Back to the present, I skipped to Initiation (chapter 13) date before we talked about the weeks on the tarmac. The first week was generally the enlistment week. Unlike most people’s knowledge, you are not a soldier when they take your ID card at the district level and you are left with the calling letter. There is a bigger process than that. In fact, the entire 9 – 10 months up to a year is a year dedicated to background checks. The military Intelligence will investigate and know everything they need to know about you, including the girl you were messing around with, in your former primary school years ago. Which is why, there is no chance of escaping military training. They will still find you before you can go anywhere. Most of those who tried never even reached Eldoret. At least not in the most basic of escapes like prison.
“Msee! Amka!” I never realized I had slept that much. This was a very uncomfortable sleeping position, but I still slept for like two hours or so. The truth of the matter was, as much as we woke up early and done with breakfast within half an hour, the bigwigs only came a little after 8am. We assembled near the dais and got our brief for the day. At this point, we were still a bunch of clueless civilians. Later I would come to look back at the days when we wore civilian clothes and on the Holy Ground and I would not believe the clowns we were. A parade ground is as beautiful as the soldiers on it, clad in full military uniform and decorations. Not the rainbow colors bunched up in the middle. We were such naïve souls. The short ones struggled to raise their small selves to try hearing what was being said. I will let you in on a secret. This is some perception of sorts. It does not mean that because you are at the back of the crowd you cannot hear what is being said at the front. In the military, we shouted enough and the voice could be heard from a mile away. But we were only civilians, we would get used with time. How do you explain the “alien commands” you can barely comprehend in Nyayo stadium and yet the soldier at the back follows instructions as efficiently as the soldier at the front row… and the band is still playing his favorite tune? Magic!!!
|Image credits: mod.|
This assemblage was not complicated. It was easy. Sit in a line as usual. In teams, from each county as recruited and as per service (Army, Navy, Air Force). By now, you know how this went; nine teams, in groups of three for the three services. This was to ensure everybody was accounted for. We sat on the hard tarmac, which was still cold and wet from the night before. I looked around me and watched as the women fumbled around their bags searching for something to sit on (They hated the term women!!! My! my! My! In addition, if I call them girls, they would still complain). I almost did the same. Nevertheless, figured this was a waste of time. I just dumped my small bum on the prickly tarmac. I know most have never sat on tarmac before. In any case, I would gladly sit on Thika Road. It is much softer on the bum than a military parade ground. It would be just like sitting on a hard bench. This is why: A military field – tarmac undergoes a tough thrashing by the heavy boots that trudge on it every day. There are bits and pieces of loose tarmac that are all over the ground, raised and moved from position by the boots. Any uneven piece is a discomfort to you. The only thing I did was to remove those loose pieces in some sweeping motion and sat behind my friend Ben. (At some point, I will replace the term bum with ‘rear rank’ and then ‘rear’. I do not want you wondering what ‘rear’ means from the human anatomy perspective later on in the story – stay with me).
I looked up to find a stern looking soldier looking at me as if I had stolen someone’s property. I looked at him and smiled.
“Nini ya kuchekesha hapa raia!?” (What is funny here civilian?)
I went silent because I did not know what this was about. It was only a smile. He looked around as if to ensure nobody was looking at him. I sensed something was wrong and braced for the worst. Then he looked back at me, bent to my level and said in a mean voice.
“Sikiza kurutu!” “Hio ma**ko unabembeleza hivo ni ya jeshi sasa! Ketisha na utulie, bado haujaumia!” (Listen recruit! That bum you are soothing in that manner is no longer yours! It belongs to the military now! Sit and settle you are yet to get hurt!)
Most of my superiors would later learn that the sterner they tried to get while talking to me the more I smiled. Which had been my main enemy throughout my career. I couldn’t help it.
“Na una madharau kijana!” “Bado unasmile tu! Nakaa manzi yako! EEh!?” Nkt! (You are still smiling and underestimating me young man! Do I look like your girlfriend?)
He sighed and pushed my head to the side with his finger the way house helps push children’s heads when they threaten them with a beating. This was embarrassing. Everyone was looking at me wondering what I had done. I later learnt none of the instructors was to touch us in any way until we had been handed over to the college’s administration. At this point, we were somehow on no-mans-land. We did not belong to the military yet. Even the term recruit was not part of us at this point. We were also not citizens in a way because we did not have our IDs. Just our birth certificates. The clown who just pushed my head with his finger was looking over his shoulder to ensure that our recruiters were not looking at him. He would be reprimanded if any of the seniors saw him doing so. Again at this point, you may just push someone’s head and he turns out to be a General’s long lost son, and your ass is whisked off to Ileret for a two year stint. We still had our phones and strings could still be pulled. By the way, that finger thing really pissed me off. But I wouldn’t let it spoil my day.
The purpose of this arrangement was just ease of tally and accountability. Once you recruited people, they were yours and you had to account for them and ensure that they are properly enlisted into their respective service. Therefore, after every two or so hours someone would pass above our heads and count us again. Some taping us with those heavy pace stakes they put under their armpits. Within an hour of sitting down, I was already shifting uncomfortably on that tarmac. To think that the day would end this way was torture in itself. We told all the stories we had in mind. Actually, they were not all stories. Just pointing out to people and discussing them. Watching people was very interesting at this point.
The big wigs walked into the field and after what looked like a briefing session, they stood in line facing us and the one in the middle addressed us. He had these red things on his collar. Somehow when he spoke, the soldiers he greeted, were closing their legs in a synchronized manner and others saluting. In a loud but well packaged voice, he told us that we are welcome and they were organizing things so that we could settle in and be comfortable. The week’s exercise would be medicals and fresh vetting. This was the same exercise from last time and it was taking a lot of time. He explained that they needed to do the medicals afresh to ensure that they did not recruit people who were sick and expectant women. They did not want to have people let go of life in their hands. I kind of understood him. The exercise was so serious that the people who came in casts and bandages were sent straight home. This was not a clerical school. If you are not 100% physically fit, you seriously have no business in military boot camp. Which is why I insist; do not hate them for dismissing your severe flatfoot. It is for your own good. Sitting down itself was quite a hustle. He then told us to be patient so that after the medicals, we could get our service numbers and then we would start being kitted. That is we would receive our standard issues.
The service number is like a serial number. It means a lot in your career. This is the number that shows where you belong and what you have. It is like the batch number that comes with any manufacturing product. You have two pairs of boots, three pairs of fatigues, you have a bed, you have food tins, and you belong to a certain company and the like. It is that serious and special a number. The person with the red decorations then went to the dais and sat on a seat that was different from the rest. The kind that ‘guests of honor’ sit on. I then heard people discussing the military ranks. I was later to learn that this was the famous “Red Collar” worn by Colonels and above. Explains why the teasing instructors scattered from view when he appeared. In this camp, he is a god of sorts. At that moment, he was the highest ranked officer in the camp. Meaning everyone salutes him. The idea of being saluted sounded interesting. The like when I grow up I want to be saluted kind of thing. But I already got that from my Sunday school kids on my last Sunday school session with them.
One thing I learnt from my bum was that it listened to stories too. It got entertained and the more interesting a story was, the more comfortable it was and less nagging. But the moment stories died down and there was nothing to talk about, I could feel the hard gravel pushing onto my soft skin down there. So I tried to keep myself well entertained. It was also getting hotter as the sun went up. Being the rainy season in Eldoret also brought with it immense heat. We sat there until teatime. Nothing had changed from where we had sat. We had not been re-examined and we had not received our service numbers yet.
A super clean shaven soldier with a weird voice, wearing what I came to learn was the Kenya Air Force’s working dress gave us our instructions. We were given thirty minutes to have tea and return to our positions. His voice sounded funny but was loud enough to echo around the camp. Came to learn he was the most audible soldier in the camp. He sounded authoritative and confident. As we came to learn later, he was the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) and the Parade QMSI. (QMSI means Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor) details later but in brief, the Master of Parade Instruction. By master I mean, he was the best, the Jackie Chan of Parade Instruction, the Chuck Norris of commands and parade formations. His nickname was “Mang’oi”. I was told it means donkeys…