Monday, August 20, 2007

Summer Camp and the End of SPA

Summer camp in my part of Bulgaria is generally less structured than what is experienced in the US. Directors schelule activities and meals rather loosely, yet it works most of the time. The flexibility gives the kids more choice in participation and responsibility for the camp's dynamics. The downside of this quality is that it polarizes the group into very active and very inactive cliques. If there is a popular group with a bad influence, the counselors/supervisors have to watch them more closely and focus their attention on those individuals to keep them busy and out of mischief. Fortunately, giving those individuals and even their groups (cliques) more responsibility often facillitates their need for attention in a positive way.

At the camp I helped out with last week, this was a vital scrap of managerial knowledge, as it rained heavily and continuously for 4 days. The children were stuck in their small, concrete bungalows with little to do. Thanks to the elder campers, who provided music, games, dance lessons and showed great leadership, I still have hair - and most of it is still dusty blond/light brown. I never want to show another card trick, however. The camp was nice, and the food was Bulgarian - style camp food. That means lots of yoghurt dishes, sausages and meats, tomatoes, tea and the occasional chicken. Simple but decent. I lost weight last year, but this year, the campers brought me their leftovers. I over-ate. Not good when cooped up in concrete bungalows. Just sits there instead of being used by day-long activities like football (soccer), basketball and volleyball. We did get out the last 2 days and took long hikes to the eco-trail near Kalofer and Panitsite, the hydro-geologic phenomenon of bowl-like cavities in the sandstone bed of the creek above town.

I worked late in the week, opting to finish 2 days of work and taking my own transportation to the Camp rather than accompanying the children on their bus. Friday the 3rd, after finishing work at 4, I took the train to Tulovo with my pack and my bike, determined to bike the rest of the way. I hadn't realized that I needed to take supplies that made my bag reach 30 lbs, that the way to Panitsite way nearly completely uphill, that the roads were in such poor condition that I had to take the highway, and that my route was 67 Km. I made it into camp at about 10PM, with very sweaty clothes and an aching rear end. Still, I made it and I am proud of that fact. I would not do it again. The trucks and cars rushing past at about 100+ Km/hr came within inches and their wake blows bike riders off the road.

On our hike to Panitsite, I experienced an infuriating example of a bad situation turned near-disaster due to an unwillingness to admit error. On a hike with 50 children, aged 7 to 20 and elder women with bad knees, we were running late. The sky looked ominous and both the children and camp staff were complaining of pain and fatigue. I had helped lead the group down from the ridge on a leaf-covered, hidden trail. We had lost the trail a couple of times, but marked it so we would know the way back. I am an experienced hiker and trail leader, having backpacked all my life and gone through many outdoor leadership programs. One of the rules of hiking, especially in such a large and diversified group, is that when you are in any sort of trouble or hurry you stick to what you know and can be sure of. The doctor of the group, who was being pushed to get back, took a wrong trail. I was one of the few people who noticed; I drew him aside (to help him save face) and carefully and privately pointed out that we were not on the same path. At first he argued, then said it was a shorter trail (aka-shortcut). I just nodded and took my place at the back, helping the stragglers. After a climb up several steep inclines and a twisted ankle in thick leaf-cover, people began complaining whole-heartedly. I kept my mouth shut, though we were going a far longer route than we had come. We lost the trail several times and had to trek through some wet and slippery areas, but eventually came out on a trail we knew and got back to camp. The worst part is that the Dr. put the more frail/inexperienced of our group at risk, simply due to the fact that going back the 100 meters to the marked trail would show that he had led the group into a wrong turn. Pride cometh before the fall.

The last week was filled with project proposal review and funding decision. It was tiring and difficult, but good and fruitful in the end. This was the last quarterly meeting for my committee and the final committee meeting for me in Bulgaria; huzzah! My responsibilities change from here on out into transition, travel preparation to leave, training activities and a bit of hosting. I'll depart Stara Zagora on Sept. 30 and Buglaria on Oct. 2.

Coming up... Pompeii and bike crashes.