Every week that we travel, we receive a packet from our company which includes detailed travel information to make sure we get where we need to be. This week, that information was almost totally wrong. One train was late, and it turned out they were doing work on the rail lines in Sondrio, the region we were going to, so we had to get off the train at one point, then get on a bus, and then get back on a train. This made us about two hours later than we'd expected. And of course I hadn't charged my phone before leaving Baiardo.
But of course we eventually arrived in Tirano, and we met our new co-worker, Sarah, on the way. It turned out that I had a little in common with her--she had studied in Spain, roomed with Josephine for a week at a camp, and she was high school friends with the son of my father's cousin. She also said some really nice things about the H&M purse I'd just bought to carry my tiny netbook. Things were off to a good start.
Our new director put a slight damper on things, however. "Nobody wants this camp to succeed," she told us at the first meeting. Oh. Cool. Good way to start the two-week camp.
Oh! Did I mention we were up by the Swiss border? Probably about a mile or so from Switzerland. My host family took me through Switzerland on our way to Livigno, which is actually a ski town in Italy, so basically I spent less than a couple of hours in Switzerland, and they were all in a car. I spent the night in their guesthouse there, and in the morning I went around with the mum while she cleaned the flats they rent out there and I also went for a little walk with the older daughter. They had a younger daughter, but she was out with friends, and their son was in South Africa for a rugby championship. No big deal.
I won't lie to you: that camp was tough. The director was in a panic over little things, and she wanted to have every second of our day accounted for and filled. She even insisted that we spend our lunch break doing 'light didactic play activities' with the children. That's something I've never come across, and not something that's necessary. The lunch break is in place for a reason--it gives the children some time to relax, and it gives us time to plan, make copies, etc. Then, when we spent the lunch break doing an activity that our director had suggested to us, she complained that a couple of the children hadn't liked it, so we should have done something else. We tried to explain to her that not all of the children could ever be happy 100% of the time, but she was adamant that the camp was failing, and it was all our fault. We tried to keep ourselves sane by hanging out after work, watching movies, going for runs or exercising together, and having the occasional brewski.
Apparently, our director made her concerns known to the company, and they sent Jules out to check up on us. I'm not sure if I've mentioned him or not, but Jules would be the expert tutor who goes around and does Beatles workshops with the children as well as emergency mediation (you may recall that he showed up at my last camp of 2010 to help us out). He's a bit of a saucy Scouser, with a way of speaking that commands attention and a very nice smile.
His visit was all the more welcome because he ended up taking our side (in a very diplomatic way, of course). Essentially, he told our camp director to chill out and back down, and he sat us all down to make a definitive schedule for the remaining week. Before he left, he did a brief Beatles workshop with all the kids. The whole thing was a welcome break for us.
Let's talk about my kids in Tirano. I was teaching ten to 12 year olds, and while that's not my favorite age to work with, these kids were quite clever and entertaining. Sarah was teaching the level above me, and Jeremy's kids were high schoolers. These kids were funny, and Jeremy's kids were making a couple of short films to showcase their English.
On Thursday, our director told me I'd be switching families. I'd known that it might happen, and I'd changed families mid-camp before, but somehow, the way the director gave me the news, just her general attitude and all, made it seem like I'd done something wrong. Voices were raised, words were exchanged, and I stomped off to the grocery store with Jeremy to get something for lunch.
That was another thing. We'd taken to buying our own lunches across the street because our cafeteria selection was limited and both Jeremy and myself are pretty specific about what we eat. The director urged us to reconsider, and when I told her I'd prefer not to eat the greasy, bready pizza or anything else on her menu she asked me, "What are you afraid of?"
Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to know one question that will make me defensive, that's it. (There are actually many, many more, but none that are immediately relevant.) A boy once used that question while I was a bit tipsy to try and get me to reconsider not dating him, and he got the same reaction from me as this director did: My nostrils flared, eyes narrowed to slits, and my response of, "I'm not afraid of anything" came through gritted teeth. So I accepted her challenge, and tried her nasty cafeteria food for one day, and had Jeremy reminding me about it all day: "That thing is inside of you," he kept saying of the roughly one pound chunk of bread with tomato paste and slimy cheese on top.
Anyway, the weekend came, and I switched families. My new family thought that Jeremy and I were 'together,' and we were happy to let them think this if it meant we could hang out more often. We went out with our host siblings on Friday night, and found out that they were truly horrible, dangerous drivers, and I absolutely destroyed all of the arrogant Italian teenage boys at bowling. Then we had to get home early because apparently my host family was wound a little tight. The rest of the weekend was full of whitewater rafting rumors that never materialized, fried cheese sandwiches, and episodes of Mad Men on my netbook.
Week 2 was more of the same. We were still stressed out, but we tried to do little things to keep camp interesting and fun for us and the kiddos. On market day, we took our kids on field trips. Sarah and I did a cooking tutorial with our classes--and they all loved our guacamole. Jeremy bought us friendship bracelets to commemorate our six weeks of working together. After camp on Wednesday, we went out for beers and then to dinner, just the three of us. Jeremy even caught a bee under his water glass for us.
Finally it was Friday, and the final show was over, and Jeremy and I went out for one last night before he had to return to the Republic of Georgia for his teaching gig there. The driving was terrible once again, made worse by the fact that we went on a pub crawl that took us all the way up into the mountains. Jeremy's host brother made us try braulio, a liquor that tasted strongly of local herbs.
That night, Jeremy and I said our goodbyes. He's talked about going on a road trip and passing through Kansas, so I might see him in the spring time. That guy kept me sane for six weeks by being someone I could always talk to. He kept me laughing with little comic strips and constant jokes. And he kept me fit by being my workout and dieting partner. What a gem.
A few of my favorite Jeremy quotes:
"The children is in the gym."
"Can I have another bourbon?"
"And what's WOW upside down? MOM."
"That thing is inside of you. . ."
"I'm not wearing hockey pads."
Until we meet again, friend <3