I hope it’s pretty obvious that I love camp. The laughter and noise of the kids, the enthusiasm and thoughtfulness of the staff, the smell of the pines, the taste of the s’mores…. There is not a place on earth I’d rather be each summer.
At Weequahic, we get to venerate the connection to the old and celebrate the start of the new. We build lasting memories and skills and joy… together. Are there hiccups? Of course! There may be a bug in the cabin. The way our words come out are not exactly what we mean. We may run out of wings at lunch.
Nothing is perfect.
At least that is what I thought until last week.
Kate, the boys, and I returned late last week from our first trip to Kenya. Along with friends, we have been supporting an orphanage outside of Nairobi for many years. As this would be (we hope) the last Thanksgiving that our boys don’t have team commitments, it was time to make the trek over.
I didn’t know what to expect at the orphanage. I’ve been to some pretty rough spots – the slums of Tijuana, the inner-city projects of Newark, even Camp Wayne for Boys. (I kid… Tijuana has some nice spots.)
Kenya’s First Love Children’s Home was, first of all, lovely. All roads inside the compound were clean and true. The rooms were comfortable. Even the squawks and honks of the ducks and chickens was endearing. What I didn’t expect was the love of the children.
First Love is a home for children who have no family who can care for them. As such, I expected to find children reserved, hesitant to reach out, to trust.
This idea was 180 degrees from reality: they craved play, laughed often and without restraint, and wanted to hold a hand or share a hug immediately. After several days living on property, I’m surprised to have convinced Kate to come home.
Were there problems? You bet. But they were not the problems of privation.
Yes, the kitchen had no running water in the building but the wells were clean and deep. The oven used for cooking 125 people their three daily meals was wood-powered and mighty small but useful. The laundry was hand-washed and hung dry; it was clean. There were no snacks but plenty of beans, rice, porridge, and sustenance.
No, the problems were the same as those we see at camp: one child playing a little too passionately for the others. Someone asking for too many little treats and not sharing. A word taken out of context. Someone slipping and skinning a knee.
In the midst of many challenges, in the wake of many hardships, these kids shared something perfect with us: a relationship based on play.
We played four-square and hopscotch. The kids and family danced and made goofy faces with and at each other. We swung and climbed, kicked the ball, and chased the chickens. Everyone made games with the food and make-believe stories with our minds, hands, faces, and words. We laughed and we raced. We read aloud and laughed together.
For four short days, the kids welcomed us into their home, just as welcome our campers in our own. A lot of bad luck led the children of First Love to their gates. Thankfully, many wonderful professionals were there, prepared to greet the children and meet them in all the right ways.
Our campers are much luckier in terms of family connections and material wealth. And, we at Weequahic hope to provide them with the same experience the children of First Love receive: loving, playful, and completely open.
If we can do that, it will be perfect. Have a great week!