My Final Flag Raising {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #19}

My Final Flag Raising {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #19} | Thursday 28th July 2016 |

It felt so special to complete my 3 weeks of volunteering by raising the flag on the last day. I self-consciously walked over to the rostrum and stood opposite a soldier, waiting for the commander to lead the ceremony. There are 2 commanders who usually call out the standing positions – one guy who half-heartedly calls out a few and then it’s over before you know it, and a girl who thinks she’s the bee’s knees and shouts at us for about 5 minutes before our aching arms can rest. Today we had the moody girl, so the ceremony lasted a while – typical! I let the other soldier lower the flag so that I could have the honour of raising it.

We spent the morning packing, cleaning our dorms, cleaning the common room, returning our uniforms (I was quite reluctant to let mine go…), and I finally went to the “shekem” (tuck shop) to stuff my hand luggage with Doritos and Sappé (the delicious aloe vera drink). The commander of the base came to thank us for our work, and I couldn’t believe that 3 weeks had passed since he first welcomed us here!

We went to the warehouse for a final goodbye, and the lovely workers threw us a leaving party. One of the soldiers made us a huge banner that read: “Dear Volunteers, thanks for everything like warehouse Hhizzit”. We felt bad because they’d obviously gone to a lot of trouble, but we had no idea what the banner actually meant… Oh, and there was an abundance of Bamba, so I had to stay well away! We took loads of group photos (I thought we weren’t allowed to take photos in the work place…) and thanked our favourite managers. Some of them made speeches to thank us for our work. They said they were genuinely surprised that young people actually wanted to work here and didn’t complain about the tasks. They want us to return as volunteers some time in the future, and I might consider it (despite the fact that it would be a completely different experience with a new group). They sounded sincere when they thanked us, and it really meant a lot to me because you can never be sure whether you’re making a difference or whether anything matters in the grand scheme of things. (I also got to speak a bit more to Soulja Boy, and everyone was teasing us as we got a photo together and said our goodbyes.)

We all got on the coach and made our final journey out of the base towards Tel Aviv. We departed at the usual meeting point, and it was really sad to leave the friends we had volunteered, messed around, drank chocolate milk and complained with for the past 3 weeks. A group of us ventured on to Tel Aviv, and my Canadian friend and I checked into a trendy boutique hotel where we’d spend our last night. Before we grabbed a much-needed Aroma iced drink and met up with the Australian boy, Canadian boy and the girl from Calgary, I received a surprise message from Soulja Boy! For the rest of the afternoon, as a group, we were all crowding round the phone trying to reply to his messages. As much as I wanted to meet up, I much preferred spending my last afternoon and evening with my Sar-El friends – he’ll just remain a cute inside joke from my time in the warehouse.

The group of us went to a beach closer to the main stretch of hotels, and the sea there had far bigger waves to ride. We wanted to borrow a surf board from a randomer we named Raoul, and for some unknown reason I screamed “Raaaouuulllll!!!” at the top of my lungs whilst we floated about with the Australian boy’s Go-Pro and got swallowed by the waves numerous times. When I started to get a bit of motion sickness, I managed to find a solitary spot of shade on the sand: the shadow from a swimming rules sign. For dinner, we went to Neve Tzedek. There was such a buzzing atmosphere and I loved wandering around the cute artists’ market, food stalls and shops. We found the one Kosher restaurant there and tried some traditional home made food. It was hilarious when the Australian boy (who was trying SO HARD to be Kosher) asked if he could have chocolate milk with his schnitzel!!!

After our meal, we soaked up the awesome ambience and headed to the military hostel to visit our madricha whilst she was on guard duty. We finally got to see her with a gun! It was so nice to spend time with her off-base. When 2 hours had passed after the meal, we walked to Yafo in search of some ice cream (I had a chocolate soufflé with cookies and cream ice cream); Yafo has a completely different feel to Tel Aviv, for example: it’s so… Middle Eastern! We then returned to the military hostel and stayed there until the curfew (midnight) when we got kicked out. It was a long but fun evening, and I especially enjoyed the hour’s walk back from Yafo to Tel Aviv. I couldn’t believe how busy the parks were by the sea, how peaceful it was to stroll along the promenade, and how alive I felt in that moment.

The girl from Calgary didn’t manage to catch a train to her couch-surfing hosts, so she stayed with us in the hotel, and I had a good rest before arriving early at the airport the next morning. In the arrivals hall, I watched the Genesis trip highlights video before checking in, and I cried a little. I just felt a whole range of emotions all at once; I was so happy about the amazing experiences that I’d had in Israel, but I was devastated to have to go home! I stocked up on snacks before my flight – Doritos, obviously – and actually had a really pleasant flight. The plane was quite plush and the food was great (we were served ice lollies – I didn’t know that was a thing). But enough about the food… arriving in London was, by far, the most miserable moment of the summer. Why does England have to be so… GREY?! I guess I’ll have to start looking into booking another trip to Israel some time soon, because I’m already having severe withdrawal symptoms…

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