Camp America – My Summer At Walden
It was my dislike of being back in England that made me apply for the Camp America program, I was on the rebound of my South Africa trip and looking for anyway of not being in this country for the whole year, that I could afford. Bunac’s leaflet was part of a pile of mail I had to go through, in the weeks after returning from South Africa, for a while it sat there, read but not discarded. Then after a particularly shit day at work, I applied no discussion with others, just went for it. There were several occasions when I looked back and wondered if I really wanted to do this, I had worked with disadvantaged kids in the townships of South Africa, now I was going to work with ‘spoilt brat American kids’. I started to settle in to the routine of life at home again, work got a lot better, at one point I even had a boyfriend but like all things 5 weeks before I was due to leave everything started to fall apart again. So when the time finally came for me to leave, I literally ran to that plane, I needed to get away again.
I had always been told I act like a kid and was going to love camp, but I never realized just how much until I got to camp.
Like anyone I was very nervous for the first few days, there were a few returners but most people barely knew each other. Ending up sick for the first few days, putting me behind on the getting to know everyone, suddenly I felt very home sick and wondered if I had done the right thing. But soon I was feeling better and first day off came around, it was a crazy night, partying in condos, drinking from those oh so iconic red cups, blasting music, and really getting to know each other, well maybe some more than others.
The kids arrived, everyone settled in to routine and life for the next 7 weeks started. Within a few days, everything we had been told fell into place, and just like they said what day of the week it was didn’t matter anymore, you just thought in terms of A,B, Special Day and Day Off. Teaching Horse Riding lessons became the easiest thing in the world, like I have been doing it for years, then we had all the special days, Mackinaw island, Capture the Flag, Colour Clash, fully dressing up and putting in every ounce of energy I had, I think I was having more fun than some of the kids. Weeks rolled in to one, counsellors became ‘camp cracked’, kids started to leave the 2 week mark, the 3 week mark and then the 4th week was upon us. Things got a shakeup that week, Willy Wonka the play, my first Walden under the stars, (where we ran around the stage like crazy Egyptians), the sports class finals, the horse derby day, the banquet, awards shows, video, slideshow and campfire. Then the morning of the end of first session was here, as the kids get on the buses, there is not a dry eye in sight, I suddenly got a sense of just how much camp means to these kids, how they wait all summer to get here, to see their camp friends again and have another summer made special by the staff that are working here.
The half day off comes and goes, this time it’s spend on a friends boat, with some fellow counsellors, enjoying the sunshine, sailing around on the lakes, tubing, disking and knee boarding the people around me don’t feel like strangers anymore in particular, one fellow counsellor who I have been ‘dating’ for a week or 2 now. That night we are sitting on the docks, looking at the stars talking about our home lives, it’s at that point I know I did the right thing coming here this summer, 2 people who are from completely different places are brought together because of this one camp.
Session 2 starts, I move cabins to have a younger set of girls, this time round I know what I’m doing, I know what is expected of me, I feel like I’m starting ahead of the game. It’s back to A, B, Special or Off days, this time it’s a lot harder work with the younger ones, but I’m having a lot more fun. Completely camp cracked and absolutely crazy the girls love it, there’s nothing the same about the first and second session kids. Back to Mackinaw, and off to the water park I’m really starting to think I’m a kid too now. The whole summer the weather has been beautiful and right up until the day we leave I can say this is true. Session 2’s over in a blur I just remember feeling like I had found my place at camp, everything seemed to fall in to place and with some of the most memorable kids. When it came time to start packing up camp and then our things I was pretty devastated, I didn’t want any of this to end. Second session ends the same as the first, only this time I’m the one doing the talking and giving out our area’s awards, and then at the campfire we do something called ‘Walden Wishes’, I’m picked to speak for the female counsellors. As soon as the guitar playing and singing starts, I don’t think there is a dry eye in sight, even I find myself crying. It’s then that I realize there is nothing more true about this summer that what I wrote in that wish, I have found a place that accepts me as who I am, I don’t feel the need to constantly mask that. Being here has given me the inside courage I’ve been lacking for years, it’s given me strength to stand out for good reason not just for being ‘different’, there’s something about this place that gives me a strange feeling of actually being able to achieve whatever I set my mind too. After spending that night with all of the kids sleeping together in the middle of our cabin floor on our mattresses, it’s time for the final goodbyes. First the bus leaves, counsellors and kids depart as we wave at the bus, drenched from the pouring rain, then parents start to arrive to collect their children, camp quickly empties out leaving only the staff and Max the way it all began. After one final staff meeting, it’s goodbye to the fellow staff some, I know I’ll never see again, others I know I will and then the ones I’ll keep vaguely in contact with. It’s been an amazing summer already, one I cannot find words to describe and the travelling is still to come.