Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Summer Camp

It seems like we’ve been sprinting through these last couple of months, running from teaching in Katowice to visiting friends and family in Austin to getting married in Tulsa to teaching at a summer camp in Sobieszewo and finally we’re back home in Katowice…for now. It’s been an exhausting—yet exhilarating—ride, but it’s nice to be married and unemployed.
What a blur. For two weeks we worked for Bell, an English language school putting on their annual English immersion summer camp just outside of the tiny village of Sobieszewo on the Baltic Sea. The work was good. The camp’s theme was ancient Greek Olympics, so the six groups chose names (Argos, Athens, Corinth, Sparta, Megara, and Troy) and carried the theme throughout with the teaching projects, group chants, sports competitions, and a Trojan horse building (which was tragically mediocre). We created one project that we could adapt for six different language levels and ages and taught three hours a day for six days out of the two weeks. My project was how to make your own soccer jersey; Bhad’s was how to create your own sports invention and then make a commercial for it. The kids came from all over Poland and ranged from 10 to 18 years old. We each had a group that we worked closest with, we led them on some activities and taught nightly drama workshops. I had the 12 year old pre-intermediates (Corinth) and Bhads had the older ones with the more advanced English (Troy). They performed their dramas on the last day. Corinth’s was Shrek 13 and Troy’s was The Adams Family Has a Party. Bhadri played lurch and was undoubtedly the star. He’s a natural, he can’t help it. We both got very close to our own groups. Just like summer camp should be!
Accommodation at the hotel Orle was paid for by the school, so all the staff and students stayed there in two halls and most of our activities happened in or around the hotel. It was about a 5 minute walk to the beach, a beautiful and clean sandy beach. Unfortunately it was rainy or overcast most of the two weeks, but we did get a couple of really lovely walks down the coast, even one in the rain. Meals were thrown in, too. If I had to complain about one thing at the camp, the food would be the big winner. Let me just outline a day for you.
Breakfast: cereal, bread, rolls, butter, jam, sliced cheese, cottage cheese (salty and sweet), sliced tomatoes, cold cuts (for carnivores), scrambled eggs.
Lunch: the hot meal. Soup, main course, juice. Every day for a week and a half we struggled with reminding them that I (and 8 students) did not eat meat. That didn’t mean that I didn’t just not like the taste of meat, as they assumed, but that I did not want to eat any meat at all. No, that doesn’t include baby bits of bacon. No, that doesn’t include tiny shreds of chicken in the mushroom casserole that you’ve served me twice now already, each time with smaller chicken bits. The last 3 days were better. It took Bhadri getting up from his seat and getting angry to get the point across (we’d formed a vegetarian table upon the chef’s request and they were still bringing us various meated items). Lunch always included boiled potatoes, and occasionally included filets of fried cheese for us vegetarians. Not kidding.
Dinner: bread, butter, sliced cheese, sliced tomatoes, cold cuts, eggs doused in mayo and ketchup. (Can you see the resemblance to breakfast?)
Every day the breakfast and dinners were exactly the same. Every day. Two weeks. I felt so overlogged with tomatoes, eggs, and potatoes and deficient in every other kind of food. It’s just nice to be at home with our own kitchen.
We met a couple of girls on the camp named Julia and Tania. They were and are the most amazing people, and made our time on the camp so much more fun and much less stressful. I’m still shocked but they are both 13 years old, but are so balanced, confident, wise, open-minded, and dignified. It just goes to show that age isn’t so important and we place way too much significance on it. We had a couple of lovely late night chats, meals together, hang-out times in the afternoon that included Polish tongue twisters, camp songs, and goofy pictures (posted), and dance-offs at the disco. Of course, as there always is, there was a few older bullies who loved to aim their insults at them. Picking at anything they could find. Bhads and I were really shocked at how cruel these kids could be and seemingly without reason. They just “didn’t like them.” But it was so clear that the real reason they bullied our buddies was because they saw their confidence and their individuality as a threat. This group was supposed to be the cool ones, they were supposed to just run their game and everyone would look on in awe. But our gals didn’t pander to them and they just did what made them happy (which included talking to us, and singing and dancing non-sluttily—all things which weren’t exactly cool). Our gals were very open about their feelings of hurt, but could see through those kids’ game and they knew that it lacked substance. I just can’t say enough about our two new friends—I’m very proud to know them.
Booster came with. Needless to say, he was the celebrity guest star of the camp. The kids goggled over him every time he peaked his nose out of the door, they begged to walk him across the hotel grounds, and they taught him the relevant dog-related words in Polish. Students asked me day and night: Where’s Booster? What is Booster doing right now? Why does Booster sleep so much? What does Booster eat? And repeatedly said: Booster is sweet. I like Booster. Booster is so sweet. Talk about a love hound, geez.
The kids struggled to get Bhadri’s name right. Bogri. Barty. After a while we all just let it go. Anything that started with a B and had two syllables passed. One of the campers, on the train ride home, walked into our cabin and said: “Hey Barty, can I crips?” Bhads was holding a bag of potato chips (also called crisps), and little Rafal wanted a piece of the action. Can I crips?
In between project days we had a couple of trips. The first and best trip was to Sopot. Sopot is a resort town, smushed between Gdansk and Gdynia on the Baltic shore. It’s main street is lively with tourists and merchants selling everything from postcards to flip flops to shimmery bandanas. It was a gorgeous, sunny, warm day and although we didn’t get to swim, we were at the beach and feelin’ fine. After a cup of coffee at a fancy tea shop with our counselor friend Linh, we grabbed a chocolate dipped ice cream cone and headed for the pier. Sopot boasts the longest pier in Europe and it was fantastic. A half kilometer long, the white wooden pier jutted out into the clear Baltic, flags strung between posts waved energetically in the air as red and happy tourists skipped its length. It took a good few minutes to walk to the end where all the activity was. Apparently the European Yachting Championship finals were going on that day. So we plopped down on the edge of the pier, hung our legs over and watched the boats cruise around the obstacles. We even saw the Polish Dancing with the Stars host, sitting all debonair inside the café at the pier’s end. It was a pretty posh scene. You know when you have the Polish Dancing with the Stars host hanging out with you that you’ve really made it. After the boat race we met up with the kids (who had gone to see a movie in Polish earlier and left us and Linh to have some fun in Sopot). We headed out on an hour long walk down the beach to the next town called Ilowo, filled with jellyfish washing up on the beach, stories of my girls’ animals and dreams of traveling the world, searches for amber, and Bhadri teaching some of the kids how to skip stones in the ocean. It was a magical afternoon.
It really was a great two weeks, and we’re hoping to be back next year for round two. But for now, we’re really enjoying waking up late (8:30 am), watching lots of old Sex and the City episodes, making elaborate and labor-intensive meals, and talking quiet walks around Katowice with the pup.

1 comment:

Anton Baer said...

I really love your blog and the sensibility and observations, but I groan when I see you going back to watch Sex and the City on DVD. Vegetarian, observant, creative, kind - and then American television, in Poland. So disorienting and actually shocking. Otherwise, great stuff. Your description about the joy in winter of coming in out of the cold is absolutely right. So many people just gripe about the cold and never notice the beauty of it. I live now in a warm city by the Pacific ocean where coming in out of the cold never happens, and I miss it viscerally. Finding a picture on Flickr of a snowy path in the Beskids up by Schirk (Szczyrk)I immediately promoted it to desktop background.

I'm reading about Poland to discover what I can about the pre-war German population, and how things were in August of 1939. I stumbled across the blog first on your page describing the 30 mile hike in the Beskids - you came down to the village of Soblowka. Would you know if any of these villages were German, or in a predominantly German area, or were they and have they always been predominantly Polish?