I was unaware that Greenville, Miss., is the “Hot Tamale Capital of the World,” but all of Camp Looking Glass found this out last Saturday afternoon when we attended the town’s Hot Tamale Festival.
At Camp Looking Glass, each counselor is paired with a camper at functions. Mine is Antoine, a familiar face for a lot of people in this part of the Delta. The “First Annual” Hot Tamale Festival was a meet and greet for him; he rendezvoused with cousins, friends, church members and so on all day.
After greeting the host of people Antoine recognized the moment we arrived, we began walking around the grounds with a few other campers and counselors. During our walk, Antoine and a counselor named Dee signed up for the hot tamale eating contest. We decided to walk towards the stage, weaving through lines of people who waited for tamales as we went down the street.
When we found the stage a few campers began dancing to the music. Most campers are quite smashing dancers, unaware that this is a time to be self-conscious for most of us. Antoine is – much like his counselor – not much of a dancer, so we made our way over to the Camp Looking Glass booth.
Counselors Jen and Tasha were speaking with others when we arrived. “Camp Looking Glass is committed to emphasizing abilities,” I overheard Jen tell the crowd as Antoine and I overtook the booth for our allotted hour and began selling arts and crafts made at our last function to help fund camp. The campers and counselors who had tired of walking the festival began to pull up seats next to the booth.
Everett showed up with his counselor, and after the two sat down, I apologized for missing the celebration of his 21st birthday this fall. When Everett meets a new person he asks for their name and date of birth and commits both to some kind of internal address book that is second to none that I know of. Ask him how old someone will be on this date or that date in the future and he’ll calculate it in no time.
Later, Dee arrived with his camper to inform Antoine that it was two o’ clock and time to head to the stage for the hot tamale eating contest. The two competed with four others and Dee proved victorious after eating 25 tamales in five minutes. Camp members gathered around the stage as the event went on and fervently cheered for both Antoine and Dee as if this competition was all that mattered in the world for those five short minutes – words cannot describe the experience of losing the self for a small time.
As the festival wound down and parents began to pick up their campers, one mother struck up a conversation with us about her daughter’s treatment in the public school system before she decided to move her to a private school. The public school insisted she be in a special needs class; however, she has scored a 24 on the ACT – three points higher than the national average – and her mom wanted her to be challenged.
One might wonder why I waited until this late in the column to reveal that all of our campers have “disabilities.” I wanted to focus on what the campers are able to do instead, which is a lot. From the outside we see all that is different; through the looking glass we see all that makes us the same.
Our campers at Camp Looking Glass go about making friends, being artistic, competing in eating contests and listening and dancing to music like most human beings. Some of our campers are capable of outperforming the average student in the classroom and others grow into being quite autonomous, but unless the world around those with disabilities allows them more opportunities, their abilities will remain unknown.
I invite interested readers to visit CampLookingGlass.org to learn more now.
Andrew Dickson is a religious studies senior from Terry. Follow him on Twitter @addoxfordms.