In order to try and get us ready for the gibush and the army in general, we have a weekly training session with one of the kibbutzniks. They have gradually been getter harder and the last two were the worst ones yet. These sessions happen on a Monday night and normally last 45 minutes. The one last week was particularly difficult, involving sprints and the dreaded 'matsav shtayim' (press-up position) on hard rocks. That last excersize is always the final bit of the session and it really pushes us mentally, as for 30 seconds at a time, we have to hold our already tired bodies above the floor, with our knuckles facing down onto these sharp stones. Although the cuts on our hands and heaviness of arms are painful, its the pure agony of trying to not fall, which pushes us. Especially since the guy counts down like this: 30 (four second gap) 29... and towards the end, 3 - 2 - 2 - 2 -1 etc. Anyway it is all good fun and when, in this week's session, we were lying on our backs raising our legs in the air and the rain just started pour, I got that feeling of being in Eretz Yisrael.
Some of us boys after the latest training session.
Which leads me onto another thing that has dramatically changed, the weather. From wearing shorts and flip flops every day to ulpan, I now need wear a coat when leaving the room and a dressing gown at night. Although it rained everywhere in Israel this week, here in the Golan Heights and Ortal in particular it is entirely different, considering that there was a mini tornado at the kibbutz the other day, which made it into the news! On top of the miserable weather, last weekend wasn't made any better by the fact that Spurs fell apart at the end of the first half to the scum of North London. I managed to watch the whole game here in my room, but would have preferred not to as my Arsenal roommate would not let it go for the rest of the day. The win over Sunderland has not really eased the wounds.
A typical ulpan lesson, which have now finished, as our three month programme comes to an end.
The army was always a serious issue but now things are just getting too scary to deal with. One girl from our garin, Yael, has already been drafted and has since returned on the fortnightly free weekend, in uniform. Seeing one of our fellow garin members in her 'aleph' (travelling/nice uniform) without any badges or pins, due to the fact that she had only completed one week of 'tironut' (basic training), just enhanced the reality of it all. Not only that, but also her gruelling stories of how hard it has been so far, what with the time limits, poor conditions, shouting commanders, physical punishments and more, only terrified everyone. Rememeber, this torturous period will only last 3 weeks for most girls but for us combat boys, 4 months of more intense levels, not including the 4 more months of advanced training. I have still got a couple of weeks before I sign away my body and soul, but the thought of, literally, one whole year (but really 3) of phsyical, mental and psychological hell sometimes makes me question why I left the luxury of university life. But then I think how not only does every Israeli have to do this in order to protect his fellow Jews, but also why I, ideologically, am putting myself through all this change and harship, in my attempt to fulfill my dreams. That is what will keep my going.
Interrogating the garin's first soldier!!!
On a more positive note, the other day I had my first driving lesson in Israel. As an existing holder of a foreign license I am entitled to some benefits regarding the changing of my driving license; mainly, not having to do as many lessons, cheapers prices etc. Anyway last week, about 6 people from our garin went out in two cars with two instructors as part of our first lesson (I'll probably have two more lessons in inner-city Tiberias, where I will hopefully be ably to take my test before going into the army.) So, in the two cars, we drove from Ortal to Haifa (to register our driving licenses) and back again, all in all, I drove for about an hour and a half through the picturesque Northern Israel. First of all, I had to get used to driving on the other side of the road, sitting on the other side of the car and using the other hand to change gears, nevertheless, after a couple of minutes it all seemed normal. The funny bit of the day, for me, was how travelling at 80kmh down the side of some sort of cliff, all I can hear, is the instructor shouting 'ten gaz, ten gaz' (which means accelerate more). Typically Israeli, can you imagine an English instructor saying that to you during a driving lesson? Also, I don't think he once told me to look in my mirrors and, during several moments, nudged me to overtake some relatively fast cars.
So, as you can tell, things are starting to get wrapped up here at the kibbutz. Ulpan has finished, some of the girls have gone or are soon to be going into the army and us boys have about three weeks to mentally and physically prepare ourselves for the biggest shock and most intense, but also rewarding challenge of our lives. I still don't quite believe how quick everything has happened and also how I actually went through with what I actually always dreamed of. Next blog I am sure will all be about the gibush that is happening on Tuesday (!). Wish me luck.