For the last few days I’ve been sweltering in incessant Northamptonshire sunshine on an obóz harcerski (scout camp). It’s been my 30th obóz at least, a tally I find hard to digest. Despite the heat and advance planning involved in helping run a summer camp for 20 girls, such occasions offer me a total escape from the latest Brexit developments and the froth of fake news.
I took a rucksack of clothes for all weathers, but that’s all I’ve got here and somehow it’s enough. It makes me wonder how I can justify all those possessions at home as I just don’t need them. As for washing, just a bowl and a few toiletries suffice, although whole body washes in the wash tent are a thing of the past and girls now rely on the nearest swimming pool or showers.
Eating outside/bread and jam?
Everything tastes wonderful en plein air and one menażka (mess tin) fits the bill for all courses. As for gravy mixed with custard? Anything goes. I wonder if some of you remember śniadania (breakfasts) on “Kaszuby” obozy (camps)? There were two options to drink: – herbata z (tea with) or herbata bez (tea without) sugar. Two options to eat: kanapka z dzemem (sandwich with jam) or kanapka z serem (sandwich with cheese). For some of us, there was only one choice, an obóz speciality – cheese and jam – but for that we had to wait until we were in komenda and could make it ourselves!
On an obóz your tent invades the space of the beetle, the wasp finds your kitchen tent within minutes and the birds call to each other announcing your arrival. We are in their world and have to respect the wildlife around us, which is something we try to instill in the girls before they try to zap every living thing in their tents. Although the ants aren’t as welcome, it’s an opportunity to observe nature around us, the stars and the Milky Way, as the moon lights up the night instead of street lights.
1 August, the day of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 always falls during a two week obóz. Of the many ceremonies I have taken part in, the most magnificent was the one in Warsaw in 2004 for the 60th commemoration. Listening to Witold Szablewski, though tears, tell us how he left home on the first day without saying goodbye to his parents.
“Dlaczego myśmy walczyli? Nie dlatego że nam dawali rozkazy, nie dlatego że znaliśmy się na politycę… byliśmy młodymi chłopcami wychowani patriotycznie przez harcerstwo, rodziny i chcieliśmy wydrzeć niemców z Polski.”
“Why did we fight? It wasn’t because they ordered us to, nor that we understood the politics of it… we were young boys brought up in a patriotic spirit by the scouts, by our families and we wanted to tear the Germans out of Poland”.
This, is what we remember.
There’s something about the shared experience of obozy (camps) that form friendships for life. I have to say many of my close friendships were forged in this way. Partly it is living together 24/7 in close proximity but it’s also the programmes prepared by young leaders, the outdoor games, the walks, the night games, the trips that help young people to challenge themselves and create joint experiences.
As Olga Małkowska, founder of the Polish girl scouts said:
“Tu mi dobrze, tu mój świat…. tu do snów wicher mnie kołysze, drzewa nucą pieśń bez słów, staw coś szepcze, dysze”
“Here I’m fine, here is my world, here the wind rocks me to sleep, the trees hum a song without words, the pond wheezes and whispers”
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