Country Roads, Black Bears and White Eagles

Since I was writing this on the plane next to my good friend Benjo, he made a few „edits“ to this text. Let’s consider them to be three easter eggs. So be aware of that and if you can find all 3 of them you might get a reward!

A little over five weeks in Europe and I haven’t even considered taking the few hours it takes me to write a blog post. I am writing this sitting on the next plane. Accompanied by my good friend Benjo, I am heading to the next destination namely Costa Rica from where I will eventually be making my way down all the way to Ecuador (at the time of publishing I am already in Colombia… I knew this was going to happen.) in order to attend a course for teachers of English as a Second language. As you can read, I am certainly not running out of material to write my blog any time soon. I just occasionally struggle to find the time and motivation to sit down and write something. But! There is always a big butt and mine is that when I promise something I intend to keep that promise and therefore the next few paragraphs are going to be dedicated to one of my favorite activities and more specifically to one of my favorite events I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of: The 24th World Scout Jamboree!

If you are reading this, there is a good chance that I know you through Scouting or that you know at least somebody that is or has been a Scout at some point in their lives. If that is the case you may or may not skip the next two paragraphs until you see this: (*)(*) (yes, I am very aware this resembles the female breast and chose this sign-combination for that exact purpose). For those of you who are under the TV-induced impression that Scouting is just selling cookies and collecting badges I’ll take a few minutes to explain what Scouting actually is. The “World Organization of the Scout Movement” is the largest voluntary-based organization for youth in the world. There are only five countries on our planet that have no Scouts and there are more than 40 Million active members all across the world. The idea of Scouting and its leader, Lord Robert Stephenson Baden Powell is relatively simple: “Leave the world just a little bit better than you found it.” This quote may very well be a poignant summary and certainly a huge influence for my own personal “Knowledge movement”. The ways, philosophies and methods of Scouting aim to do exactly that, leaving the world a better place. Personally, I have been an active Scout since I was seven years old and I am so very, very grateful that my parents made the decision to send me to a Scout meeting back then. It most certainly has impacted my life in many different ways and I would probably not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Scouting.

If you ask me, a World Scout Jamboree (WSJ) is the epitome of Scouting and the highlight of any Scout career. The first Jamboree was held in London almost exactly 100 years ago with only 8000 participants. Nowadays Jamborees are held in a 4-year rhythm and host countries are determined by application. Participants are between 14 and 18 years old which gives every active Scout the opportunity to be a participant exactly once. I had the chance to be part of the 21st WSJ in 2007 in the United Kingdom, which also happened to mark the 100 year anniversary of the Scout movement. That very experience 12 years ago for me was the “gateway drug” to the life of a global citizen. As a regular 15 year old Austrian you don’t usually get to build rafts, go climbing, shoot a bow or be part of a sustainability workshop with other young adults from countries like Mexico, Brazil or Zimbabwe. That event 12 years ago left a very deep and everlasting impression on me.

(*)(*) So I hope you got the overall picture. Now more to this past Jamboree, the 24th version of this gathering. This Jamboree was quite special in terms of its host country. It was the very first Jamboree that has been hosted by not only one but THREE host countries: Mexico, Canada and the US. Since it would be quite counterproductive to split the 30.000 participants and additional 10.000 adult volunteers into three locations, the three hosts agreed to actually hold the event in one of the most spectacular action- and adventure reserves I have ever seen: The Summit Bechtel Reserve in the naturally marvelous state of West Virginia (proof of the beauty of this reserve were the countless deer that were to be found all over and the occasional black bear visiting our campsite curious to see what is going on here) From the options presented to me, it seemed most practical to fly into the city of Charlotte in North Carolina as an entrance point to the camp. Being an IST, your job is to set up the camp, prepare logistics and infrastructure and make sure everything is up and running before all participants arrive. That obviously means arriving a few days early and even though Charlotte airport was probably comparably empty, I was immediately able to spot many Scouts and was led to the shuttle bus that would take us to West Virginia by a very friendly steward, a Scout as well of course.

I had already been offered a job on the “Green and Recycling team” months ahead of the Jamboree and had happily accepted the offer to be on their “communication and liaison squad” thinking I would be leading workshops about recycling or something like that. Well, little did I know my main role for the upcoming two weeks would be to empty trashcans and remind people what needs to be recycled and what doesn’t. Nonetheless, I quickly realized that I probably would have one of the best jobs on the Jamboree. That was due to a few important factors: first of all I was part of an amazing team that included Scouts from the US, Sweden, Italy, the UK, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic (special shoutout to the heart and soul of our team: Momma Kay, one of the finest ladies at the whole Jamboree who took such good care by bringing in snacks and sweets to make sure nobody loses any weight on the camp and acting as my personal driver over the first few days of the camp). The second factor were the UTVs that our special role entitled us to. Summit Bechtel Reserve is a huge area of almost 50km² and most people either walked to their job allocations or had to line up for the shuttle buses. Not the Green and Recycling team, bitches! The third and probably most important factor however was the nature of our job: Being in charge of the different Program Areas also meant getting to actually see all the amazing activities this Jamboree had to offer. A quick highlight reel: A 2km long Zipline, Mountainbiking, Skating, Kayaking, Rafting, a Faiths and Beliefs Zone, a Global Village and (because we were in America after all) a huge ass-gun range. And finally the fourth factor is that I thoroughly enjoy having my snacks next to trashcans, thus I would always bring my lunch with me on my working hours! Before the camp had been officially opened I had already seen most of the area. Setting up bins, labeling them and instructing other adults about the procedures in place. Unfortunately, word apparently didn’t spread very well and overall the results of accumulated recycling vs. general trash were… not very uplifting. There were a few things about this Jamboree that were anything but perfectly organised such as the huge usage of single-use plastics among other things. That goes to show that nobody’s perfect and hopefully a lesson was learned for next time.

Working, volunteering and getting to do some of the activities offered are great fun. But what keeps attracting me like a magnet every four years (and why I have promised myself I would try and make it to every single Jamboree as long as I am physically able to) are the amazing people and the special environment they create. Let me paint you a picture real quick: 40.000 people that mostly have never met each other before. People from 150 different countries. People of different skin color, different ethnicity, different faith, different social background, different field of expertise, different upbringing. Different fucking people. The majority of these people are proud of where they come from and they are (rightfully so) not ashamed to show their pride. They will sing songs in their native language, play games from their countries, cook food from their region, dance folk dances and so on. However, as far as I’m concerned there is one major difference to any given community that may be this heterogeneous: Every single person is as open-minded as they come! In Scouting there is no room for hatred, political conflict or judgment driven by prejudice. For me, a Jamboree is as close to a judgment free zone as it gets. Attending a Jamboree I have never gotten the feeling that I am being told who to be or pushed in a role I don’t feel comfortable in. I can be myself and there will be people around me that appreciate me for who I am. If I fuck up, there will be people to tell me that I fucked up but they will also tell me how to do it better next time and if I have done well they will make sure to celebrate me for that accordingly. You do actually make friends for a lifetime. At this Jamboree alone I ran into friends that I met 8 years ago in Sweden, 4 years ago in Japan and 2 years ago in Iceland. For me, this is the Spirit of a Jamboree. That sort of tolerance, that is rarely achieved anywhere in the world, is what makes it special and why I am so keen to return to the 25th Jamboree in South Korea in 2023.

I could go on and on and there are so many stories to tell from just two weeks of soaking in everything that this special event has to offer but I would like to tell one specific anecdote that captures why it is so important to have more global events like this. My favorite days of any international Scout camp are Culture Day and Pizza Monday. This Jamboree’s Culture Day was no exception. Imagine walking around all day and trying traditional dishes from all over the world, listening and watching performances that easily must have taken weeks and weeks to rehearse, and just being proud of where you are from. In a healthy non-nationalist way of course. That’s Culture Day. But this time all of that was topped by the so-called “Unity Ceremony” that closed the day. Ceremonies are also an important part of a Jamboree and I am sure a big junk of the organizing budget went into the three main ceremonies of this Jamboree. However, the part of this Unity Ceremony that left a huge impact on me was most likely almost free. The three presenters of the Ceremony, one from each of the three host countries, had a guest on stage to lead through the show. A tribe elder from one of the native American tribes that have lived in West Virginia for thousands of years. This tribes elder had a personal agenda. His goal was to “invoke the Spirit of Humanity” in the 40.000 people present. Now some might say this sounds a little bit cult-ish and I won’t even disagree that Scouting in a way is not super different to any given cult, but that is not the point here. This tribesman called upon the Spirit of Humanity by inviting members of different religions and faiths to recite prayers from their respective religions. I made it a point to try and listen very carefully to each and every prayer and after it all was over I was absolutely astounded: Every single prayer had the same core message. Be it Buddhism, Catholicisim, Islam or lesser known faiths like ‚Science‘. The message of all of these prayers was to neglect the differences of our human race. They emphasized that we are all brothers and sisters, that we all sit in the same boat. A boat called Earth and that we don’t have an emergency raft. That we need to take care of this boat, no matter where we might go after our lives as we know them are over. That we need to do this together and we need to do it now. That we need to leave behind ethnical, racial and religious differences so that we can go ahead as one human race. Now I know all of that sounds very tacky but hearing all these prayers sent me on my way contemplating hard. Thinking about it logically, there aren’t really any arguments against this way of thinking. Even if the whole ceremony ended in a ridiculously humongous white blow-up eagle being released across the whole stage (‚Murrica, fuck yeah) I believe it was an amazing ceremony that underlined the core values of Scouting: Being responsible members of our society, taking care of our planet and ignoring those people out there that try so hard to drive us apart to gain personal benefits from it. For me, this is what makes Scouting the most valuable thing at least of my life and why I would recommend anyone to suggest to their kids to start Scouting or even start themselves. Because one thing is for sure: It is never too late to create a better world!

I’ll leave it at that for now but as you can see I could probably go on for a few more pages. If you are curious and would like to hear more anecdotes from this Jamboree experience I am happy to oblige (like that one time I got my junk stuck in a coffee machine). There are many, many more but since that would probably get boring for most I’ll stop here.

This time I won’t promise anything since I struggle finding time to write while I’m traveling but the next Christmas break is coming so be patient, beloved and loyal readers of bearnecessities.

So far so good, bear hugs and much love all across the globe!

Your friendly neighborhood bear.

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