Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A G'day and Update from World Scout Jamboree

Wow! This is one of the first times I have been able to get access to a computer to check emails or to send messages since arriving in England last week.  As Mark and Chip have detailed in their earlier reports, it has been an amazing transition from open spaces occupied by only a few hundred people on July 21st to the crowded encampment of over 40,000 scouts and their leaders that now covers a large part of Hylands Park, just outside of Chelmsford, England.
My job is to work with the "contingent support team," and involves working with the representatives from the over 150 countries represented at the Jamboree.  My direct responsibilty is to assist the contingents from Iceland and Slovakia.  I have attached a photo of my new vehicle courtesy of the Icelandic glacial rescue team.
In addition to my duties to support the contingents attending the jamboree, I am assigned to the main Jamboree Headquarters, where I am working tonight.  Ordinarily things are quite hectic and busy, but fortunately tonight is rather tame in comparison, and therefore this chance to give some recollections.
I have had the the chance to work with a wide variety of the jamboree team, including the director, Bill Cockroft, and the jamboree manager Aidan Jones.  Everyone from the United Kingdom group has been great to work with, and I have certainly enjoyed being included in the team.  It has given me an insider's view behind the scenes.  At the same time it involves a lot of "gopher" activities.
Tonight I am on duty here in the problem management center from midnight to 8 a.m., and already we have dealt with late arrivals to the jamboree from Gambia who were not on the preregistration list, as well as a contingent of scouts and their leader from Swaziland, who at 2 a.m. arrived from Heathrow Airport and needed something to eat, as well as some warm sleeping bags! 
The first week here was an adjustment for all of us.  My assignment separated me from most of the American contingent.  I was originally put into a campsite with the Swiss.  We got along well, and I was picking up their Swiss German rather quickly when...boom!...I came back to camp one evening to found that my tent had been moved across the boundary line for that camp.  It was explained that the Swiss needed more space for their contingent team.  I had been expelled from Switzerland!  I now live in my own camp, which I have identified as Lichtenstein.
Then there was the rain... The first week had its share of rainy days and nights.  And like the other guys wrote previously, with the rain came the mud.  Eight thousand adults plodding through the brown muck on their way to the showers and the dining hall in the aftermath of heavy rains the night before dampened a few spirits in the days before the scouts arrived. 
And there are the cool, and sometimes downright cold nights.  Tonight (like last night) is pretty cold, with a temperature of about 40 degrees. It can be a challenge to camp in such weather when you are a participant from Trinidad and Tobago, or from Angola.
But things definitely turned brighter when the scouts arrived on Friday.  In the wee hours of the morning (and I mean wee), thousands of scouts from the UK came through the gates to enter their campsites.  Thereafter, throughout the day, a seemingly endless stream of busses unloaded troop after troop of scouts in a myriad of colorful uniforms.
The past couple of days the weather has been nice, with daytime highs of about 75 degrees.  Sunny skies and breezy days have been the norm.  The ground has been drying out, and the scout spirit has been much more evident.
During my jobs around camp, I have gotten to stop by a couple of times and see the Troop 220 contingent from Virginia, which has our Heart of Virginia scouts in it.  Everyone is doing fine.  With over 40,000 participants, and nearly half of them female, the boys are not in camp very often, and  the chances of seeing them are somewhat limited.
Actually, the scouts have a busy schedule during the week. There are sixteen subcamps at the jamboree arranged in formation around four central hubs.  There is a prearranged schedule for the scouts in each of the sixteen subcamps to follow.  It takes the approximately 800 troops in attendance to various onsite or offsite locations daily to learn about topics as varied as environmental concerns, human rights issues, and scientific studies.  The scouts also get the chance to experience water activities, and to make a trip to the "Gilwell Adventure" course. 
Opening ceremonies on Saturday were blessed with gorgeous weather.  I was involved with the arrangement for the arrival of Prince William and the Duke of Kent, who made an official visit to the site on behalf of the royal family.  I had just escorted a group of scouts who were going to meet the royal guests behind Hylands House when the helicopter carrying the Prince and Duke landed directly in front of me, and out came the entourage.   It was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
The massing of the troops for the opening ceremony was moving, both figuratively and literally.  Thousands of scouts in full dress uniform, with their national flags blowing in the wind on a sunny afternoon.  As you watched the colors move like a snake over the rolling hills in a long processsion-many chanting, some dancing, some singing national anthems, others marching in unison--it was a stirring, unforgettable scene.
And just when I thought it would be nice to sit down and enjoy the event, the call came in that there was a group of five Norwegian scouts that had just arrived at the rear gate to the jamboree, after having sailed their own boat to England from Norway.  After a switch of a few names, printing a few new registration passes, and running a mini-marathon,the credentials were issued and the new arrivals joined their fellow Norwegians before the ceremony began.
I sat near the back of the arena, and took in the whole experience.  The sights and sounds were truly memorable.  There was a message from the Queen read to the crowd by the Duke of Kent.  The entire crowd rose to repeat the scout law.  Ther was a review of the national flags. There was song and dance.  All quite grand.
So now I end my night shift, sitting here at my computer, after a night of relatively minor problems.  I have just seen the sun come up at 5:17 a.m. and it is another beautiful day ahead.  And tomorrow...sunrise ceremonies from Brownsea Island, and the celebration of the centenary. 
To one and all, another good day in scouting,