If there is one word that I can use to describe my experience living in (or rather, surviving) PLKN, it’s ‘lucky’. Lucky; in many senses.
I was lucky to be selected in the first place, then lucky to get out of it alive. I was lucky I never got injured or got sick, except for that time I got rashes all over my body for over sweating. I was lucky I made some friends that I could call true friends (Sheriel, you are, thank God, one of them! And Thiru, Aiman, and Tam, and Huz and Haz, and of course you, Rifai!). I was lucky that I had something great to do after SPM. And most importantly, I was lucky to experience it all.
God, the experiences. If not for PLKN, I would never get the chance to flying fox. Or abseiling. My first time kayaking was in PLKN. I remember kayaking with my best friend till jannah (lol!), Rifai, through the tall grasses of Tasik Chini (yes, they were no apparent lotuses where we kayaked), and being in the middle of the lake for the first time ever, observing the land from where we were was very humbling and overwhelming at the same time.
I could never really accurately describe the experience in PLKN. The whole experience feels somewhat surreal; it feels like it’s a lost moment in your history. Like for some 3 months, I was kidnapped from my life only to be returned back three months later with a vague kind of memory.
But somehow you knew it did happen. Just that it doesn’t affect you that much.
The Night When We Stayed in the Forest
The reason that triggered me to write about my own experience in PLKN – the students in my college just got back from their survival camp in the deep forest.
I remember my own story.
In PLKN, you have to pass a survival camp where they leave you and your company in the middle of the forest, to set up your own camp and survive the night. They only give you the basic necessities – parang, some food etc etc and it’s up to you to use the resources wisely.
Each company is divided into small groups, and each group consist of pairs. Rifai and I were one pair. We had our own shared experiences during this camp, which was quite funny, to think of it.
I was determined to survive the camp elegantly, thus stuffing my backpack with every luxury that I could afford. So did Rifai.
The first day, we were the ones who swept the floor of the jungle. Our company had decided to stay at a place with a big tree as the middle of our camp, and surrounding the big tree, we marked our territory with a string of rope as our parameter. We had to make sure that every leave, twig and branch is not to be seen, thus making the floor of the jungle as clear as possible.
This is to ensure that no venomous animals or insects could hide under those stuffs. I was lucky (counted my blessings!) to have Rifai by my side, because it was for him that I had many laughs that evening even while doing a hard work. We talked bad about many people while sweeping, and talked nonsense most of the time. His presence had really lightened up my mood.
Later, we set up our own tent. Every person was given a cloth called ‘poncho’, and to set up a tent, you have to have two ponchos; hence it required one pair of person to build a tent. We were quite late in setting up our tent, since we were the only ones who worked during the day to clean up the place. (I didn’t even complain, because later the rest of the company had to build our toilets, so we actually got the easier task.)
But since we didn’t have much time left, we only managed to build our tent up. Many other pairs managed to make their own jungle furniture from the forest stuffs. Some of them came up with shoe rack, and some with rack to keep their periuk belanga. The only materials they used are twigs and branches and some rope (Though given the time, I would still not able to produce those stuffs. So really, it was very creative of them.)
After we set up our tent, it was our first coffee break with style.
We boiled coffee in the mestin, then dip Chipsmore in it. We did it very secretly, behind our tent, because clearly, Chipsmore cookies is one of the luxury items in the jungle. It was one of the very satisfying coffees of my life. The water was still boiling when we replenish it into our cups, and it was perfectly nice. The cookie got instantly smooth once dipped in the coffee, even for a very; very short period of time.
At about six, the forest was getting really dark, so the person in charge suggested that we start cooking. The cooking was done in groups; therefore we had to group up and divide the tasks to each member. Me and Rifai were in a group of five, and I volunteered myself and Rifai to cook the dishes while we let the others cook the rice. It might sound unfair to us but I was insisting on surviving the camp with style, and even prior to the camp, I had decided to cook a proper meal with 3 dishes, even though we had very limited supply of raw materials. These are what we cooked that day:
1- Ikan bilis goreng dengan bawang
2- Telur dadar
Yeah, it kind of sounds plain, but consider the fact that most other groups cooked all their eggs and sardines in one dish, and didn’t use the bilis at all. We were the only one with a proper omelette (telur dadar), the rest cooked scrambled eggs. I was very proud when other groups observed us with envy. But there was an incident, when our sergeant came around and asked us of how many eggs we took from the pantry. We truthfully answered ‘two for each person’, only to be scorned back at. He answered ‘I didn’t even take one’.
It was because some douchebags took more than two eggs for themselves, wanting to have the bigger delicious meal. We did as we were told, nothing less, nothing more. We made do with what we had. I was nonetheless disappointed with their attitude. We would die if we had this type of people in our survival team. Yes, it boils down to a matter of life and death when it comes to survival in jungle.
When the dark came, we were ready with our flame torches. Our neighbouring company, the company Charlie was still not finished with their cleaning. They were unlucky to have many small trees, making cleaning a torture. Though we were only meters apart, we had the better place. Charlie visibly has given up with their cleaning, and they sat quietly waiting for the night to come with despair.
It was a dark night, with no moon or stars, as far as I could recall. We had already covered all our exposed skin with repellent. We now sat in small groups, telling stories. Things got serious at times when we hear people shouting, followed by the prevailing silence. Truth be told, I was not ready to face a wild beast that night. Or worse yet, jungle spirits. Luckily it didn’t happen.
So Rifai and I started to prepare our supper; Campbell’s mushroom soup. We sat quietly behind our tent, hiding yet again from the rest of our company for a chance of luxury. By now, we had performed 4 of our prayers with the same ablution. We tried as hard as we could to not ‘batalkan’ our wuduk until Isyak and we succeeded.
There was nothing left to do that night, and even though we decided at first to not sleep, we were clearly exhausted from the day chores. We were threatened with intruders warning, so every one of us was paranoid. If the intruders managed to penetrate our parameter and steal our belonging, we would fail the task. (It was a competition, in reality).
Thus many of us didn’t sleep that night, and some clearly lose half their mind. I mean, they were normal people BEFORE the camp, but during the camp, they became totally different people. (Lord of the Flies, anyone?) They kept shouting like maniac, screaming now and then asking us to be prepared for attacks. It became scarier when it was totally dark and we only could depend on our torches for light. Outside our parameter, we could not see a thing. Some regard the shout as a true warning.
When they shouted again and again, I could not help from feeling that the screams might attract unwanted visitors from around our camp. And also, when they screamed and you could not see who was screaming, it became sort of like a horror movie with incoherent noises shouting and you yourself became disoriented and paranoid.
But then again, this feels very new to me. Imagine this; you are with a group of 180 people who are the same age as you, now being in the middle of a jungle, trying to survive. We were young, we were 18, and we were clueless young adults. Anything could happen, something could go wrong, and something could go out of control. It felt awesome a little bit, overwhelming mostly.
Some time later that night, when we could not help it, we fell asleep underneath our two-sided tent between the screams and shouting. Yup. It wasn’t even a full tent. Our head and feet were still exposed. And did I tell you that we wore the same soldier outfit from the morning until that night? Oh silly me. We only wore it until the next day.
Because they said that we have to wear that as a symbol of recognition. That is the easiest way to recognise our own members.
That was the first night I slept with my boots on and with the same shirt I wore from the morning.
The next day, we prayed our Subuh prayer (yeah, with the same boots and shirt. Thanks for asking). It was time for breakfast and this time we only had our Maggi mee left. And this time, we were too tired to keep it secret, thus many of our company members joined in our little picnic.
We then had to decorate our camp, but it was pretty much the conclusion. We survived the night, and it was what mattered. I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about decorating when surviving is the reason of celebration.
I was lucky to survive the night, I recounted. Let alone surviving it elegantly.
So after it all finished later that noon, we packed our belongings and cleaned our surroundings, burying all the garbage, bringing home (not quite. Home as in PLKN camp) memories and things. I was oddly happy, not because I survived it, but because I experienced it.
Even now, the experience could never be repeated. I was lucky to have joined it and paid nothing, in fact, I got paid to be there. I met these people that would sacrifice themselves to the betterment of the society, and lose their own sanity in the process.
I saw these people that would take advantage of a kind society, stealing things for their own good. But later on they themselves contributed and not at all useless (they built our toilet, remember?). I saw these people who were willing to be with you everywhere you go, feeling your every emotion, insecurity, failure and triumph. They were there from the start to the end.
These are true friends.
So what is it again that I was complaining? I was lucky, really.