When Cypriot males reach eighteen years, they are required to perform military service. Last year saw the first wave of the Big Ones' friends leaving for military service: Stelios went to the navy and did his training as a marine to guard one of the missile bases agaist seaborne attack (in theory, anyway), and Yiannis went off to the commandos – to do whatever commandos do.
Last week saw another wave of friends shaving their heads and going 'to the KEN' – as basic training is known by its acronym for The Centre of New Recruits' Training. Yioti also opted for the navy: he wants to retake his exams to get a higher mark and figures that between pulling guard shifts he can swot his physics and computer studies, Nick is probably heading for the infantry, Tzirkalis wants to be a driver, Dinos has chosen the navy... and Joey, whose ambition for the last three years of technical college has been to be a chef, is headed for the catering corps.
Alex still has two years before his enlistment starts: because he repeated a year of kindergarten (don't ask!), he is a year behind anyway, and because he is taking A Levels he has Grade 13 to complete instead of finishing at Grade 12. This means that most of his friends will have finished their service by the time he joins up, but he doesn't seem to fussed about that. He wants to join the commandos ('At least I'll stay fit, be kept busy, and learn something,' he said. 'Rather than being bored to death pulling endless guard duty or sitting up on some Godforsaken Observation Post on the Green Line!') and is hoping that his less-than-perfect eyesight doesn't disqualify him.
It seems such a short time ago that my friends and I were sipping coffee at a mother and toddler morning discussing army service and how we hoped that the Situation would have been resolved by the time our sons reached conscription age. Now for me, that's unlikely – with Alex, at least (maybe by the time Leo's eighteen, ten years from now, conscription will have ended) – and for my friends, impossible.
And where would the Cyprus National Guard be without the soldiers' mothers? There are no washing machines on the bases ('We washed everything by hand!' said Best Beloved, who did his service in the early '80s), so mums collect the laundry. The food is pretty bad: 'Mystery Meat stew,' said Stelios. 'You learned not to ask what was in it!' so mums bring home-cooked meals (hopefully Joey will change that for his fellow soldiers). Many conscripts don't yet have their driving licenses, let alone a car (and the stipend they receive will in no way stretch to a taxi), so mums living within ten miles of their sons' bases are constantly driving their offspring on and of post at odd hours.
Ah well, it's all part and parcel of living here. It will be our turn soon.