In the occasional series "How it feels," Bowdoin students tell the Orient about their personal experiences. Here are their stories, as told to Joshua Miller.
How it feels to grow up in a war zone
They announced on the radio that it was supposed to be a calm day. Everyone would go outside to chill out. It was a beautiful day, a Sunday, you know, 85 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. I was six years old. It was 1992.
In Bosnia, everyone?especially grandmothers?had a small patch of land on a hillside right outside of town. My grandmother had this little patch of land where she had strawberries growing. She and I walked into the shed to get a shovel for me to do something with when I heard these terrible noises, you know, a very high whistle pitch. With a mortar shell, you hear it hit the ground and you feel it hit the ground. Even if you're really far away from the impact, it will still shake everything.
My dad pulled me out of the shed?this small shed was dangerous because it could have collapsed?and took me to the street. About 50 feet below, there was a mortar shell just stuck in the mud. Everyone had just watered their land so the mortars that day got stuck in the mud. So ironic. It was really unbelievable. I think there were six or seven shells within 300 feet of each other and they all got stuck in the mud and didn't explode. Artillery shells have a little detonator which gets crushed on impact?but if there's not enough impact, they don't explode. [...]
On the radio, when they predicted a calm day it meant the armies were taking a break. People wanted to get outside. You know, it's not fun being all locked up inside. The air [raid] signals went off all the time and we had to go down into the basement. The siren was a part of everyday life. As a kid, you'd be playing with marbles outside and building things and being very productive and then the siren would go off and you'd run for the basement and hang out there. It gets to the point where it just becomes part of regular life after a while. People would just leave their stuff down there and bring small tables to the basement and have coffee.
When the siren went off, it didn't always mean that [the area you were in] was specifically in danger. Nine out of 10 times, nothing happened. In fact, right where I lived I don't remember it happening more than once?but that [one time] was our neighbor's house. Half of the house was blown apart and the other half just had the walls left. It wasn't really that loud?the shell that destroyed their house wasn't much louder than most shells, they are always really loud?but then I walked outside and there was nothing left of house. [...]
American aid packages were terrific. They would have cocoa and they would have powdered milk. They were small packets though so there was a whole system of trade that went on. I couldn't deal with trading mine away though; both were so good. Those aid packages, they were quite nice. [...]
We always got to play with guns. There were soldiers housed in our daycare center because it was the only place in town where there were sleeping quarters. The soldiers would pick weapons apart and let us play with what was left. [...]
A day in the life of a kid in Bosnia was all about new toys that you play with like learning how to have fun in a foxhole or playing on an anti-aircraft gun. These were functional anti-aircraft guns that didn't have any ammo and were just waiting to be hauled off to wherever. You could climb up into them and use the manual controls to spin it around. And you could get some speed on that thing, you really could. On the anti-aircraft gun, it was just spin and go.
—Goran Cengic '09 as told to Joshua Miller.
How it feels to get KO'd in a slum fight
I lived in Brazil for six years. Sometimes, after school, my friends and I would go to this place in Rio de Janeiro called Hoshina?the world's largest slum. It was right in front of our school. I had a friend there who knew a bunch of people and would be like: "Look how cool I am. I know this place and I know that place and you don't have to worry about this place being the slums because I know this [important] guy and it's cool." He had these hand gestures he used to show he was down with the people there. They would look at me funny though because, there I was, this big fat white guy in Hoshina...I got called a lot of very interesting names while I was there.
Anyway, one time we were at this slummy little bar sitting around, drinking and talking to each other and it got pretty late. All of sudden, one of the guys screams out "lado a, lado b!" which means "side a, side b!" It's this game they play where people stand on two sides of a line and then run at each other and beat the shit out of each other. It's just people our age who are sitting around. This is what they do for fun.
So my friends and I know to immediately get the hell out of there. We're trying to get out and all these people are fighting when, all of a sudden, I turn around and there's this guy standing there with this giant chain?like a big pipe chain. He brings the chain down on me and I pass out.
I wake up at my friend's house and I'm like, "how the [heck] did I get here?" The guy had hit me so hard across the chest that he had, basically, knocked me out. On my chest, I had the indents of each link in the chain.
All my friends got outta' there without any injuries, except for one who got punched in the face. They were like: "look at my friend: he's got a bike chain in him" and they let us through.
We drove by Hoshina everyday, but I never went back to that particular part of the slum.
—J. Patrick Brown '08 as told to Joshua Miller.
How it feels to backflip onto a diving board
I was doing a backflip in a meet last year against either Bates or Colby, I don't remember which. It was the first time I had ever done the three-meter board during a competition and the coach promised he would give me a call at the end of it ?which is when they call something out and that tells you when to come out of a tuck and just open straight up. But I was kind of nervous that I wouldn't be able to hear it because there were all these swimmers and everyone was cheering for them so I just got very nervous. When you jump off the board, you're supposed to lean backwards to some degree, but I was thinking instead of being safe, I wanted to make it a very good dive which means you come straight up and straight down missing the board by a few inches. That didn't happen.
It's funny now because nothing really terrible happened. I smacked my head on the board, may possibly have lost consciousness between smacking my head on the board and landing on my back in the water, but was able to swim out of the pool by myself. [...] You know, they had the trainers there and I still thought it was kind of funny. They were asking me all these questions to see whether I had a concussion like "What school do you go to?" and "What's your name?" and I'm sitting there thinking, "God, why don't they just ask my coach these stupid questions. This is really not a good time." I then figured out that they were trying to see whether I had a concussion. As it turns out, I either had a mild one or none at all.
—Elizabeth Hedrick '08 as told to Joshua Miller.
How it feels to be a soldier in Israel
I live in Jerusalem, Israel, and one week before my 17th birthday I went to the BAKUM?an acronym for "receiving and sorting base" where everyone is assigned to their units in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). I was sort of lucky because I was originally assigned to be in a combat unit, but they found out that I had some kind of eyesight issue so they let me pick a course. I chose an intelligence course.
Basic training for non-combat combat soldiers like myself took one month and it was really the most basic sort of joke training for all the people who weren't going to be fighters. The basic training I went to is a lot less intense than the real basic training. I then was in an intelligence course for two months.
In Israel [all women join the military for at least two years and] men join the military for three years, except for the few who get exceptions. My brother, for example, didn't go in because he has a life-threatening bee-sting allergy and the army didn't want to take responsibility for him in case he got stung. In a lot of ways I was sort of hoping they would discover something like that about me. Most people go in, though. All my friends went in [to the IDF]. Essentially if you're a guy, you have to go to a combat unit unless some other unit wants you?that means intelligence?or if you have some kind of physical problem like asthma.
I can't say much about intelligence work I did for security reasons, but I was based in Jerusalem. I didn't do anything technical; I did more analysis-based work, which I really enjoyed. It was very specific but it was also something that, uh, you know, they say people in the intelligence service are snobs. It's true, I'm not denying it. Part of it is because you get to see all this information that most people don't see. At least in certain things, you realize that there is more than you hear on the news. [...]
Most people go on trips, usually backpacking trips, to South America or Thailand or India after they're done with their service but I didn't. I told people that coming here to college was my trip. I came here a month after I got out of the army. Coming to Bowdoin was sort of a way of getting away from Israel where I was sort of?I don't want to say trapped?but I couldn't get away because of the army. I wanted to do something different, but I also wanted to start studying.
As to whether people actually want to serve, it's very mixed. There are people who really want to go in. Personally, if I had had a choice, I don't think I would have gone in. A lot of people don't really think about it and that's not even in the sense everyone does it, but 18 is a very young age. Eighteen to 21 are supposedly the best years of your life and here you are spending time in this organization, which isn't?I mean, they don't really care for you. I mean, coming here to Bowdoin was sort of like, it's a country club. I get served meals, they take care of my housing, and if I have any problems I call someone up or send them an email and they're here, if not today than the next day. People here always care about you and how you're doing; in the army, it is not at all like that.
—Zvi Shapiro '07 as told to Joshua Miller.