Camp Karzouza. July 5 – 14, 2019.
I never attended an organized youth camp as a kid. What I know I learned from movies, and camping with family and friends. I was invited to participate in one of the Moroccan youth camps. Our local Nour Association was granted use of one of the Ministry of Youth and Sports camp facilities, in the mountains not too far from here. I missed the first three days, attending the meeting in Rabat. After a dental appointment, I made my way to Azrou, by train, then grand taxi, where I was fetched by the Director of Nour.
I had been informed that I would need to see the Quaid (kind of a local chief), to show my passport. I was worried about how to do this, but my Regional Manager said “don’t worry about that, he will find you.” My friend, the Director, picked me up and brought me to the camp. The kids pressed me in groups with many questions, the first always being “are you Muslim?” As I started to get acquainted, sure enough, two men came in a car to take the Director and me, and my luggage, back down to Azrou for an interview. It took 5 men and a copy machine, but they were friendly enough. Then, we were returned after about an hour of chatting. I had met one of the men before, and they were interested who all I knew in their town.
Back to camp. I had a big tent to myself, while the other adults bunked with the kids. The tents were large, sturdy green canvas, over cement foundations. There was a large dining tent, and block house kitchen, which were shared with the adjacent camp. On the other side of the adjacent camp were the toilets and sinks.
Dinner was not served until 12 midnight, which turned out to be the norm. The first evening someone raided one of the tents, stealing money, snacks, even shoes? The kids had been advised to leave valuables with the counselors. No one was caught, and it could have been an outsider.
I knew a few of the kids. There were 70, including some from a neighboring town. There were 40 in the neighboring camp, from the Sahara, a two-day trip from the south. We had a man my age, from the neighboring town (who of course, I should marry, because we are both old and alone. No.) The married couple that own the association, and two of my favorite University students, serving as counselors. A catering team served 8 meals a day (4 to each of the 2 groups). Various officials dropped in and out. And, there were monkeys. We were in an oak forest, similar to the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, but instead of bears, we had monkeys. They were cute little buggars, the size of small dogs, with a few babies that you could hold in the palm of your hand, clinging to mama’s back.
The kids were not allowed to go off to explore. Even going to the toilet, they were supposed to have an adult, though that rule would be relaxed once the big morning rush was over.
The primary activity was to line the kids up in their groups, shortest to tallest, and sing songs and army-style chants. If they tried to sit, they were hauled to their feet. Those who did not tow the line would be put aside, standing on one leg. Ear tweaking was also an effective means of gaining cooperation. This line up activity helped keep track of them. It also showed who was the first group ready for meals, between us and the Saharans. And, they learned songs. Meals took a lot of time and after lunch there was a 2-hour nap time. During the free time, especially in the evenings, the drums and singing were ongoing. It is a little sad to be surrounded by singing, but not a single person knows the same songs as you. Often my name would be the focus of a song, which was well intended, but embarrassing. But overall, the feelings were joyful. Often the merriment would break out into dancing.
We had organized activities as well. There was Cultural Day, where we created a mock traditional Tamazight wedding and paraded our procession to two neighboring camps. The same day, the camp from the Sahara invited us to their wedding, which was quite different. I did the bride’s make-up, since I appeared to be the only one with make-up. Both brides were hidden, ours under a heavy white veil, theirs under a dark brown cloth sack, but I think they could see out. Modern weddings have a lot of pomp and ceremony, but the bride is visible. The Saharans also killed, skinned and BBQed a lamb, inviting me and the Directors to eat some. They also had all of us to some music activities.
Two evenings we had soccer tournaments at a makeshift field, a short hike from the camp. The girls (and boys waiting to play) played a game of grabbing a bottle from the midpoint between the groups.
One day we went into the neighboring town of Azrou, visiting the Cultural Center and the kids all got to swim in the public pool. There was a large 40-person bus, and we managed to put 75 in there, going and coming. The water was very cold, but the day was warm. It was interesting that with hundreds of people at this pool, virtually no one was in the center of the big pool. The two kiddie pools were very crowded. A few brave souls would jump from the platform or sides, but even then, to the side of the platform, not the end. I am guessing they just don’t learn to swim here. Swimwear was mostly underwear or street clothes. Few of our kids had actual swimsuits. Changing was done in an open area beside a building, with towels held up to shield the modest. Being a public pool, there were lots of Moroccan moms, in full galabia/head scarf, beside the pool watching their little ones. One even in full face veil. There were various vendors of juice, ice cream, and assorted sweets. Our catering crew packed us a lunch and snack. At snack time, the plastic yogurt cups from lunch served as soda glasses. It was a great day.
There was an outside organization that provided a safe driving program. They had a special facility set up at the entry gate. They had a class, coloring, puzzles and a bicycle driving course with road signs to be obeyed. Each kid got a “driver’s license”. It was well done. The camps took turns participating. At this same location there was a tiny store, the authorities and the bus loading station. I don’t know how many campsites were at Karzouza, maybe 20? There were 6 more similar camps nearby, according to the road sign.
I was asked to supply 3 activities, but actually had more. My main project was making Piñatas. Piñatas turned out to supply 7 different activities, with many highs, lows and unexpected events. First, I met with representatives from each group (tent), to show the pictures of Piñatas and a video of how to make them. I explained that their group would need to decide on a design and draw a picture.
The next day each group had a table, they drew their idea and signed their names to the back of the drawing. Next, they were issued materials to match their drawing, balloon or carton, and paper mâché. I knew that the flour and water mix would be messy, but did not anticipate some kids taking off their shirts and painting their chests with it. Lots of it on faces as well. They had fun, but some were heaping it on in globs, which made drying a problem. I dried them in my tent for two days. When we went to Azrou, I put them in the sun, as no children would be there to poke at them. On return, I rushed ahead of the kids, only to find the monkeys playing with the balloon shaped ones. One monkey took offense to my wanting his playtoy back and took it up the tree. I spent the evening fixing them with masking tape. Even prior to this, one had collapsed into a wet heap.
The next day, we inserted our candy, closed the Piñatas and painted. Again, painting our arms and more, there is still a blue hand print at the sinks that I could not get off. One group had a very creative idea to cover their monkey Piñata with oak leaves, gathered in advance, for a natural look. However, when others saw the paint, they overruled and painted the monkey blue, resulting in the resignation of the more creative souls. The group with the failed first attempt made a simple one from a box, which turned out very nice when covered with colorful paper. I hung them outside to dry during nap time, but not high enough. One little boy tore a hole to steal candy from one. He was witnessed and both kids were marched up to the police to file a report.
That evening, we put the finishing touches, with colorful tissue, appendages and drawing faces. I kept them overnight in my tent, but got up early to hang them all in the “restaurant” tent, for all to admire.
Later that day, each of the 6 groups received an award, based on the attributes of their Piñatas (and their efforts) and they were actually respectful during the ceremony. The award certificates were taped to a large chocolate bar. Then, each group took their turn to break the Piñata they created. One of the counselors operated the rope and we started with the youngest of each group. Originally, I wanted each group to manage the rope and the order of breaking, but it was too much for them. Everyone had a great time watching their friends swing helplessly (blindfolded) as our counselor brushed their heads with the Piñata. When the breaks came, there was always a wild dog pile for the candy. The Director of the camp would need to chase kids from other groups with a stick, but even this was a weak deterrent for a few of the bigger ones. All in all, it was great fun.
I had three other activities; Mission Impossible, Magic Carpet and a scavenger hunt. I chose easy items, from around our camp, for the hunt. One of those items was a broken plate or cup. You can’t walk 10 feet in this country without walking over a piece of broken pottery. And yet, creative kids that they are, they got good cups from the kitchen and broke them.
The camp was easy for me. I did not need to cook, wash dishes, or carry groceries for two weeks. The counselors helped me with the activities. I enjoyed myself overall.
Of course, at each stage there was a huge mess. The mess being my doing, I was happy to clean up. There were always a few kids that jumped in to help. The people from my town do not have the same view on garbage that I do. It just does not bother them and they throw down where they are, young and old. When I would pick up trash around camp, some kids would always help me, but more to be part of my activity than caring about trash. A couple of times the Directors organized everyone to pick-up, to make the American happy. So, every piece of candy given was a wrapper for me to pick up, for my own sanity. In the camp, as in our town, there were teams of men to collect the garbage every day. But the overall camp still had an overwhelming amount, blown into the forests and gullies between the campsites. The monkeys exasperated the situation, knocking over the trash cans at least twice a day. It would have been blowing smoke to try to explain that feeding the monkeys was not good for them. They did indeed provide a lot of entertainment. The toilets and sink area were a disaster. There was no hot water, even in the kitchen. And, there were mosquitos. There was never enough sleep, especially for the counselors.
Still, I hope to be invited back next year. My favorite part of the camp was seeing how kids helped each other. Ages ranged from 8-14. There were 14 girls and 56 boys. The older ones were especially sweet to help the younger ones. I had one favorite scene where a little boy came to the sinks to wash his clothes. Two older boys came and started helping him, demonstrating how to wring out the excess water. One girl washing another’s hair, older boys teaching back-flips, helping at meals, and much more. They walked hand in hand, arm on shoulder, and just looked after one another. Also, by the end, the children were taking turns leading the songs. Of course, there were also fights, tears, finger pointing and hurt feelings, at least 20 times a day. But, these experiences, needing to deal with life without mom and dad, were a huge part of the benefit. A few parents visited and one little boy went home early. Lots of kids made new friends and there were some tears at parting.
The Sahara group left around midnight. We were all supposed to leave at 10 the next morning, but this is Morocco. By 11, one of our busses had not even left our town, waiting for permission from the Belladia. So, our little group from the neighboring town departed. Finally, we crammed twice as many people as we should, along with tons of stuff, into two small busses. The caterers packed us a lunch and we stopped in Immouzier at a wonderful park, Sultan Spring. Green and clean, surrounded by pop-up restaurants serving tea or tagine. You could sit on a blanket and enjoy. After lunch, we took a walk along the river. I was trailing when a young girl I knew from my first village ran up to greet me. She was there with her family, one of the host families from our training time. Also, my friend the PCV from that town and one of my former classmates, visiting with her parents from the US. It was a very nice surprise. But then, I was being called to the bus. The last leg was drowsy, but soon we were dropping kids off around town, lastly me, with camp songs ringing in my head.