So I kept a really simple journal over these past two weeks. I thought it would be a good idea, with just some simple notes on each day I could better recount stuff when I had time to write it down. And it’s not that it was a bad idea, I just found that what came out was kind of dry. The things I ended up remembering the best were the people, not what happened. I didn’t really need to take notes on the friends I made to remember them.
The best times were the down times, the Hebrew lessons in between the real lessons, the joking around, the cigarette breaks. (Sorry Mom, I didn’t smoke all that much, just when it was offered, it was kind of a camaraderie thing.) For those guys a break really isn’t a break without a cigarette. Even when it’s pouring rain, 10 minutes with a cigarette under a shitty open tent with a bunch of guys, commiserating, sharing pictures of current and ex girlfriends, telling dirty stories- saying anything really is what I’ll remember best.
I remember watching my friend dead asleep in his chair on guard duty as we walked over to replace him. I whistled as loud as I could to try and wake him, but it didn’t work. It took the Commanderette 30 seconds of saying his name straight in front of him before he jumped about 3 feet out of his seat.
I can still hear my friend spouting nonsense into the radio on guard duty, laughing my brains out as he told the war-room he had to take a dump and couldn’t understand why they can’t come replace him. I will never understand why they give the only guy alone on guard duty a radio to play with.
I still smell the burning gunpowder as some hooligans took all the live bullets they found on the ground and spelled “Until when?” in Hebrew on the concrete then set it ablaze.
I remember our Platoon Commander’s hidden smile as she couldn’t quite bring herself to yell at us for all our dirty jokes.
And then there was one time when everyone was singing loudly in the showers (as per usual), all singing Israeli music. And I decided that if I was going to join in and sing, I was going to sing what I like. So I threw caution to the wind and belted out “Fly Me to the Moon.” I couldn’t believe it but the shower went dead, and everyone listened. I assume it was because my voice was so different from the nasally quarter tones everyone else was warbling, but after that day, they never left me alone. They’d always ask me to sing whenever we had a minute. Everything from pop-songs to showtunes. I never liked singing for other people. It has always been a really private thing for me. But I had never seen people genuinely asking me to sing for them. So I did. I even learned some Israeli songs and butchered those.
That’s just one example of what I find so different about life here. It is so honest (sometimes brutally so) and without pretense. No one will blow smoke up your ass, and no one does platitudes for the sake of doing them. Whether it’s a blessing or a curse it’s sure as shit refreshing. I found myself growing really attached to everyone, very quickly
The guys were really interested in getting to know me, even the ones that weren’t from my platoon. They could not understand what I was doing there. There were times when I agreed with them. I left an amazing life in the states to sit in the rain, learn mostly unnecessary things, like how to march in straight lines, and how to eat shit from 19-year old girls. But by then end I communicated to them (and to myself) what I was doing there. It was a promise I made to myself, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me. To give up working on my own life, and my own goals to contribute to something I really cared about. And in the end, I benefit as well. I get to move toward the person I always wanted to be. Although it really sucks at times, I don’t think I’ll ever regret doing this.
I got to meet amazing people. Like Oshrii and Moshe, a couple of lanky Ethiopian kids with infectious smiles who found everything funny. Even the commanders couldn’t help but laugh with them sometimes. Or like Shibli and Mohammed, a couple of carefree Druze who could make the best out of any situation. Or Roee, a religious guy with an endless work ethic who we called the Ramatkal (the highest general in the Israeli army). There was Dean, who could charm anyone. Kiril, who was so unwittingly hilarious. And David, one of the most well-meaning guys I ever met. There was Maoz, an incredibly well-educated American who kept my brain and English from withering. Tamer, who wanted to be in combat so bad he would do anything to get kicked out of our Tironut. Shir and Ben would spend the day quoting Israeli stand-up comics, and loved to listen to me curse in English. Benny, a pro-wrestler with a heart of gold, who hated every second of basic (much to my entertainment). I almost feel bad naming people as everyone I got to meet had an incredible story.
And there were people who weren’t so great. Like my Commander, who was the definition of a hard-ass. He would bust on all of us like it was a sport, and he was very good at it. He would walk through the tent and try to steal our weapons if we didn’t have them on us. He would run us all over the base if we had a button undone, or if we moved during formation. The thing is I don’t resent him for doing his job, every platoon needs a hard-ass because most of these kids do really need to learn their place, and learn what it means to be a soldier. I guess my problem with him came when his job came at the expense of human respect. There were just too many times when I would not even feel like a person.
I suppose this comes with the territory. That is what is suppose to happen in basic, they break you down. And I have to admit, I did work harder when he was around. He pulled more out of me than any of the other commanders. And maybe it’s my own ego that makes me feel like I had less to learn about being a solider, that I was mature enough to jump right into it without him breathing down my neck and treating me like shit.
When I did tell him how I felt (I got a chance to break the distance a bit at the end) he said something to me that really stuck with me. He said that he knows he pushed us harder, and that at times it was unnecessary. But when we got back to the tents, and we laid down our weapons, or took our boots off, or had a cigarette, it was all that much sweeter. And it was true. That kind of hard work, far beyond what was necessary, made those downtimes I enjoyed so much. It pushed the envelope, and not just in what I thought I could do, but what I could learn to appreciate. And although he said good job very rarely- it meant the world to me when he did, in spite of myself.