And while many bloggers can relate to this murky world of blog transparency, my case was a little different; I was just plain scared.
Didn’t you think it was odd that I never wanted to use my real name? Why did I have to create an alias named Hamatha? Why have I never published personal photos? Why don’t I ever talk about The Husband?
Well, I have one very good reason: I am a wanted woman.
Yeah, it’s probably all coming together now, right? The alias, the lack of personal photos, the mystery I’ve created around this so called Hamatha character – all very fishy, right?
But I must tell you that it was all for a very good reason – I’m on the lam.
I don’t want them to find me again, ever. I’m living a peaceful, stable life right now, but it’s been difficult to get to this place. However, it’s even more difficult knowing that this life I’ve created for myself may not last forever. No matter how good things are, I live with a chilling fear that they’ll find me one day.
Who, you ask?
Camp Tatanka, that’s who.
You see, years ago, I was conned into working in a TEFL summer camp my first year in Madrid. My new TEFL “friend” Emily told me all about a wonderful summer camp. She had been teaching summer school there for two years straight and claimed to love it. “It’s great fun!”she said. “You’ll love it!” she promised. “It’s easy money!” she taunted.
Never trust anyone who claims to love Summer Camp.
Anyway, on her recommendation, I went to the office and all the things that Emily had said were seemingly true. The director, Señora Sinclue, told me that they are one of the most popular summer camps in Madrid. In fact, the reason they were hiring more teachers is that their regular summer camps had sold out and they had to open a new camp to accommodate the hoards of children just clamouring to get into Camp Tatanka.
And it did sound pretty nice. Unlike most summer camps, the Tatanka TEFL teachers weren’t responsible for anything besides simply miming a real teacher in front of 12-14 kids twice a day for ten days. You didn’t have to plan lesson plans, you didn’t have to bring any props, toys or games. Everything would be there at the camp and the kids strictly followed a lesson plan that came with books, listening activities, games, etc.
So, I had an interview and they hired me. Even after being told that this idyllic camp would have everything, I still went to the office the next day to make some copies of my standard games that I always use with kids. Señora Sinclue found me immediately, “What are you doing? No, I told you that you don’t have to bring anything! Everything is there at the camp! Stop wasting paper. You’ll have everything you need there!” Okay, lady, whatever you say.
But, as you can probably guess from my tone, it turned out that not everything I needed would be at the paradisiacal Camp Tatanka. In fact, even before stepping foot on the camp site, things were terribly amiss.
When I applied for the job, I explained to Señora Sinclue that I had a trip planned right before the camp was scheduled to start and wouldn’t be able to make the Tatanka bus that was supposed to transport the teachers from Madrid to the camp on Sunday morning. But I did offer to take a regional bus to the camp Sunday evening, out of my own pocket. Actual camp didn’t start until Monday, so I was told that would be fine. I was instructed to call when I got to the bus station so someone could pick me up.
So, off I went and as soon as I arrived at the bus station, I called the number for someone to pick me up. I talked to someone very hostile who said that they would be there in 30 minutes. I waited for almost an hour.
When the car pulled up, I knew I was in trouble. Out came the bitterest woman I have ever seen. She was angry, like green Hulk angry. As she stomped towards me, I expected her to rip off her clothes and shout, “Hulk angry! Hulk eat you!”
Luckily for everyone watching this soulless monster approach, she did not rip off anything; she proceeded to rip me a new one instead. She screeched that I was at the wrong bus station and that I should have gotten off at the other one. When I showed her the piece of paper where Señora Sinclue had written down the name of the bus station where we were currently standing, she grabbed it, looked at it and said, “da igual!”
The car ride with Soulless Monster Lady was a tense one, so I was very happy to see the camp after driving about half an hour in silence. At first impression, the one and only building at the camp looked like a long, red chicken coop; a long, one-story chicken coop with a tiny little pool in front of it. It was literally in the middle of nowhere.
Even as happy as I was to be out of that soul sucking car, I couldn’t help thinking that this would have been the perfect place for a brutal killing. It wasn’t close to any town and there were no houses for miles. We had turned off the main road and followed a dirt path for about 20 minutes until we arrived at the camp. Still to this day, I can’t remember where it was, but I could probably lead you there by smell if need be.
Camp Tatanka III was in the middle of horse country. Oddly, however, it was not the smell of horse poo that violated my eyes and nose as soon as I eagerly hopped out of the car. Oh, it was certainly a poo smell, but not the four-legged animal kind.
Later it was explained to me that some of the kids and monitors had arrived on Friday just in time to have the sewer pump break. So, out of the two bathrooms, there was just one that worked properly. Almost 200 kids plus about 20 grownups sharing one bathroom with four toilets and four showers for two weeks. Lovely.
So next, Soulless Monster Lady walks off without even a “hasta luego” and leaves me in the hands of one of her minions who shows me to my room. It was a tiny room with four bunk beds. On two of the beds sat two hopeless, lethargic bodies who introduced themselves as my TEFL teaching colleagues, Sara and Adrianne.
When the Soulless Monster Lady’s minion left, the two bodies shot out of bed and explained the deal. The place was horrific. The people were horrific. The conditions were horrific. The bathroom sitch? Horrific. And above all, the kids had no materials whatsoever.
Well, that’s not completely true, each kid had been supplied with exactly one ball point pen with blue ink. They even had to write their names on their one pen in case they lost them. They had to borrow each other’s pens to do this. There was no paper to write on though. No paper, no coloring books, no music, no movies, NADA.
But you know what? I’m a positive person and I decided right then and there that I would do my best to just make the most out of this situation. The Soulless Monster Lady was a horrible person, but surely there would be some fun to be had among us teachers and monitors. So what if the kids didn’t have any materials on the first day? I’m sure that they were just late in bringing them to the camp. They are kids, we are teachers – what’s the problem? Imagination, people!
So, I unpacked my things in the small space that the three of us TEFL suckers would be sharing and went exploring with my new best buddies. Apart from the bathroom situation, the place wasn’t so bad. It seemed as if most of the kids were doing their business outside anyway. It stunk horribly, but whatever, we were in nature!
One positive thing I noted upon first investigation was the children. Those that were already at the camp didn’t seem so bad. I did notice that many of them looked pretty pijo and wondered why they weren’t at some pijo camp that didn’t smell of hot, human feces. But, you know how kids are, resilient and all that. In fact, these kids seemed really happy to be there and well-behaved so, I took that as a positive sign of good things to come.
On the other hand, it turned out that the other adults at the camp weren’t so pleasant. The Others (The monitors) were obviously beings that belonged to an unknown species; they were inhuman. Rude, arrogant, loud, loathsome of children and TEFL teachers alike, the Others ran the camp. I’m tellin’ you, it was right out of Lord of the Flies. Obviously, the Others were made up of the strongest survivors of a group of young lads that had eaten the weaklings before I had arrived.
To the outside observer, the Others were pimple-faced young adults, but once in close proximity with these ugly beings, they were clicky little demons and they were fiercely rude. If you weren’t Spanish or a Choni or into facial piercings, you were dead to these “people”. Don’t look at them, don’t talk to them, and above all, don’t sit next to them at lunchtime – these were the unwritten rules that my roommates warned me about as they cautiously guided me along the corridor.
This explained a lot about why I found my two cohorts hiding out in our hot, cramped room when I arrived. They were both scared of these raging Monitor Beasts. The Others didn’t talk to anyone besides themselves. They just snarled at the rest of us.
As I got prepared to go to bed on my first night in TEFL camp, despite my determination to be positive, I cursed Emily with all the hatred I could muster. I hatched a detailed revenge plan to hunt her down in Madrid and wipe that sunny smile off her sinister face.
My plan was beginning to take form nicely as I climbed up to my lonely bunk bed only to discover that I had no sheets, no pillow and no protection whatsoever from the massive amounts of pee-pee stains that had accumulated on my bunk mattress over the years.
So, no, Camp Tatanka III did not have the proper materials needed, not in the least. But, at that moment, all I really wanted was a hazmat suit.
To be continued…. Part two of my summer TEFL Trauma Camp