For most college students a summer job is a time to get away from it all, have some fun, meet new people and earn some money at the same time. I was pleased to see a notice on the bulletin board in the Student Union of the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, near the end of the spring semester in 1964. Student counselors needed, it read. Be a counselor at our summer camp in the beautiful Arbuckle Mountains. Train the young, enrich your life. I didn’t see the name of the camp.
I signed up and a man named Cliff called and asked me to meet him the next Sunday to find out more about the camp. When I showed up in the Student Union lobby there was a young man from Nigeria also waiting to meet Cliff. I didn’t get his name. I was surprised there were just two of us for what seemed like a good opportunity.
“Boys, are you ready for a short trip to see our campsite?” Cliff asked. He was middle-aged and rather stocky. He wore casual clothes and spoke with a southern accent.
I sat in the back seat. During the hour-long trip Cliff asked where we were from, what we were studying, and other sundry details. He wanted to know which religion we followed and upon learning that I was a Hindu and the Nigerian belonged to a local indigenous congregation, Cliff said the camp would be enriched by having people of various backgrounds.
“It will expand our students’ cultural tolerance,” he said.
Arriving from India a year earlier, I thought it would be a good experience for me too to speak with American youth and get to know a bit more about their culture. During the first year I had mainly interacted with other Indians on the campus.
The ride was pleasant. It was sunny and relatively mild — spring, not yet summer.
The campsite had several cabins for the campers, surrounded by lush trees. Young boys, all teenagers, were expected to sign up for a week-long session or longer. They would stay in assigned cabins. According to Cliff the camp offered many activities geared towards team building and leadership training.
“Our campers build character,” Cliff continued as he was showing us around. “They participate in games, sing-a longs and sometimes campfire meetings. But the important time for them is in the evening. We don’t teach them religion as such, but tell them stories they can learn from. This is where both of you can provide diversity.”
I was told by my relatives before leaving India that I must be a good ambassador for India. I didn’t think I was well-versed in all aspects of the Hinduism, but I knew a few anecdotes about Rama, Krishna and Arjuna that I had heard from my grandmother.
The tour of the facility continued. The camp had a large kitchen, a bit rustic but well-equipped. Cliff said they prepared all the food on site and are committed to keeping the young boys healthy.
We had spent close to two hours at the camp. The Nigerian student and I were listening to Cliff speak and didn’t ask any questions. I was imagining how it would be to work as a youth counselor.
“So, what will we be doing?” I asked Cliff to get confirmation.
“Well, we really need a lot of help in the kitchen,” he said.
“What would we be doing in the kitchen?” I asked, slightly surprised.
“We wouldn’t ask you to cook or anything, but you both can fit for dish-washing. You can still use all the camp facilities and mix with everyone and take part in our gatherings.”
So, we weren’t brought in to be camp counselors. I didn’t know what the Nigerian student did, but I declined the offer saying I was looking into other opportunities. I had nothing against being a dishwasher. I had worked as a busboy in a restaurant a year before. It was going to be a paying job. But, I felt like a person who had been invited to spend a night at a magnificent villa with beautiful bedrooms, but ends up spending the night in the basement.
Everyone was quiet as Cliff dropped us back on the campus, and we went our separate ways.