As I lay in my bed, I wondered how lucky I had been to be here. All the excited people around me had a story to tell and this was a relief because I felt tense to some extent. New place, new people, new life… It would not be easy especially when I knew no one. I did not have any story to tell – maybe I did, but I had no one to tell. By knowing, I mean someone who I had ‘shared another life’ with. I expected the scenario from primary school to high school when you met other people from the same class and you knew this was going to be easy. I do not know where my friends – Ben, Ray and Gus were and I felt so alone at that point.
After the scramble for the beds was over, calm was restored, and people continued telling their stories but in low tones. I wondered how some of these people could have known each other so fast. I figured maybe they were from the same neighborhood or they just knew each other in the bus on their way to Eldoret. Unlike now, when I have a load of books on my phone, back then the C168 was quite a boring piece of technology. I could not text since it was expensive & I actually had no one to talk to; the only thing I could do was to stalk chat rooms. That chatroom by Waptrick if you could recall. It was boring as well because there was nothing of importance being discussed there. Those who had wives and girlfriends were busy on the phone talking to them. Most repeated phrase being “All seems fine here”. At some point, I wished I had someone to talk to as well. Let us say this was loneliness. Seriously it was. You see, novels and movies make it so romantic to leave a girlfriend or a wife back at home when going to boot camp. Make it more romantic when a baby bump fanatic as I am leaves her expectant wife back at home… Imagine how the son would years later brag to the friends how his father is a soldier, opening the wallet when the going gets tough, looking at the beautiful picture inside and saying I am doing this for you… & blah blah blah…
Back to reality!
I don’t know how I drifted off to sleep. I was woken up by this huge guy who was asking me if I had a bunker mate. I cannot forget how he called out: “We Msee!”. I said I did not have one. By huge I meant really huge. So there was no way he was going to use the top bunker. It was obvious it would come tumbling down on me. He requested me to use the top one and I accepted. I had made a new friend. The guy was later to acquire the nickname “Manager” to this day because of his build. He looked like some well-fed company CEO. I do not know his name to this day and whenever we meet, it still is “Sema Manager”. Manager told me that people were out for supper and if I needed to eat, I should go so that I wouldn’t miss. I had not even noticed the silence in the room. I looked around and I saw that people had left their bags inside and decided, I would not carry mine. I headed for supper.
You know the mistin drill from earlier. Pick, rinse, get served, eat, wash, hand it over. I was not used to eating so much food, especially that bulky. Ugali and meat for lunch and again for supper. Therefore, my appetite was not so great this time but I forced myself. So full I could not talk much. That and the coffee served after the meal made it one hell of a load for my stomach. The canteen was still open and those allergic to ugali were busy scrambling for bread and milk at the canteen. I was tempted to buy a loaf but naaah, I remembered the money I had could not take me anywhere and decided to proceed to my bed.
I removed my Reeboks, climbed onto the bed, and lay down as thoughts ran through my mind. What was it like to be a soldier, what would I be in the future, How would people treat me, where would I go… and such thoughts. The recurring thought was how I would end up as an aeronautical technician. I could overhear people discussing the probable salary they expected to get at the end of it all but that was none of my concerns, all I needed was to get to the planes, and I couldn’t wait for this basic training to start I get over it. Frankly speaking, I never did that for the money. Because I knew nothing about military pay. I did not even know how the system worked.
Stories from across the room ranged from the bus trip to Eldoret, the night at Eldoret and the weeks to entering college. Some of the stories sounded unrealistic, but it later occurred to me that they were real, the only reason they seemed unrealistic was because I was naïve and not so exposed to the outside world. People had gathered in groups and stories were flowing like these people had known each other since birth. It is at this point that people started bonding based on the level of interest. I noticed one guy who was as enthusiastic about aviation as I was – later became my friend. His was over the edge and he talked too much. I wouldn’t keep up, I thought to myself. Smokers had already met and were already sharing lighters. Cigarettes were in abundance here, it is the first place I saw people buy cigarettes by the packet. It seemed so so awkward to buy a whole packet. I was used to one or three and at most 5. But a whole 20 sticks!? It is all in the books, articles and even online. Boot camp is the mother of all influence and peer pressure. Smoking is one of the most common trends that people adopt when they join the military. What I had seen in the movies and read from the books was here with me.
Manager returned. With a packet of milk and bread. He told me how the food was yet to rhyme with his system. We talked for a while. I know he introduced himself and everything but I cannot remember all the details. All I can remember is that we shared culture and language. My mind was too far to store this data. I drifted off to sleep after thanking God for bringing me this far. I still could not believe that I had come to this place. I wondered if I would survive the 9 months. It occurred to me it would be the longest time I would be away from home.