This past week I was blown away by the diversity, and yet strange connectedness, of the various camp counselors at Al-Bustan. Since the theme of the camp this year is home and identity, we decided that it might be helpful for the counselors to share stories about their understanding of those two subjects. What began as a storytelling exercise became a demonstration of the heterogeneity of our group, all the while showing that we are all bonded by our interest in intercultural exchange, as well as our respective lack of a set identity. At the end of it all, there was a sort of benevolent comfort in the room as everyone realized both what they shared with and were uniquely able to contribute to the group.
When discussing identity, nearly everyone expressed a sense of confusion as to their categorization. I won’t go into details here, out of respect for the counselors who trustingly shared their stories. However, I will say that anyone who discussed identity talked about the conflict between their inherited identity–ethnicity, gender, religion, language, class, race, etc.–and their different experiences and influences. It was beautiful to see a counselor after counselor emboldened by one another’s stories, quickly realizing that our respective identities are all in flux.
Part of the power of these stories was their diversity, with counselors expressing their identities with anecdotes about food, or language, or location, or personal history. This variety will be great for camp, where the counselor’s special qualities will expose the kids to a range of identities. I am of the opinion that this sort of diversity is simply good; we can come up with explanations for its goodness, but at the end of the day it just is beneficial in a profound way.
At the same time, the commonalities of our stories were inspiring. For one, we are all deeply interested in intercultural exchange, specifically related to Arab culture. But even more specific connections emerged. For instance, one counselor and I, who are were not raised in Arabic-speaking households, were drawn to the study of Arabic by encountering the Qur’an at a young age. She thought the written language was beautiful, and I was enamored with the sounds. Our similar catalysts created this notable sort of benevolence as we shared stories with one another.
After our one-time experience talking about identity and home, I’m very optimistic about the coming two weeks at camp. If the counselors have this diversity of understanding of their identities and homes, then I can’t wait to see what the campers will say.
Kenyon College, ’14