The Bait. A Facebook Invitation to help Eric, a fellow volunteer at his organization’s Summer Camp. It went down like this:
The camp would host approximately 75 children. With the organization’s staff, the adult to child ratio was already 1:6. Our role as PCVs would be to add support and maybe even develop some fun activities for the kids. Volunteers will be active, but also given some free time as well. OK, this sounds pretty good so far. Of course, I like kids and my schedule at the Bashkia was lean enough at the time to allow for a few days out of the office. My food and lodging would be paid for by the host organization and I’d just need to pay for my transportation to and from the camp. Getting better, I can save a few days worth of $Lëkë. Oh….and did I mention this camp was going to be at the beach/plazh?!? No Kidding! This camp was in Southern Albania, more precisely Borsh, a beach-front village/fshat on the Ionian Sea! (not far from Sarande, which is more likely to produce Google results. Do it and be jealous!)
Yes, please! Po, Ti Lutëm! Where do I sign up? Count me in! Clearly….I was totally and utterly FISHED-IN. In the days leading up to the camp, I sent some activity ideas to Eric (Shout Out to Childsplay and Tempe Leadership for in idea bank of awesome options!) and he developed a schedule utilizing many of them. I was so pleased to be playing an active role.
The Switch. What’s that expression? All that glitters is not gold. Which is why in instances such as this, I should remember that I’m a commitment-phobe for a reason! Do a little fact finding, test-drive that used Yugo, ask for a gelato sample before mixing Pistachio with Fruits of the Forest. The following details in the fabric were the things that made me panic (tip of the hat to one Mr. Jason Mraz):
• The only daily bus from Elbasan to Sarande leaves at 6AM. But in the summers, it can fill up, so best to get there by 5am to ensure you have a seat. Nuk jam një përsona e mëngjës. I am not a morning person.
• The 1.5 hour bus-ride from Sarande to Borsh induced motion sickness and therefore vomiting in no less than 67% of the participating children. And only 42% of them had plastic bags. Very little ventilation. (Think of Chunk’s story from Goonies about the massive ripple effect.)
• For fear of giving away the punchline, I previously elected to not use quotation marks around the word “lodging.” Now, perhaps watching too many American Summer Camp-type movies, deluded me enough to envision rustic log cabins. Stupid, yes I know! Tents, outhouses and public showers.
• Bugs. Mosquitos, Wasps, and other unidentified flying insects (more found inside our tents than outside, of course). During my recruitment interview with Lassana, I distinctly remember rating enormous insects as HIGH on the discomfort scale.
OK, so truthfully, I am perfectly capable of dealing with each of these little facets of Summer Camp. But, would I have been so Gung Ho about volunteering had I known better in advance? I like to think that I’d have been as eager to volunteer, but really, its difficult to say. That was A LOT of VOMIT.
And the Hook. What I can tell you now is this… if there’s a call for volunteers again next year, my response will surely be…. Yes, please! Po, Ti Lutëm! Where do I sign up? Count me in! Clearly….I am totally and utterly FISHED-IN.
During my time at the camp, I fell madly in love with no less than every child. Collecting rocks from the sea, playing Frisbee, Mother May I, creating secret handshakes, paper maché masks, untying human knots, falling asleep to the croaking frogs, sharing stories and dreams for the future… every moment was a gift! There’s something incredibly overwhelming when you recognize the power of encouraging words, or even simply listening* to a child’s story. Most of the children at this camp come from disadvantaged families, families where Mom and Dad’s only focus is survival. Attention, praise and affection for their children are all distant 2nds to putting food on the table. So our simple and sincere “bravo’s” and “shumë mirë’s/very good’s” and hugs and kisses on the foreheads brought an outpouring of love in return. One night, during a particularly gratifying round of hugs, one girl held on a little longer and whispered to me “Te dua shumë.” And while I unsuccessfully fought back tears, I responded with “Te dua gjithmonë.” And I always will. Thank you Eric for including me, I'll never forget it!
Peace, Love and Barfbags
*One boy came for a walk with me along the beach. And I was thinking, oh shit, how am I going to keep conversation going? Turns out, I never needed to….he did all the talking! My job was to keep him going with “the occasional “mmhmm,” “po…po” or “vertet?” All he needed was an audience and it was my absolute honor.