Sunday, August 22, 2010

A.B.L.E. Camp

Before summer’s over, I think I’ll have eaten upwards to fifty “yard pears” from my landlord’s property. In July, he and his family began shaking them off the trees and picking them off the ground, and a hefty batch is strewn in a pile on the floor in my refrigerator room (That’s the room with the refrigerator in it.). The pears are kinna tough, but if you put them in the freezer for about twenty minutes (Thank you, Jesse, for teaching me this trick.), they turn perfectly soft and delicious.

But is that what I’m really talking about here? No, not at all. Truth is I feel like I’m in the “eye” of the summer at the moment, as the storm of camps and whatnot have died down, and I’m free to pretty much spend my day as I please. I kinna wanted to get up early today and go hiking, but I decided, after watching Fracture last night, with Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling, that I’d sleep in today. Good decision? That’s debatable, but it was raining this morning, so it wouldn’t’ve been the prettiest hike even if I’d gone.

I am happy, however, for the cooler weather due to the rain. Now, Oğuz isn’t the hottest rayon, but the afternoons can still get pretty steamy in August, so not only do I get to write to you all, but I also get to do it in a more comfortable setting. Not a bad deal, I’d say.

But I’ve been slacking. One of the best things I’ve experienced happened earlier this month, and I haven’t told y’all about it yet. It’s Azerbaijani Boys’ Leadership Experience (A.B.L.E.) camp, and it’s something we plan for all year. Really, it’s many volunteers’ favorite project here in Azerbaijan, and with good reason. In no other place are you in such good company. Let me tell you about it.
Basically, throughout the year, we select, from our respective rayons, promising young men who would benefit from attending a five-day leadership camp. They usually range from ages twelve to seventeen or so. After a lot of fund raising and planning, we bring these young people together at a campsite in Ismayıllı Rayon, which is a real spectacle. Azerbaijani culture doesn’t lend itself much to going to different rayons and getting to know people who aren’t your relatives or classmates. And although it’s a little weird for these boys from all over the country to mix and mingle at first, it really is interesting to see them all together. They’re the cream of the crop, the boys you see in class who’re always raising their hands (Charlie pointed that one out.). It’s wonderful to be around fellows like these, especially when, on a daily basis, you tend to deal with boys who…aren’t such great company.

And seeing them in a totally new environment, away from their parents and daytime T.V., is reassuring for me. It gives them a chance to be themselves, to just be around other boys like them, free of life’s daily distractions, and the purpose of the camp lends to that even more.

With the help of F.L.E.X. alumni (F.L.E.X. is a program for free high school study in the United States.), we structure each day so that the kids get a little taste of everything. In the mornings, we have lessons about community, leadership, service, teamwork, etc. In the afternoons, we have guest speakers come and talk to the boys about any of a number of things, like the environment, creativity, gender issues, etc. And among these more serious activities, we also play plenty of games and enjoy each other’s company at meals and a few bonfires.

Really, it just takes these boys out of the box. I mean, camp stuff like this is commonplace in America. Chances are most of the folks reading this entry have been to camp, where you play sports, eat s’mores, and talk about leadership. But that ain’t on the daily agenda for these boys, whose days are structured around school, afternoon tutoring, and watching T.V., as far as I can tell. And some take to it better than others, I must admit. Some get right in the thick of things and make new friends right away, and others hang out on the fringes, taking a little time to get into it. But in that case, I’d say they’re like young men just about anywhere. Camp brings those qualities out and helps people discover new ones. It’s a beautiful site. It affected me too, as I hadn’t been in an environment like that since Camp Deerwood in New Hampshire and St. Stephen’s Family Camp at Mustang Island. I enjoyed it fully.

Hopefully this project’ll continue as long as Peace Corps stays in Azerbaijan. It’s a goodun.

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