My daughter is a Girl Scout, so every now and then when I’m on a field trip with the troop or listening in at one of their meetings, memories from my own Brownie and Junior Girl Scout days come flooding back.
But I must say none of my scouting memories quite measures up to this one, shared with me by my friend Lynette Ledesma, who grew up in the Philippines.
When I was a child, scouting was required of all children in the Philippines. I attended Dole Philippines School, an American school, from Kindergarten through grade 6. I became a Girl Scout in the 1st grade, as a Star Scout.
Star Scouts learned scouting basics: knot-tying, fire-building, hiking, and camping. We were also taught the Girl Scout Promise, Law, and Motto (“Be prepared” – easiest motto ever!). We were taught about civic duty, appropriate conduct for Girl Scouts, and love of our country. There was also great emphasis put on personal hygiene, posture, and the strict guidelines for donning the Girl Scout uniform, which was pleated and required starching and several correctly-placed accessories.
Girl Scouting was a graded subject, and our grades reflected how well we learned the lessons, as demonstrated in written and practical exams. Demerits for less-than-perfect hygiene, posture, and dress were common and also directly affected one’s overall grade.
Lessons became progressively more intense with every year.
In the fifth grade, I became a Junior Scout. Juniors focused on initiative, resourcefulness, and survival — pretty heady ideas for an 11-year old. We were taught about trail signs, first aid, and survival techniques. One essay exam item I remember was, “What kind of survival tool(s) can you make out of a nylon stocking and a safety pin? Consider using your natural environment as well.”
Up until this point, my camping experience was limited to once-a-year, three-night Girl Scout Jamborees, where Star Scouts were “adopted” by Junior Scouts. While we helped out with pitching tents and starting fires, our responsibilities were fairly limited. I have very pleasant memories of working on special crafting projects and participating in campfire skits and performances.
Food was meager, but I always attributed this to what camping was all about.
As a Junior Scout, survival at camp was of ultimate importance, especially as we became painfully aware of the “rules.” The only food items we could bring to camp were rice, oil, salt, and pepper. Everything else had to be derived from our natural environment. Inspections for smuggled goods would be made at the start of camp and randomly throughout the Jamboree.
As an eleven-year old Patrol Leader, I could not wrap my brain around the actual killing of an animal for food. Neither could the rest of my patrol group. My strategy that year was to eat lots of rice and scrounge up enough fruit and vegetables to supplement. Of course, this meant we were constantly hungry and miserable for the entire Jamboree.
The next year we were braver and wiser. Fishing became a very viable option. The fish, we reasoned, didn’t take much to kill. Of course, our Jamboree coordinators wanted to force our hands at “real” hunting and made it known at the start of camp that special badges could be earned for hunting.
I decided to challenge my patrol with the prospect of hunting a small animal. We agreed that exotic animals were out of the question. No one wanted to eat a rodent. After much deliberation, we agreed that fowl would be our best option.
My patrol at the time consisted of six girls, including me. We decided to leave one girl to tend to the fire and boil water for the de-feathering. Another girl was sent off to look for vegetables and aromatics, while a third went to fish at a nearby river just in case our hunting expedition was a bust. Finding security in numbers, three of us set off to look for our prey, armed with a machete which we had originally brought for clearing our campground.
We did it!
We didn’t have to go very far. Wild chickens are plentiful in the Philippine wilderness, and we found a flock just a few minutes’ hike from camp. We decided to go for the plumpest hen of all, thinking it would be tastier, and more importantly, have slower reflexes. We were right; it didn’t take much to chase it down and capture it. We were relieved at how easy this part was.
For a moment, we discussed whether we should kill our chicken on-site or at our campsite. We chose to delay the inevitable and take it back to camp.
On our trek back, we realized that we had successfully avoided discussing any details of the actual slaughter. By the time we got to our campsite, it was determined that someone would have to pin the chicken down by holding the head and the torso while another whacked its head off. A pretty gruesome idea, but we believed it was more humane than wringing the chicken’s neck. As leader of the pack, I decided I would do the dirty deed of the actual whacking while Jasmin, my best friend at the time, held down our prey.
It was a quick and definitive death. I was surprised at how easy it was. The de-feathering step was almost fun, as we put to use all the Girl Scout training we had had on the subject up to that point. In hindsight, it is suprising how quickly we embraced the task at hand. We were proud of our accomplishment and our ability to execute the lessons we had learned in the classroom.
Things only got better from that point forward. We were delighted to discover that our forager had scored a green papaya, horseradish leaves, garlic, and ginger. She had a recipe in mind: chicken tinola, a traditional Filipino gingery chicken soup. She had found for us all the ingredients we would need to make it. Our other patrol member scored two tilapias, which we seasoned with salt and pepper and fried.
Steamed rice, chicken tinola, and fried tilapia: to date, my best camping meal, bar none. It wasn’t the tastiest, by any means, but our twelve-year old hearts were full of pride at our achievements, both individually and as a group.
Our Jamboree leaders could hardly contain their surprise. I suppose they expected this type of performance from the more experienced girls in the next grade up. In the end, our patrol members were each awarded with certificates and badges for our achievements in Hunting.
This will forever be my most memorable experience as a Girl Scout.