22 July 2014

A dozen years at Indian Nepalese Heritage Camp

It's been another incredible summer, jam-packed with joyful occasions, strewn with surprises -- some of which have felt warm and wonderful to discover and others that make us look around and treasure each eyeful of scenery or love radiating from our planet or our people or our pets, because any one of them could be the last.

Our summer began with a trip to Los Angeles, where we gathered with family to celebrate my sister's recent wedding. It seemed so fitting that we found a restaurant for the event -- our grandfather might not have liked the place, but would have approved of the gathering. I was thrilled that all but one of my family members joined us (one was ill). Even the ones who live over on the Westside came -- by bicycle! (It took them a few hours each way, and they had to leave a bit early because they forgot a bike light.) After we returned home, our birthday march commenced, peppered with Father's Day, our anniversary, and the 4th of July holiday.

But the culminating event of the summer was Camp.

"Camp?" you ask. "What camp?"

Every year except one since our daughter was a year old, we have gone up to the mountains, two hours from home, for Indian Nepalese Heritage Camp, which celebrates our children's Indian and Nepalese heritage and cultures. It happens every summer at a YMCA facility in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, 15 minutes from the ski town of Winter Park. When we started attending, it was still called East Indian Heritage Camp, because originally it was started to give the founder Pam Sweetser's child and all the kids coming to the Denver area (via our adoption agency, Friends of Children of Various Nations) a way to connect with their fellow adoptees from Kolkata (Calcutta) and explore aspects of their shared culture every year. Next year, I was thrilled to learn, a couple of young women who attended the first camp as children, came back year after year as campers, then counselors, then coordinators, are going to be co-directors of the camp.

One amazing thing is ours isn't the only camp. There are camps every weekend all summer long -- for Chinese, Cambodian, Eastern European, and other adoptees. But I love our camp. As a group, we pull off some ambitious and amazing projects, and there's a dance party at the end that's all about inclusion in the best ways (except for the part where the loud volume drives many people out of the room). Every year at Camp, there are great things, overwhelming aspects, tricky bits, interesting people, and big personalities. Above all, though, there's a willingness to put all our children and young people at the center of everything for a long weekend and let them get to know each other and themselves just a little better.

For me personally, it's marvelous to be a part of this community rising up to support these people. I love knowing the community members better and better, and the other parents, and enlarging the circle to include new families of all shapes and sizes and constituents. My recent revelation about making coffee -- there are so many ways to make an excellent cup of coffee, not just one -- holds for making families, too. There are so many ways for people to join together as families, and INHC's wonderful array of families and community members proves this is true. One of the greatest things about Camp is how it acknowledges how the kids' adoptions and living in mixed-race families affects and creates their own unique culture.

Until I started volunteering at Camp, I often felt overwhelmed by the activities and the emotions they stirred up. I didn't know as many families, and I often felt like an outsider. Looking back, it is clear we adopted our daughter at a peak in Indian adoptions -- hardly anyone is adopted from India these days (more kids are coming from Nepal now). What this has meant for us is our daughter grew up with a bunch of kids from her orphanage she now sees every summer at Camp. Now, having attended 12 years of these camps, we don't feel like outsiders in any sense. We weren't outsiders when we'd only attended once, but I couldn't help feeling like we were back then. For our daughter, it has not felt like she left India and never went back -- it's felt like she left India and a whole bunch of the kids came with her! (And then we went back, but that's another story, or several.) And she's never been "the only one" -- since we became her parents, we have had a community of families with kids adopted from India and other places around us, and camp has reinforced and extended our connections to these families.

For the last few camps, I have had larger volunteer roles, which definitely helped me feel more a part of everything. This year I volunteered to help with the audio/visual equipment, in part because of the loudness of some of the events. But every time I went to offer help, though, I was assured other folks had it under control. So I just offered support where I saw a need, which worked out well. This year I got to go to some of the adult sessions and enjoy conversations with other new and long-attending families. I reconnected with a former coworker who since adopted a child from China and a younger one from Nepal, and I participated in the adult dance performance, which I always love.

The hardest thing about writing about Camp is knowing how much to explain, and again I find myself not knowing where to begin. For what it is -- just over two days of workshops for kids and adults on dance, cooking, culture, and adoption/mixed race issues -- it has such a huge impact on our lives. Any questions? Please ask!

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