Friday, 8 October 2010

Scrubbing, Sweeping and Shlepping

I have been in Gaza for two weeks now. I did, however, leave last weekend for a reunion of my garin but, due to an almighty powercut on the kibbutz, I was unable to post a blog. So now I am writing about all that has happened in the last fortnight. I am at home today, my last of four days at home, before I go back to the army for a mammoth 17 days, something that will become routine to me for the next six months.

The first two weeks of being in Gaza is not what you would expect, but it was exactly how I expected it. In the army, everything is decided by 'pazam' (the amount of time you have done in the army), for example, I drafted in Nov '09, meaning I have finished one year but still have two years left. Thus, I, along with the rest of my platoon and Nov '09 draft throughout the army, am considered a 'tsair' (youngster) and duely taken advantage of by all the 'vatikim' (veterans - anyone who only has a year left of their service). I'm describing all this because it explains why my last fortnight was filled with continous duties and labour work. I assumed, having finished nearly a year of intense training and qualification, that I was a fully fledged combat soldier and paratrooper in the IDF. Oh no! In fact, I am part of a 24 hour cleaning service, but I am also available to do painting, cooking and heavy removals. That's right, for the last two weeks in Gaza, I was very busy with endless days of kitchen duty, cleaning duty and other stuff where I broke my back carrying heavy objects. Every time one moves to a new base, a lot of setting up is needed, whether that be unloading literally, tens of trucks containing equipment of the company, or simply cleaning the whole base. Of course all this brainless and exhausting work is piled on the youngsters (while the veterans just sit there on sofas and watch!) because that is just the way of how things work.

A typical view of me from this last fortnight; taking out the rubbish!

I admit it was a very frustrating week. Working from morning to night, being ordered around by barking logistical guys and feeling like a low, pointless labourer who's work does not feel appreciated or meaningful, definitely does not equal an enjoyable time. One would expect that the combat soldiers of the army shouldn't really be doing all this sort of work, I mean we're the ones who are constantly protecting Israel's borders and citizens. You'd think that for all the hard work we do; long periods of time away from home, being pushed to our physical and mental limits as part of the training, and experiencing sometimes horrendous conditions on a regular basis, that we would be rewarded for all this. The least you'd expect is that we would be exempt from this sort of torturous work. That's what you're thinking right, well that's we think as well, but this is all part of the 'kravi' (combat) army service. It is frustrating to think that there are soldiers in the IDF who go to the army in the morning, come home in the evening, never close a weekend, are subject to fantastic conditions, sit in an office all day and never have a hard day's work. I've realised though that everything I've been through; a gibush to get into tzanchanim, all the months of training and everything that it incorporates is all worth it, and one day I'll look back on my extremely challening but totally meaningful service, as an experience where I gained and achieved so much, and was defnitely worth it.

5.30am. 2 hours sleep. Pointless guard duty of the company gun rack. Yep, it's definitely worth it (!)

So my experience of Gaza so far hasn't been ideal. There was one night, for instance, where after working in the kitchen from 6am to 9pm and then doing company duties until 3am, I finally collapsed on my bed. However, the relief was shortlived, as I was called upon to do some guard duty for another two hours! My dream of getting more than three hours sleep was brutally shattered and this incident was one of several last week. Despite this, I haven't felt low at all, in fact I am really happy with my new platoon, new company and the fact that everyone knows me, albeit as the English one. I am quite excited for my time in Gaza, it will definitely been an interesting experience, which will probably mean that I'll definitely need to be a bit more careful what I write on the blog. As much as I love to fill you guys in with a complete and honest account of what I'm doing, there will be some things in 'kav Gaza' that shouldn't be posted on a public blog. I'll do my best to make it a good read though! The only thing I'm concerned about at the moment is the 17:4 schedule, but thanks to my recent purchase of an iPhone, I hope to survive the 17 days on base by keeping up to date with facebook, football and friends.

I apologise is this blog seems a bit lengthy but there was one more episode that I wanted to talk about. When arriving to my base next to Gaza for the first time, I got there a lot later than everyone else (due to living in the Golan Heights), which meant I had to walk around 3km to the base at night. I walked for around ten minutes on this deserted path, until I turned a bend in the road and saw what was ahead of me, the Gaza strip, alluminated by lights. For some reason seeing that place all light up at night panicked me a little bit, it's hard to describe how I felt when I saw Gaza like that, but it was a strange feeling of apprehension. My visions of Gaza is that from news programmes and documentaries, but to see it with my own eyes was a weird sensation; it is a real place, with streetlamps, houses and people inside, some of whom want to kill me. I wasn't scared and I am still not scared of being there or the job we are there to do, but it was just a brief moment of anxiety, where I could see this infamous area up close and it hit me hard that being deployed there is serious stuff. Nevertheless, life on base is like that of any other, with constant jokes and laughs. From inside our base you would never know that a mere few kilometres away is Israel's most hostile border.

A distant Gaza.

That's about it for now. I go back to the army tomorrow for 17 days straight, which will be a hard challenge to get used to. The blogs from now on will only be one (or two, if I have the time on a weekend or there is a lot to talk about) every three weeks, just so you know, but continue to comment on the posts, as I'll have access to internet now, while on base. Have a good week everyone, and a good three weeks for me!!!

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