Well, I didn't really go fishing, but I did go to camp. This isn't the "roughing it" kind of camp with tents and outdoor latrines. It's very comfortable and major fun. I am talking about Deaf-Blind week at West River Camp.
This year's deaf-blind session was held June 7th-12th. The camp is located about an hour away from Annapolis, Maryland. 39 deaf-blind campers attended the program with about 90 volunteer "SSP's" there to make it possible. We could never manage without the wonderful SSP's who help us get around, communicate, participate in activities, and anything else we may need assistance with.
Like deaf-blindness itself, the natures and needs of campers are very diverse. Some campers are born deaf and grew up as part of the Deaf culture. They tend to be fluent in ASL. Other campers are still learning sign language and may need to communicate at a slower pace. Or they may rely more on fingerspelling. Other campers are oral and use their residual hearing for communication instead of sign language. Those attending camp may be totally deaf and blind or hard-of-hearing with low vision, or somewhere in between.
Campers at West River also represent a wide variety in age. The oldest campers are in their 70's and 80's. The youngest are in their 20's. Some campers have guide dogs. Some are in wheel chairs. One very special campers was born deaf-blind and has Cerebral Palsy. That doesn't stop her from having fun.
This was my fourth year attending West River camp. I love the activities and especially the people. It is a special environment in which everyone thinks that deaf-blind people can do anything. And we do. That's what makes it so great. This is my story of what I did at camp this year.
Sunday June 7th
The first question is: How do I get from the mid-west to Maryland? It's about an eight hour drive. No thank you! I flew to Maryland. The flight is only a little over an hour and I can do it on my own. Yes, that's right. Deaf-blind people can fly alone. I'm not the only campers who traveled independently.
Two volunteers from camp picked me up at the airport. The first few hours at West River are nothing but chaotic. Campers are checking in and trying to find SSP's. Everyone is excited about the week to come and talking with old friends. It is just crazy. That's okay, though. It wouldn't be West River if it wasn't insane at first.
I started my camp fun by taking a motorcycles ride... two of them. I love the feel of the wind in my face and smelling the flowers in the air as we travel along country roads. Volunteers from local motorcycles groups come to camp to give us rides. We are the passengers, obviously. It will be a little hard for blind people to drive motorcycles. My first ride was on a three-wheel "trike." It was so cool!
After a cook-out in the great outdoors, we came inside for a game. Each year the camp has a different theme. This year's theme was African Safari. Many activities would be centered around the theme. The dining hall was decorated to reflect the theme. Apparently, this was to include tactile decorations. I never did stop to look at them myself.
The game this night was something like tactile Pictionary. Campers and SSP's play together as teams. One person makes an item out of Play-Doh. The other person, who is wearing a blindfold, has to feel the creation and guess what it is. We made things like a bowling ball, "I Love You" hand sign and salt and pepper shakers. I won two rounds and got little prizes each time.
Monday June 8th
Campers get to spend the day participating in a wide variety of activities. We can do whatever we want and skip what we aren't interested in. Some examples include: Bible study, Arts and Crafts, massage, hair cuts, biking, hiking, wall climbing and boating.
Boating has always been one of my favorite camp activities so that is what I chose to start with. Unfortunately, the motor boat would not start. After waiting around for awhile and chatting with people, I decided to find something else to do.
I love Arts and Crafts. I'm horrible at art, but I still enjoy it. They always have different art activities that campers can work on. Many are related to the theme. I spent the morning making a mask out of plaster strips. It was messy but fun. I never did go back and paint the mask, though.
I got my hair cut after lunch. I'm not the kind of person who turns down a free hair cut. Then I went swimming. The air was hot but the water was freezing. It felt good once I got used to it. I laid back on a noodle while my SSP's pulled me around the swimming pool. Talk about princess treatment.
The evening activity was a hay ride and camp fire. The bugs were bad and many campers got ticks this year. I decided to stay away from the hay ride. I did enjoy the camp fire and spent time talking with old friends while eating popcorn.
Tuesday June 9th
We always go on special field trips while at camp. On this day, we visited Washing DC. Campers could decide where they wanted to go. This included all the museums, shopping, restaurants and more.
I started with the tour of African Art at the Art Gallery. There was supposed to be a lot of tactile art we could actually touch. There wasn't all that much though. The tour guide's descriptions were good but I found myself getting rather bored. I need to be able to feel things in order to "see" them.
Next I went to the Air and Space museum. I wasn't there to tour. I wanted to shop for cool things to take home to JD. And that's exactly what I did. After shopping, we went through the kid's area of the museum where they had many hands-on activities.
Back at camp and after dinner, it was Bingo night. I love playing Bingo. I use a braille Bingo card. My SSP signs the numbers to me. I was one of the first to win and picked out a prize.
Wednesday June 10th
It was another day of choosing your own activities. Once again, I spent the morning in the Art area working on new projects. Many campers were making and painting bird houses. I wasn't brave enough to try using a hammer so I decided to make a tie-dye shirt instead.
A few years ago, I made a red tie-dye shirt. When I washed it for the first time, it turned into a solid pink shirt. I was delighted that this new attempt survived the washing machine. It came out really cool.
The shirt itself has an "I Love You" hand sign on the front and "Deaf-Blind Charity Race" on the back with a list of sponsors. I was trying to make another red shirt. It came out an orangish pink, instead. But that's okay. The white designs stayed white. That's what matters.
Sadly, when I got home, I discovered three little holes in the shirt. Perhaps the tight rubber bands tore the material. I don't know. I'm very bummed out. I really wanted that shirt.
They also had many craft items to paint. There were crosses, jewelry boxes in different shapes and lots of animals. I decided to paint a monkey for JD because he is such a little monkey the way he plays on monkey bars so much. My monkey turned out very cute and JD says it's cool. He really likes it.
I had planned to go to the Tech Expo after lunch. However, I was feeling the need to be outside and decided to skip it. I went boating instead. The motor boat was finally working again. I enjoyed the ride. It feels great to be out on the water.
Normally, I would do much more boating than I actually did this year. They also had canoes, sailing, a banana boat and tubing. My favorite is tubing. Unfortunately, it was very muddy at camp and I had a hard time getting down to the water. I decided not to do the tubing or other boats. I ended up going swimming again. More princess treatment.
The evening activity was African Culture night. Guest speakers came in to tell us stories and poems from Africa. Someone spoke about life in Africa for people who are deaf. It was really interesting to learn that most African countries do not have sign language. Deaf people there are hidden away and do not attend school.
The themes at West River are wonderful because they teach us about other cultures and life in different countries. We are able, in some ways, to experience the new culture. I always enjoy the opportunity to learn new things.
Thursday June 11th
Mostly, I spent the morning chatting with other campers. I was working on interviews for a story I am writing. This gave me the chance to meet new people and talk with others about their camp experiences.
I did stop for a few minutes to try a "do-it-yourself" facial. I learned how to clean and moisturize my face. I didn't do make-up. I'm not into that. My SSP's did tell me that I "glowed." Okay!
After lunch, campers had the choice of staying at camp or going on a field trip to either a bowling alley or shopping at a big mall in Annapolis. I decided to shop. I always like to go shopping. It's especially fun with SSP's because they try hard to help me find what I want and "see" the different items. I was mostly there just to hang out but I did buy a few things.
The final camp activity was a big party to celebrate the end of camp. There was music, dancing and games. Many campers dressed up in elaborate African costumes. There was also interesting foods that some campers had made during an African cooking class. I tried the rice dish and puff balls. They were actually pretty good.
Hot Potato is a popular game at camp. Instead of music, we use a loud drum. I can both feel and hear the drum. When the drum sounds, the round is over. The person with the ball is out. I was the very first person to be out. Oh well.
Of course, I continued to talk and chat with people. There are so many people at camp that I was still meeting new people that last night. It's great to be in an environment where everyone speaks your language. If someone can't sign, the SSP's are there to interpret in whatever way needed. I'm still struggling with my new sign skills so sometimes I needed a little help from my SSP's. I enjoyed talking to both campers and SSP's while at camp this week. I was amazed when I learned it was 10:30 pm. The party went by so quickly and I still had to pack before bed.
Friday June 12th
There was no time to do much of anything this day. I said good bye to a few people. I had to rush out quick after breakfast to head for the airport for my flight home. and that's the end of my camp experience this year. As you can see, I had a really good time. I hope to do it again next year.
I would like to take a moment to say hello to all my camp friends: Lydia, Linnette, Kim H., Kimberly W., Maya, Richard L, John F., Teddy, William, Hillary, Lois, Gabby, "Muddy", Art, and probably others.
I would like to thank my own special SSP's: Jeanne and Jalisa. You were both so nice and helpful to me. I appreciate that. The same goes to Tiara, my SSP/roommate and a good old friend. It was great to see you again.
I also want to thank all the other SSP's I met at camp this week: Cynthia, Carol, Brenda, Kate, Amy, Lawrence, Ginny, Beth and many, many others. You are all so wonderful.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my week at West River Deaf-Blind camp.
(Written on June 15, 2009.)