Reflections on the First Day of Peace and Carrots Camp

It feels as though the sun has barely risen when we, the resident interns, stumble outside, bleary-eyed, to open the farm gates and prep the grounds for the coming campers. The cars of fellow counselors roll in as we feed and water the chickens. I stand there, munching a granola energy bar. “Caffeine: 250 mg,” the label reads. I’ll be needing it.

As strange as it was to admit to myself, I was nervous. It had been a while since my last stint as a camp-counselor at RUAH Language School in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It takes a lot of patience and energy to shepherd thirty kids around, keeping them engaged and entertained. My biggest fear, however, was always dealing with the delinquents – those kids who just want to make things difficult for those in charge. I didn’t have time to ruminate – before I knew it the kids were trickling in.

It is easy to get caught up in the growth of carrots and turnips, of weeds, and of sheep – the lambs. Living on the farm, surrounded by the glory of life as it progresses, swelling into ripeness, it is easy to forget or to overlook analogous growth within our own species. Although my lodging is attached to a preschool, as a resident I usually keep my distance from the children and the teachers, busying myself with outdoor chores. Although I first considered myself blessed to have escaped the hyper screams of the preschool children, my first day counseling at Peace and Carrots proved that I had been wrong. Instead of the usual sapped and empty feeling that came with a day of counseling at RUAH, I found myself energized and in a good mood. It was as if stooping among the seedlings I had found a secret soil, the secret source of their growth.

For one, I was able to see the farm with fresh eyes. Instead of cringing at the dirty state of the chicken coop (which has since been cleaned), I marveled with the kids at the fact that hens would be so kind as to leave us little blue eggs. Instead of eying the weeds in the gardens and fields wearily, I rejoiced at the food that was growing up alongside them. Children, I noted, take such a simple pleasure in life, shielded, as they often are, by the adult world.

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Of course, an emphasis throughout the week at Peace and Carrots is peaceful conflict resolution (after all, this is a Mennonite farm). It is remarkable the tiffs that can break out between the campers. Today I watched two girls bicker over a black crayon. I introduced a second black crayon, thinking it would defuse the conflict, but I watched as one of the girls stubbornly declared that it was blue (even after I made her read the label) just so that she could resume fighting. It was easy, of course, to dismiss the situation as petty and puerile – until I realized how uncannily it resembled disputes I witness on my own university’s campus. Even as I was thinking those thoughts, a camper snatched my hat, and I stifled the urge to snatch back. Children, I decided, are only more honest to their feelings. Adults may suppress their childish urges and negative sentiments, but only to have them expressed by other means. Like bark begins to thicken on a young sapling, we build up our walls, our checks and balances, keeping our true selves in, locking the true world out.

-Jonathan

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