“Kamaji is magical”. How many times have you heard this? How many times have you SAID this? How many times have you thought this to yourself? It is, it is truly magical. But now try to explain why. It’s hard!! Because for us Kamaji girls, it just IS.
Maybe it is the smell of the pines, the distant sounds of laughter through the trees, the sound of Wolf Lake lapping on the shoreline, the sound of the bell echoing, the sounds of the tetherballs bouncing off the poles, watching campers run and jump up on the “pig” (decorated propane tank) or maybe it is watching friends walk arm in arm up to the archery field, the sounds of the giggles as you walk past a cabin porch or the glimpses of rainbow tu-tus run by you in a flurry of color and tulle. To me, it is all magical, all of it is Kamaji.
But now try to explain all that to someone who has never been! How do you describe your friendships? How do you describe the sounds, the colors, the smells? It is almost impossible! You begin saying, “It just IS, you don’t understand!” And you’re right, they don’t understand, they can’t, not yet. So this was my task, how do we describe why Kamaji IS so special, so magical. There are lots of words and things we can say but I think what separates Kamaji from so many special camps and special places is something truly magical.
We celebrate courage.
Think about it. We do! It starts at the very beginning, the guts it takes to get on an airplane and come to Kamaji where there is (gasp!) no electricity in the cabins (thank goodness for those lights and flushing toilets in the washhouses though!!) and live with people that you don’t know. That is brave! That’s why we make sure we have staff there to greet you, hug you, jump up and down with you.
And at Kamaji you are encouraged not to just to do the activities you’re good at or the ones that you participate in at home, this is the place where you are encouraged to try things that are completely new. You may be a pro tennis player at home, but at Kamaji you can take dance and perform on stage in front of all of camp. You don’t have to be a professional, in fact, the audience is loudest when we know that you AREN’T a professional. When campers get up on stage to sing a solo, perform a dance or a skit, the audience doesn’t cheer loudest for the “best” performance, we cheer loudest to recognize how hard it is to perform in front of all of camp!
Kamaji campers work hard to learn new skills at camp. Campers aim to cross off accomplishments on their skills checklist in their activities. They are eager to show that they can windsurf across the lake and grab a reed from the other side. They want to show that they can jump their horses up in the ring or ski in and out of the wake on one ski. And we make sure we recognize all these amazing accomplishments when the counselors announce them after lunch in the dining hall. But notice, we don’t JUST announce the girls that have reached “Kami-Ex” (Kamaji Expert) level… the cheers are just as loud for the campers that learned out to get up for the first time on skis. We cheer for the girls who climbed up to the top of the 60 foot climbing wall blindfolded, the camper who passed to level two sailing and the applause is thunderous for the campers who practiced swimming and passed the swim check halfway through the session. We recognize how gutsy it is to keep working to learn something new or improve on a skill that does not come naturally to you.
We often hear that “Kamaji is a camp for nice girls”. Heck yes it is! I think it is because your thoughtfulness, your kindness, the way you accept other campers and staff is celebrated. If you are a new camper and you want to run to be Tribe Leader against the oldest, Pine Manor campers, people are in awe of you. Older campers comment about how cool that is.
In the recent past we have had a camper who chose to wear her bright red rainboots everyday of camp…even when it is blistery hot outside. She wanted to make that her “thing”. And it was beloved, she was beloved. We had a camper that wore the same, very identifiable hat everyday… she earned herself an endearing nickname. At home you might be teased, and at Kamaji, you are embraced.
At home you might fear standing out and getting teased, but at Kamaji, you may stand out for the same “quirk” but you are celebrated for your individuality. You are ours. You help define who we are as a community and as a camp. You are what makes Kamaji magical.
I think that anyone can understand why a place like that is pretty special. So next time someone asks you what you love about Kamaji and you find yourself stuttering, and spitting out things about the trees, the dance parties, the lake, your friends, and magic…now you can also tell them about the courage. You can tell them that at camp, your courage is celebrated.
Printed first in Kamaji’s newsletter, The Rainbow Connection, December 2015/January 2016