Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Indian Creek Camp

Well, here I am at Indian Creek camp. I’ve been looking forward to working here for several months now. I’ve always wanted to work at a summer camp, but always found other jobs that seemed to keep me from it. By now I am actually beginning my third week in Tennessee, but camp is a busy place in the summer and I haven’t been able to find much time to write.
Week one was staff training week. Fifty staff ages 17-20 something make up the crew here at camp. The first week was spent cleaning, organizing, learning about each other, and camp.
Week two, our first week of actual camp was blind camp. This was the most extreme cultural experience I’ve had since going and coming back from Cambodia. I am so far removed from the blind community it was an incredibly humbling and eye opening experience to spend the week with them.
Let’s delve into what I journaled at the beginning of the week: “I guess I had no idea what to expect, but independence, humor, and understanding have caught me by surprise. Registration had me nervous awaiting campers. First came Lily, 27, a skinny, frail, Kentucky girl with the thick accent to match. With a squinty smile and half-opened eyes rolled back in her head, she is thrilled to be back at camp for her second year. This community of other blind people is the highlight of their year. There’s something truly humble, dependent, and human about her reliance on me. Not even 24 hours into our very temporary and new relationship she’s sitting naked in front of me asking me to check and see if she has started her period, something I hadn’t ever considered would obviously be difficult to do on your own.
“Next to come was Joni, 25. Wow I like her. With a big smile, sweet voice, and little body, she shuffled into our cabin bringing graciousness, kindness, a sweet heart, and a joyful spirit. She asked a lot of questions about who was coming to camp and when the camp store would be open. She’s been legally blind for many years, but completely blind for only 4 years. She has been coming to camp for 14 years. This is community and friendships. This is where she met beloved Louie, her fiancé. She says, “Thank you so much. You’re very sweet Heather,” or “Aww, bless your heart” (What is it with southern people always saying that?” Sweet. She’s grateful, thankful, and does not want to be a burden on anyone. “Well, there is no use complaining,” she tells me, “I’m very blessed to have what I do and getting angry only raises your blood pressure.”
Listening to a conversation among blind friends, they say, “Ya know, when I’m around mentally handicapped people, it makes me remember how truly blessed I am. I’d much rather be blind. It’s gift really.” To my surprise everyone nodded and agreed. They are so accepting of where they’re at.
Next to come to the cabin was Kelly, 27, a big girl with spunk, wit, sincerity, and independence. Confidence and calm comprise her character like mother love of the cabin. “Ah, it’s going to be okay. Don’t worry about it sweetheart.” She does her own thing, doesn’t need much help, and gets involved. She asks me about my favorite books and music. She is upbeat, positive, and matter of fact: “The only difference between you and I Heather is that my retinas didn’t develop fully like yours did.” Oh.
Kelly accepts life as it comes and does her best with where she’s at. “Cool beans” she responds, or “Okey dokey.” After our first meal taking orders, getting food, cleaning spills, wiping mouths, and clearing plates, I finally got my own food and Joni said, “Okay, I’m ready to go.” Without missing a beat, Kelly said, “Wait, Heather have you eaten yet?” I hadn’t and she said, “Oh girls, this girl needs to eat. We can wait.” Ahh, understanding.
Last to enter our cabin was Sheila, 35, and only 4 foot 7 inches tall. She strutted into the cabin and I quickly realized she has some eyesight. Sure on her feet, she still needs some help, but she moves confidently and tells a lot of jokes. She laughs. She brings cookies and Slim Jims to share. She holds my hand as we walk. With more wisdom and experience than I’ll ever claim, I’m humbled to be holding her hand.
With four campers ready for action, they left me a little bit exhausted. I wanted to protect them from every possible bump and turn. They take it all in stride. I can’t imagine leaving them alone and frankly, they’re just fine without me.”
The week ended and I am still amazed at what just happened. How was I so blessed to earn their trust, to share in their lives, and to learn the lessons they came to teach me? They rode horses, jumped off the high dive, water skied, painted ceramics, laughed, sang, and lived, just differently than I am used to.
They took my arm when we walked places. I served them food. I took pictures with their cameras that they’ll never see. We talked about what it’s like to be blind, to date, to make friends, to live.
I didn’t expect to be inserting tampons, wiping mouths, teaching a 27 year-old how to salute the American flag, or give a 3 a.m. foot rub to a sobbing camper with a foot cramp. Oh the joys. Oh what I have left to learn.
Bring on the cub campers!


Carley Brown said...

wow, I don't know if I could handle helping out with tampons...lol.. I guess I could if I had to but that sounds like quite the week