Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Mexican Far From Home

(This is a post about trom, the week or so before placement into your actual unit. See the previous post's beginning for an explanation)

During trom, which is not technically basic training, they still want to keep you busy. So, instead of a gun you carry around a shovel. We did everything from clearing small rocks from fields to putting small rocks into pretty little rows. I even saw one group creatively make the Golani olive tree, the logo of the brigade, on their front lawn. That was pretty impressive.

One particularly boring day we had to take rocks from one yard to another. It was mindless busy work that had no point, but you had to do it all the same. I placated my annoyance with the knowledge that even the Special Forces guys all had to do this in the beginning of their service. It’s just a part of being a nobody in the army.

Brace for a bad transition:

I am from, as I’ve belabored before, rural Virginia. That being said, I live in a farming area, and as per usual in America, these areas are highly populated with Hispanic, largely Mexican, laborers and immigrants. That’s just the way it works. Being that I grew up in that environment, I have a strong association between Hispanics and manual labor, however spurious and egregious it may be. I realize Hispanics work in all fields, from farming to medicine, and I hope I haven’t offended anyone too badly.

Anyway, I was busily transporting some rocks when I looked over and saw my friend, a convert from Mexico, squatting down next to some pebbles with his shovel in one hand, chin in the other, slowly and repeatedly poking at the ground. With the shovel’s point he was picking at a stone in the earth, not doing anything but killing time, obviously bored. I felt bad for making any kind of association between his background and this form of work, but I admit I made the association.

Now, the reputation of the Mexican laborers, at least where I’m from, is that they are one of the hardest working groups of people you can find. I have enormous respect for their continuance in the face of all the struggles they have overcome, for their plight, and enormous respect for a work ethic I have seen first hand.

I found it ironic, however, that my association of a Mexican manual laborer was so off track here in Israel. And even more connected to the association was that this guy converted to Judaism, moved to Israel, became a citizen, and here he is working the ground! He kind of moved far away from America’s farmlands to be stuck doing the same thing, right? Is that bad to say or think? It’s ironic, right?

Anyway, I went over to the guy, a friend of mine, in all honesty (he speaks great English), and I asked him what’s up.

“Hey man, this sucks,” I offered.


“Nice work you’re doing there,” I joked.

He smiled and continued picking slowly at the same rock buried deep underground. He looked up at me, laughed, and through his smile said, “I’m not that kind of Mexican.”

True story.


Anonymous said...

You know in some places in Israel (not Tel Aviv and maybe not Jerusalem), where manual labor and work ethic is considered as a social ideal, and farming and other types of labor are considered as any other profession, but a physically harder one.
Yes they were just giving you things to do to pass the time, but it probably wasn't meant to demeaning you as you and the Mexican guy may have felt.
I once got "Avodot Rasar" (landscaping duty) to paint all of the rocks in the base (and some buildings) and the only color they had was Bazooka pink. The base commander was probably so disgusted by the color that within 2 days we were called back and painted the whole base white. And it took a few coats of white to cover the Bazooka pink.

aguelmann said...

This is one of these stories that make all this worthwile, doesn't?!

By the way, I just discovered your blog, and as a 31 year-old future IDF soldier, I'm sure we will talk a lot in the near future...shalom, chaver!

Unknown said...

Hahahahaha. Just laughed out loud at work. It's almost 6am. I've been the only one here since I came in.

Pretty funny though. You could argue that he is a disgrace to what is viewed by Americans his primary cultural trait. Insanely hard worker.

Anonymous said...

A long time ago (20+ years) we painted rocks in the Negev. It may sound strange but in a tank base we lined up walkways and roads with rocks. All kind of rocks, small ones to huge ones. Than painted them white and washed them about once a week. We made up all kind of songs and words about painting and washing rocks. Some to the tune of pooggi songs. Than it seemed funny and stupid, now it seems really stupid :-) But overall it was one of the best times I had with any bunch of guys. Painting rocks and fixing tanks is not a bad thing to do for Israel. Good writing and good luck!