The Story Thus Far Ch. 20: Badlands and Goodbyes Pt. 2

“Goodbyes are not forever. Goodbyes are not the end. They simply mean I’ll miss you until we meet again.”
-Unknown
…Still not comprehending what had happened, we carried on Rapid City. I thought it was fair to assume that I was done for the day, but there was so much more to happen…


When we arrived at Rapid City, we immediately headed to the Airport to get the van, then for some quick food at the Arby’s. After that, we were to meet the rest in Dupree. Since I had driven almost every time that weekend till that point, I asked Isaac to switch for me. He gladly agreed to drive till Sturgis, a town that was an hour away from Rapid. Once I got up an hour later, I could see no sight of the van. Since we were to lead them, I assumed that they were behind us, but Isaac told me that they had overtaken us a while back and gone ahead. Not knowing if we were too slow or they were too fast, I decided to take over the wheel again.
As it turns out, Isaac is a really safe driver. I’m not saying that I’m rash, but after driving in India, it made sense to drive at the speed limit, not 10 miles under. Nevertheless, people didn’t seem to follow the traffic laws in the state, so I drove at the general speed driven at. Having taken over, I managed to get us a lot earlier than if Isaac had driven it. It wasn’t something to feel bad about, but not something to be gloating about either.
When we reached there, we decided to join the Brazilians in their last weekend in the US. After a decent meal, I was surprised to see some of the counsellors starting to wrap up. In fact, it was more than half of them who decided to head back to camp. Turns out they wanted to sleep on the nicer beds at camp. I wasn’t too pleased about it, but it was fair enough for them to expect that. So all, except for Isaac, Mateus, Giulia, Gabriel, Ginte, Austeja, and me went back to camp.
That night began well. It actually was a great night, filling with a lot of drinking and peeing, and some more of stuff I’d rather not name, summarised by this picture which was actually taken in the morning. A lot of stories were shared, some revelation of feelings, and just an increase in the love that was.
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Perhaps the best way to sum up my night…

The morning itself was filled with our final goodbyes and pictures. Needless to say, we were all pretty unhappy with the fact that the guys were leaving, but nothing we or they could say would make them stay.

Some pictures and cries later, we parted our ways and headed to camp. We had to get back to our final week, and we had much to do. In fact, there was so much to do as we had a storm that night, so I was sure the campsite would’ve required a lot of cleaning before camp was to begin again.
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That week began on a positive note. The kids sensing that it was going to be their last week with us, arguably for life, decided to be on their best behaviour. Honestly, I adored it. I knew that they were lovely people, and it was finally showing. They would speak to us like they trusted us, and in turn, we gave them more and more reasons to trust in us.
Diana was back the last week, and she seemed to be impressed about the change in the teens. There seemed to be a significant improvement in their schedule, and subsequently their behaviour. This week was panning out to be a good one, so I was quite happy.
On Monday, I happened to have a word with Natasha. She spoke to me about how much her guys were missing us. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t missing them. How could it be? I knew them for just a month. In fact, it’s not like I had many intimate conversations with many of them. In fact, I probably spoke to just a couple of them on a personal level. But I missed them so much. Too bad that I had met them for the last time. What could I do further? I prayed. That’s all I did. I prayed to God, the stars, to whoever was prepared to listen.
Then the next day I had to run a lot of errands with the car. By the time I got back in the evening, I was told that I had to drive back to Dupree. Why? Because I had to drive to Bismarck the next day? Did I hear this correctly? Were they shitting me? Nah! I was going to take them to the airport. You have no idea how happy I was just hearing that. That evening I took the car to Dupree and decided to spend the night there.
The moment I got to Dupree, I just met and hugged everyone I could lay my eyes on, and then headed for a quick overdue shower. After that, I realised, they were playing a game of Cards Against Humanity. Honestly, I was surprised they thought I wouldn’t do well in it. I guess they had only seen the nice side of me. They thought I was unable to be dark. Too bad for them, because I joined halfway and yet almost won it. The look on their faces was priceless. That night ended with a long conversation with Natasha, and then a short nap.
The morning, I started to pack the car when it began raining. I had feared it would, but I wasn’t too prepared for it. I took the keys of the shed from Mark, and then tied a large piece of tarp over it. The drive was great for me. It was cool outside, the grass was green, and the drive was smooth. The kids were too tired to stay up and slept almost instantaneously.
When I reached the airport, I had zero energy left to cry. I really couldn’t, not that I didn’t feel like. I said, what was probably the most difficult, goodbye and then walked away from this amazing set of people for one last time that summer. I didn’t think the goodbye would be that hard, but it really was. For the first time in my life I realised what it felt to have a part of your heart ripped out and taken in front of your eyes. I realised what it felt to have your ground crumble under you while you yet got to find some floor to stand on.
After that, I couldn’t do much but leave, but not before grabbing a bite from my beloved Panera. I guess I owed the guys back at camp something, so bought a few Cinnamon Bagels, something they all loved.
After speaking to Cait, I realised that it was just about noon, and I had told her I’d make it back by four. However, after being so low on energy, I figured that I needed some supplement. I had my usual Double Shot of Starbucks, and then even a 5 hour energy bottle. Honestly, it did the trick and more. I reach back at camp at a funny three in the afternoon. In fact, Cait didn’t know whether to be happy or concern that I had made it back so early. I was thankful I decided to take a less travelled route which got me back faster, but also gave me one of the drives of my life. Good music and great skies had truly made my day better than what it was at the airport.
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This gorgeous road doesn’t just make you enjoy your drive, but even makes you think about life somehow.

PS: To end this, I would like to thank the Brazilian people one more time. I want to thank them for the work they put in. I want to thank them for the smiles they spread. I want to thank them for the times they pulled me up, and for the times they pushed me further. I want to thank them for loving me so much, and for giving me so much to love them for. I want to thank them, because if it wasn’t for them, I’d have that much less to thank this summer.
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The Story Thus Far Ch. 19: Badlands and Goodbyes Pt. 1

“Goodbyes are not forever. Goodbyes are not the end. They simply mean I’ll miss you until we meet again.”
 -Unknown

…I’m sure there were more stories to share, but these were the ones that stood out. Six weeks of camp were over, and we had just one remaining. But first, I had one of the longest and worst goodbyes to endure…

There are times that you wish to speak only of a specific point to explain an incident, but then you realise that unless you provide some context, it won’t mean much. This is such a point for me. This is the story of me final goodbyes with the Brazilians.

To avoid this story sounding as disappointing as it was when I tried Shawarma in Dubai for the first time, I’m going to begin a lot earlier. This actually starts off when we decided to use our weekend to take a trip to the Badlands. Badlands is a place in South Dakota that resembles a lot like the Grand Canyon. Honestly speaking, a state like South Dakota, with it’s humungous fields of corn doesn’t look like a place that will have the Badlands. We were told by the campers, as well as the Becket Boys, that it was a place that we absolutely had to visit. Obviously, we decided to visit the place that weekend itself.

The plan, however, had a twist. Natasha and Ribas had always been wanting to hire a van to take their guys out somewhere. Since the only place that would rent a van was in Rapid City, it was proving a difficult wish as Rapid City was over three hours away from camp. Since the Badlands isn’t too far from there, obviously, we allowed them to come; but owing to lack of enough seats, it only meant Natasha could come along. The final plan meant we were to visit the Badlands, then head to Rapid City, and then to Dupree.

On the way to the Badlands, we decided to take the short, but unconventional, route via Midland. While passing that place, we had to take a turn. A turn which made us arrive upon the biggest, and more importantly lowest, cloud I had ever come across. Spread under a bright green sky, the cloud seemed almost in my grasp. Even though the weather app showed no signs of concern, I wasn’t entirely sure about what was to be done. Isaac started getting vary, and I didn’t see anything unjustified in that either. I immediately asked him to call Diana in the other car, to tell her that I might take a u-turn any moment if deemed necessary. She agreed that we should wait not more than a minute to assess the situation, but thankfully a oncoming car became visible. I concluded that it meant that people were travelling from the other side, and continued with our journey. By the time we hit the interstate, I don’t think those clouds were visible anymore. That doesn’t go to show that it wasn’t scary, but we were safe.

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The route we took, from Camp Marrowbone, to Badlands

Traveling on the interstate we didn’t seem certain that we were on the right track. Had Google not existed, we would’ve been convinced that we were lost, not because we forgot the way, but because the terrain really didn’t look remotely close to that of what the pictures at the Badlands looked like. In fact, till the turn came when those tiny peaks appeared, we had lost all faith in the physics of nature.

The Badlands National Park (Lakota: Makȟóšiča) is a national park of the United States located in southwestern South Dakota. It protects 242,756 acres (379.306 sq. mi; 98,240 ha) of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. The park is managed by the National Park Service.

The Badlands Wilderness protects 64,144 acres (100.225 sq. mi; 25,958 ha) of the park as a designated wilderness area and is the site of the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret, the most endangered land mammal in North America.

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Badlands itself, by definition, are a type of dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water. They are characterised by steep slopes, minimal vegetation, lack of a substantial regolith, and high drainage density. They can resemble Malpaís, a terrain of volcanic rock. Canyons, ravines, gullies, buttes, mesas, hoodoos and other such geologic forms are common in badlands. They are often difficult to navigate by foot. Badlands often have a spectacular colour display that alternates from dark black/blue coal stria to be bright clays to red scoria.

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I don’t think, all said and done, I’ve ever seen something so picturesque come out of something so drab. I don’t mean that the rest of South Dakota is a shit hole, but in comparison the Badlands, it does seem so. The first spot itself was such eye candy that we spent a good half hour over there, and it was just the parking entrance. The second view got much better, and that was a toilet stop. I couldn’t believe the place I was in. It was euphoric, to say the least. After a good hour into the visit, we realised that it was just passed seven in the evening, which meant that the gift shop was about the close soon. Since I had decided that I was going to buy bag pins for all the places I visited, I went ahead and decided to buy that. Unfortunately, when I went to pay for it, I realised that I was missing some money. I don’t mean some change, but a decent three hundred dollars. For those who don’t know, that’s a whopping twenty thousand rupees I was missing from my wallet. I don’t think I ever felt that someone was responsible for it, but I was horribly annoyed nonetheless. I mean, a phone you can search for, but money? In a national park? Over the next ten minutes, I was visibly distraught, and in contrast to the others enjoying themselves, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Natasha decided to do something about it and asked if I could head back with her to Rapid City. Since we would be staying in Dupree for the night, Gabriel, and Mateus volunteered to travel with us. Isaac felt like he would like to travel to the city too, and that meant it was five of us heading there. That was the first time I saw a glimpse of humanity’s efforts to make this world a good place. I went back to the store to inform Diana of the new plan, and she handed me this doggy bag of all the stuff I had intended on buying. I hugged her, thinking that she had paid for it, but then became teary when she told me that the person at the counter felt bad that I couldn’t buy the stuff, and paid for it herself.

On the way back to the entrance, I decided to take a minute or so at each stop to thoroughly search the areas we visited, hoping to find something. I didn’t want the guys to get panicked, so Amy, Gin and Natasha were the only ones who initially knew. While driving out, however, I told the others, in hope that they might help in any way. We stopped at the entrance in one last desperate attempt at finding what I would never find back in India. What the guard said was nothing short of music to my ears. He said someone had found some money and had left his card. I was shaken, I truly was. I wasn’t sure if I heard it right. Still not completely in my senses, I made Natasha make the call. She spoke to him and agreed to meet at this town called Wall, which was on the way to Rapid. Needless to say, we immediately left…

On reaching Wall, we called him again. By the time he came, I was so weak in my knees that I couldn’t even speak to him. I wanted to hug him and kiss him and just thank him, but I couldn’t even muster a word out of my mouth. Not only had he found the money and kept it safe, he came out of his way to return the money to me as well. On speaking to him for a minute, he told me that he initially thought it was his lucky day. Then he realised that the amount of luck he felt in receiving it meant that someone was there who felt that unlucky, and he decided to do something about it. His boy at his side displayed a face through, a face of the biggest pride you could feel of someone.

Still not comprehending what had happened, we carried on Rapid City. I thought it was fair to assume that I was done for the day, but there was so much more to happen…

PS: Some more pictures of Badlands that I’ve added below…

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The Story Thus Far Ch. 18: Short Stories

“If I can live through this, I can do anything”
-Fall Out Boy

At the beginning of any project, every day seems like a new challenge. Every little thing is a new story to share with people. In time, memories become similar, and because of it, thing’s seem like more of a blur. It’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t happen often.
Just as how a couple initially might celebrate every month that passes by, to eventually having a small appreciation every year, the same starts happening at camp. It’s not that camp got boring. It’s just that there were more of the stories that had occurred before. There are a few things that come to mind for the fifth and sixth weeks. Those stories are the ones I’ll share with you.
Fifth week started off with not only meeting the new set of Brazilians, but also a group of individuals from New York. With her husband Kevin, his friends Terry and Alexis, and her daughter Lola, came reputed photographer Emily Schiffer, or so I thought she was reputed. People seemed to know her, and I was told she had worked on some projects with some really well known firms. She had come to help at camp for the week, as well as teach film photography, something I was really looking forward to. I wish I could say that these pictures were mine, but they’re some pretty amazing pictures taken by her. Not only did she teach photography for her mastery activity, Terry and Kevin taught Basketball too, and that helped us give the kids a new dimension to camp.
The next group was a whole tonne of them who came to help do some work. They came from Kentucky, and were to spend an afternoon with us. Since Cait didn’t have much work to give, she gave them the responsibility to push one cabin all the way down near the showers. Honestly speaking, I was quite skeptical of this new place for the Girl’s cabin, but since I had to trust in her, I did. It was amazing to spend time with the Kentucky guys, but it was a bit sad that it was only for an afternoon.

Lo and behold, the Kentucky Y group busting everything to get the job done.

It does seem like everyone who visited camp to help out were saviours to us. Honestly speaking, they were, most of the time. I cannot emphasise how strongly I felt about these people being an important pillar in the functioning of camp, but everyone’s perception changed the second last week of camp. We were joined by two good folk who lived in New York, and one of them was an ex counsellor at camp. We were quite excited about it since we didn’t have anyone from the previous camps come over, and the insight we would receive was a prospect I was looking forward to. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, as the criticisms of camp was quite frequent and inconsistent. It made us seem like camp was a failure, and that the kids hated it. I was so gutted to see the tide of people’s perceptions change so quickly, and before I knew it, everyone hated camp. I remember sitting one evening with Cait, both of us almost teary to see the entire camp happy but at the same time to think that everyone apparently thought it was a failure.
What concerned me wasn’t that there was just criticism for us. It was the negative effect that she was having on the kids too. Anything minor that went wrong would always result with a shoulder to cry on along with a free lecture on how good camp was earlier and how it sucks now. Some messages were made to the previous Camp Director too, if I should believe some of the campers. It just didn’t add up though. How could camp be better? The stories we’d heard made it seem like there was hardly anything at camp the last time. No showers, no structure, no consistency, nothing. And these were the stories from the kids. I remember sitting every night, wondering what had we done wrong. I remember having arguments almost every second morning with the counsellors themselves, having to convince people that we weren’t a failure, that camp wasn’t a failure. I know the effort we had put it, and it couldn’t be a failed effort. She had to go, the negative energy had to go. Through God’s grace or some other unknown factor, she left a week earlier than planned.
The next thing I want to talk about is one incident that had happened. At camp, the priority is always to have a safe environment for kids to learn and enjoy their childhood. Even though fun and games is good, it’s always better to have opportunities to showcase some valuable traits. One such opportunity arose when there was a storm one night. The next day, while on a bike ride, some of the kids happened to come across a cow in distress. Even though there were a lot of skeptics, we rallied the kids to come and help pull the cow to a safer spot. If you would have told me on the first week of camp that the kids were so capable of working together in harmony towards a common goal, chances were that I wouldn’t believe you. Such coordination and determination amongst kids isn’t common, and for it to come from within kids who are usually so indifferent to most things, heavenly. As we came to know, the cow eventually died anyway, but I remember when everyone got together and worked as a team to help the cow. That was a true success story for me, and I was proud of everyone that helped.

Thank you, Diana for these pictures.

One last topic I would like to talk about is the healthcare system in South Dakota, if not in America. There was this week that I had to take a trip to Cherry Creek, to conduct day camp at that community. Since we were to pass Eagle Butte, Ribas requested that I take her and Lavalle to the hospital in Eagle Butte, since Lavalle had an allergic reaction on his back and he wanted to consult a doctor for it. Even though it didn’t seem serious to me, he insisted, and so I obliged under the condition that Cait was informed. Ribas informed her, and Cait understandably complied. As the plan went, I was to leave camp by 1:00pm, drop them, head to Cherry Creek, conduct day camp from 3:00pm to 5:00pm, pick them up and return to camp by 7:00pm. It seemed like a fairly simple plan with ample of buffer time. In fact, everything was fine till I came back to pick them up. The day camp was fun, and we enjoyed ourselves on a decent schedule. When I returned to the hospital, however, the tide turned. Ginte and I were shocked when we were told that the doctor hadn’t seen them yet. And this was at 5:30pm. As it turns out, they went to the doctor at 1:00pm, but they said that they would have to wait till their insurance was clear. Once that was sorted, the hospital staff said they had to wait since it wasn’t an emergency. When Ribas asked if they could skip the Emergency ward and check with the OPD, they were told that it wasn’t possible since the hospital only tended to Native American folk, and since they weren’t natives, they would be denied such services. Racist, right? Anyway, all of this meant that the doctor would see him at 6:30pm, but that didn’t happen either, till 8:00pm. Even when he met him at 8:00pm, the treatment was done only by 10:30pm. And that treatment was actually just an injection. Now, honestly, I know they have a system. But if that system means that a person has to wait from 1:00pm to 8:00pm to resolve a small rash, then is the system that good? The other alternative was to pay over $500, which is ridiculous in itself.
I’m sure there were more stories to share, but these were the ones that stood out. Six weeks of camp were over, and we had just one remaining. But first, I had one of the longest and worst goodbyes to endure.

The Story Thus Far Ch. 17: Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse

“Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.”
-Frank Borman

…I was also looking forward to the weekend, however. We were to go to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse that weekend, two of the famous monuments in South Dakota. It was going to be epic…

Through the entire week, if not for the entire summer so far, a lot of us were looking forward to going to Mount Rushmore. In fact, if you look up for things to do in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore will obviously be one of the major attractions, drawing tourist from around the world and what not. So when Amy was asked to plan the trip, I was comfortable knowing that it would be a good trip.

Crazy Horse, in fact, was suggested to us when we realised that Mount Rushmore is not too popular in those parts. The reason being that the Presidents carved in the stone mountain were colloquially known to be oppressive towards the indigenous people. In fact, Crazy Horse is a statement of sorts towards those who marvel at the mount. A statement showcasing the true history of South Dakota.

The initial plan was to travel to Rapid City, pick up another group of Brazilians, who were to stay with us for a week, have lunch, then head to Mount Rushmore succeeded by Crazy Horse, and then return. Of course, Amy planned it in that order too. Given that a lot of the staff at camp loved shopping, and a few insisted on visiting a mall at some point, I was told that we would head back to Rapid City for laundry and shopping. Personally, I didn’t care too much for it. Given the size of malls in Bombay, shopping in South Dakota wasn’t ever going to be a great plan.

I don’t think I had mentioned this earlier, but since the next set of Brazilians were to arrive on the Friday, we would end our camp session on the Friday instead of the Saturday. This not only meant that the week would be shorter, but also we would get two days over the weekend, something I was truly looking forward to.

When Friday arrived, we all were to leave at 8:00am. So while everyone was packing and getting onto the bus, I decided to go through the plan once again with Cait and Ryan. Honestly, I was a little bummed that we were only going to get about an hour and a half at each place, but I guess the people who wanted to shop would really appreciate it, so I was okay with it. And, quite frankly, everyone mentioned that ninety mins would be more than enough to view the place.

By the time we left, to my dismay, it was already 8:45am. A 45 min delay was not going to help us one bit, but I suppose we could cover up given the Amy mentioned she had given some buffer time. I was told that we were to stop at Dupree to drop the Chimney Girls, which was new information, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be a long stop. It was though…

When we arrived at Dupree to drop the girls, we all wanted to say bye to everyone from the Becket Boys as well. It was the last time we were seeing them for the summer, and arguably our lives, so goodbyes were a must. This natural reaction meant we were delayed by more than an hour now. But it was a delay that was worth it so far anyway.

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In the Lakota, there is no expression to say “good bye.” Instead, Lakota speakers express “farewells” in a variety of ways, must common being Tókša akhé (later, again). And that is how we would bid our adieus at camp.

The drive to Rapid City was really fun. I don’t remember Road Trips being all about singing, not since a while at least, but the Brazilians had their versions of songs, and we had ours, and it was just a big amazing bundle of enthusiasm that I was experiencing and loving. By the time we had reached Rapid City, Cait had managed to cover up some time using her expertise in bus driving, which was a huge relief.

We were to meet new Brazilian team at the YMCA, which was to be followed by some team building games. Over the last week, we had identified some monotony in the camp schedule, as well as some differences between counsellors. This meant that something was to be done about it. Amy had pulled out all the team building games she knew, and shortlisted a few to do at the YMCA.

When we met this new team, we realised that they seemed significantly older than the other group. Okay, I might be exaggerating, but if not that much in age, I suppose it was the mannerisms that made them feel a bit more mature in their actions, for better or worse.

The team building games were short, though I’m not sure how effective being the skeptic that I usually am. After that we were to have lunch. Unfortunately, the YMCA bailed on providing lunch, which meant that we had to go to the Pizza Hut nearby to fill our bellies. It didn’t mean much of a change for everyone, but it did mean another delay was on the charts.

Over lunch, Natasha and Ribas approached me over something they wanted to discuss. The sorry state that I was in meant that I was already in no mood to sort another issue. Their issue was quite sorry though. Apparently some miscommunication with the Sioux Y meant that they weren’t sure how to plan their steps forward. Honestly, it didn’t seem like much, but I could get their apprehension towards it. Being in a new country and responsible for people meant that this could go out of proportion in no time, and had to be sorted quickly. Amy suggested I involve Ryan about it as Cait’s health had suddenly taken a drastic downturn. He was kind enough to provide some resolution to it, and we put it to bed, if only for the moment, and then all headed for Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore, in the words of wikipedia, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore, a batholith in the Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota, United States. Mount Rushmore features 60-foot (18 m) sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). The memorial park covers 1,278.45 acres (2.00 sq mi; 5.17 km2) and is 5,725 feet (1,745 m) above sea level. South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region. Robinson’s initial idea was to sculpt the Needles; however, Gutzon Borglum rejected the Needles because of the poor quality of the granite and strong opposition from Native American groups. They settled on Mount Rushmore, which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure. Robinson wanted it to feature American West heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud,and Buffalo Bill Cody, but Borglum decided the sculpture should have broader appeal and chose the four presidents.

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From left to right, we have the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).

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Given that you can see the flag below, you can make a decent assumption on how big it actually is.

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This is arguably the first view you have of the mount, with the flags of all fifty United States on pillars on the way along with the date of their alliance with the US.

On a personal front, I really loved the structure, though it really seemed smaller than expected. Ryan mentioned that it was because I was too far away from it, but having been used to grandeur in monuments around the world, this one seemed more functional, if that’s an apt word enough. I don’t mean that it wasn’t beautiful, because it was. It was just that the maker seemed to make it to draw tourists rather than for pride, the latter being the basic objective of most monuments.

The memorial park as such had a lot to do, other than the memorial itself, with a museum and a trial. Since we were to spend only 30-45 mins here, it meant we couldn’t do the trail. However, it was enough to have a quick look at the museum.

When we got back to the bus, I realised that few people had already made it back in time. In a another half an hour, though, we had almost everyone. However, I was pretty bugged that we were missing four more people. What made matters worse is that none of them had a phone, neither had they mentioned which part of the area they were in. Isaac joined me in a quick search for them, and it took us another half an hour. What was the worst was when we picked up the last two and they pinned it on me, saying that I never mentioned how long we had there, which wasn’t a truthful accusation at all.

I was sad by this point, not because of the delay or what she had said to me, or that it meant less time for shopping, but I got only half an hour there just because I was back on time. What made matters worse is that people started questioning the plan itself, and putting the responsibility on us for a faulty plan. We all reached a consensus that we could only spend half an hour at the Crazy Horse memorial, which was more than enough since you couldn’t actually go to the mount because it’s incomplete and too far, so I assumed we would save time there.

Again, as per wikipedia, The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills, in Custer County, South Dakota, United States. It will depict the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. It is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization. The memorial master plan includes the mountain carving monument, an Indian Museum of North America, and a Native American Cultural Center. The monument is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain, on land considered sacred by some Oglala Lakota, between Custer and Hill City, roughly 17 miles (27 km) from Mount Rushmore. The sculpture’s final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet (27 m) high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet (18 m) high.

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This is how the monument looks so far, but that’s on full zoom on a 135mm lens, so you can understand how big it will be.

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This is the proposed statue. It means that it will look like this miniature when it is complete.

The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion. If completed, it may become the world’s largest sculpture as well as the first non-religious statue to hold this record since 1967 (when it was held by the Soviet monument The Motherland Calls).

 

From what we saw, the memorial was panning out to be something truly awesome. What the kids had told us about it was true, and it was definitely something to be appreciated a lot more than Rushmore. The museum too, had an amazingly informative experience of the Lakota and Sioux Tribes, apart from the other indigenous people from America. It spoke about their life and timeline, as well as the significance of the area.

This time, I made myself pretty vocal about the time we were going to spend there. And my job ended there. I wasn’t a baby sitter, so I saw no reason to go around collecting people when the time was up. As expected, however, when I got back in time, we were missing four people again. Two of whom were late coming back from a monument for the second time that day. This time, I wasn’t going to say anything about it. Thankfully, Natasha volunteered to search for them and I followed her. When we found them, I just said Ryan was waiting, so we came to call, to which she said ‘I’m sorry Carlton. I’m sorry that we want to visit places rather than visit malls like you’

What? WHAT? I don’t want to visit a mall. I don’t even think I’ll get 1% of the stuff I’m used to in this mall. I’m an avid traveller and nothing pleases me more than soaking in the heritage of the place. I can’t believe this!!

Natasha just looked at me, knowing full well what I wanted to say. She decided to just let me be, knowing that nothing she said was going to help. I just quietly walked back into the bus. Unfortunately, it was too late to go to any mall or shop. People themselves suddenly felt no need to go to the mall, and somehow it all seemed like Amy and I were the only ones who wanted to shop. Ryan was unsure of what to do, and since Cait’s health wasn’t too better he decided to take a vote. Everyone decided that they were tired and all they did was want to eat. So we decided to stop at Hill City.

I’m usually one person to not propagate drinking in frustration, but that day I went up on my word. I took Amy to this place called the Bumpin Buffalo Bar and Grill. The burgers there were really good, but downing two bottles of wine in 15 minutes is something I’ll always remember. I’ll always remember this day. I’ll always remember the burger. I’ll remember the trip to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. I remember everything, because after we finished those two bottles, I remember nothing.

The Story Thus Far Ch. 16: Work Notes

“The best way to look back at life fondly is to meet it – and those along your journey – warmly, kindly and mindfully”
Rasheed Ogunlaru

…it just felt like I had found something I genuinely enjoyed doing. I found people who believed in me. I found that I believe in myself.…

This chapter, I’m not going to speak much about my week, but rather a couple of things and people who came in my life.

Firstly, let me talk about my duties, since I feel I haven’t spoken much about what happens at camp. A lot of people seem to think that camp is all fun and games, which ideally is what it is, but running it shoes a other side to it. I won’t say that this other side is depressing or less fun than the main side, but it’s a little different.

Even though we were all taught during training that there was no hierarchy, I disagree. I disagree, partially because it’s not true, but mainly because I believe in some sort of hierarchal structure. As humans, we’re all equal on this planet, but that does not mean our roles are. Anyway, the head of camp was Cait, and Ryan her assistant. Then came Amy and Mo as Village Directors initially, but now Mo and I had swapped jobs. I don’t mean that the VDs are superior, just that we had more responsibilities and roles. A VD has to get their hands dirty and do all those things so that the counsellors and campers are protected from everything. A Camp Director runs camp, and a Village Director administrates camp.

A counsellor, on the hand, is the face of the camp. They are the most involved with the children, and their roles begin and end with the children. They’ve to make sure the kids have fun, whatever the cost, and their purpose is to make sure the schedule is followed.

The Village Directors ensure that the counsellors get whatever the need to make sure camp is running smoothly. They are the link between the counsellors, the resource staff, and the Camp Directors. They do the garbage, fix stuff, clean stuff, and make sure everything’s working fine. The resource staff are the people who work at camp but not in charge of kids. This includes the Waterfront Directors and the CiT and LiT Directors. The WDs are in charge of the waterfront, simple as it sounds, it isn’t. They’ve to handle all safety protocol, and be vigilant in the hot sun. It doesn’t take a lot of concentration or skill at once, but a decent amount at a constant and consistent pace, through the day. The CiT and LiT Directors have to run the CiT and LiT program.

Ideally, the Counsellors in Training and Leaders in Training (CiT and LiT in short) are the kids aged 13-19. Generally, they’re brought at camp, not to just enjoy themselves. As every teen, they have a program more suited for them. It’s been made across YMCAs to make sure that teens aren’t just chilling, but learn life skills while they’re at camp. Unfortunately, this program wasn’t implemented well in yesteryears, leading to a rather pathetic program when we began. And since the kids weren’t used to a decent program, they were literally caught in both worlds. They were probably as indisciplined as rebellious as the younger kids and teens around, but they lacked the initiative and responsibility of the teens around the world. It’s for this reason that Diana and Sydney were like two deers caught up in the headlights. By the time they had to leave in the fourth week though, it was in a much better place than what they began with. So when I took over temporarily with Decontee, it wasn’t as much as hassle as it would’ve been if I had taken over in week 1.

When I took over the teens, I didn’t know what to do. I had a word with Cait and Ryan, and we decided to brainstorm and regroup about the program. The ideas that bounced around the room were quite helpful. The main thing we did was empathise. We put ourselves in the teens shoes and thought what would help them. We decided to separate the kids from the teens. I decided to run their schedule in a different manner. Meaning that their would be almost a mix of productive sessions as well as fun sessions. Since they were older, I believe that they deserved more space than the kids and certain privileges could be demanded as long as they would do their work, something which Cait and Ryan agreed on.

To be honest, I would love to take credit for the entire thing, but a lot of ideas that I got, came from learning from Natasha and Ribas with their group, and Diggs and Gwen from theirs with the Chimney Girls. I would also regularly sit with them and figure out how to run a program, them sharing their experience and expertise with me. Those sit down sessions really helped a lot, as even my ideas were visibly being incorporated in their schedules. Moreover, I could sit with everyone and understand their feedback on camp as well, as well as helping them with their issues. Because there were so many people at camp, it was almost impossible for Cait and Ryan to tend to everyone, because of which a lot of people started feeling like their group wasn’t as important. It took a lot of meetings with Amy and me for them to understand the situation more.

Now that you’ve understood the functioning of camp better, I must speak of the two groups that were with us that week, the Chimney Girls and the Brazilians.

Rather than talk about them individually, I would talk about them as a whole. The Chimney Girls came from the same camp as the Becket Boys. They were just as enthusiastic as the boys, but used a little bit more dexterity than the boys, owing to the differences in build. It was helpful in a lot of ways, as we had the strength to compensate, but a bright mind can find an alternative. If you want to visualise how they are, imagine all the stereotypes of a white girl you can have, then take the positives of it, and voila. Now, I know they might have some negatives to them, but in that week, I didn’t really see any, so I can’t say for sure. They were the most enthusiastic and happy bunch of girls I had ever seen, and it was such a good thing to be around them. It’s so funny, because every group had it’s own way of spreading happiness, so different from the other in the process, not so different in the result. Which brings me to the Brazilians. If enthusiasm as a way to spread happiness isn’t working, how about dancing and grooving? That’s what these guys were all about. It’s unreal how happy these guys were. Almost reminded me of when I was a teen. Everything surprised you, and you did surprised you. I can proudly say that my week went so much better because of these two groups of amazing people. To add to that, we have Diggory and Gwen, able enough to channel their enthusiasm in a great way, while teaching them the values they needed to, while Ribas and Natasha did no different.

This week was so productive, in fact, that I would almost not have any energy by the end of the day. In fact, if you would come by that week in the night, you’d probably see me passed out somewhere at the campsite. No, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve literally fallen asleep in the weirdest of spots like, but not limited to, the bench outside Cait’s office, the gate, the picnic table, the storm shelter… Yeah, I think of it as a positive.

I was also looking forward to the weekend, however. We were to go to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse that weekend, two of the famous monuments in South Dakota. It was going to be epic.

The Story Thus Far Ch. 7: A New Family, A New Life

“There will always be a reason why you meet people. Either you need them to change your life, or you’re the one that will change theirs.”
-Sushan Sharma
…we left for Dupree, where the YMCA is located. The new chapter had begun. I had met my new found family, well some of it.…
By the time we got to Dupree, it was pretty late. Still, most of the counsellors were up, though mostly in their sleep. We were introduced to those people who were going to be part of my family for the rest of the summer. They all seemed pretty cool, but then again, knowing them more made me realise how much more amazing they are.
Before I go on with my day, I’m going to introduce you to the people who were at the Sioux YMCA at the time, and my thoughts on them.
The first I met were Evan and Kinjal. Since I had met them before in India, it was almost instinctive.

Evan decided that he was going to learn to skate from Mateus, and I took this on the day we had gone fishing. Literally a candid.

Evan Shimron is a drummer from Ambernath, a city near Bombay itself. In fact, in most cases, you’d think of it as part of the city because the city extends till it. He hadn’t been a counsellor before, so I was a bit unsure of how he’d do. Not saying I didn’t believe he could do well, just that I was unsure. I knew he had done a lot of treks in the Himalayas, so I wasn’t unsure about the stories and experiences he’d bring to the table.

Kinjal did not ask me to take this picture, which kind of explains her fake smile / ‘I’m going to kill you’ reaction

Kinjal Maru is perceived to be the mother figure in the staff team. I thought it was because of her age and, to an extent, even owing to the fact that she’s a teacher. From the time I had spent with her at camp, she had a lot of knowledge of growth and psychology, so I could see where that perception came from.
From there, I was introduced to a whole tonne of others who I had never met before. I spoke a lot to them as a group, but more importantly, to Diana and Mateus, another two who turned out to be extremely influential people in my life this summer.

Mateus being the positive source of energy that he is…

Mateus Marques Frattezi, one of the people I was looking forward to the most. He was someone who is all heart. He is the person who seemed so genuine, and that is all you can ask of someone in this day and age. I cannot tell you how much better my summer was going to get because of this guy and his energy.

Diana, part time support, full time lover, being the savage badass that she is.

Diana Solis, the final person. Not the final person I met, but the final person in my close knit circle. That circle where she can steal my Takis and not call it stealing. I cannot say I was looking forward to meeting her; until I met her, that is. It’s not that she wasn’t interesting. It’s just that her introduction of herself on Facebook was kinda boring (sorry Diana, but it was), especially when you realise what an amazing person she is. It’s not even that I took the entire summer to realise what a darling she is, it just took a few minutes.
That night at the YMCA itself, I managed to connect with these two beautiful souls. Two people I was looking forward at spending my summer with.
I want to talk about meeting Guilia, Mao, Karla, and Renato, but I didn’t speak much to them that night. So more on that later. It wasn’t until the next morning that I met Cait and Ryan, the directors at camp. I think I had just gotten up when they arrived. In my head I gave a really happy smile and said hi, but they were just so indifferent. I thought it was because they were probably assholes, but I then realised that I was half in my sleep and I had not even bothered to see how they reply. The first thing we did the next day was head to a tribal council meeting, something I would love to share about. Before entering we played some ice breaker and informative games that would give us more knowledge about the others, but it never really does justice to people, as much as it should at least. It was the first time I met Andy there. He was the CEO of the YMCA, and as much as I would love to say we connected, we didn’t; mainly because I was busy trying to learn the names and other things about my new friends.
The tribal council was quite boring to some. Honestly, I was pretty sleepy myself, for some reason. But in retrospect, it was extremely reflective about the lives that the natives live. The fact that our camp was on a reservation goes to show how important it is to understand the lives and hardships that the natives face.
At the council, there was a lady who spoke extensively about a case which was quite concerning, and the body language of every tribal leader showed us how common an issue it was. I wasn’t entirely sure how to perceive it, whether to be satisfied that they were able to control this, or be concerned that they knew the problem yet were so helpless that they didn’t care anymore.
After the council session, we went for a fishing trip with some of the kids from Dupree. As a counsellor, it’s my job to make them feel comfortable with me, and to take the initiative in knowing about them. Usually, it’s easy to speak to kids. Here, just as difficult. The kids just didn’t care about what we did, or how happy we were. They didn’t even want to know our names. It wasn’t a big deal since we were kinda prepared for it. I knew it was going to take time to understand the kids, but it was the first real interaction I had with them, and it didn’t look pretty.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some kids who did try to speak nice, like this guy Elijah. He was one of the kids who took his time to get close, but much like the others, he probably found it difficult at first to talk to these random people.

But I wasn’t going to let this experience dampen my spirits. I had just met some people who I was longing to meet, so there was not going to be any negativity today. The training week was going to begin. Life at camp was going to begin. I could see the summer at the horizon, one day away. It was going to go down. Shit was going to go down.

The Story Thus Far Ch.15: New Challenges

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
-Emile Coue
… One thing I did know, is that I had come back. I couldn’t speak for anyone else for sure, but I had come back, and camp was going to get better. I was going to make sure of it…
That weekend, we bid farewell to the Becket Boys. Their week was complete, and I would like to think that they had a good week. Part of me was gutted that I couldn’t spend much time with them, but I guessed it was the part and parcel of my job.
There, teen week was done. What was supposed to be the easiest, but turned out potentially as the hardest week, was done. I had no idea what to expect from the next week, to be honest.
This week was a big sigh of relief, if I had to speak of one way to summarise it. Given how the previous week had gone, this was a breeze, at least from the administration front. However, it had it’s own challenges. A few of which I remember vividly.
We began the week by greeting the Chimney girls. Having regretted not spending enough time with the boys, I vowed to not make the same mistake with the girls. This was the week I started getting a grip with the Village Director’s duties. I had learned my job, and by the way things were going, I had learned it well in my opinion.
The downside of the week was that it began with Sydney having to leave us. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, she had to head back to New Zealand. I remember wanting to hug her and cry, to tell her how much she meant to me, and how much I was going to miss her. But I couldn’t. I’m not much of a crier in front of people, even though I cry all the time while watching The Lion King, so it was a weird fist bump before she left. I even gave my phone to Diana for directions to Rapid City so that she could drop Sydney safely, which meant that I didn’t have any way of saying goodbye after that.
This week, the major challenge wasn’t from the people. It was from mother nature herself. For those who have ever been to South Dakota before, they’ll understand what I mean when I say storms can get pretty frequent. Unlike Bombay, where we have intensive rains and heat, South Dakota has an insane amount of winds, and cross winds. Cross winds are more dangerous than rains because rains just flood the area. Given that we were right next to the river, floods weren’t very likely on the charts.
Luckily, we had two storm shelters. The new one being big enough for everyone, that too. Unluckily, we had no experience in dealing with storms. We didn’t know what orders to follow. So when Cait and Amy had taken a child to the hospital once, I had only Ryan to fall back on when the storm arrived. Not discrediting him, but not having the internet to figure how long the storm above us was going to last, and the clouds showing no signs of respite, we had no option but to evacuate everybody to the storm shelter. Not knowing if Cait and Amy made it to the hospital, we had bigger problems to focus on. The kids were terrified, and more to our dismay, some of the counsellors’ mental state was pretty precarious too. I remember Giulia would come and speak to me before and after every storm. She wasn’t used to such weather, and honestly none of us were. Even though she might find it weird, I used to love that she would speak to me. It made me realise how open I could be with someone about how I feel. More on that later.
Even though the kids were secure in the shelter, we had no contact with anyone. The winds seemed pretty strong for some kids, so Ryan and I were the only people out of the shelter, though not always. At one point, we decided to go up to the point to get some network to check up on Cait or to contact Dupree. We needed to get word out that we were fine.
The Polaris had extremely little fuel. So when we were done with the call, we had to go back with our lights shut. In the day time, it wouldn’t be much of an issue. In the night time, a real big issue. Our only brilliant solution was that I stand up and use our cell phones as flashlights while Ryan drove. You can imagine the picture I’m painting to be quite funny, but it wasn’t that entertaining at the time. We were both freezing and quite essentially quite anxious about everything ourselves. More me than him, to be honest, since I was in an unfamiliar land.
This wasn’t the only storm that week, to be honest. We had storms every second or third day. I had just learned to put up a tipi, which is the traditional housing for the Sioux tribe back in the day, and I remember each storm pushing it only for me to have to put it back up again. I won’t say that I did this on my own, because I’m not that capable also, but the Chimney girls loved helping me with it. They would think that I’m hilarious but it was actually my confusion that caused the hilarity.

By definition, a tipi (also tepee or teepee) is a cone-shaped tent, traditionally made of animal skins upon wooden poles. A tipi is distinguished from other conical tents by the smoke flaps at the top of the structure. Historically, the tipi was used by Indigenous people of the Plains in the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies of North America, as well as by indigenous peoples of northern Europe and Asia under other names. Tipi lodges are still in use by these peoples, though now primarily for ceremonial purposes.

One day was a notable one. I believe it was the day that Cait had her off, so she wasn’t at the site. In the afternoon, we were running out of food supplies. Normally, we would place an order to Sysco, who would meet us at a school nearby and we would collect it. This week, for some reason, we seemed to get done with our stocks quite early. So Amy drove off with the chef, Karla, to Gettysburg, to buy some more food. Remember how I said that my phone was a big helping hand? Well, Amy hadn’t come back on time. Ryan became exceedingly anxious about it, and quite rightly so. It shouldn’t have taken them so long. He couldn’t even go and search for them since Cait wasn’t at camp which meant that he had to be on the campsite. I couldn’t help but approach him and tell him the only way to solve this was for me to go and search. Why me? Because Isaac and Mo were busy with something, and Diana had left for a week, for a canoeing trip.
Yes! Finally, I had the opportunity to drive in the USA. The problem was that there were no YMCA cars either. Ryan, so reluctantly that he almost killed me for it, gave me the keys to his car. I could feel the pain in his eyes when he gave me the keys, so I vowed to keep the car safe. I couldn’t go alone. It wasn’t allowed for in most scenarios. So I took Natasha with me, one of the people I trusted most at camp. Why was trust more important, not because the others weren’t capable of handling the situation, but she was most capable of handling me in the situation. You can imagine the amount of excitement I had in me when I drove to search for them. It wasn’t long before I saw them coming back, but it was a good 15 minute drive, enough for me to speak with Tash on a few ideas I had for her group.
I want to talk about the CiTs and LiTs, but we’re going to leave that for tomorrow. For now, I would like to introduce you to my two very good lovers Natasha Baur and Sydney Marie Wirihana. One because she became more important to me, and the other because her time at camp this summer was over.
Sydney was literally one of the strongest people at camp, mentally and physically. There were times that we all seemed out of sorts, but she managed to step up and get the task done. There were times that she pissed me off but that’s all my close friends I suppose. They piss me off because they’re so amazing at what they do, and when they disagree, I get annoyed. Rather childish, I suppose. But when you’re my close friend you’re always on my side. No disagreeing… Anyway, I really wished that her time hadn’t come so soon, but that wasn’t meant to be. If there was someone I related to the most at camp, it was Sydney.

Sydney Marie Wirihana, one of the two kiwis at camp. She’s part Maori, so that’s pretty cool too. Yes, she’s fat. But that just means there’s always so much more of her to love. She has this weird way of loving you that makes you question it but still accept it.

Natasha, on the other hand, is just someone who gets me. Coming from Belo Horizonte in Brazil, you’d wonder how we managed to be so… umm… how we are, for lack of a better term. She’s probably one of the coolest and headstrong people I’ve come across, and knowing that she was younger than me yet showed ten times the maturity I’ve ever shown in my life really caught me. No, I’m not friends with her because she’s everything I say she is. I’m friends with her because she likes ketchup on her pizza and loves Disney movies. What better reason could you want?

Natasha Baur, the person who I can talk about for ages. She’s been one of the people who’s been in touch with me after camp, and I can proudly say has had a major positive impact in my life. When you look at her, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that being around her makes you want to spread your wings further and fly.

Another person I would like to speak about is Giulia. Having flown overseas for the first time, Giulia seemed to have a lot of trouble with the food, lifestyle, and most importantly, the storms. Every time a storm would hit us, she would speak to me. While a lot of people would look at this as a sign of weakness, I see this as a sign of strength. It’s not easy speaking your mind. It’s not easy to be open about how you feel. Every time she spoke to me, she would think that I was helping her. But in truth, she was helping me just as much. How? It meant that I could be just as open with my fears. She made me understand that it was okay to be fearful. She taught me that she loved me the way I was, fears and all. And that’s why I loved her too.

I must admit that I look rather weird here. But when you stand next to Giulia, it doesn’t matter how you look, does it?

I’ll talk more about the programs and the Chimney girls later on, but by no means do I want anyone to feel that they weren’t as important. It’s just that some people are known to me as a collective whole and there’s so much I can say that this chapter will be longer than it should.
It’s funny how much I had grown this week. I could see myself being better, and performing better in my job, something I had never done in my life. Neither at Skylark, nor at The Blip. Did it mean that I wanted this job and responsibility more? No. But it just felt like I had found something I genuinely enjoyed doing. I found people who believed in me. I found that I believe in myself.