Summer Camp

Aug. 14 Sitting outside, I stammer these statements on my laptop with soft music flowing into my ears. Next to me are friends reading various books, one devouring a cup of coffee and a June issue of The New Yorker that I just presented her a day earlier. Inside the main dining area, there is a group of people gathered around the only TV on site watching “Friends”. Others are playing cards, devising a schedule for the morning’s volleyball tournament or finishing a breakfast of yogurt and baguettes. We are wearing shorts and t-shirts, novelties of our wardrobes. It’s as if we are at summer camp, or even, just absorbing a normal Saturday morning in the States.

This calm day, however, is our first security steadfast in Niger.

Yesterday a steadfast was ordered on two regions in Niger. When a steadfast is called, volunteers are to remain in their villages. It really just means freeze. For trainees it’s a bit different. Today, we were supposed to head to all four regions to visit our posts. Because of the steadfast, the directors decided to push site visits back till Monday; then they will reassess the situation. Till then, we are to remain at site.

We are all fine with the decision, although we are a pretty laid back group and there is no other choice to be anything but fine. Our biggest concern is how we will fill these two days, even though we are finding ways with various sports tournament, TV series on DVDs and a scheduled talent show.

Training in many ways has felt like summer camp. Sleeping under the stars, gossip and photos of home around cookies and candy, scheduled activities from sun up to sun down, mail time, meals in a mess hall. At times, there are no real indicators that we are preparing for a job in a third world country; we are just at summer camp and will return to our suburban homes in a few weeks.

The permanency of this has still not sunken in, for me at least. Sometimes, I read letters from home and envision coffee and lunch dates when I return, detailing the moments of these three months. My friends from here will go back to their lives and we’ll promise to stay in touch, but after a few months, only those few strong unions will continue, like it often happens with summer camp friends. We’ll have our regular day-to-day friends and our camp friends. We’ll smile at those memories and photos, but know it was just moment in time. Yet, we are not at some camp in the Appalachian Mountains, and when school resumes this fall, our journey will actually will begin.

Instead of returning to my comfortable studio apartment in downtown Sioux Falls, I will move to a mud hut in a bush village in West Africa. English will be traded for a combination of Hausa and French. My Blackberry has officially been discarded for a simple Nokia phone that has two functions: calling and texting. My journal will receive my writing attention while my MacBook will only be pulled out for special occasions. I will still eat rice for most meals, but my special treats will be bush pizza and egg sandwiches instead of the veggie sub at Pickle Barrel or a quiche and black coffee at Queen City Bakery.

These camp friends will, and are, transitioning to real friends, the ones that I vent to on bad days or make plans to visit and cook our favorite American dishes. My friends at home will continue on with their lives and eventually I’ll just become the one who is in Africa and removed from daily gossip. When I do return home, these times at training moments will probably not be the first that I recount with my friends. They all ask about Africa and I’ll sum up two of the most important years of my life by saying, “Yeah, it was great,” knowing they couldn’t, or probably wouldn’t want to, understand.

But, for today, that doesn’t matter and I force myself to deal with those issues when they arise. When Monday comes, I’ll resume worry about my new home and lack of language skills. Right now, my concerns are a volleyball tournament and what I’ll perform at tonight’s talent show. This weekend, it’s summer camp in Niger.

Note: I readthis post at the talent show and won “Most Insperational.” Also, this weekend was one of my favorites in Niger because we all became a little bit closer.

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