So there I was, in this small (refugee-camp resembling) student village in the south of Israel, questioning the manner in which I make major life decisions (- like, you know, moving to a different country and joining the army). Standing outside of my new apartment, trying to decipher whether the large Amharic message splayed on the front door by the previous tenant is a warning that this place is haunted and or has a severe case of asbestos. Undeterred and eager to get settled in, I bounded right up those steps and yanked the door handle straight out of its socket – looks like some things were going to stand in my way after all.
These past three months were like freshers all over again, but instead of the hip hop room in the student union, you’re attempting to dance to psytrance in some kibbutz’s sorry excuse for a bar. Instead of a Student Loan, you get a Sal Klita and instead of heading to introductory lectures – you roll down to the local army base and get the least friendly peepee touch of your life as part of a routine medical check by a large Russian woman called Klavdiya.
This place can be a bit of a social experiment at times – I guess if you stick this many young adults in a particular place, give them a couple of free evenings and point them at the closest alcohol vendor you’ll end up with the same result. There’s just one other major difference, the one that keeps my mum up at night – the fact that instead of gloomy Birmingham we now live in the middle of nowhere, a mere four kilometers from the infamous Gaza Strip ( – shockingly enough, we are yet to check what the Tinder landscape is like over there).
At the start, it felt like some summer camp. With the programme director’s big welcome speech filled with clichés like ‘Family for a lifetime’ and the superficial small-talk as you try and suss each other out. Yet somehow, these eighty guys and girls from all over the world actually figured out how to live together without strangling one another – bit by bit, through mutual hatred of the food in the dining hall.
Slowly we put all our differences aside and made a life here. It didn’t even take too long for those of us who’ve never lived away from home to figure out that all you really need to do is clean a plate that’s not yours once in a while, keep the noise down during prime nap hours and when it’s necessary, pass some toilet paper to that waiting hand through the mostly-closed bathroom door.
We may come from different cultures, we may be doing this for completely different reasons, but each and every one of us packed our lives up and moved here with the purpose of joining the army – and that’s kind of amazing. After months of stressing myself out at Mum and Dad’s, just waiting to get started, it’s so great to finally be here.
“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”
― Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye