Thursday, April 7, 2011

Coffee, Carrots and the Ties that Bind

I do not like coffee. Nor do I drink it much. But I respect ceremony, and know a cultural landmark when I taste one. Sitting down to drink a small cup of sweet Turkish coffee in the army is about brotherhood, tradition and that most respected of IDF principles, tash (Israeli slang for the good things in the military: eating, chilling and the like). Drinking coffee in the army works along the same lines of the coffee breaks Israelis love to take on hikes. One of the kibbutz or national religious kids whips out a fanny pack with chipped glasses, a propane gas stove and a small pot. Coffee powder and much sugar is added, vaffelim (wafers) are produced, and the sweet, syrupy, piping hot mix is passed around a short time later.

Another thing I do not especially like is barbed wire. Like coffee, for better or worse, barbed wire also has its moments in the life of a soldier. A pause in my unit's relentless string of misakmim, a week of field training randomly scheduled in the midst of this month's three rigorous final exercises, unexpectedly showcased both the sweet drink and the sharp wiring. With few drills to work on, my guys spent more time drinking coffee than playing soldier. When we did strike out into the undergrowth, barbed wire was our most dangerous foe. Men returned from the field with pants torn and hands bleeding, stern legacies of a foe that was only forgotten after a few extra cups of especially sweet java.

My guys and I were not the only ones eating and chilling the week away. On our first day in the wilderness, a gargantuan dumpster drove up and emptied millions of carrots around our tents. No one had any idea why someone had decided to turn the ground orange. The answer came the next morning when we were awoken by the sound of moos and the smell of fresh cow pie. We had pitched camp, it seemed, on the grounds of the annual carrot eating cow confab. Without permission to pitch our camp elsewhere, there was nothing to do but try our best to drill and chill alongside the carrots and cattle.

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