Room sharing wasn't very high up on my list of considerations before joining the French Foreign Legion. Seeing the world - check. Discovering new thresholds concerning hunger and pain - check. Meeting new and exotic people - check. Sharing a room with afore-mentioned exotic people - Ahhhhh! I come from a small family, you see. Just my sister and me. A distinctly middle-class affair, we each enjoyed individual bedrooms from the beginning. Decoration was a fairly liberal concern too. We each had our "carte blanche", if you will. Her walls were adorned with pictures of horses and horoscope paraphernalia, mine plastered in posters of football players and particularly memorable Beano comic strips. Of course, as I grew older pictures of Denis Bergkamp gradually found themselves replaced by Lara Croft or various members of the pop group "All Saints". My parents didn't protest. As I said, a fairly liberal concern in general.
Cue my induction into the hallowed halls (and cell-like "chambres") of the Legion. I'd never realized just how sensitive a sleeper I was until faced with the chronic snoring perpetrated by an overwhelming majority of Legionnaires. It's generally at its worst while out on field manoeuvres. The heightened fatigue and discomfort combine to create a cacophonous oral battery recurring night after night until the return to regiment and a somewhat steadier sleep pattern beckons. Once back at regiment, however, one must take care to meticulously negotiate the delicate etiquette of room sharing. Sleeping in tents out in the countryside is a rather ephemeral experience when placed beside the daily get up/bed down cycle undertaken with your fellow roomies on a decidedly more long-term basis.
With regards to my regimental roomies to-date, I've had some good 'uns and some not-so-good 'uns. Take Caporal Dang, for instance. Me being a young Legionnaire at the time, Dang pulled a few strings in order to have me relocated to his room (I'd previously been living it up with Nic, my Marseille buddy who'd started out at pre-selection in Aubagne with me). I didn't ponder the switch too deeply at the time. Soon, however, the reasons became rather apparent. Dang drank. A lot. Every morning I'd be forced to lug at least two bulging sacks full of rubbish down the stairs and out to the communal bins. By "rubbish", of course I mean empty Kronenberg cans. A lot of empty Kronenberg cans. On one memorable Monday morning, I awoke to a light-filled room (having arrived in late the Sunday night) displaying large, confusing and rather frightening stains all over the linoleum floor. Some I could readily identify as beer. Others, however, would've required a CSI team to decipher. I can't remember if it was Chinese New Year or just Dang's birthday, but Jesus did he and his buddies leave their mark! Luckily, Dang was in the final year of his contract and vacated the room soon afterwards, leaving me on my own. Temporarily……..
Enter Caporal Park. Sticking with the whole Asian alcoholic theme (Dang being chinese, Park Korean), the drinking continued. Only this time, I found myself being slowly roped in. Park and I had been good friends before he became a Corporal. The good feeling between us quickly translated into Tuesday nights attacking a crate of Hoegarden (distinctly tastier than the foul French Kronenberg) while watching some subtitled Korean gangster flick. Fun tiles, indeed, but far from sustainable. The one thing I enjoyed about sharing with Park was that he (a lot like Dang, actually) didn't make a single sound throughout the night. Having served in the rather brutal mid-nineties Korean army, Park almost resembled a slumbering vampire, arms folded across his chest, feet glued together. Not that it bothered me, of course. I was just relieved not to have to scrub perplexing bodily fluids off the floor.
Only recently, Park and I were forced to part ways as an influx of newbies demanded a reshuffle in the sleeping arrangements in our section. Now finding myself considered an "ancien" (at least compared to the fresh faced, skin head defecators of the French language newly arrived at regiment), I now find myself sporting the lowly semi-glamorous title of "Chef de Chambre" ("Chef" as in boss, not cook!!!). My loyal subjects consist of a solitary Ukranian, jovially nicknamed 007 owing to a humorous phonetic similarity between his Legion name and a famous Ian Fleming character. 007 (or James, for the purposes of this story) is a general top guy. Four years spent working on building sites and as a bouncer in various East London nightclubs has injected a bizarrely hilarious take on the French language. Whenever stuck for a word in our working tongue, James will empty a deliciously confusing repertoire of cockney slang in a desperately frustrating attempt at making himself understood. Unfortunately I feel that reproducing James' vocabulary on screen might get my blog shut down, but suffice to say Guy Ritchie's hair would turn white with shock.
James also loves to eat. A slightly more essential form of consumption than alcoholism (although certain Legionnaires would viciously argue the contrary), I've certainly reaped the benefits in a short space of time. Not five little minutes can pass without James stating how famished he is, followed by a trip to his food stash to conjure up a banana or Kinder Bueno. Fortunately, he always has loads in stock, and so a welcome offer to share in his royal mid-morning feast is inevitable, given his fabulously generous nature. Grub aside, though, life with James does have its drawbacks. Given the time difference between here and Ukraine, late-night phone calls are a regular feature of our co-habitation. How much tangible information is actually exchanged remains a complete mystery, however. From what I can decipher, every second or third word is either "Sooka", or "Bled" or "Peezd Yets" (all terrible attempts at phonetic spelling but essentially gross Russian vulgarities). He's promised to cut back on the after-hours chit chat, but I suppose I can't complain too much. Compared to eerily silent drink-dependent orientals, a loud crumb-spluttering Cockney-Ukrainian should probably be considered a step in the right direction.
Ah yes, every day's an adventure here in the land of Legion.