BSA in the Mideast

I just spent an evening sharing stories with a fellow Scouter who has served as scoutmaster to an enclave of American boys in the Mideast. Their troop is a “direct service” troop, which means they don’t have a normal district or council. Instead, they work directly with a representative at the National Council office in Texas.

Scouting is a bit different out there. We may have deserts and exotic locales here, but it’s something different out there. They’ve camped in everything from the endless desert to 12,000 foot mountains among wild baboons. Local rules send most of the older boys away, so most in the troop are younger Scouts. Regardless, my friend had just finished submitting a batch of Eagle applications before leaving for the States, so we know this is still the Boy Scouts of America.

Being overseas has had its upsides and downsides. Being in the Mideast, it’s hard to get to US High Adventure bases. But the troop managed to do it, helped by a priority granted by the National Council to direct service troops. Travel isn’t always a chore, though: to get to summer camp in Germany on year, “the company” lent the troop its private 737 to fly there.

The 12,000 foot trip was interesting. The site was along the Red Sea, and the troop had to climb up there and set camp among a population of wild baboons. But we’re talking about Scouts, after all. So the setting of camp was somewhat delayed while the Scouts went wild, chasing wild baboons. Can you say altitude sickness?

Eagle Requirements Overseas

Eagle projects are tricky to arrange when there’s not as much community to serve. But they still have the same basic elements: planning the project, securing outside approval, leading a team to produce the result, and performing a service. One project brought sporting equipment to a local girls’ orphanage. Arabic traditions didn’t allow the Scouts to teach the girls how to use the equipment, so instead they produced a DVD.

Every Eagle candidate must go through a Board of Review, and the Board is supposed to be arranged by the troop’s District. Since there’s no district, the troop constructs the Board from local adults, generally former Eagle Scouts, who aren’t active in the troop.

Pyromania

And, what would scouting be without pyromania? Being surrounded by desert, there’s not always a lot of choice for a low-overhead camping trip. But also, there’s not much risk of spreading fire. So the troop would occasionally do a “pyromania campout.”

The scouts and leaders creates a huge bonfire on the far side of a large earthen berm. The Scouts were allowed to construct their own “devices” to try to explode: cans of hairspray, boxes of flammables taped to more flammables, and so on. Each Scout submits his ‘offering,’ and a leader tosses it over the berm and into the fire, to await the anticipated ‘boom.’

It may be hard for a fire to spread in the desert, where it’s mostly sand, but it’s pretty easy to start a fire. Just about everything that isn’t flammable to start with, will become so after baking in the desert sun for a few weeks.

While carpooling the Scouts to a camp out, the troop stopped at a roadside station. Individual boys are discouraged from carrying matches and lighters, but one of them bought a lighter during the stop. Just as the leaders were calling the boys back to the car, there was a loud “whoomp.”

Off to the side of the station, an abandoned car was enveloped in flames. It looked as if it had been doused in gasoline. In fact, the boy had simply lit the dessicated interior on fire.

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