Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Camp Bangladesh

Today’s Sunday’s Scribbling prompt is to write about “decision.” Why do we make the decisions we do? Why did I decide to volunteer to spend a week as a scoutmaster at a scout camp? (Oh yeah, I forgot, I had a kid in the program). As I don’t really have time to work on something fresh, and Diane’s recent post about Girl Scout camp reminded me of this, I decided to dig out something my sidekick Nevada Jack wrote back in August 1999 and rework it (I also had to retype it for I don’t seem to have it stored electronically). I submit this for today’s Sunday Scribblings.

A piece of helpful information: I worked professionally for the Boy Scout program from 1981 till the summer of 1986 when I left the scout in order to go to grad school. I spent the summers of 82-84 in scout camps. In 1988 and 1990, I also ran a co-ed camp in Idaho (it was not related to the scouting program). Then, in the summers of 1999 and 2000, I spent a week each summer with our local troop at camp.

Camp Bangladesh
By Nevada Jack
August 1999

A lot has happened in the fifteen years since I was last in scout camp. Back then I was the Camp Director. After eight weeks in an all boys camp with very few females, I knew the summer was winding down when the camp cooks, who were older than my mother, started to look good. In other to see what improvements have been made to the scouting program, I signed this summer for a week at camp with our local troop. I knew a lot had changed, but wasn’t prepared for what I experienced, especially girl counselors.

Ralph and I and a dozen boys arrived safely at Camp Bangladesh on a Monday morning. It was supposed to be an aquatic camp, but it felt like an overpopulated refugee settlement on the eastern shore of Bear Lake in Northern Utah. Greeting us at the gate was Giligan, looking fresh and neat from his recent cruise on the S.S. Minnow. He wore Navy khaki, we assumed, because he didn’t meet the six foot height requirement for the Coast Guard (and would have been unable to walk ashore if his boat had sunk). Giligan directed us to our campsite and told me to report to the pavilion and check in. On the way, I stopped at the head (euphemism for latrine), where I quickly surmised that the U.N. and International Red Cross Refugee Commissions hadn’t yet inspected this site. At the pavilion, the powers that be lightened my wallet as Robyn gave the troop a tour of the camp. Robyn substituted for our camp friend Randy who was, we later surmised, in the bushes with a female staff member. We never saw Robyn again; some think he got lost in a clump of sage where, unable to see over it, he traveled in circles till he passed out. As for Randy, he and the Misses showed up hand-in-hand half way through the week. We learned then that Randy was quite a philosopher and explained all the world problems as “someone must be smoking something.” We all assumed he was the “someone.”

At the opening scoutmaster’s meeting on the first day, I qualified for the BSA’s “Safety Afloat” certification by listening to a lecture. Little did I realize the camp practiced another form of safety afloat—keeping most of their boats in dry dock. The boats that were fully functioning were generally reserved for staff use. The small sloop named the “Ark” was re-christened the “Love Boat” by our boys who had suspensions as to what the staff did on the boat that they kept safely off-shore and off-limits.

I will forever remember the galley experience at Camp Bangladesh. There were two shifts (called watches). If you’re unlucky enough to be on the second watch, as we were, it was similar to eating in an emergency canteen following a Kansas tornado. Another unique experience was dining in this open air pavilion during a thunderstorm. Paper plates and cuts flew with the wind, ridding the camp of rubbish by sending it all to Idaho. I’m sure it was from such an experience that the shifts became known as a watch, for we watched our food fly away. The day following, they had a knife sharpening contest and the cook took first place. That night we were treated to beef trimmings, and these trimmings were so fine that we didn’t even notice them. Even the camp’s sole vegetarian seemed satisfied. In all seriousness, the night with the gluey noodles made up for the undercooking of the previous night’s rice, things have a way of balancing out in the end. Quality aside, the real problem was with quantity and our neighboring unit leaders resorted to rattlesnake hunting to supplement their boy’s diet. Ralph and I, being more practical, took our boys for milk shakes at the ice cream store on the south end of the lake.

Of course, what goes in must come out, which brings me back to the subject of the rotten white buildings dotting the landscape and were a contributing factor for the outbreak of constipation that struck our campers. The smell of these buildings was so bad that I stopped using flashlights and followed the stench from one to another on the path back to our site. It’s also been noted that along the highway east of the camp a large number of dead skunks have been spotted and they’re all facing east, obviously running across the highway afraid another skunk has already claim the territory when they meet their demise under the tires of moving vehicles.

Our troops strawberry blonde commissioner was Ms. Pope. We could never remember her name so Ralph and I started calling her Hillary, in honor of the First Lady. In addition to serving as our commissioner, she was also the commandant of the dining hall and ruled with an iron fist. Hillary was an electronic engineering technician student at Weber State (Cambridge on the Salt Lake). We found her knowledgeable about most everything except for the difference between a foot and a yard. If she gets that confused between volts and watts, we’re afraid she may be in for a real shock. In addition to her commissioner duties and studying electricity, Hillary is looking for a good Mormon husband who will allow her to stay home and tend to a scout troop. If Robyn hadn’t gotten himself lost in the sage, they’d made a cute couple. Of course, I’m sure Hillary would have wanted Robyn to grow up a bit, but until then they’d be shoe-in winners for a Dennis the Menace and Margaret look-a-like contest. However, I secretly believe that Hillary isn’t interested in a husband, but really harbors ambition to be the first female Chief Scout Executive. I just hope she doesn’t get her sights on the Presidency of the U.S. of A, or our country will never be the same.

There were three classes of staff at Camp Bangladesh. The elite, like Hillary, wore Navy uniforms and look like they just walked out of a surplus store or off the set for a remake of McHale’s Navy. The second tier wear dark green sea scouts shirts and various colored pants. Our favorite in this class was Hot Legs—the blond lifeguard with a nice tanned body fitted into a red one piece swimsuit. When on duty, she looked more like a movie star posing than a lifeguard as she stretched herself out sunning on the pier. I never saw Hot Legs without large sunglasses. She wore them even when the sun wasn’t shinning. Our boys, seeing her without the glasses one day, reported that she had a serious case of raccoon eyes and better keep them on. The bottom rung of the staff hierarchy was the kitchen crew. They didn’t wear uniforms and were obviously selected for their lack of speed and foresight. Or maybe they were pressed into service, like the British did to our seamen before the War of 1812. If that’s the case, they’ve decided as a group that indifference is a subtle way of protest. Or, maybe they really didn’t think we wanted nor needed anything to drink with our uncooked rice until the meal was nearly over. Speaking of drinks, choosing the beverages of one’s choice was another interesting experience. Any other camp would have put labels on the coolers, but that would be too much work for the staff of Bangladesh. We learned that the way to tell what a cooler contained was to look underneath at the color of the puddle on the floor. Since we were the only non-Mormon troop in camp, the dining hall didn’t serve coffee. Suspecting such, I brought my own stove and percolator and fixed coffee every morning. I quickly became popular and found myself having to go into town to find more coffee midweek as all the neighboring Mormon leaders decided to forgo their prophet’s word of wisdom and have a several Cups of Joe a morning with Ralph and me.

Our patch for the week informed us we’ve been on an aquatic land cruise—I supposed it’s a land cruise because most that’s where most of the boats remained. But there were some good things about the experience. First of all, I wasn’t in charge and could blame everything on the camp director, Captain McHale himself. Instead, I passed the hours sitting in my camp chair or laying in my hammock, reading books. Furthermore, our boys averaged three merit badges and only one fight a piece and they all eventually got to sail on the one fully functioning sailboat available for campers. I even got to spend a wonderful afternoon on a Hobie-cat (that was reserved for scout leaders) and am now hoping to break my Valium addiction by the end of the year.
Sage’s note: Even though I tried to put a light spin all this, from my experience working with the Boy Scouting program in the Southeast United States, I was surprised this camp passed the Boy Scouts of America’s rather rigorous peer inspection program. Their waterfront controls were lacking and I spent less time in my hammock and more time playing lifeguard than I'd hoped. After this experience, I can't image why I decided to again sign up for another year. But the next summer, there was Ralph and I taking the troop to camp. This time we went to a camp in Northern Arizona and it was one of the best run camps I’ve seen.


  1. And we all lived to tell the tale! That which does not kill you, makes you stronger!

    Actually, I don't know that the camp I went to was any worse than any other camp circa 1972 . . .

  2. This visitor of yours was never a girl scout...maybe because I wasn't living in the US when I was little...
    Enjoyed reading your post! Here via Michele's

  3. Good story. It brings back memories. I was a boy scout, but never went to camp. Our troop did a lot of back packing and camping in various places in California, including the Sierra Nevada's.

  4. Wonderfully written ... I felt like I was in a modern day MASH camp! ~JP

  5. Sage, this has the making s for a good summer movie, staring Checy Chase and Diane (from Cheers) as Hillary)! I laughed out loud in a fewplaces!

    Michele sent me tonight.

  6. Diane, I had pretty good experiences in camp as a kid

    Mar, but all camps create good tales, thanks for stopping by

    Dan, I always wanted to backpack--I was in my late 20s when I first got to Yosemite and haven't been the since--and at 40 did the John Muir Trail

    Jane, yes, it was like MASH

    Kenju, Chevy could play me if he could grow a beard, but if Shelley Long (Diane for Cheers) is acting, I want to be myself!

  7. Great post! I had a feeling that this camp had a few too many wacky hijinks to be of the standard you'd probably prefer. But it seems you had a decent time in spite of it all.

    Thanks again for the great post!

  8. It seems you had a whale of a time despite everything.

    BTW, I was forced to take a break. I have posted for SS today, a poem I wrote in my break!

    Delhi is having a great monsoon and I am loving it..:D

  9. The boy scout camp I went to was pretty much a zoo and that was from my eyes as a kid when living in zoo conditions would be considered fun. I ended up being disenchanted with the Boy Scouts and left as a Tenderfoot. I preferred the outdoors my way.