Shelia's tablescape had me in stitches today! Her beautifully laid out tablescape complete with ferns and flowers reminded me of an adventure I had while still in the military, I thought I would share: (I actually wrote this as part of a job application where they needed info on an 'obstacle I overcame', so my language may seem a bit more formal that usual, or maybe not, who cares because I did not send the application through!)
In 1998, while I was still a serving member of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment, the the then Second In Command of the First Battalion, Camp Ogden St James, the Battalion to which I was attached ordered that all members of the Battalion were required to undertake a field training exercise that would comprise of journeying from Platanal to Matelot on foot, guided only by a map.
This was during my fourth year of service and by this time I had heard of tales by senior soldiers of how treacherous and trying this journey was to men, and that as a woman I would find the going considerably difficult. I was to be part of a group of approximately 15 men and one other female. As the day grew nearer the my female companion fell ill (conveniently) and eventually I had to make the journey as the only female.
The morning of our journey came, I drew my weapon from the armorer and took up my pack that contained one extra camouflage suit, underwear, socks, packs of dried soup and packs of dried juices. It was important to keep your pack light as you had to carry it all the way to Matelot. At approximately 3:30 am we boarded the truck and set off to Platanal. We were let off at the side of a hill, and the truck left, I looked around for a track or trace that would take us through the forest, there was none, the only way to begin our journey was to climb this unpleasant looking hill that stood menacingly tall and unfriendly before me.
The Commander of the group, a Captain gathered the group and informed us that other groups have made the journey in three days, sometimes five, he is hoping to make it in three. He then mentioned that it may take us a bit longer as there is a female among us and that may 'slow us down a bit' considering as he put it 'her small stature'. It is at that time my perspective changed, I was determined to be at the front leading, and not be a hindrance to my group.
The journey was and still is the most difficult time of my entire life, the mountain we faced from the beginning set the tone for the entire journey, in the northern range there are no flat, meadow-like terrain there are only densely vegetated mountains of varying heights, the jury is still out on whether they are easier going up or coming down. An average day comprised of walking up and down mountains from 7 am to 12 pm then resuming from 1230 to 6pm. It got dark fast and you had to make a camp area each evening by clearing an area, finding trees to hang your hammock and making fires to prepare your MREs (meals in a pack) or your soup.
I rallied on with my fellow soldiers, we made jokes, we sang, we picked wild seasonings and we even fished on the way and made fish broth with tiny river fish during the night. On mornings I drank coffee which I was not in the habit of doing particularly without milk, but when you are in the middle of nowhere a milk-less sugarless cup of coffee tastes like heaven!
By the third day we were no where near Matelot and stocks were running low, i was down to my last pack of soup and dried juice, my feet were aching and after 2 nights sleeping in a hammock slung between trees in a night so black you cannot see your own hand directly in front of your face, you begin to miss your bed. On this third day, as all days we had been walking from 7 am to 1200hrs, and we finally sat down to rest, by a river, I filled my bottle with river water and added my powdered juice, and took a sip, it is then I reminded myself this is what I signed on for, not just to work at the Headquarters in a nice office, I am still a soldier and this is soldiering, I looked around at my fellow soldiers and they looked just as tired as I was, and I felt proud to be on of the few females to have ever done this walk.
It took 2 more days for us to finally reach the main road of Matelot!! I was never so happy to see a paved road, my rations were finished, that morning I drank the last of my 'river juice' and was down to drinking the pure river water which tasted great! But nonetheless I was happy to be back in civilization. My Captain informed me that he was never so proud of a soldier as he was of me, he did not hear me complain once, and I 'kept the pace' as they say in the Army. I believe that it is all about keeping the proper mindset, by simply reminding myself what my goal was and keeping my eye on the prize, made it out of the forest with my pride intact, not so much my toes.