I have been enamored with summer camp since I first laid eyes on the blob in 1995.
I wanted nothing more than to sneak snacks into my cabin, hang with Kenan and the chipmunks, ride go-karts, and have an overweight preteen leap from a tower to launch me off the inflatable vinyl lump into a perfect, murky lake.
(My mental summer camp always left out the crazy Ben Stiller part of Heavy Weights. And if you haven’t gotten the reference until now, please go to your nearest Blockbuster and grab a copy on VHS. You’ll thank me later.)
The bottom line: I think summer camp rocks, so I was quick to volunteer to help out at one of the travel camps taking place around Macedonia this summer. They have been held in villages in the north, south, east, and west and will continue through August. They’re a great opportunity for primary school-aged kids to get a little taste of camp and continue practicing their English skills through the summer.
Each day of camp, we taught the kids about a different country in the areas of sports, art, music and dance. I was heading straight to camp from Venice, and it’s me, so I volunteered for sports.
I love sports, so I felt like after five days of Italian bliss, sports would be an easy welcome back to Macedonia.
Last week’s camp was in Novaci, a village outside Bitola. I’d never been to either before, and they’ve landed pretty high on my list of Macedonian visits. Novaci is a very Mayberry-esque, one-street town with a few little corner stores, a municipality building with a hilarious statue in a fountain, and sweet babas wishing us good day, good evening, or goodbye whenever we walked by.
The kids were amazing.
They were attentive, engaged, and excited to play every day. (The first group that got sports each day cheered. I’m certain that had nothing to do with playing outside and everything to do with how cool I am, but that’s just my unbiased opinion.) They helped translate to each other when my Macedonian faltered at explaining the rules for games like “foot volley.” They reminded each other to use English as often as they could. They rooted for each other and overall were great sports all week. Oh man, and so much hustle. (Lunch was never canceled.) They made my week a breeze.
Actually, a few more physical breezes would have been welcomed. It was stupid hot all week. Luckily, Venice prepared me to walk around in a semi-damp clothes and red-faced state for the week.
The kids learned about Italy and relay races on day one. (One kid cried. The lesson included no gelato, so I thought about joining her.) They learned about soccer and South Africa on day two. On the third day, they mastered foot volley while learning about Brazil. The fourth day was Russia and volleyball. Then on the fifth and final day, the whole group learned kickball and how to properly chant U-S-A with fervor. (I’m not even making that up. The whole group chanted it when we announced America was up next.)
Three of the most adorable siblings at the camp brought in green, plastic grocery bags full of paper ninja stars they folded for me and a few other volunteers and it warmed my heart. I’m planning on hanging them in my room.
At the end of the last day, the mayor stopped by to give every kiddo a certificate. There was also a special play arranged for the kids. Afterward, they all came sprinting out of the building to find us for goodbye hugs and pictures. (One of my little buddies also had a Lion King sing-a-long with me while we waited for his mom to arrive. These kids got me.) I learned almost all of the 25 names, and used them correctly probably 82% of the time, so I was equally sad to see our week end.
In addition, I got to catch up with a few volunteers in the afternoons after camp wrapped for the day. Those post-camp hours often included laying very still with all the lights off and complaining about the heat, jockeying for position in front of the lone fan at our host Helen’s home, and considering whether someone could sleep in the deep freezer. (That last one may have been my internal monologue.)
We also made bomb.com grilled cheese and GUACAMOLE with AVOCADOS we found at the grocery store in Bitola. (Bitola is all big and fancy.) My favorite afternoon might have been the discovery that Helen had every Backstreet Boys song ever recorded on her laptop and the subsequent sing-screaming concert that took place in her living room, complete with a hair brush and a banana for microphones. (Her host family cheered when they heard us from the yard, although in retrospect it may have been a laughing at us moment.)
It was all in all a wonderful week of kiddos, tasty food, and catching up with friends. It also added to the exhaustion of Venice and by the time I found my way to my bed late Friday, I hurtled in headlong, not unlike tumbling into the blob. Thankfully, my cozy twin bed didn’t redirect me to the floor.