thoughts in the operations room

five weeks ago i went on a three-week trip to visit family and friends in america…all of my friends have moved on in their lives, but whenever i visit, mine is frozen in 2006 and so i invite the same group for the same kind of bbq in the same house…some of them don’t see each other save my yearly visit…kinda funny.  i had a thoroughly relaxing time and it was nothing but delightful to see these dear ones, although i wish i could have hung around a bit longer as i didn’t get to see quite everyone…anyway, i do hope those friendships never die.

back on base and waiting, yet again, to calibrate my gun, i have been stuck as a gopher (go for this, go for that) in the operations room.  it’s a totally made-up position that didn’t exist last year and is basically to do everything that the almost imprisoned operator can’t…like run outside and find people that can’t be reached or wake up sleepy drivers…apart from the suffocating heat and lack of air circulation and crazy scary bugs (i mean the size of mice…i’d rather have the mice actually), it’s actually quite an easy and flexible job that allows me ample free time to do things like type random thoughts to myself on the computer…and i quote….

1. if only i could capture this moment, this perfectly mundane and ordinary hour of my current existence.  one day life will no longer hold the simplicity of being the operational room helper in an outpost on the syrian border, spending the day in a stuffy, disconnected bunker running small errands, watching phones when the operator steps out, reading books, and viewing the type of movies i just so happen to enjoy very much, thank you.  my movies are called “weird” by the 19/20 year old soldiers who are my peers: many foreign, mostly dramas, the majority of them “boring.”  Boring like my current day, and every day that i have been stuck in these windowless tunnels for 12 hour shifts while i wait to calibrate my new gun in order to participate in regular missions.  yet boredom should not be taken for granted; i consider it a form of tranquility.  if one has troubles, his mind is occupied by them, therefore one who is bored, lacking any occupation but staring at his choice of floor or ceiling, cannot be terribly troubled.  boredom is an unappreciated manifestation of peace.

“boring” is a term i understand but rarely feel.  because of my fascination with most particles of matter that this planet has to offer, i am blessed enough to have the ability to find distraction often times even in the most simple of entities.  at this moment, i look at the abused white board in front of me, the purpose of which is to display which soldiers are involved in various routine missions.  the inconsistencies in the lines creating boxes for lists of names catch my eye, and i imagine to myself an unsteady hand awkwardly attempting to draw them as straight as possible but trembling toward the end of each.  white smudges slightly deface numbers, titles, and ranks, an act attributed to accidental brushing of objects and body parts which have carelessly swept dry ink off its surface.  spots on the board are faintly stained by ink wiped off in a half-dry state, with scuff marks on the frame and dents on the facade.  though i encountered this object every day last week, until giving it purposeful attention, i never recognized its uniqueness.  it possesses a beauty of its own, although not the type of beauty i would want to hang in my living room, and i am now filled with a quiet joy at having this secret-feeling opportunity to observe such an object in this way.

2.  during my trip to america last month, i was constantly asked if i was fluent in hebrew, but how on earth could someone have grasped every single word in a language in just three years?  i believe that my level of speaking concerning every day matters is that of fluency with a negligible smattering of adorable mistakes uttered though an accent that is apparently quite fun to affectionately mock.  my reading and writing, on the other hand, are unfortunately at a very elementary level.  to my pleasant surprise, a friend who sometimes spends time attempting to help improve my reading in hebrew, currently through c.s. lewis’s narnia, just visited me for a short lesson on this way to guard duty.

these days i often ponder how a person is perceived through a language that is not his mother tongue, a subject which scarcely appeared in my thoughts before moving to a foreign country, perhaps with the exception of frustration toward a brooklyn delivery man whose inability to understand the phrase “where are you?” caused my thai food to arrive cold.  usually my thoughts focus on the speaker’s futile battle to express himself fully because of his lack of of articulacy, which consequently causes the way he is perceived by others to seem vulnerable, disadvantaged, and although he may not be considered by the listener to be unintelligent, is sometimes treated as such with down-talking.  personally, i often feel rather limited, powerless to illustrate my true feelings and thoughts which i cannot place into words found in my inadequate vocabulary.  because of this hitch i know that i am seen differently by hebrew speakers than i am by english speakers- a bilingual individual who i had only once spoken to in my mother tongue told me that when i used it i sounded like a completely different person.

inarticulateness influences ones perceived image, but it recently occurred to me that it is not the only factor in speech which molds how a person is viewed differently when conversing in a language other than his native tongue.  i realized this while watching a movie featuring a character whose most typifying attribute to me was a russian accent; it essentially built his personality.  he was seen and known by the viewer as “the russian guy,” but if he had been in a russian movie this trait would have gone unnoticed due to commonality.  similarly, when i am speaking english with north americans my american accent does not enter the picture, and any errors are probably common enough to be ignored.  there is no language barrier, so accurately named as it is an obstacle which interferes with the listener’s ability to hear my voice naturally.  if viewers of that film were asked to list five characterizing aspects for each character, they would list five legitimate traits for each one except the russian, for whom they would list one trait entirely relative to his surroundings: his accent.  because this characteristic would appear on the list, whatever valid trait #5 would have otherwise been would be in fact knocked off and missed.  what a shame that for me too there exists some important facet of my personality that when i speak in a language other than my native tongue, simply cannot be seen by the listener.  my uncontrollable accent and lack of vocabulary, which are relative and superficial qualities that have nothing to do with my true personality, take up room on the list otherwise belonging to a more interesting quality that sadly goes unnoticed.  at least when in that foreign language environment, it is similar to being someone with a peculiarity that does not greatly influence his abilities, for instance someone missing an eye wearing a path: first people see that unusual feature and then move on to other characteristics.  this person will most likely be first characterized by his abnormality (“you know, john, the one with the patch) just as i will most likely be first characterized by my accent (“you know, ronit, the american girl.”)  this is all said with 5% frustration, 10% disappointment, 10% good humor and 75% awe.  life is so funny. i just adore it!

hm. that’s all.  i need to get some sleep…nitenite…

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6 Responses to “thoughts in the operations room”

  1. Margie Says:

    Hi Ronit,
    When I first saw your post, I thought it said, “Thoughts from the operating room”. I then re-read it correctly.

    However, what you wrote was a surgical dissection of so many things: language, perceptions, assumptions, expectations to name but a few.

    Not much else to add, but please keep writing your thoughts. You are a very good communicator and I love seeing/reading what is going on in that keppi of yours!

    Shalom and love from NZ!

    Margie

  2. Ambreen Says:

    Welcome back 🙂 Glad you’re enjoying your “boredom”. When will you be in Jerusalem again?

  3. beyondtheborder Says:

    How is it like, being an IDF soldier…?

  4. Jim Says:

    Interesting how there are different terms for the same things around the world. Back here you “sight in” a gun. Calibrating actually seems a more accurate term. Speaking of which, I need to sight in my moose/bear rifle before the season opens.

  5. ronit kory Says:

    ah, well i guess my online hebrew-english dictionary isn’t so updated in army terms…it’s funny that i can’t talk for a minute in hebrew without making a mistake but i haven’t even a clue how to say almost anything concerning the army in english.

  6. Yasmine Says:

    You seriously have my brain. I have thought this entire post inside of my head on several occasions.

    Love it.

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