Timed: Two minutes past two a.m. the clock chimed.
Location: Pulse – the most popular gay bar in the heart of Orlando, Florida – hosting over 300 patrons.
Casualties: Fifty dead, more than fifty wounded and billions left rattled and at unease.
ThePerpetrator: A homophobe, who happened to be an American-born Muslim, and a licensed gun owner.
Trigger Event: The perpetrator saw two men kiss in Miami – resent.
WifeofPerpetrator: “He was not a stable person, and he would come home and beat me up.”, she said to the reporter.
PresidentBarack Obama: “An act of terror, and an act of hate. This is an especially heartbreaking day for our friends who are lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gay.”
RepublicanCandidateDonaldTrump: “Really bad shooting in Orlando. Police investigating possible terrorism. Many people dead and wounded. Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!”
StatusQuo: It’s being called the deadliest terror attack in US since 9/11; the LGBTQ community has taken a devastating blow.
DISCLAIMER: This is the best way to answer your question to, “How was the camp?”.
There goes a saying, “First impression is the last impression.” I cannot disagree more. When I first heard about this elaborate leadership camp, my first thought was “Oh goody, a pretentious and overenthusiastic addition to my portfolio.”
And now, when I’ve come back after two weeks of complete rejuvenation (yes, that’s what what it was), I’m thinking, “What I would do/give to go back.”
A lot of my friends and family have been asking me how the camp was, and although I respond with a single word (“Brilliant!”), it doesn’t do justice to the entire experience. Which is why, I’m writing everything down – it’s easier than losing my voice and/or talking the other persons’ ear off.
1. CAMP PANTHER:
Camp Panther was our home for two weeks. I’ve already said this way too many times, but our stay was luxurious – well, for a campsite. Not only was the entire place beautiful and lush green, it was clean and had all the facilities a usual resort would (it had a pool too!). Our tents were comfortable – twin beds, cooler, fan, and a bathroom.
The staff there was extremely nice, too. They were all so kind and thoughtful (especially when it came to the food), and made sure our stay there was comfortable and without a single hitch. At the final day, when we were asked to write suggestions to make the place better, I was a lost cause – I had nothing to write, because I had no clue what could make something so perfect even more so.
2. YOGA – ENJOY YOUR PAIN! (read: let your pain enjoy you)
The aforementioned statement was one of the encouraging statements our Yoga instructor, Deepak Sir, used to holler every now and then. For the first few days, the groans of our terribly out of shape bodies drowned his spirited words, but as days passed by, Yoga was something we would look forward to. On the other hand, it was easy for him say encouraging things because Sir could probably tie himself into a knot, and what’s more, he could unentangle himself just as easily. All 55 of us learnt different asanas diligently (well, almost); and even if for a little while, we found peace within our bodies during the shavasana.
3. THE SOCRATIC DIALOGUE:
This was the core of the entire camp – a place where all of us patiently listened to others speak, mull over their opinions and had the complete freedom to change ours too (repeatedly).
A week before the camp actually started, all of us received our student handbooks (real classy, we had our names printed on it!) which contained the readings for said sessions. These were stories, excerpts from books, letters, speeches, and what not. Needless to say, there was a lot of variety. One thing that needs to be understood about the Socratic Dialogue sessions – they were discussions not debates; everybody had every right to say whatever they feel/think without others hounding at him/her the very next second (there were exceptions). Among the several readings, some of my favourite ones have to be : ‘How Much Land Does A Man Need?’, ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’, ‘Mencius on Human Nature’, ‘The Siachen Glacier’, Fredrick Douglass, and more.
Our moderators – James and Navita – were absolutely brilliant. It was almost as if with each passing day, they were helping us broaden our minds, making us think about things that are hardly thought about, and tap those areas of the content which any layman would probably ignore. It was an enlightening experience, truly.
4. THE ADVENTURE PART:
A leadership camp can’t be called a ‘camp’ if it doesn’t involve adventure sports. Our bucket list included: White water rafting (TWICE!), Rappelling, Zip Lining, Walking Up A Steep Hill (through a village), and Raft Building/Beach Games.
I have got to say this again – the Snow Leopard Adventure guys organised everything so well; there were 100% safety measures for every activity which made everyone feel at ease (okay, it did reduce the thrill a bit but prevention is better than cure, right?). I had the opportunity to do rappelling back in the 7th grade – I was all geared up, ready to take on the world which was a steep rock almost half the size of this one – but then I just chickened out in the end. That’s why I was pretty satisfied when I finally did it this time (successfully too, not a scratch).
The white water rafting was a whole new experience, which is weird because I’ve done it before. Last time was great fun (at Manali), but there was just something about this time that made me feel more excited. My raft mates were great, and we had great coordination; the feel of the cold water splashing on my face (and glasses) was so refreshing (and blurry). I’d do it over and over again.
The zip lining was almost as good as the rafting. We zip lined right over the river Ganga, it was so beautiful. Two proudly standing mountains, the Ganga flowing adjacent to them, trees everywhere, the clear blue sky and the caress of the wind against my face (sigh).
5. THEATRE WORKSHOP (yes, we had these too!)
The first class of our theatre workshop was, in short, a rollercoaster of emotions. After having Socratic Dialogues, all of us needed to let loose for a bit. Ritesh Sir, our teacher, saw to this. We started off with light, fun games that got everybody engaged and involved. And then suddenly, we were all made to sit in a circle.
Sir started describing a scenario, a beautiful scenery; our significant others in the scene, talking to us, playing with us, eating with us – when you read about it now, it sounds like any normal description; it was anything but. It was all in the way he said it; emotions were pouring out of his voice and right into our minds. With our eyes closed, it was as if our feelings and emotions had multiplied by a hundred. Enough said, most of us had tears in our eyes by the end of the class.
At the closing ceremony of the camp, our class put up five plays – the physical drama (on water scarcity), dance drama (on the partition of India and Pakistan), the stage production (on generation gap and excessive mobile usage), the mime (on corruption) and finally the street play (on the problem of rape and eve-teasing). I was in the fourth group, and it was great fun enacting the hypocrisy and ridiculousness of if not all, most politicians in our country. It all worked out pretty well in the end because I ended up with a severe cold and cough which would do me no good if I were part of stage or street play.
6. COMMUNITY ACTION VENTURE :
The CAV is one of the major aspects of this leadership camp. As it name itself suggests, each one of us had to come up one issue that really bothers us about our society and then work on eliminating said problem using our passion. Sounds complicated, I know; I thought the same when it was introduced to us but as time passed, the concept of it got clearer. It was pretty amazing – most of the kids at the camp came up with something completely different and those who had similar ideas clubbed them. We touched most areas of concern in our society today, it’s such a great feeling. Back at the camp, we just did the verbal prep for our project – presentations, feedbacks, timelines, etc. But now that we’re back, it’s time for the real paperwork. No pictures for this one, you’ll have the link to my project’s blog soon! (no spoilers, sorry)
7. THE SELF AWARENESS INDUCING CLASSES (oh god, here come the tears):
These classes were, in a way, the most enlightening ones. We had only a few of these, which made them all the more valuable. They were conducted by Rhea and Siddharth, who were definitely one of the coolest people on camp. These guys, they really made us look inside of ourselves – it was almost like attending a psychology class. We all subconsciously know our weak points and the consequences of feeding these negativities too; but Rhea and Siddharth got us consciously acquainted with these and made us write them down, their reasons, consequences and helped us get to the root of the problem. It was like looking at your tiny, vulnerable, little self, on a sheet of paper.
Our last session with them was on relationships, and how we shouldn’t take them for granted. It took us about half an hour, before everyone’s eyes were wet with tears. It was catharsis for some, but for others, it just brought back a lot of bad memories. Each one of us had to, then, write a letter to any significant other in our lives who we were thinking about at that moment, or would want to reach out to. We could do one of three things with the letter: 1) send it to said person by post, 2) burn it in the small bonfire we had had, 3) let it float away with river Ganga. If some of you saw my Instagram post (or my previous blog post), I already revealed to whom I wrote the letter to.
8. THE SILENT HOUR:
I was probably one of the few who enjoyed the Silent Hour. Like the name itself suggests, everyone (all of us, the staff, the teachers, every single one) had to remain silent for an hour at the end of the day’s activities and reflect upon it. In our handbooks, we had space for every day’s silent hour. The reason I enjoyed it was because I got time to write – sometimes it was deep and brooding stuff, sometimes song lyrics, sometimes a rhyme or two and sometimes even meaningless crap.
There were some silent hours where instead of writing, we had to paint – that was really relaxing too. But the silent hour that beat the ones on all other days – the one we had on the beach.
It was so calm, so peaceful; just the sound of the waves crashing onto the rocks and into each other. The sand was soft, white and shiny. There was slight wind, brushing onto our faces every now and then. And oh, don’t even get me started on that gorgeous view.
9. THE COMMUNITY VISIT:
Some would say this was the highlight of the entire camp; I would agree but then I would be semi-lying. Of course I enjoyed spending time with all the kids (who were brilliant), but then there was just not enough time. When I learnt of our community visit, I was ecstatic – I love kids! Listening to their stories, the things they’d want to do in the future, their simple anecdotes – all of it. But we didn’t get time to do that. Most of our time there was spent making origami buildings – hospitals, playgrounds, schools, houses, etc. that these kids would like to one day have access to.
There were no boundaries, we could make futuristic structures, there weren’t any rules. I mean, yes, it was a really productive and creative activity – but we could have squeezed in another visit for this. I may be wrong, this is just my perspective. But apart from playing a few songs on the guitar for them and watching them play in the playground, we were trying so very hard to engage them in something they didn’t seem to be too interested in (at that moment, at least). But I suppose the kids still had a good time, and for us it was an enriching experience that I wouldn’t erase.
10. THE PEOPLE:
When I say people, I mean every single person there. The students, the teachers, the facilitators, the Snow Leopard adventure staff, our adventure sports instructors – everyone. As a shy and reserved kid who’s come from the other end of the country to a camp where she knows absolutely no one, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’ve made such good friends, got to hear so many inspiring stories, got to learn so many new things, experienced things I’d otherwise dare not to, realised the fact that I can exist without my phone, be comfortable around 55 strangers and the list can go on endlessly. I’ve met people who think just like me, who have the same insecurities, the same ideas and thoughts, the same fears, the same plans for future – it’s amazing. A lot of people say that teenagers need exposure to grow and realise their purpose in life. Obviously realising the latter would be too far fetched (not there yet), but this is the exposure kids of this generation need to grow – it’s the right kind.
PS: Not all of the pictures attached above have been taken by me; two have been borrowed from the official page and one from a fellow student.