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Celebrating international campers and staff at Pemi

flagsThere are more than 20 flags hanging from the ceiling of the Mess Hall at Pemi, and each represents the country of a camper or staff member who has come to Pemi from abroad. Among many others, the flags for China, South Africa, Japan and Cameroon are up there. Also hanging from the rafters is a black and red flag; on the black half are five white stars depicting the Southern Cross, and on the red half is the image of a Bird of Paradise: it’s the flag of Papua New Guinea.

Most people who have a relatively recent connection with Pemi know that Papua New Guinea’s flag was first hung in the Mess Hall for Nuwi Somp, a longtime counselor who’s from that country, and a man who carries with him joy enough to light up all those around him. If you’ve met him, you know that one of his most striking characteristics is his laugh: it’s one of the most spirited, bubbling laughs you’ll ever hear. While he wasn’t at camp in the summer of 2009, his son, Sompy was. And Nuwi’s daughter, Joann, attended Camp Wawenock in Maine. (Getting the Somp children to their camps, a massive undertaking in itself, was spearheaded by Pemi’s Head of Nature, Larry Davis.)

sompy somp
Photo by Fred Seebeck.

Their story is told in an article, “Home (9000 Miles) Away from Home,” by longtime Pemi counselor and Bean Soup editor Josh Fischel. Fischel is the Public Information Associate at the American Camp Association, New England, and the article was published on that organization’s website. The article tells the story both of how Nuwi Somp first made a connection with Pemi, and what the camp experience was like for his children, Sompy and Joann. I recommend giving it a read.

Getting to know international campers and staff is, in my opinion, one of the richest parts of a Pemi experience. My counselor when I was a camper in the Lake Tent in 1994 was Andy Kerr, from Scotland, and over the years I’ve loved having friendships with BUNAC counselors from the United Kingdom. (And I’m going to assume that the process is rewarding the opposite way, too: to spend a summer or more at Pemi from another country must be a fantastic experience.)

This summer, campers from England, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, and France will be at camp. If you came to Pemi from abroad, what was that like? Or, for American alumni, when you were at Pemi, were you friends with someone from another country? Perhaps you can shed some light on what it was like to share a cabin, a table, a soccer game or a hiking trip in the White Mountains with someone from another country—even if they didn’t travel as far as the Somps did to the shores of Lower Baker.

Rob Verger