Harambee African Culture Camp 2015

It was over a month ago now, but better late posting than never!

Every year our family goes to Harambee Camp for families with children of African heritage. Some of our best friends in the world go, and it’s always an amazing time to connect and learn. Sugar and Spice feel so comfortable will a camp filled with over 120 families that look like ours… Transracial adoptive families, as well as a few African families thrown in for good measure. We play drums, dance, go to parenting workshops, play games, do crafts, talk and make memories. There isn’t a lot of relaxing… That’s for the other antidote camp, Mehaber, on the August long weekend. But it’s an intense week of acceptance and celebration.

This year was unusual for a few reasons. It was the camps 20th anniversary, so instead of the kids being in workshops all day long, there were more festival-like big audience shows. There was West African drumming, Capoera and Samba dancing, Haitian dancing, and hip hop singing. We enjoyed it, but I think we’ll also be happy to return to the more learning-focussed format next year.

Jason could only come for a few days out of the week this year, due to being busy at the clinic. This totally stunk for him, and we missed him dearly. The only plus side was that my food organization worked out perfectly, without the interference of the snacking monster!

This year was also Tully’s inaugural camp, and he was a big addition, literally and figuratively. At only 7 months old, Tully behaved beautifully, lying down when small kids were around, and not chewing I the cabin. The only exception to this was when 400 people were drumming 100 metres away. I came back from the drumming workshop and he had moved the double mattress across the room and against the kitchen counter. Oops. When a 130lb puppy gets scared, he can really move the furnture.

The other weird / interesting / occasionally annoying thing about Tully being at camp was how much attention he got. You have to realize, this is a whole camp full of conspicuous families. Most people at the camp share the experience that they get unusual attention because they are a transracial family. What could possibly garner the same level of heightened attention at a camp full of people used to being stopped in the streets? An Irish Wolfhound puppy, that’s what. It was hard to get to the bathroom without being stopped and asked what breed he was and was he getting bigger. Most of the time, I enjoy sharing him with others, but when I had to get somewhere (like the bathroom!) well… Let’s just say it was reminiscent of when the girls were cute Ethiopian twin toddlers at the mall.

There were all the usual activities, like the water fight, crafting, side trips to get icecream, and even a full dinner that all 400 of us ate tougher (thanks to our amazing friend Pam. Served in 45 min, can you believe it?)

Two other notables: first, we had a new lady doing parenting workshops, and she specialized in talking about race. We haven’t focussed on this side of transracial parenting in our workshops for a long time, and it was some awesome discussion and ideas for parents.

The other was one of my daughter’s first mutual crush. What a trainwreck. But I was grateful to know the little boy’s parents well, and we navigated it together. Due to our friendship and trust in each other, we figured it out (more or less) and used village parenting to handle the situation. I go foreshadowing of many camp years to come, though… It won’t be all drumming and dancing one day.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. And if you have children of African heritage through adoption or birth, consider joking the 400 of us next year! We are all one family. Just a really big one!

Harambee 2014

Another year, another fabulous week long culture camp. This year had its truly special moments… And some unexpected surprises.


The two biggest changes from previous years were events that took place right before camp. First, our regular location, the Naramata centre was embroiled in labor dispute, and the entire place was shut down three weeks before our camp. Can you imagine moving 88 families and 500 some odd people to a new location on three weeks notice? Well, that’s exactly what we did. We ended up in Sorrento, at the peaceful and quiet Sorrento center. It was very different than Narmata. Our former location is right in the middle of town, and we’ve had some positive and negative experiences being in a very small town with more than 300 children color. And I am not just talking about the heat graffiti that made provincial news. We also have 300 children on bicycles, and there can be a lot of clashes with the locals when you have 300 children getting about the village.





In Sorrento, the center was outside of the hustle and bustle, in a secluded place to itself. There were no bikes allowed… Which was a total positive, if you ask me. There were very few locals to deal with, except for the very appreciative merchants who made special note of thanking our camp for the economic impact over the week. We stayed in very humble cabins, forgot to bring our dogs, which was a real treat. Maggie is getting too old to put in a kennel, and both of the dogs just really appreciate being with us. So we stayed in this little cabana with electricity, but no running water, and just have a lovely time.




The other unexpected event before camp was a connection with a boy in Newfoundland. You may have heard about Torrence Collier, and the extreme bullying and racism he encountered in the small town he was living in in Newfoundland. Well, our Harambee families heard about him as well, and invited him and his mom and dad to come to camp. Together, we raised enough money for the flights and some expenses. I had a few discussions with his mom over the week, and it was so wonderful to see them be embraced by their peers, Torrence come out of his shell, and to hear about their plans for change in the future. It speaks to our community that we were able to fund raise, and welcome him and his family within two weeks of camp. I think it had a positive influence on a bunch of other children there… And you will see a picture below of him dancing up a storm and feeling very much part of our community. We hope they will return next year!



As for the rest of camp, it was the same dizzying array of drumming, dancing, swimming, soccer, and other family and cultural activities. This year both Jason and I felt like we got a lot more time with the girls, even though we had to jail them in the cabana if we wanted to see them. They have a few super good friends there, and wanted to spend every waking minute. But a tip from the wise, (that’s us!) Little family time goes a long way to helping them cope with an extremely stimulating camp environment. We made them come home for every meal, and spend one hour in the afternoon, on their beds, just doing nothing. I swear that is what helps them keep it together over a week of complete excitement.



We also trying to take a field trip every year, in an attempt to get a little break from camp. This year, our visit to Sorrento timed perfectly with my aunt, uncle and cousin seeing at the cabin down the lake. My little cousin S had just come back from Sierra Leone, where she lives, and it was wonderful to catch up with her. My uncle drove us around the lake in his boat and they made us supper too. Delightful!


I brought some of my Africa Sleeps products with me, as a couple of people wanted to see what I had. Little did I know that there would be a vendor fair, on the short two weeks notice of moving camp, and countless others who were interested in my products. Many many thanks to those families that supported our organic haircare and skincare business! How are cabaña was like a revolving door of hair consultations and I enjoyed every minute of it.



There were some other joyful moments, just small things that made our visit. We got to hosting you family to supper, and it turns out that we have a ton in common with them and their Haitian kids/adoption. I also felt that I had more time to sit around and have drinks and visits with our friends, since it was not volunteering doing a lot of things this year. It was really lovely just relaxing and chatting with the people in our transracial adoption community.

There were some other joyful moments, just small things that made our visit. We got to hosting you family to supper, and it turns out that we have a ton in common with them and their Haitian kids/adoption. I also felt that I had more time to sit around and have drinks and visits with our friends, since it was not volunteering doing a lot of things this year. It was really lovely just relaxing and chatting with the people in our transracial adoption community.

If you are interested in joining us another year, please visit www.Harambee.ca

Culture Camp Parenting Challenges

Being away for a week with our children at culture camp is a real blessing for our family. Still, it is not with it out its challenges. It’s hard for the children to get enough rest, their behavior gets all out of whack, and some influences are less than positive. When you get home the adjustment is also difficult.

I thought I would write about these challenges that our family has experienced going to Harambee. I would love to hear what is coming later in life for us! If you have some pearls of wisdom to share too. And I think it’s also important to share the challenges so that we can be prepared for them and strategize about our parenting approach in unusual circumstances.

The first challenge is the schedule at camp. In the past, we have found that when we had a daily quiet time while staying in the trailer, the girls are way less overstimulated and better slept. Usually that quiet time includes reading, playing quietly with stuffies, or simply having a nap. (Usually the parents are the ones having the nap!)

This year, however, soccer was right after lunch. And although there were no choices to make in the schedule, which was nice, we found that there were no spaces either. So it was very difficult to get out of the action and take a rest. At night, there were teen activities going on until the wee hours. This is awesome for the teens, and I wouldn’t want it any other way for them. That said, our trailer has been parked beside the playing field for the last two years, and getting the kids to bed each night was a huge challenge. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner! But for the last two nights I gave the kids melatonin and that helped immensely to get them to sleep. They also slept in a little later in the morning because the melatonin overwrote the sunshine factor. Note to self for next year.

In any case, rest and sleep were our big issues. Combine that with the extreme heat that we had last week, and I had some very grumpy children for the majority of the week.

Which leads me to my second challenge: extremely challenging behavior. I probably had more backtalk, screaming, tantruming and heaven knows what else last week than I have seen since January. I know it’s a combination of the stimulation, lack of sleep, and too much heat. But holy! The kids were a handful. And this is par for the course each year, give or take a few tantrums. A few friends said to me that this age, 6/7 years old, is particularly challenging. But we do have extreme behavior every camp.

So do you tow the line and expect the same reasonable behaviour from your children, camp or no camp!? Or, do we say that these are exceptional circumstances and allow more exceptional behavior. hmmmm… I know that we were very understanding and patient for the beginning of this past week, but it was only near the end that week, when we gave the girls a serious talking to, that the behavior started to turn more normal. I think next time we will show empathy and understanding for the heat sleep issues. But the screaming at me and two-year-old tantrums… We let that go on too far. Next year, I think we will have to clamp down on that beginning. It just became a way too difficult week for me. I can’t really say that I enjoyed the whole thing, because I was getting so much grief from the kids. (Perhaps from the overtired, overheated husband as well…!)

One of the most positive things about culture camp is the girls making new friends, hanging out with other children of color, and seeing all the older girls and boys. This has a flipside though. There is a lot of peer pressure at camp. We don’t have teenagers yet, so keep this in relative context. But different parents have different rules and it can be difficult to tell your child “these are the rules because this is the way we do it in our family,” when their friends have different rules of engagement. There are also more subtle things… A benign example is hair. I really don’t like color in the girls’ hair, but since all that other little girls have color in their hair, well then, mine end up having colour in their hair as well.

Obviously this isn’t a big challenge, it’s just something that we have to navigate over and over again. And we find ourselves adapting our way of doing things to fit in with the social norm. Which isn’t entirely bad thing either! It’s just a challenge to figure out what is important for them to have in common with their peers, and what is not.

The last challenge is adapting back to life at home. For example, life is pretty free and easy for the six, going-on-seven year old girl at camp. The girls are not allowed to go on the paved vehicle road, but they basically wander all day long from cabin to cabin, from RV to RV. The dirt roads throughout the camp are safe and we trust in our neighbors to keep the kids safe. So they wander.

When we get back home, however, things are different. There are cars on our street. Fast ones. And we actually don’t know all of our neighbors that well. So we ask the girls to stay in our yard, and they must ask permission before they go to somebody else’s house. And there really aren’t as many places for them to go as the endless supply of friends’ cabins at camp. When we got back this weekend, the girls started biking on our street and running around out of the yard, despite the reminders. We got a lot of protest when we put the rules back in place. But camp is camp. And home is home.

I would love to hear what challenges do you have encountered with your kids in the camp experience. It’s going to share these ideas so that we can be a little better prepared for these unusual situations. Do you sweat the small stuff? What do you go with the flow on, and put your down for?

Of course it’s all worth it! I don’t want to make it sound any other way. We love going to camp and it’s a huge blessing for our family. That said, part of growing is overcoming challenges. And I certainly do a lot of growing as a parent at camp…

Hello from Harambee

We are halfway into our week long Harambee family camp in Naramata. The girls have been playing soccer, dousing their friends in water fights, getting their hair done, summing, competing in an amazing race, and drumming every morning. Weve been nothing if not busy. I was co-organizing the “Night Out for the Fairer Spouse” (aka Moms’ Night) and the Ethiopian Cooking Lessons, so today is the first chance I’ve had to reflect and upload my photos.

For anyone who hasn’t been, Harambee is a camp for adoptive families with children of African heritage. It not a relaxing week… It’s more like non-stop cultural activities all day long. But the girls love it… Ad we totally see the value. There are many families that look like ours, black teenagers to look up to, friends to be made and friends to see… And of course, the girls develop more pride in their shared African heritage.

Spice says that her favourite part of camp so far is competing in soccer. She loves running around and being part of the team. Sugar actually stopped going to soccer after the first day, but has preferred running around with friends. Her highlight so far? Daily trips to the TUC shop for freezies! I think Jason and I’s favourite time was the wine tasting night, cackling and spitting with friends. Sorry about spitting on your foot, T!

I actually really enjoyed the cooking lessons this year.. It’s a ton of work, but I liked working with my buddy M. We did one session of the basics: injera, doro wat and yellow lentils. The last session was quick Ethiopian dishes: beef tibs, shiro and alecha vegetables. But we did this another session on Tuesday where M did coffee ceremony, and we showed pictures of Ethiopia. Traditionally, we’d just all sit around and chat for two hours while she made coffee, but we didn’t think people would enjoy that. So we added a picture show, and I think people liked the pictures, and narrative including insights into Ethiopian life and culture.

The other thing I was co-organizing was the night out, and that went really well. We had over 40 moms, and a couple of dads, out for a picnic on the beach. We had catered, delicious Indian food, and local wines from the Naramata bench. For you wine followers, the best matched wine was a Muscat d’Alexandria from La Frenz… So floral and a perfect level of sweetness for the pungent Indian butter chicken! We also had a juicy Merlot-based rosé from Hillside and a Gamay from Desert Hills. Both nice wines… But the Muscat stole the show.

So what’s on the schedule for the next few days? Well, the is Dad’s night for Jason, more soccer, the silent auction, more drumming, etc. we have lots of butter chicken and Ethiopian food to eat as leftovers so I really will get to relax and enjoy….