Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)

Aye chihuahua! I don’t even know where to begin. Warning: THIS WILL  BE A LENGTHY POST SO KICK BACK WITH A DRINK AND RELAX. To say it was a unique experience is an understatement. So I’ll just start at the beginning. Camp was held at Woodrow Wilson School in Tetovo. It is an all English school and boarding school for those that need sleeping accommodations.  The dormitory is on the 4th floor (3rd floor European) and very few rooms are air conditioned. Fortunately for staff one of the large eight bed rooms had clima so we  at least slept in comfort. There is no AC anywhere else in the building.GLOW 2015

When I arrived at 11.30, the lead coordinator (Grace) was the only person there and just as I arrived,  the Peace Corps van pulled up with our supplies. So Grace, Boris and I unloaded the van in the noon day sun.  The temperature was at least 35°. (That’s 95° for you Fahrenheit users). We were dripping wet by the time we got them inside the building. The next step was to get them all up to the 3rd floor (2nd floor European) from the first floor (ground floor European) and there is NO elevator. It is  twenty steps between each floor. Grace and I  carried the light things up but decided that when the others arrived, they could bring up the  rest. We were exhausted and that was one hour into camp. The rest of the leadership team finally arrived at 2 PM and after being shown the room we would be sharing, they were immediately put to work taking boxes up the stairs. We had our meeting, set up an office and then all showered. There was only one shower in our room but we had 36 others to pick from so everyone was quickly ready to go to  dinner at our favorite restaurant: Bakal Restaurant and Bakery . We had a wonderful dinner and some wine. After dinner we stopped to buy some toilet paper as the school was providing neither TP or towels, ( we have all  learned to  travel with a pack or two of tissues with us in a pocket or purse) and then we headed back and worked for another couple of hours assigning rooms, collecting keys and clima remote controls.

The rest of the staff started arriving on Wednesday morning. Training was to start at 1 PM so leadership had to have it’s act together. We had been taking bets as to whether or not our partner NGO (non governmental organization–the global term for non-profit) would send a representative and how long they would stay. We knew that at least one person would have to show up today as they had to pay the school a 50% deposit on the food. Well……….about 2 PM, they arrived: Three of them demanding to be shown their rooms so they could “freshen up” and they wanted private rooms. Well, we had tentatively planned on  one person and had assigned her a roommate. This now changed the picture.  The most vocal of the three, Gordana, insisted she had sent us an email telling us this and that she would be leaving on Tuesday-the 28th and that Ljatife would replace her. Ljatife would be making daily trips to camp until she arrived to stay on Tuesday. So Alanna (my counterpart) headed upstairs to scope out the rooms. There are no private rooms. I indicated they should follow me up the stairs. Halfway up the first flight, Gordana said, “Eileen, aren’t you going to carry our bags?” I turned around and gave her a WTF look and said no. I had carried 50 boxes up these steps and my own suitcase and I’m 67 years old! I was shocked! (And believe it or not, they complained to PC that I had not carried it. PC said there was no requirement for the PCV’s to wait on her.) So she turned around and gave her suitcase to  her assistant who also had her own suitcase. When we finally got up there we decided on the room furthest away from us would be ideal! But in the mean time, her left breast (boob) has fallen out of her top. TMI! It was all we could do to keep a straight face. Alanna tried to talk to Gordana about the arrangements and Gordana said, she thought she deserved a little more respect because she was 46 years old and they (the NGO) were putting this camp on. Alanna lost it and snapped at her that she might get some respect if she would quit treating her like a child. Alanna is the calmest, sweetest person you will ever meet, so when she snapped, I stepped in and tried to play diplomat and told them I would get them a fan and that I had turned on the switch to their hot water tank so they should have hot water very soon. Also, I would get them some TP but please do not flush TP down the toilet, it will automatically clog. Anything to divert her attention from the conflict. And really their function was to be the NGO designated to receive and disburse the funds to operate the camp. I then turned to Alanna and indicated we needed to get out of there–fast because we were both at the boiling point. I sent Grace to see them and she came back equally frustrated. The classes they said they would teach they had decided they wouldn’t teach. Now we have to figure out what to do about those classes. Most we could handle but no one knew how to belly dance so we had to cancel that class.

Now it is time to get ready for the opening ceremony. The campers are all here and are settling in. We are all supposed to wear our yellow Camp GLOW t-shirts to the ceremony that included addresses by the US ambassador, the mayor of Tetovo (a woman), and the CEO of Wilson School. We would have a special GLOW video, a dance done by staff, and a reading of Dr. Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. Everything was awe inspiring and I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the house.  Next we filed out to have a picture done with the dignitaries in front of the school. I end up behind Gordana. Oh feces! She is wearing sheer white pants and has nothing on under them! Trust me—NOTHING! And she is dancing around like she is 15 years old. Just allow me to say that she is a very substantial woman. If I thought we had TMI earlier, this was the ultimate. I can still picture it in my brain!

And camp has barely started!

Now we are in full camp mode. Friday night the doctor tries to tell us that the water in the school is bad because it was brown when she turned on her shower. Well, duh! No one has used the showers in two months, of course, the water is brown. Just let it run. She insisted it was bad–it’s technical water. We had bought each girl a bottle of water for their arrival, so we can deal with this tomorrow. She claims that one of the girls is sick from drinking the school  water. Now I was at this school for a week when we first arrived in country last September and we were assured the water in the school  was good as they had their own well and filtration system and not one of us got sick. But no, our NGO partner insisted we needed bottled water. So Saturday morning, Alanna and I called a taxi and headed into town. We decided we would get  20 five-liter sized jugs. We needed two carts–10 bottles in each cart.  Now it is time to get these things out to a taxi. The exit from the store involves either steps or a ramp. We will do the ramp. So I hold on to the handle of the cart, Alanna gets in  front and keeps it from being a run away.  My shoes started to slip. Oh,  crap!  Fortunately I got my feet turned sideways to keep the cart from running away and killing Alanna.  I can see the headline now: PCV KILLED BY RUNAWAY GROCERY CART. We got both carts down and flagged down a taxi and got the water back to the school and up the forty steps to our office.

By Saturday evening we have another girl sick and the doctor decides to take her to the hospital. Having a medical professional on staff keeps us from deciding how to treat the girl and deciding when to send her home. We did have two homesick campers request to go home and so we sent them. But the doctor felt she could handle the sick cases and did not give us an idea how many people she treated for anything. And when she was out of the office, she spoke with the staff psychologist and authorized her to dispense medications. We expressed concern about this  but were told it was perfectly legitimate in Macedonia. (We knew she was busy but most said it was a headache. That was to be expected the temperatures hovered around 40° (104°). At one place in Tetovo the temperature registered at 53° (127°) on one of those outdoor thermometers you see on banks and stores. I am pretty sure that was not accurate but it was freaking hot!) On Tuesday, the doctor comes to us and says she has  to leave as she is getting sick  and she doesn’t want to risk the health of the baby she is carrying.  Okay, we call PC and the CEO of the school. PC says if we don’t have a doctor we will have to close camp. CEO is from a family of physicians and she is even one herself so she might be able to help us. Elita (CEO) jumps into action and tells us we will have a doctor tomorrow. In the meantime, the current doctor tells us we have 25 girls that have at one point or another been affected by this bug that is manifested as a headache, then nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Holy feces! We need to isolate all of these girls for the night and take their temps every two hours. Also if any girl’s temp goes above 37°, we need to take her to the clinic and get her an “infusion”.  So now we are operating a hospital and we are all nurses. Not a single one of us is trained in any kind of medical field. However, we divided into shifts and took up our places outside the “wards” –three classrooms with mattresses on the floor. In the meantime, our country director was talking with the medical staff of the embassy and they told her to send all sick girls home ASAP and close the camp. Apparently Bulgaria had just gone through an epidemic of this “bug” and Macedonia was bracing for it.  So on Wednesday morning, Corey (Country Director) called all the campers into the amphitheater and told them we were closing camp early and that they would all go home on Thursday instead of Friday. So now camp staff is scrambling to change the schedule so they can have disco night, farewell circles and s’mores before they go home. The new doctor has cleared all but six campers to return to full participation.  She brings in IV stands and “infuses” sick campers on the spot before they go home. There are tears but it is the right thing to do.  We shouldn’t be running a hospital and we need to safeguard the rest of the campers and ourselves.  We  are planning to consult with the PC doctors to write a medical protocol for camps for the future.

Thursday morning arrives and we say goodbye to our campers, have a quick staff meeting, hand out clean up assignments, and PC comes to pick up most of our boxes. After lunch we all headed for naps. I think the shortest nap was mine at about two  hours. Most napped for four hours. Once we woke up it was time to party! But first we had dinner–with a cake made by the CEO’s mother for the Camp GLOW staff. We then opened the amphitheater, bought some beer and wine and watched two movies–“The Heat” and “Dirty Dancing” (the official Peace Corps movie–nobody puts Baby in a corner”) –both great movies!

Friday morning dawns bright and beautiful. There are a few things that PC needs to pick up–most especially fans which Alanna and I have purchased throughout the course to help alleviate some of the heat in the dormitory.  We also want to turn over the medical supplies to our own doctors. We suspect there may be things there we don’t want in our camp medical kit like syringes! Now we are checked out and headed to the bus station. But we are not ready to part company just yet so we find a lovely place in Tetovo to have lunch and at about 3 PM we bid a fond adieu to each other and head to our respective homes–and much needed rest.

There were other problems at  camp but those are minor and personal. However, the girls walked away empowered as future leaders in their schools, communities and country. They truly were phenomenal women reaching for the stars. We are proud of them and all that they accomplished.

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A 60 something woman who has run off to faraway places with the Peace Corps.

3 thoughts on “Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)”

  1. What a tale! You won’t forget the experience quickly. The way you write it, it’s kind of humorous.

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