Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Ghosts of Ba Be Lake

This past week the READY project marked the culmination of the year’s peer education activities with a summer camp for the top peer educators. We took 70 students and eight of their teachers from 17 schools to Ba Be National Park, about 3 hours south and west of Cao Bang Town. This year our activities were taken to a whole new level not only by a big step up in location, but by the efforts of a team from Canadian University College in Edmonton, Canada. Two instructors and three students presented a large variety of teambuilding activities, games and first aid education to the groups of students. Everything was so new to the students – from the mind-bending requirements of the teambuilding puzzles to the location deep in a real rainforest complete with weird insects to regular interaction with foreigners and with a whole slew that I think everybody was really quite overwhelmed – and of course, quite wound up.

I arrived at the camp mid-day Monday from Hanoi with two additional translators in tow right behind the two buses with the Canadians and students/teachers and ADRA staff. The afternoon was filled with orientation activities and recovery time for the students who had all gotten horrible carsick on the ride down. But by 7:30 pm they had bounced back and were effectively bouncing off the walls.

Somehow, though, the camp quieted down not long after the 10 pm curfew, and I was rested enough to get up at 5 the next day to do the 4 km roundtrip down to the lake. Oh, the hills!! I have been so spoiled by the flatness of Hanoi and other places I’ve been that, while I pushed myself to keep on pace, it hurt. So I went into the morning’s activities already a little behind the well-rested students. The Canadians, too, were at a disadvantage thanks to breakfast at 6:30 and the day’s event starting at 7 am – the birds might get up early here, but it’s hard, even with jet lag, to adapt to an Eastern style of early rising.

Still, the day was fun and we steamrolled the kids right into the night playing a large group tag game under streetlights until 9:30 pm.

We adults all stumbled back to the guesthouses ready to collapse into bed immediately. The camp settled down almost at once – leaving only the cicadas to lull us into sleep.

Until 12:00 am. Rachael and I awoke to the sounds of girls and boys screaming and lots of pattering of adolescent feet. Not a good sound. And it went on – and on. This was not an isolated incident – it sounded as if every girl and boy in the neighboring guesthouse was involved. Where on earth were the teachers and field staff?

So – on went the flip flops and sarong and off I went. The balcony of our guesthouse wraps around and give a clear view into the open-air second-floor hallway of the neighboring building. And a clear, if midnight-colored view of large numbers of monochromatic boys, silent now, slipping, like so many ants, in and out of rooms and dashing up and down the hallways.

I observed for about 2 minutes – and then, feeling for all the world like Professor Minerva McGonagall, shouted across the divide of the buildings.

“Get back into your beds now! If you do not get to your beds or if I hear single additional boy-or-girl sound, I am ordering the busses and taking you all back to Cao Bang first thing tomorrow morning! And if you need a translator to understand this, then all the more reason to take you back to Cao Bang immediately!”

Wow, when did I become the adult? I still feel like I should be the one sneaking around next door.

The boy-shadows melted back into the darkness, and not another noise was heard.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I (or Rachael) could fall asleep after that. When did that part of getting old happen too?

The next morning my internal alarm woke me up for the 5 am walk, and so off I marched myself to the lake to gather my thoughts for the lecture I was about to give. 6:30 am found a very foot-sore me standing at the door to the dining hall informing the students that nobody was to begin eating as I had something to say.

And, so, with that, I launched into the speech older and more often repeated than the commencement address: the I-am-disappointed-in-your-behavior-and-disrespect-for-others-and-the-rules-and-don’t-you-appreciate-the-privelege-we-are-granting-you speech. At the end I asked them if they cared to accept responsibility and what I should do about the situation.

And amazingly, about 12 of the boys stood up – and in front of the whole group, made the less-often speech – the acknowledgement of wrong speech. I really have to give it to this country – they have drilled the concept of personal responsibility and personal ethic home, and while the kids might screw up, they also as quickly own up to it. George Washington would be proud.

In the end, the boys had dressed on of them up as a ghost and had intended only to give the girls a good scare. As boys in a co-ed camp situation will do. And I stood in front of them and called them out for their poor decision making, as the leader and the first responsible for all things at the camp will do in response.

And I sentenced all the boys to a noon-hour of trash picking in the camp, followed by KP duty for the kitchen staff the next day. All accepted, not with grace so much as outright rejoicing. So, the boys had made a spectacle of themselves and now got to wallow in their achievements. We all did what was expected and got what we wanted: attention for the boys, and the Ba Be Ghosts granted the adults a good night’s sleep (because they were worn out with activities and no noon hour nap).

Everybody got what they wanted except one: I only got to learn that I am now the old one. Next time boys – make me the ghost and then we’ll all be happy!

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