In my many years being in youth groups, clubs, and attending sleepover parties I have had my fair share of over-night parties. I always scowled at my parents when they would show visible signs of dread when I would request to host a sleepover or ask them to volunteer at a lock-in. I never understood the work and sacrifice that it takes to attend such an event as an adult. That is, until now. All I can say is that I am deeply sorry for all the hours of sleep lost. Furthermore I am extremely sorry for any time that the mood was getting calmer, sleepier and then – out of nowhere – the kids found their second wind; to have given you false hope like that was cruel. I get it now and I am forever changed.
It all started innocently enough, my counterpart suggested that we have a camp out for the 8th grade class. I was so excited about the prospect of having an after-school event for the kids that I immediately jumped on board. This was going to be great, I could feel it. For the next few weeks we planned the times, created permission slips, got permission from community members and located a few tents. Things were taking off and the kids at school were positively buzzing with excitement! My counterpart was excitedly suggesting things we should do, and Iw as sharing typical American campout activities.
The day of the campout arrived and already I knew I was embarking on a doomed mission for myself. For the past week I had been fighting off some sort of head cold and the stubborn sickness wasn’t leaving me. I was an energy-less slug. Luckily the day of our campout was a holiday of sorts so school was shortened and I thought I would have time to go home and rest. Unfortunately sleep would not come and I had to hurriedly pack up my things for the over-night. I had found a tent at the Peace Corps office that I could borrow and I put on a brave face and headed out to the meeting point.
As I came up on the group of students I mentally took note of the kids’ attire and luggage- all of it looked smaller than it ought to be…where were all the pillows and blankets? Most of the kids looked to have forgotten these things. I worried that the next day I would get a flood of angry comments from parents about having their children returned to them cold, frazzled and mentally scared by a night in the ‘wilderness.’ But where were we even headed? My counterpart had taken the lead on finding the space to camp. As we began to walk up the hill I began to question my faith in her, what if the place was super far away? Had I brought enough water? What about the food situation? I realized I had let my foggy-headcold brain overlook bringing any food. what had I done? I thought briefly about admitting defeat and going home, but I decided to do what I could to support my counterpart and stay.
Thankfully, the site wasn’t far from town at all, and was flat enough in some place to set up a tent that might be conducive to sleep. The space was essentially an unplowed field, complete with a slightly disgruntled cow and a herd of sheep in the adjacent field. The kids loved it. I set up my tent in the latest area but then was pressured to move it over to the other tents in a decidedly slanted area closer to the campfire area. I was skeptical but decided to play along. I fished out my volleyball and the students immediately began to play a volleyball/duck-duck-goose inspired game.
The Easy Part
As some kids happily played with the volleyball others began to gather firewood. It occurred to me that we didn’t have any rocks to outline the fire, there also wasn’t a bare place in the grass…I was slightly concerned but assumed my counterpart or her dad (who was in attendance) had made a campfire before. It wasn’t until it was well after dusk that the camp fire began to come together. Essentially, wood was placed in a central spot and then set alight. There was no boundary between the blaze and the grass. With the recent history of wildfires in my home state I was more than a little on edge. This went against all of my outdoors experiences. I was concerned that the grass would catch fire and the people of Corovode would awaken to find the crispy remains of a well-meaning peace corps volunteer and 20 Albanians.
It was around this point that I realized that I was the only one worried. So I did what I could to change my mindset. I decided to put away all my preconceived notions of what this camp out ‘should be’ done and allow it to happen how it was. And it was great, I kept a pretty close eye on the fire, but it was great. The kids were having fun, they had a ridiculous amount of food for dinner and were more than happy to share. Afterwards the kids danced and laughed, and my counterparts father began to sing traditional Albanian songs with specialized verses for each of the kids. It was a really sweet gesture and I realized how rare it must be for these kids to go out and have these kinds of experiences. It was a moment of gratitude that I look back to when I need to be reminded of why I’m here.
With all the kids gathered around the fire and the moon shinning down a little sliver of light I felt as though the night was coming to a close. Everyone was calming down. Or so I thought.
Paying the Piper
I got tired. It’s a natural thing to have happen. Especially when you’ve been stressed out about a campout, had to speak in a different language all day, and have been battling a cold. So I did the normal thing you do when you are tired, I went to bed. The kids, well they had other plans. Throughout what I can only describe as a half-sleep I heard screeching, cackles, and screams. Every time I managed to achieve slumber I was jolted awake by the rustle of the tent walls being disturbed, the inquisitive jostle of my feet (I assume to check if I was, indeed, sleeping), the zipper of the tent being opened, closed, or simply inspected. It was in these moments that I realized that I was finally being handed the bill for years and years of sleepover shinanagans that I had racked up in my youth. I had not been remorseful then, but oh how much understanding and empathy I had now.
Around 5 O’clock or 1 hour before sunrise I admitted defeat. I crawled out of my tent and rejoined the others. I was somewhat startled to find that the kids had chosen to sleep by the fire instead of going to sleep in the tents we had worked so hard to procure. The kids who were awake were chatting amongst themselves. At this point I was just cold. Sleep had acknowledged it would not occur and must have retreated to some distant part of my consciousness. I sat and numbly poked at the fire.
As daylight began to hint its arrival the kids began to pack up their things, take down the tents and put out the fire.
Once I had said goodbye to the kids and made it back home, I plugged in my electric heater, placed it on the couch at my feet and fell asleep for 3 hours
I would find out the following Monday that all of the kids had the time of their lives and the parents were absolutely delighted that we had gone through with the campout.
An important detail to note: not one of them had attended.