One rainy morning while sleeping on the bottom bunker in a barrack block housing 80 + soldiers somewhere in a remote part of the country, my wonderful sleep was interrupted by the sharp sound of a whistle. This whistle was all too familiar. This was the Physical Training Instructor. A dreaded member of the military fraternity. You think the military police are bad, wait till you meet your physical trainer, my friend… Every time one wore the clothes of pain, many wished they had gone to campus instead. On this particular day, the human in me spoke louder than the soldier in me & a few others. It was around five am in the morning.
Under normal circumstances (Activate Soldier – Deactivate man) we would jump off our beds and shout to various versions of “Watu Waamke!” in various languages, inserting a few obscenities here and there people mentioning a few of the previous days activities. For morale… you know, 🤸. Then we would wake each other up, some trying to wear their left boots to the right legs, others struggling to find their fatigues… It was pure drama. It never ends. We would then start singing right there and then. Some songs I am still working with the army band to figure out if we can record a morning run label to give morale to joggers in the morning. This particular morning, the command “Activate Soldier” was met with an “Access Denied” by my authenticating systems inside. & so I was like…
Aiii, nani haskii kunanyesha! Siwezi enda kukimbia na hii mvua!!! (*Sneering,* Who can’t hear it’s raining? I cannot run in this rain) Ata nimekimbia sana hii miaka yote! (I have even ran enough times, all these years)
This time, I am complaining under my blankets, I raise my head to look and try see if I will have enough covering fire in case the mission goes kabluewy and we have to get punished for not running with the rest of the platoon. My eyes look around from my position and I think I see enough lumps on the lower bunkers to consider myself safe. So ahhh, we sleep! and that is exactly what I did. Before Sleep took over, I heard the fading noise, whistles, shouts, and traditional songs being sang on the way to another round of morning work out. Before the guilt of missing out and influencing my change of mind, I drifted of to a sweet nap.
“Ita hao askari wamelala! Wote! Ata wagonjwa watoke nje!”
There are several things that make a soldier sweat – thinly in rare places (complete with goosebumps and a Mexican wave of itchiness from neck to ankles) and among them was was Chauranger’s deep and commanding voice.
“Oti sisi kwisha!” I whispered to my comrade at a bunk a few feet away.
Oti didn’t even say a word. But the next turn of events was so fast I don’t even know what happened. But in between I remember something like two lashes on my back, I don’t know how or even why I got on the floor and under the bed, and I cannot remember how I packed up and fell in perfect line up outside in full combat gear and my 30 kilo bag under the light drizzle and morning breeze. I looked around and we were a pretty big number.
Chauranger had decided Lazima afute mtu msee! He wanted to know who was this ring leader of rogue soldiers who were in insubordination. But sisi pia and our team spirit. The same way we fight together is the same way we were going to die together. Nobody was going to point a finger at anyone. There wasn’t anyone even. Chauranger decided he would work on us proper. Alone! He wanted to show us the real colors of a ranger! My friend and I can now draw those colors for you. After that morning, all I needed was a blue pen and a red pen.
Mutiny!! AkiyAnaNi! Hamutarudia! Hamutarudia! Nyang’au! Mar*^%*%% !! **&^&^!! *^%%^%!!!”
Our bags and us, started in a slow march, express alert! – Zero snoozing time! This was easy. The shock and the rapidness of the action to get us from bed was top notch! World class material as usual for this force. We ran with our heavy bags, stopping after every 200 meters to do a work out. Push ups in the first round, sit ups after the next 200, squats after the next and so on and so forth. For some time I was like, we would rather have sold out one guy instead of one of us dying out here. Because at this rate, someone was gonna go down (Collapsing – We are too well trained to die). A punishment work out has some stages (This is the filtered version – The extended version is classified). Detox – arrogance – reality – repentance – Shoot me now.
1. Detox 😝
This is the stage whereby any toxic stuff ingested within the last 24 hours is forced out of the body. It comes in various ways. The morale is soo high and we are actually mocking the PTI at this point. “Chauranger sisi ni wanaume!” and that kind of vibe you know! The digestive tract decides to change mind on the alcoholic content that had stayed in the system (Insubordination everywhere Nkt!) So people start getting high again. Smokers… and special smokers – of the not so prescription smoke kind. This also since it is stored in the fat cells, comes through for those who partake of it. Of all the smells that are unleashed in the sweat of these people one smell is worst of them all – Quinine & Brufen. Or any malarial drug with it. It smells so bad it demoralized everyone – which is why I run at the front. It is a moving mass of singing garbage I tell you. Morale is still high and you feel like you could run to the border at Ileret and come back and still live 170 years.
2. Arrogance 😒
This stage, the substances are wearing down (I forgot water. Very important. Those electrolytes drive us for miles). So thirst starts kicking in, those who are high start getting sober, you look back and realize you cannot see camp anymore and because you still want to feel man enough, you are now singing songs of mockery. War songs. Traditional war songs and a few rites of passage songs here and there. Mocking who? The PTI. The PTI by the way is hands free, except for a two way radio and a cane or several of them.
3. Reality 😲
He really wants to let us feel the pain of this act. He isn’t even talking because he is responding to the mockery songs in action and so he rushes us more. The 200 meters in between work outs become 100 meters. At this point we realize we really did a bad thing. I remember that I was rained on the first day I got to military training and there is no other way I expected life to be. We are already wet from the rain that has already gotten worse and the pain starts kicking in. Fatigue, guilt, I-Should-be-having-my-poridge-ngwaci-boiled-egg, moment right now is flashing before my eyes.
We reach a dreaded stretch of the route and this is the so called river mamba. (There is always that river in every camp that is the nightmare of every trainee) So river mamba is a stretch of some 50 meters of shallow, thick mud that you have to crawl through. I get to my knees and think I will aerial it (elbow-knee) to the end but I get the confirmation when Chauranger’s boot gives me that encouragement and I lie flat on my stomach and start moving. Crawling sorry. “I should have woken up,” “I am sorry my body!” “I want to quit this job” – Then you remember it is not a job – like job-job.
“AFANDE POLE!” “AFANDE POOLLEEEE!” “AFANDE POOOLEEE!”
You think Chauranger Cared? Over his obese body! We cross River mamba three times back and forth. Nobody has collapsed yet.
Usually, for every work out there is an ambulance on standby. It’s because we love you so much🤣. The climax of this is when all will is gone and the PTI has actually broken you. It was almost 11 am. A total change of program. The heat was already getting to us and I was expecting us to carry someone back. The final nail on this coffin was a dip in a shallow pool clean water (but what was the point, it was as dirty as the mud-bath in seconds) right next to river mamba. He told us to sleep the way we wanted now. and he went off to smoke a cigarette. Nobody wanted to live again, for what? Mockery and initiation songs were no longer the thing and we sang slow dirges and patriotism songs as others drifted off to a nap, wishing they had woken up for that one hour happy dawn run in the rain…
No soldier collapsed that day…
We washed the mud off our faces from the dirty pool. We returned to camp, this time in a slow jog. Chauranger didn’t speak much. He didn’t need to – this was one of those genuine “Yes sir – Never Again”s a commander would ever get.
I was sweaty and at this point I wanted to go back to civilization at least. Or change callings and become the catholic priest I once considered to be. Somewhere I could at least meet a pastoralist and remember I am a human being. I managed to get a friend to take a picture of me while still in my state with my Sony camera. The picture captured a bead of sweat that had found its way just next to my left eye and following the path of tears flowed down my cheeks. My head was tilted a bit to appear like it was facing the horizon but in reality it was the weight and the tension created by the heavy wet bag on my back & the thoughts running through my mind. My lips were dry and at that moment all I could think of was it was painful & I will never be disobedient again. It is also a clean lesson of how we put aside the things that we could actually do at their foundation level instead of having to wait and respond to a “disaster” or when things are out of proportion.
That picture which looks like I was crying, or just from crying complete with a sweaty head is a prized possession. It reminds me of the last time I was knowingly disobedient and I paid the price with everything I had at the time including my will power. I will never forget that day. The picture confidently features on my wall of goals right next to my single bar pilot outfit picture, not because it is a goal in itself, but to act as a reminder of who I am, the importance of obedience, submission, and the character traits that make me who I am.