December marked the all-important one year anniversary of my army service. This meant several things. I’m now over halfway through the two years I signed up for, and am now what Israelis call “pachot tzair” :I’m finally considered someone who isn’t a complete newbie. Given this newfound status of mine, I have decided that now is the perfect time to impart some of the wisdom I have gathered over the past 12 months.
How to sleep anytime, anywhere
During training, sleeping time is carefully planned out and calculated down to the very last minute. You receive absolutely no more and no less than the compulsory amount, and however tired you may be, being told you’re going to sleep early in the evening is never a good thing because it means that wake up will be just as early.
However, the seven hours will never be exactly seven hours. For example, if you happen to be put on guard duty that night? Well you can kiss goodbye to at least an hour of that time. Someone in your room talking after lights out? You can either throw a pillow at her or put it over your own face but either way, those seven hours are ticking away fast.
So what does one do? Well, learn to sleep at every given opportunity of course. Five minute break between classes? Nobody said anything about not sleeping on two chairs pushed together did they?
Picky eating is for civilians only
Three months of my training were spent on a giant training base, notorious to any soldier who has ever spent any length of time there, for the quality and standard of its food.
Images of fluorescent yellow rice and greying chicken continue to haunt me to this day. Several of my friends committed to surviving on bread and chocolate spread alone, but I was determined. And that’s how I discovered that so long as the food isn’t showing visible signs of mould and decay, the right amount of hummus can make anything edible.
Of course this was before the kitchens were shut down for giving 2,000 trainee soldiers food poisoning.
How to do 60 things in 60 minutes
During training, soldiers are given one hour of free time a day, every day. In this free hour they are expected to do everything from talk on the phone, shower, prepare uniform and equipment for the next day and find a moment to breathe and remember that at the end of every week comes a weekend. This sounds like an impossible task, especially when you factor in that for the 120 girls who slept in one building (ten per room as is the standard) there was a grand total of three showers. Not exactly the height of luxury. In order to survive and make it through to the end of the hour whilst achieving all you had to do, you had to come ready with a strategy. From the moment your commander pressed start on her stopwatch, wasting even a single second of those 60 minutes would be a crucial mistake.
Everyone had different strategies, but they all boiled down to the same basic idea. Kill or get killed (figuratively).
Some girls preferred to run to the showers and claim their spot first, throwing towels and toiletries in all directions. These girls were generally the fastest ones, the ones who knew that if they ran they wouldn’t be running for nothing.
Then there were the girls who went straight for their phones, to call parents, boyfriends, and anyone else willing to listen to them talk. These girls would usually look up 10 minutes before the end of time and realise they hadn’t gotten anything done.
The last category is the category I fell into. The girls who would half heartedly try and make it to the showers first, but usually found themselves wandering around in circles afterwards, trying to get everything done whilst at the same time making sure nobody stole their spot in the line for the showers. I like to think of us as underachieving over-achievers.
At the end of every week comes a weekend
No matter how hard things might have seemed at the time, no matter how endless the days or how cold it is at 4am when you have to wake up for the early morning shift, there’s always a weekend in sight. It might be far but it will be there. Sometimes things seem impossible. Sometimes the silver lining is so thin that it seems impossible to find.
Sometimes I’ll return to base on a Monday morning and not leave again for three weeks, or even a month. I’ll miss events at home, parties with friends, and seeing friends and family. And of course its hard. And of course nobody enjoys it. But a popular topic of conversation whilst we work here is weekend plans. We’ll talk about what we did last weekend, and what we want to do the next time we go home. Because sometimes in order to survive the present moment, you need to look ahead to the future and remember that no matter how long the week, eventually, somehow and somewhere, the weekend will arrive.