After basic, I was given a slip of paper to report to the Bakoum. For those who don’t remember, that’s the enlistment center where I spent my first day. What was supposed to happen was that I was suppose to see an assignment officer (or Kzin Miyun) and get my assignment and be off.
I ended up meeting up with my friend David from tironut (basic) on the way there. This was good because I never would have found the way on my own. Once I arrived I saw a few more faces I recognized from tironut which was nice. I had a wait ahead of me, which all in all was not too bad. There was a television, a covered area, and plentiful food- definitely better than guard duty. My wait only ended up being about 4 hours or so.
I was finally called in, and started to get nervous. This is the guy who was going to (finally) decide what I was doing. They said go in and tell him everything you need to say because you will only see him once, which definitely added some more pressure. I went in, and tried to sputter out in Hebrew everything I needed to say. How I was a lone soldier and volunteer, about all my skills, how I wanted to be in the journalism unit, how I was making a very hard decision. I think I got about halfway through before he stopped me and told me there was no way at all he could send me to Dover Tzahal (the Spokesman Unit). I thought that was the end of it, but he said he’d double check and sent me outside.
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.
Sorry these posts are getting a bit long, lot of stuff happens!
Although the first two weeks were somewhat of a cake walk, these last two weeks were trying. My friend Maoz may have put it best: Nothing here is all that challenging or difficult, it is simply the endless repetition and senseless redundancy that wears you down.
I checked the weather report before heading for the morning train on Sunday- it bode very poorly. Rain. Rain all fucking week. While this is normally a blessing in Israel, it was scaring the shit out of me, cause all I could think about was our torn and tattered 30+ year old tents. Somehow I didn’t believe that they would hold up, or that I would hold up. I was already feeling sniffly since Friday.
So I’m sorry it’s been a while, but between basic and the crazy week of actually finding out my job I haven’t had much time to write. But I guess I’ll pick up where I left off in Basic.
Getting back from the first weekend home was a little harder than I expected. Although nothing in Basic had been too hard up to this point, who the hell really wants to go back to 4am wake-ups and sleeping in a frozen tent. I managed to pack a little lighter trimming a lot of this shit I didn’t need- like books or any sort of fun.
Arriving at the train station was a bit of a trip. I ran into some of the guys from the platoon, which was really nice- reminded me that I actually like it here sometimes. But I also saw a couple of the commanderettes, which was a little like seeing a teacher out of school. Seeing them gab about earrings and nailpolish remover like the 19-year old girls they were didn’t really help the issue I’m having respecting their authority. Though to be honest, it’s not all that hard, most of them have worked quite hard on that “bitch-face” of theirs.
So after giving you guys my impressions, I figured I’d hit you with a little day to day to fill you in on what it’s like out here.
The first day (after a weird night of sleeping in a freezing tent with people I didn’t know) was bizarre. We started learning the ropes. We had a lot of what they call opening conversations, where the different commanders of the unit introduced themselves all the way up, giving you their army background, their expectations, and their pet peeves.
We also had interviews with all the different commanders. Most of the company had interviews up to platoon commander (the first officer), but for some reason me and the other American kept moving up the chain up to the company commander. It might have been because we were lonely soldiers or because we had high Kabah scores (Kabah is your mental and psychological quality assessment, it’s based on testing and interviews in your army process and takes into account upbringing and background, it’s a strong factor for acceptance into a lot of the selective army units). The thing was meeting all the commanders was interesting, although it was the same questions over and over again. They are all surprised that I am here, that I came alone or even came at all. I can’t tell whether it’s because of their low expectations of Americans, the fact that all they do all day is deal with 18 year olds who don’t want to be there, or because what I’m doing is harder than I realize. Either way, it’s nice to be appreciated off the bat.
I figured I’d take some time to introduce you guys to my unit. I’m gonna try to keep it vague so as not to offend anyone or get in trouble, so here goes.
The commanders of the unit make up a weird reality show-ish cast of characters. I’m not sure how much I can get away with saying here (god forbid they read it) but I’ll try. There’s the sweetheart, the foxy hard-ass who loves guns, the drill seargentess who breaks and laughs constantly (then makes up for it by running us all over the place), and the abusive father I’ve never had. The last seems to have really taken an interest in making sure I get the “army experience.” I’m usually one of three guys actually running and doing everything properly (to the best of my ability), but the guy still picks out every tiny minor mistake I make. It’s ridiculous, I find myself fighting for his approval at times; I have to remind myself constantly that he’s 2 years younger than me, and probably a regular guy on the weekends.
I love my platoon, it’s the greatest mix of guys. Maybe I’m stuck in a little infatuation, but even the ones who don’t want to be there are just downright good guys. It’s an amazing mix of all Israel has to offer. There are a few Druze, who are hilarious and speak this bizarrely beautiful blend of Arabic and Hebrew. There are the Ethiopians, who are so good-hearted, but just don’t understand the army culture – the result is incredibly funny exchanges with the commanders which usually end up with very unjust punishment. Everyone sticks out in a funny way from the russians, to the Arseim (the israeli equivalent of the guido, loves Mizrahi music, fast cars, gold chains, and generally being loud). There is another American, a 26 year-old with a masters degree, who is great to have around. He’s an excellent break from most of the guys because I can have a real conversation with him unencumbered by my language handicap.
Getting off of the bus at night was probably the biggest shock. I was herded into our first formation, and basically ran formations in time for an hour or two. I was introduced to our actual commanders, who proceded to yell at and threaten us for a good hour straight before we even put our bags down. Only after I put some stuff down did I begin to take in my surroundings.
The base I’m at is called Machaneh Shmonim. It’s an old, old base- a relic from the British occupation. I sleep in yellowed, torn tents at least 30 years old, all clearly demarcated by a US ARMY stamp. The whole place looks a little run down, with frayed roads and barbed wire fences littered with clothes and shoes. But it’s set in an absolutely beautiful area on the hillside town of Pardes-Chana, which overlooks Ceasaria. The air is clean and the view is spectacular. The base is full of Eucalyptus trees and on break I often find myself marveling at just how beautiful it is. I’m not on break often, but when I am it’s helpful to sit back and come back to myself a bit.
Fuck-ups galore. All of the criticism I’ve heard about the army being nonsensical and inefficient were totally validated on my first day here. It was a long day, and emotional roller coaster of falling through the cracks.
The first fuck-up of the day came when I had to wake up at 5:30 so I could drive to Jerusalem only to hop on a bus back to Tel Aviv. There was a screw up in my first Army testing assignment, and I was placed in Jerusalem even though it was two hours from where I lived and I gave them a secondary address in Tel Aviv. This meant that no matter how hard I tried, my enlistment was in Jerusalem. Either way, I spent the car ride trying to close my eyes and grab some sleep for what I knew was going to be a long day. Didn’t work.
When I got there I was still coasting on a very labored sense of calm. I looked around and realized that most of the people who were there to enlist were not speaking Hebrew. As I listened closer I started to realize that the enlistment date seemed to be for new immigrants and people in my machal program (volunteers from abroad). I calmed down a bit, realizing I’d probably have a chance to be with other Americans, at least for the first part of basic. I said good bye to my dad and hopped on the bus.
Weird right? The last two months have felt surreal as I’ve waited for, anticipated and dreaded this day. I’ve put my life on hold for this one thing that has become so important to me, and it’s felt as though I’ve hit a pause within a pause. I know tomorrow is going to storm like hell, which is probably why I feel so calm today.
I still don’t know where I’m going to be going. After two weeks of frantic phone calls I am still going into tomorrow somewhat blind. I’m scared, I hate feeling so helpless and out of control of my own life. Which is ironic considering tomorrow I sign my life away for the next year and a half.