you could discern actual faces bobbing up and down as the whole group moved closer to our Camp. It turned out to be the special activity endurance team who decided to swim a half-mile across the lake. Two counselors swam with them and two other counselors drove two rescue boats alongside them. They made it in less than 30 minutes. Not bad at all!
Thursday night is the Talent Show, so people are squeezing in practice sessions every chance they can get. The talent will range from dancing and singing to instrumental music and whatever else they want to share with the other campers. It is another way to demonstrate both unique and universal talent and entertainment.
Tonight the whole Camp watched the film shown at John Wallach’s memorial service at the United Nations in 2002. Leslie, Wil and Bobbie spoke from their personal experience with John about his drive and commitment to Seeds and Seeds of Peace. Afterwards, the PSs prepared a Café Night in the dining hall so the campers could follow John Wallach’s advice and “make a new friend every day.”
We are wet | August 6
Four days of sunshine seems a little meager compared to three weeks of rain. The weathermen predict the next sunny day will be on Tuesday, when the campers leave for home. Let’s hope that this prediction is wrong, because we have sunshiny things to do!
A girls camp, Pinecliff, came over this morning and played basketball with our girls in the field house today. We would have a very hard time at Camp if we didn’t have good indoor facilities. The Steal the Bacon court has been stolen. All the fields and tennis courts are swamps. What to do?
Tonight’s activities were created by the PSs. They included a Mafia game, Ga-Ga, hair and face makeovers, group dances, practicing for the Talent Show and repainting the table blocks for the dining hall.
Serious conversations continued both inside and outside the dialogue huts. And far from the eyes of the campers, the coaches for Color Games were dividing the campers into comparable, balanced teams. We may be wet but we are not defeated.
Talent Show & Color Games | August 7
While the rest of the planet is focused on the start of the Olympics, here at Seeds of Peace we have already begun Color Games, which is our version of the Olympics. In fact, in 2000, we held our Color Games in Olympia, Greece, which is the site of the first Games. It is actually much more fun to hold them at Camp under normal circumstances. But, this year, we are challenged by deep mud and puddles everywhere. It is also pretty cold. Never mind. The new campers are just as excited as they would be if the weather was sunny and dry. And the PSs are too. We had a wonderful Talent Show with dances, songs, rap music, flute and piano playing, poetry, capoeira, clowns and two bands. The coaches all made their entries with all the fanfare and humor expected, albeit, in a cold drizzling rain. Right now, we think of that as good weather. It’s the thunder storms that get in our way.
Today we had more visitors than usual. Ned Lazarus and Kymberlie Charles were here, as well as several other former campers and counselors. Ned is doing his PhD dissertation on the impact of Seeds of Peace on the oldest Seeds. He came here to interview the ones who are on Camp staff and he has already interviewed about eighty.
At line-up we had a funny, unrehearsed event. Aaron Shneyer was leading everyone in the song I Guess You’re Just What I Needed when Leslie’s little boy, Sam, ran down the middle and started to dance and clap. Then he asked to play the guitar, which Aaron bent down to give him. Sometimes, little children are just what we need. They can make all of us smile and feel warm.
First day of Color Games | August 8
The wake-up bell rang late because there was no point in getting everyone up for the rope pull while the rain was pouring down. After breakfast, the rope pull took place in a light drizzle. Green won. They were thrilled until the rumor started going around that the team that wins the rope pull usually loses Color Games. This whole three day competition hinges on spirit and luck, as well as determination and risk-taking. Planning strategically and utilizing all the talent on the team are also strong factors.
Basketball and soccer had to be played inside the field house and big hall. Ga-Ga was played in the trophy room. Volleyball, Steal the Bacon and street hockey were played outside.
The BBC reporters were with us all day. They plan to have an online report, a radio spot and a TV report come out of their visit.
Tonight at the team meetings, the Green team was dealing with the fact that they are 50 points behind the Blue team. But, the Blue team was out testing their runners for the foot race in the morning and working on their team song. Being the coach for these teams is never easy. The campers are using a new identity (blue or green), competing among strong competitors, coping with wet shoes and cold weather, as well as bemoaning the fact that Camp will come to an end in three days.
Second day of Color Games | August 9
We woke up to a sunny day with a beautiful blue sky, but by the time lunchtime rolled around, it was back to pouring rain. We did complete the Race for Peace before breakfast—Green won that—and had a full morning of Frisbee, girls soccer, creative writing, volleyball, boys dance, art, chess, cooking, group challenge and climbing wall. Girls softball, boys soccer, music, boys basketball and one inning of boys softball were completed before the sky opened up again and soaked our already soaked environment. People were slipping and sliding all over the fields. Still, the competitive spirit drove them on to play everything to the hilt. The soccer players were especially mired in mud. The players would attempt to kick and very often would end up lying on their backs. The Blue team won on a penalty kick after a deadlocked game of 2 to 2.
The talent we have at this camp is way over the top. Judges of competitions are generally in a quandary over which team to choose. Now the teams are rehearsing their entries in the variety show, taking place later tonight. That heavy score will be added to their earnings so far, plus the scores for Message to Hajime tomorrow. Then, Color Games will be over, for this session. Green or Blue, that is the question!
Last day of Color Games | August 10
Last night’s variety show included instrumental music, dance, drama, a capella singing and a group song. The Green and Blue teams each won something but the Green team song was the tie-breaker. Seeds who want to hear and see both teams’ songs, which were excellent, will soon be able to do that on SeedsBook.
This morning before breakfast we had the peace canoe races and street hockey for boys. Some boys actually did both. We have never seen a more determined group of campers than the ones we have with us this time. In spite of almost constant rain, they have refused to allow the nasty weather to interfere with their SOP experience. They have done it all, regardless of any hurdles.
When the 105 events of Message to Hajime were completed, two girls had to memorize a paragraph in English they have never heard before. The teams were neck and neck—so close at every turn. At the end, one girl completed her memorization four seconds earlier than the other. So, the Blue team won, but not by much! All the campers and counselors jumped into the lake for a splashing good time and sang the Seeds of Peace song in a big circle.
It was a rare sunny day today so we were treated to a cook out. All of a sudden, a group of campers wanting their picture taken morphed into a group shot of the whole Camp! Later on, they worked on their memory albums provided by Creative Memories. They will write all over them with heartfelt notes to each other. Later, when they are Camp-sick or just feeling low, these albums are a source of comfort. They will also paste pictures in them to remind them of Camp life. After they get home, Facebook and Seedsbook will also keep them connected and supportive of each other.
Tonight we held a memorial service for Asel Asleh, the only Seed who has been killed in the conflict, as well as for the six other Seeds who have died in other ways: Ashley and Aleigh from Maine, Omar from Egypt, Mehzabeen from India, Mohammed from Qatar and Alba from Kosovo. Bashar, Tim, Wil, Alia and Bobbie spoke. Aaron Shneyer and several older Seeds sang a song dedicated to the memory of those who have been taken from us. The speakers all used stories about the lost Seeds to emphasize the need for empathy, peaceful strategies and hope.
Final days of the summer | August 11-12
The morning of the last full day of Camp, Bobbie offered the campers a chance to express themselves in the collective shelter of a Quaker silent meeting. Their thoughts and feelings were softly conveyed to the large group of campers and counselors, after periods of silence, in harmony and mutual respect. After that, the campers had their final dialogue session and also filled out the “after” version of our attitudinal surveys.
In the evening, Paul Mailhot, director of global programs, spoke with the campers about what they can expect once they return home. They also had the opportunity to tell the staff what they would like to do. This was followed by a slideshow made up of photos taken by several people. At the end, we showed videos of the Blue and Green teams singing their group song. This was the first time they had the chance to see how wonderfully they performed, from the perspective of the audience. They happily sang along to both songs. Then we were treated to fantastic music played by Aaron Shneyer and “Ahmad and the Coco Puffs.”
Everyone headed for the fire pit, where there was a blazing fire, but we all had to huddle together to keep warm. The Color Games coaches each had the chance to talk to the campers, and then we sang songs together. One of the PSs created a new song just for this night, which all of us have been humming ever since. Its message was, “whenever I am lying awake in bed, I will be thinking of you.” Everyone wants to be remembered by their friends at Camp so a lot of the time at the end is spent taking pictures, writing notes and speaking softly to the ones we hold especially dear.
The morning bell rang at 6:15 and most of the campers were traveling down the highway in buses by 8 a.m. Getting them on board the buses is always a challenge. There are so many people to say goodbye to and so little time. Lingering hugs and trembling voices are the order of the day. Even though many would be stopping to shop along the way, precious minutes with friends were the first priority. We literally have to push them on the buses with a “hug—step toward the bus” strategy. In the end, the crying sky and the crying people produced more moisture for our already soaked Camp. But, that is the price of love. Shakespeare would have approved.