LO MEDABER! (No talking), TAFSIKU LAZUZ (Don’t move), KOL HA’ANAYIM ALIE (All eyes on me), ANI LO CHAVERA SHELCHA (I am not your friend)
Stand in ACHSHEV! Shalosh, Steim, Echad ACHSHEV HAMEFAKEDET!
Technically speaking the first day of Marva was only half a day because we started after lunch, but it felt like three. I was cold as we were standing in achshev waiting for specific instructions on when to go put on the uniform we had just received in our kit bags. As I had just learned achshev is standing straight with your feet in a Dorothy like “V” position, and your hands clenched into fists with arms straight down by your side. Also, your canteen must be on the ground touching your heels with the indent facing forward and the plastic loop holder facing to the left. You can never move without your water bottle. Even if you only need to take a step to the left it must come with you, and it must always be full. After we changed in seven minutes and ran back to our chet positions it was getting dark already and the wind wasn’t backing down. My feet were so cold I couldn’t feel my toes…a non-existent feeling that I would have to get used to. We were broken up into different sevets or teams and the only person from my program I am with is my friend Zoe. After a long chaotic half of a day we were taken to tent 6 where we joined 16 or 17 other girls for the night. The flaps of the tent could not protect us from the wind and the there was barely any room in the tent to move. I had been thrown into a completely different world in a matter of hours. I guess I wasn’t paying attention when my Madricha said goodbye, and that she was no longer in charge of us— the army was. As I crawled into my army sleeping bag my body was still clenched to try and protect myself from the wind and the cold. My feet and my face were both still numb, and that was the first moment I realized that the cold was not going away. I could be cold for the next 8 weeks. I lay there as the rest of the tent began to settle into their sleeping bags and suddenly a warm, tingling sensation spread across my cheeks. It was the first warm sensation I had felt since I got there and it was as if my face was thawing from the cover of the sleeping bag. It was only when I looked down and saw a small wet spot on my sleeping bag that I realized it was a tear. My first feeling of warmth came from a hot tear running down my face.
The next few days were also a blur. I was learning all the different rules of the army and the base, but most of the time I was just standing waiting for instructions. I learned that mornings there are absolutely miserable not only because we wake up at 5am, but also because leaving your sleeping bag is like opening the freezer door and sticking your face in. I create a hot box at night when I completely engulf myself in my sleeping bag to stay warm. I also sleep in my gloves, neck warmer, and hat as well as layers on layers of clothing. After the first night, we were moved to the classrooms to sleep because the tents were too dangerous. Three of them had collapsed and flooded the first night. We were in the middle of Israel’s biggest storm from the last 20 years, and we were getting news of snow in Jerusalem, and Tel-Aviv for the first time ever. It only rains about 12 days a year in the desert, and my first week of Marva was 6 of those days…
On day three our Madrachim came to visit us, and to be at the opening gun ceremony. The only useful things I had learned were from the two classes we had on guns. The classes were interesting, but it was hard to focus because we were inside and sitting down. Even sitting in the uncomfortable achshev position was not enough to keep us all from dozing off. We were not used to the early mornings yet, and the classrooms provided protection from the wind and the rain. At the opening ceremony we finally received our guns that we would be carrying around with us for the next two weeks. We were standing outside in the freezing cold with spiting rain for about 2 hours before my name was finally called to get my gun. I ran back to my spot with the m-16 that had my name labeled on it in Hebrew. I thought to myself, see I knew this would all be worth it. But then 5 minutes later when my hand was frozen in its position holding the gun I was already over it. Then the Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, began to play and I felt like it was a good experience again as I was singing a long with everyone to close my first ever military ceremony. Approximately 8 minutes later my arm was killing me from the gun, and I no longer thought it was cool. We have to always be with our gun. We eat and sleep with it, and you have to be looking at it even when you shower and go to the bathroom.
Day four was one of the most miserable mornings because I had to stand and wait an hour and a half for breakfast with the unforgiving wind and rain. But later that day I had the most fun activity I could possibly think of—kitchen duty! I am not joking when I say kitchen duty was the most fun I had up to that point. I washed dishes for three hours and I honestly could not have been happier. My entire sevet asked if we could do kitchen duty again. Kitchen duty was inside and I got to have my hands under hot water for three whole hours! Having completely pruned hands for the rest of the day was definitely worth the three hours of warmth. We also had a class that day on the Israeli army motto “purity of arms”. As our discussion escalated and someone said something unexpected and the room busted out in laughter. Our mefakedet, or commanding officer, had to turn around because even she started to smile. Once we all saw her smile for the first time we began to be obsessed with trying to make her smile. She only smiled two more times during the first 12 days.
On day five they started giving out punishments for things we did wrong. Before they would just yell at us and say in Hebrew “in Marva that will be punished”. There are three types of punishments. The first is push ups which you can get for moving when standing in achshev, laughing, talking, being late to a chet, or disrespecting an officer. The second type of punishment is called tikniyut and it means you have to wake up 15 minutes earlier and be ready outside in the morning. You can get tikniyut for anything you did wrong involving your uniform. If you move with your hat on after 5pm then you can get it. If your zipper isn’t zipped all the way up. I got it the first day for having a blue hair band in instead of a black one. I also got it the next day for forgetting to take my hat off the second I walked into a building. The last type of punishment is called komemut, which involves showing up 15 minutes early in the morning but with your army vests from our kit bags. One can get this punishment for not having their canteen filled all the time or for not having their hat or canteen on them at all times.
On day six the sun came out for the first time and it was just in time for Shabbas. The army observes Shabbat meaning though I had to stay on base I was free to do what I wanted (sort of). On a normal weekday we only get one hour to ourselves each night. This time is to change to sleeping clothes, shower, brush our teeth, and call our loved ones. It seems like a long time, but the bathrooms are a few minutes walk from our classrooms and the lines for the showers are long. There are way too many girls sharing two small bathrooms. On day seven (Shabbat) I finally had time to take my first shower on base. And even then there was a line for the open showers. In the showers everything is open and visible to everyone and the shower is more like a spicket of water but it was still one of the best showers I have ever had. I didn’t even care that my feet were soaking in everyone’s dirty shower water that wouldn’t go down the drain because at least they were warm. As I was dressing in the stall I was listening to all the Spanish kids speaking in the bathroom. About 85% of the Marva participants are from Spanish speaking countries so as English speakers we are a minority. I hear Spanish every day now, and it reminds me of my good friend from high school, Elise Karsten. Elise and I had Spanish together since sophomore year, and our senior year we had all six of our classes together. We were also co-captains of the soccer team meaning I spent a lot of time with Elise. Fortunately she is waiting for me at Chapel Hill and when I get there next year we are going to rush together and try out for the club soccer team. I was still putting all my layers back on when an American walked in and the conversation switched to English. The conversation was typical for Marva including discussions on how we can be friends with our mefakedets when Marva is over, and arguments on how old they all are (probably somewhere between 18 and 22). I put on my “clean” second uniform shirt and pants, and stuffed some emergency toilet paper in my lower left pants pocket and my upper right shirt pocket. My upper left shirt pocket always has my toothbrush and my toothpaste because I don’t have time to brush my teeth in the morning if I don’t carry it with me all day. I quickly put on my neck warmer, ear warmer, hat, and gloves because I felt more naked without them than I did when I was in the shower. I had finally made it through the first week of Marva and I was proud of myself for that, but I was nervous because I knew the next week would be even harder.
Some general information from the first week includes the following. I hadn’t changed clothes at all. I always had on leggings, long johns and uniform pants. On top I always had on two long sleeve shirts, a sweatshirt, my uniform shirt, and my uniform jacket. I slept with all that and my hat, gloves, and neck warmer. I washed my hair in the sink once, and I washed my face every other day. My feet were so cold at every point of the day that they felt wet. Even though they were dry and I had two pairs of wool socks on they were so cold the felt wet through and through. My heels hurt from standing in achshev all the time, and my left shoulder hurt from carrying the gun with the gun strap. The only good thing was the tea. They had very good hot tea at breakfast and dinner. We all would put it in out canteens and hold it to our faces to get some warmth for 10 or 15 minutes. But when the tea got cold and I took a sip it kind of tasted like good ol’ southern Bojangles sweet tea. I’m sure it didn’t taste exactly like Bojangles, but I haven’t had anything that close to sweet tea in a while so it was good enough for me.
Day eight was the first day of shetach or field week. It was too cold to go the field so we just stayed on base on got yelled at all morning. Lunch was fun because we ate outside the meal that soldiers eat in the field, and it was a bright and sunny day. The food I ate all during field week was the same as the boxes of food I packed for soldiers during the operation. It includes tuna, beans, bread and corn. We ate the same meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner…actually we were lucky if they gave us a box for breakfast. Breakfast during field week was just chocolate milk and chocolate pudding. It made me miss the crappy cornflakes and hard-boiled eggs we got during the first week in the chader ochel. During lunch outside some of the soldiers on the base were blasting music through a sterio. Beyonce’s Love On Top started playing and it reminded me of my Shaina girls and all the good times we had together. By this time I had realized that Marva was a roller coaster in terms of my happiness and emotions. When I was miserably uncomfortable and cold I was not very happy, but a little warmth changed everything. I figured this is how it would be for the rest of the time, and I will feel very good when it is all over.
Day nine was a sad morning as I watched Scabies claim its next two victims. For those who don’t know scabies is a mite that causes an itchy rash. There had been a bunch of cases of Scabies on the base, and the rumor was that the sleeping bags and blankets they gave us had the parasite living in some of them. On day nine my good friend Zoe and one of my new friends Zander (from Texas) were diagnosed and sent home with Scabies. Luckily for me day nine was the first day we actually did cool army activities. They took us to the shooting range and I shot an m-16 gun for the first time. I hit 8 of my 10 bullets on the paper, 2 in the small black bulls eye area, and 1 directly in the middle of it. The distance was 25 meters, and I was very proud of my results. Later the same day we had our first army physical examination. We were told to do as many sit-ups as we could up to 86 and as many push ups up to 48. Then we all went outside the base to run 2km. Not only did I feel free from running outside the base, but also to be running in normal clothing and not my uniform made it even more of an exhilarating feeling. I was 10th to finish out of about 60 people and I ran the 2k in about 8 minutes. I had forgotten how much I missed exercise. Only two more days until my first weekend off.
On day ten we finally made it out to the field. We started by poring water on the ground and rubbing the dirt all over our faces to camouflage ourselves. My mefakedet told me to put dirt on my lips, and that the really good soldiers even put it on their teeth. We stuffed desert vegetation in our vests and pockets to try and make our shadows look less like human figures. We practiced walking and crawling during the day and night, and we built a shelter in 30 minutes out of rocks and dry plants. After lunch we had an hour visit from our madrachim from year course. When they pulled up with pizza, soda, and cookies it was like being in a completely different world from Marva. I washed off all the dry dirt on my lips with the pizza and soda. It was so nice to see their smiling faces, and to hug them. But per usual it was over so quickly and before I knew it they were pulling away and I was back in the field with my sevet standing in achshev. The night was quickly approaching, as was the cold. The desert sunset behind the mountain was beautiful. The color was a dim orange that faded into a light grey which turned into a light purple almost like lavender, and then to a soft Carolina blue before the top layer of the sunset which was a dark blue. We were standing as my mefakedet taught us the signals and code for communicating at night without talking. As I continued to listen the starts began to sprinkle the sky, and the sunset was gone.
On day 11, our last full day before a break, we went on our first masa meaning journey. It was kind of like a hike but we were constantly stopping to crawl or lay in shooting position. It would have been easy to run that distance normally but doing all of that stuff with all the clothes, and the vest, and the gun and everything else made it very hot and very difficult. Basic training is a lot harder then it looks. The fact that everyone in Israel has to go through this when they turn 18 still blows my mind. Not only do they have to do basic training, but also they actually serve in the army for a few years, and possibly die for their country. In America we often take for granite that we live in a country that is safe and doesn’t need national protection and fighting to be secure all the time. I was thinking about all this as we continued our journey to the shetach. We had green, black and brown war paint all over our faces and we looked like a real army unit marching and kneeling in shooting positions all down the side of the road. Cars would honk as they passed us, and some would slow down to get a closer look. When we finally made it to the field we had a race among the nine sevets to see who could do everything we learned the best and then run to the top of the mountain. This race was the other two times I saw my mefakedet smile. She is a bit competitive so I’m glad we made her happy by winning the race. After we ate dinner in the dark we were told to climb a different mountain again but in silence without getting seen by an officer. By the end of the day it hurt to move. Every muscle on my body was sore, and I could not wait to start my free weekend the next day.
The state of being dependent for existence on or determined in nature, value, or quality by relation to something else.
The classroom I slept in was warm relative to outside, but cold compared to my apartment in Arad (which is usually pretty cold as well). The gun I carry is light relative to the 20 pounds of water I carried during the first half of the masa hike. The chader ochel food is good relative to the field week food. And the tea…well the tea was just pretty damn good.
Everything is relative. My knowledge from psychology class senior year crossed my mind. I remembered Mrs. Koch’s lesson on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And though I often slept late and skipped psych class I always seem to remember everything I learned from that class. Maslow said that certain needs come first such as food and water. Other needs such as love/belonging and esteem come only when your basic needs are acquired. Everyone’s needs are relative based on what they already have.
-crammed in the classrooms (very little space to move)
- cold in the classrooms
- dirt all over the floor/ mattresses/ sleeping bags/ everything
- scabies in the sleeping bags
- no toilet paper in the bathrooms
- mud and dirt all over the bathroom floor
- few bathrooms for a lot of girls
- eat on the ground without plates
- everything is shared
- wait very long before we get food, sometimes hours
- basically we live in a disease pool
Everything is relative. I am reading a book my mom brought me called it happened on the way to war. It was written by Rye Barcott a former Marine who attended UNC Chapel Hill. Compared to Rye Barcott who spent his summers in Kibera, Kenya (one of the biggest slums in Africa) my living conditions are amazing. I am guaranteed three meals a day. We have running water. I am safe during the night from thugs and criminals. I may be living in incredibly dirty and unhealthy conditions, but I know if I wake up one morning too sick to move that I have access to a doctor and medicine on the base. Everything is relative. But no matter what my conditions are (and they are always changing) it is important to remember what my friend Yoav said to me on day four or five. He asked me how I was doing and I told him I did not like the cold. He looked at me and put his hand on my shoulder (but not for longer than 3 seconds so we didn’t get punished for touching) and he said, “Rach, happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy. So just do it”.
And with that I have attempted to explain what the last two weeks have been like for me. This only begins to cover everything that has happened to me in the past 14 days, but this post is already too long and there is much to do in what little time I have left before returning. Next week is North week so I will be on different bases up north, and then south week after that. My Israel phone is the only way to contact me so if it is urgent then give me a call, and I will try to call back when I can. If not then call my parents because I am usually in contact with them on most days. I apologize for the numerous grammar mistakes but I do not have time to edit this. I hope you enjoyed hearing a taste of the army luck and wish me luck and warmth in the coming weeks—because I will need a lot of both.