For the month of July, the team is splitting up across three different summer camps, a summer school for Armenian children, and a summer school at an Orthodox church. Last week I was in a sports camp for Lebanese teenagers up in the mountains above Byblos. And in an exciting twist, the magical Laura Jean Cunningham flew down for the week from Greece to be a camp counselor with me and experience Beirut. Here’s some of the trillions of things that happened in just four days of sportscamp.
So, per usual, we were three American girls in a sea of people speaking Arabic and we stuck out like a sore thumb. All the other leaders and a lot of the kids spoke English, but all instructions and direction from the front was in Arabic. This left us wandering around lost most of the time until someone, often one of the teens themselves, filled us in. Luckily they were an orderly bunch, because I had utterly no capacity to enforce rules. In fact, more than once I inadvertently encouraged kids to violate their orders. But there is absolutely no kindness like someone translating for you. There were so many moments that someone gathered us together like sheep to whisper into our ears what they were saying, and we were so grateful.
As far as camp service, we were pretty unhelpful. Lebanese kids are either French-educated, or English-educated. This isn’t the language they learn in school, it’s the language school is actually in. So if you’re French-educated you learn history and math and everything in French, and then you have an English class like once a week. The kids that were English educated were all pretty good in English, but the ones that were French educated either knew very little or were too shy to go for it, which I could definitely relate to. There was one girl that looked EXACTLY like Lorde, and I tried to express to her how much she looked EXACTLY like Lorde but she was French-educated so she just stared at me until I was embarrassed and stuck to handing out cookies.
We worked in the kitchen a lot, because sandwiches transcend languages. A few times we were supposed to be referees for a game. This proved to be a challenge because if by some miracle I was able to get a grip on the rules, there’s no way I could enforce them. I ended up learning the words for “out” (barruh?), “stop” (bas), and “ladies” (sabaya.) Oh, and “ashrrah” which means “faster,” which I learned when I tried to play a game and my pace just wasn’t cutting it for the kid behind me.
These kids were just extraordinarily kind. I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying to each other, but from the outside you could tell there was almost no cliques and no harshness. We played sports all day long, but even the competition didn’t seem mean. And they’re so overwhelmingly hospitable. Lebanese truly want to get to know you, want to be your friend, and want to talk. It’ll blow your American rudeness right outta the water.
It was a Sports Camp, which means sports, which means I managed to injure myself a lot. The first time was during a rowdy game of Ultimate Frisbee. LJ and I played with 18 girls that had never even heard of the game before, in fact had only been introduced to the concept of a Frisbee a year prior. So we’re all running around trying to figure out who’s on which team, trying to figure out how to play the game, and completely unable to understand each other. In one of my Hero moments, I jumped up to swat down the disc cause I am Extraordinarily Sporty. This Sportiness continued to manifest itself as a landed on my ankle sideways and fell down. LJ had to carry me up and down the mountain for the next two days cause I couldn’t walk at all, but Angie told me I was being a blessing by allowing her to serve via piggy back rides.
The second time I hurt myself, it was 10pm and we were on the basketball court playing this super cool game where you all hold hands and stand in a circle. It’s like duck duck goose, with one pair walking around the outside, they tap the hands of another pair, and then they chase each other in opposite directions around the circle to get back to the empty spot. You almost always run into each other halfway around and scream at the top of your lungs and it’s super great. So I was next to this kid named Odai, and he was really speedy. The first time we got tapped, we ran around with him dragging me just a little bit cause I was wearing my New Pastel Pink Jellies, which are super great for jumping in puddles and channeling your inner third grader but not so great for, like, traction. So he’s dragging me and I’m yelling MY SHOES ARE REALLY SLIPPERY and we make it around and totally win. So we get tapped a second time and he’s really running. Like it was totally obvious that I was completely holding him back from his full potential. So I’m trying to keep up and he’s dragging me, and don’t you know my jellies betray me and I sprawl full starfish across the parking lot. So this poor kid, in what is potentially his first interaction with an American, has just thrown her across the basketball court unwittingly. And I end up waist deep in a first aid kit for the evening.
The coolest part of the week for me is when I got to lead a devotion on Friday night. These kids are a combination of Christians, Maronites which are like Lebanese Catholics, Druze which is a sect of Muslims kinda like Mormons are to Christians, and Muslims. They all know about God in one way or another, but they come from a variety of traditions and opinions on what He looks like. They had been sitting in devotions and messages all week, but I didn’t really know what they’d been hearing or the context I was speaking into. On top of that, everything I said was being translated into Arabic, so it had to be easy to understand in two languages. I was scared to death.
So I hit God up, freaking out, like what on Earth do these kids need to hear?! What do I possibly have to offer? And He said Victoria, chill. Don’t you remember when you were 16? Remember what your missing pieces were? Remember how they’re still clicking together? And he brought me to a note I had written in my phone just two weeks ago, about how I remember being so unwilling to hand myself over to God because I didn’t know Him, I didn’t understand Him. And how the only way to switch from knowing God with your head and knowing Him with your heart is the getting to know him. It’s Matthew 7:7, ask, seek, knock. It’s the chasing and the talking and the hand holding. How he’s waiting for us to take the next step and ask for Him to come down from our head and into our heart. And you know what? None of that came from me. And I even got to use Messi as an example.
The last day went the way the last day of camp always goes. You’re finally adjusted and you finally know everyone and the thought of all that being ripped out from under you is inconceivable. LJ and I participated in some more high-contact spectatorship. The leaders crushed in dodgeball. I got to play camp nurse for a little while and suddenly there was an unprecedented surge in injuries. All the boys chased LJ and I around to get pictures with us in what I imagine is exactly like Taylor Swift feels. And I think if they based their entire view of Americans on these four days of camp, they would say we’re tired, spastic, and exhaustively punctual, which is exactly what I’d want I think.