Once again I find myself back in Ortal for a free weekend after being in the army, remarkably, since drafting last Wednesday, tzanchanim have had two weekends off already. Now this may not sound so much, but spare a thought for the November '09 Golani draft, who, since drafting two Mondays ago, have still not been allowed off base (that's closing for '21' i.e. two weekends on base). This only enhances the idea that tzanchanim are just stuck-up, lucky Ashkenazi boys who get whatever they want. Not only that, but the tzanchanim base, where I was this week, is brand-new, American-built and complete with dormitories, bunks and lockers for the soldiers (unlike the cold, stinking tents, where Nachal and Givati soldiers sleep in during basic training).
One week in the army down, only 129 weeks to go!!! My week at base this week is known as 'Trom Tironut' or 'Shavua Efes' (week zero) as, essentially, tironut (basic training) will not start until Monday, once we know which unit will be in for our service. Thus, this week was filled up with three main things: 'klita' (absorption into the army), the gibush for special units and 'avodat rasar' (work around the base). I surprised myself by deciding to take part in the gibush and my experience from it deserves a whole post on its own and will follow this blog.
Last Saturday night, I travelled to Tel Aviv to stay at a friend, in order to arrive to the meeting point on Sunday morning on time. This won't be a regualr occurance and this week, I have already told my temporary commander that I will meeting up later than everyone else, since I'll be travelling straight from the Golan Heights. It will be easier to sort this out once I have a permanent unit and commander, and I should be able to use my rights as a lone soldier and 'tzphoni' (northerner) to exit earlier and come back later every time. So Sunday morning, 600 tzanchanim draftees met in an army bus station 5 minutes from Be'er Sheva, along with hundreds of other soldiers from different units, meeting to get to their bases in the south. I couldn't help to quickly call my parents and tell them how overwhelemed I felt, standing there, as one of the of thousands of young Israelis called by the country to serve its army. From this point, we were taken by bus to the tzanchanim base to start our first week in the army.
This week there were a lot of form-fillings and introductory speeches by people like the 'rasar' (the secretary of the base), whose hour long rant was filled with rules regarding both the upkeep of the base and general army do's and dont's. Uniform perfection was heavily emphasised and we were told about the rules regarding what colour t-shirts, being clean shaven, polishing our boots, wearing our dog-tags, using elastic bands for our trousers and many more. Of course, the army discipline has started to appear (although it will escalate from Monday), from standing in line for the dining room (which serves relatively nice food) to being on time for every activity. We also received our tik bet (a bag of stuff), which contained our 'madey bet' (uniform while on base), water canteens, a sleeping bag, a shovel and a helmet. The uniform for base is not all new, unlike our travelling uniform, and the trousers on me could fit two people.
All in all, I actually had a enjoyable week. The boys in tzanchanim are all really cool guys and by the end of the week I had made friends, despite having problems with the language. In my temporary group they called me 'London' for the first couple of days, but by Friday everyone knew my name and my story. That's another thing, being an oleh hadash (new immigrant) gives you unbelieveable respect amongst the Israelis. Everyone I met was interested to hear about me and always, without fail, said 'kol hakavod' (well done) for what I've done. It felt good knowing that these guys appreciated my big step and I felt honoured to hear people calling me a hero. However, as much as I received praise for making aliyah, I also was asked if I was crazy to leave London (which is considered the best city in the world in the eyes of these Israelis) and voluntarily join the army. But joking aside, my decision to do what I've done and follow my beliefs certainly impressed these guys, both soldiers and commanders.
The army is hard. Having little sleep and trying to be on time in perfect manner is stressful, to say the least. But what's really hard is how being in the army really made me realise how much I miss those around me. Being in that environment alone, depsite having friends, (both new Israeli soldiers and other boys from my programme), and experiencing those moments where I just wanted to drop everything and run back to my parents was hard. I missed my host family, my garin and the kibbutz; but hearing my parents' voices on the phone during my free time was extremely hard for me and showed me how, sometimes I am still just a little mummy's boy who's made a life-changing move by leaving everything. Nevertheless, I have stayed strong, I do not regret my decision for an instant and I realise that the army is hard, even for Israelis. The point of the army is to break you down and its environment emphasises how much you appreciate loved ones, and also time, space and food. It makes the time when I speak to my parents (either on the phone or skype) and when I see them (whenever they come to see me) even more special.
I know it's a long blog, but it has been a long and eventful week. It's hard to fit in all the funny stories that have happened, like when my commander looked at my bum-fluffed face and asked 'ma ze?' (what's this'); I told him I would shave but I never did, what a rebel! I also want to say how I feel so independant at times, especially when travelling the length of the country in army uniform. I am going to do another blog now, dedicated to the mid-week gibush and also what's to come next week. So read on...