First day of camp complete, full of fits and starts that began with my sleep. I tossed and turned, trying my best to remember how tired I was just hours prior in the waking dream that is international travel. At some point, I had lost the ability to connect the dots between where I was now and where I was three days ago, like slipping from one plane of existence to another. So while my wakefulness could easily be attributed to jet lag, there was little thought in my mind of where I’d come from, only where I was going. I turned my alarm clock off two minutes before it was set to go off and headed for the Nescafe packets.
The cafeteria was full of campers when I arrived for breakfast. Cassava, plantains, hard-boiled eggs, and stew-gravy to pour over top of any and everything that made it on to your plate. The camp was held in a classroom across campus from the cafeteria in the Engineering building. We passed the clock tower on the way, each side of the tower stuck on a different time. Forty wooden chairs with desks attached to an arm, “UL PROPERTY” stamped in white paint on the backs. Overhead fans pushing around the humid mid-morning air, a white board, a podium. We began the first workshop covering leadership styles forty-five minutes behind schedule, which I think is on time. All seemed to be flowing smoothly, until a competition was introduced.
In my experience, the sound of yelling because you’re ecstatic and shouting because you’re hysterically angry is not so different at first blush. The same goes for laughing and sobbing. At the extremes of emotions, subtleties are washed out by amplitude. The competition described by Caroline seemed innocent enough. Slips of paper with numbers from 1-20 were placed randomly within a circle made of string on the carpeted floor. The goal for groups of six was to touch the numbers successively, one number at a time, and only one person’s hand could be in the circle at any given time. A lesson in teamwork and communication, right? It started well. We practiced. We made mistakes. Then we were asked to time ourselves. The groups wrote their times on the board – 12 seconds, 14 seconds, 17 seconds, 14 seconds. I asked my group’s timer how we did. 7 seconds. My brow furrowed in confusion. That didn’t seem correct. I watched in slow motion as the time was written on the white board.
An eruption. Disbelief and confusion by the other groups’ members at our group’s unbelievable time. At least, this is what I assumed was being said, because no discrete words were discernable. It was just one long shout held up like a crowd-surfer by every camper in the room. I turned in one complete circle to take it in before I could form a thought. And it continued. Campers running from one side of the room to the other, pulling banners of words, decorating the room with sound. After five minutes, I became a bit apprehensive. What I presumed to be friendly razzing could be construed as fighting without fists. I turned to Aeriel.
“Is everything okay?”
“Oh yeah, they’re not mad. This is normal.”
I had to smile at that. The screaming, the shouting, things that would normally appear to me as warning signs for a brewing fight in the US – in Liberia, business as usual between friends in a competition. The amount of emotion was not rooted in anger, at least not genuine anger, but pure excitement. Zest for participation, socializing, being a part of the game and the outcome. Not wanting to lose, of course, but also not wanting to trample on others. It was more about challenging one another – feeling the full interaction.
This full interaction continued after dinner with a L-SWE-planned event they called Cultural Night. Each attendee explained the significance of her outfit as it related to her heritage, her inspirations, her own thoughts and desires. For many Liberians, her explanation included information about her family’s tribe or from which time period the clothing came and when and where it would be worn. There was also dancing. So much dancing. Traditional African dances, free-style dances. Liberian students and US students. Laughing. Clapping. Exchanging. A brilliant end to a spirited day.