Why, hello there! You look different. Are you taller? Thinner? Did you get a haircut? It must have been years since we've last seen each other...What's that? Eight days? Really? Did you miss me? Well, I sure have missed you. Let's never be apart again.
So here I am in North Carolina in what must be the longest staff training ever for a 25-day gig. We just got back from summer camp and I'm sunburnt, mosquito-bit and grass-scratched, and yes, I said I went to summer camp. This was a bit of a surreal experience for me, because being 28 years old I really thought I had passed the camper stage of my life. But this was the real deal: cabins, bunk beds, rolling green hills, cows, and a lake. There were silly team games, kickball, hula hoops and a swimming pool. There were front porches and rocking chairs and marshmallows and a campfire, and yes, there was even singing. It brought back memories of a summer camp that I went to for several summers as a kid; memories of wooden buildings and dining halls, morning announcements, the thrill of free time, and name tags dutifully draped around sunburnt necks. Things I hadn't thought about in fourteen years. But what was really strange was that suddenly, thrown into this strange situation and this group of supremely confident, sporty and outgoing new people, I found myself feeling as if I was fourteen years old again. Suddenly I was the gawky, shy teenager all over again, hanging back, never knowing what to say, hesitantly approaching tables with my cafeteria tray asking, Is it ok if I sit here, guys? The first couple days were rough, is all I'm saying. And it did get a bit better, I suppose, but even now I'm here in Raleigh typing in my room while other people are out, watching a movie or shopping for supplies or who knows what. I guess the difference is this time it's by choice. (Because who knows when I'll have the chance to blog again!) This whole experience is a challenge for me, because for the last eight days, I have been surrounded by at least 80 other people all the time, 24 hours a day, and honestly, I find being around other people all the time exhausting. (It's called being an introvert). Even when I went back to my cabin to sleep at night I was surrounded by twenty other girls and their collective snoring and rustling and sighs, with never a moment to myself, not a second of solitude to recharge. Then yesterday we came back to Raleigh to air-conditioned two-person dorm rooms, and hallelujah, the girl who was supposed to be my roommate never showed up and I have the room to myself. And it. Is. Delicious. I'm tilting back in my chair with my hands behind my head right now, breathing a deep sigh. Ahhhhhhh. (Yes, typing without hands is hard, but it's a skill of mine). It's been a learning experience, and I have newfound sympathy for the students who will be coming on my trip, some of whom will likely be just as nervous as I was.
In other news, I have been learning a lot about this region called "The South," and North Carolina in particular. For instance, did you know it's hot here? I mean really, really hot. And humid. I think it was supposed to be a high of 99 today. Ninety-nine degrees. After living in Boston for the last five years, I can't remember the last time my body felt 99 degrees. I have to say...I don't really like it. After loudly proclaiming for most of my life that I love summer! and yay hot weather! and gimme more I can take it! it seems that New England has taken it's toll on me, and instead I find myself saying things like, I'm so sweaty, and this is gross, and seriously, I just showered. I mean, there is a limit to what deodorant can do in this weather. And do you know what the high was in Boston today? Go ahead, guess, I'll wait. 59 degrees. Fifty-nine degrees. That's like, a 40 degree difference, if you do the math. And while I know that if I was there I would be complaining bitterly about a high of 59 degrees in June, there is a part of me that says that it has to be better than this.
Also, if I may make a sweeping cultural observation regarding southerners in general, and Christian southerners in particular, it's that they really don't understand the concept of vegetarianism. You see, this summer camp we went to happened to be a Christian summer camp, and as such, drinking, swearing, and smoking were prohibited, along with, apparently, fresh vegetables and healthy food choices of any kind. Now, I'm not complaining, as I happily stuffed myself full of eggs, sausage, biscuits and hash browns every morning, and fried chicken, pot roast, and meat meat meat the rest of the day. But among this group of intrepid campers, trekkers, scuba divers (and the few lowly language nerds like myself), there were quite a few earthy and environmentally-friendly vegetarians in the mix, which the company knew, of course, and warned the camp and cafeteria staff of well in advance. Imagine their collective surprise when, for instance, the only non-meat alternative to ground-beef tacos at lunch was a stale tortilla shell stuffed with diced tomatoes and iceberg lettuce. Yum. It just went on and on like this, and I guess the vegetarians ended up eating a lot of pb&j, and to their credit I never once heard any of them complain. The cafeteria staff were reminded, of course, of their duty to the non-carnivorous among us, and their sole response, which I was witness to, was a doubtful, "We don't usually get many vegetarians comin' through here," amended by an, "Actually, we don't usually get any vegetarians comin' through here." Interesting, I thought. Having grown up in a religious household, I was familiar with the concept of, "Jesus made the animals for us therefore it is ok to eat them," however, the concept of "Jesus made the animals for us therefore we MUST eat them" was novel to me. As I came back through the kitchen for a second dessert I was quite amused to see a group of three kitchen staff huddled around one very patient vegetarian, asking him in genuine befuddlement, "But wha? Wha don't you eat meat?" He was quite nice about it, tolerantly explaining his views on social and environmental responsibility as the staff gaped at him, eyebrows knit in concern. After hearing him out, they resolved their dilemma with a hilariously condescending, "It's ok. Jesus still loves you, even though you're a vegetarian."
And that, my friends, is what I've learned in North Carolina.
Next post from Europe! Look for it on Sunday or Monday! Ciao for now, my chickadees.