A tale of three trommels

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When my two teenage daughters heard I was writing about what kids pack for their annual machaneh (summer camp) at the coast, they objected vehemently to being written about. So we’ll just call them Sylvia* and Bernice*.
by STEVEN GRUZD | Dec 05, 2019

Getting ready for camp is a major logistical operation. It all revolves around what goes into the trommel, the ubiquitous Smurf-blue metallic trunk.

Most youngsters decorate their trommels to distinguish them and express their identities. This usually entails parents forking out for several cans of spray paint. The transformed trommels boast skylines and nature scenes, football teams, and movie idols, sunsets, and geometric patterns.

The next step is waterproofing the trommels in case it rains at camp, because they don’t sit in the tents but outside them. Now as a Y-I-D I’m not very keen on D-I-Y, but I dutifully bought a silicone gun and squelched the goo onto all the joints and edges inside the trunk.

This year, Sylvia didn’t bother with anything else, while Bernice spent several hours affixing black dustbin bags to the inside of her trommel with packing tape. They had to be perfectly aligned. She’s so fussy that when she was wrapping her stretcher in green bin bags, you would have thought she was embalming the mummy of King Tut.

The volume of clothing that my girls packed was impressive. An outfit for all occasions, from Shabbat to swimming and everything in between. Each subcategory of clothes was placed into its own stiff packet and labelled by my wife. Sometimes there were packets inside packets. These were loaded into the trommel like Russian matryoshka nesting dolls, each containing a smaller doll inside themselves.

The trick seemed to be to pack as much as possible so that, G-d forbid, Jewish teenagers would never, ever have to wash any item of clothing. It all returns as a foul-smelling multicoloured mass after machaneh.

Next comes the food. We had to purchase a ticket for a separate food trommel. You would think that the thousands we pay for camp would cover all meals. Apparently not. My two girls packed cereals and long-life milk and instant noodles and dried fruit and rusks and peanuts and biscuits and energy bars, and heaven knows what else. Apparently a camp favourite is setting toilet paper alight in a can of tuna to smoke it. I expect to see that in a Jamie Oliver cookbook soon.

But the killer for me were the toiletries. When I travel, I take a toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush, shaving cream and razor, and deodorant. That’s it. My daughters packed plasters, pills, potions, unctions, and lotions of every description. When my bank sent me an SMS of how much was purchased at the pharmacy, it exceeded the annual GDP (gross domestic product) of Lesotho.

“There are doctors on site. Surely you don’t need to schlep all of this medicine?”

“Dad, the doctors just give out Strepsils for everything,” Sylvia said.

“And why can’t you share the medical supplies?”

“Because Bernice’s tent is far from mine.”

And then, at the last minute, we had to rush off to the shops to buy yet another set of combination locks to seal the trommels. This was in spite of having bought combination locks every year for the same purpose.

“Why do you lose the locks?” I said.

Cue withering teenage eyerolls.

Once everything was finally crammed into the trommels, two people somehow dragged them to the car and delivered them to the drop-off point. That park was festooned with stretchers, mattresses, and hundreds of trommels. There were also a few deckchairs, a portable stove, and gazebos because there is hardly any shade on the campsite. The trommels were then stacked like Lego blocks into enormous trucks that would transport them down to the campsite. In my camping days, the trommels went on the same train as we did. Nowadays, kids fly to camp.

“So, how are you going to carry the trommel on the other side?” I asked.

“Oh, I’ll find some boys to help me,” Sylvia smiled.

After all the trommel troubles, these kids will hopefully have the time of their lives.

* Not their real names

•   Steven Gruzd is an analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs


  1. 2 Marie Gruzd 05 Dec
    goodness this brought back memories I can tell you!
    One of my darling children took a sputnik washing machine with him to make some handy pocket money doing other peoples smalls unfortunately it broke so it turned out to be a bit of a let down.
    this did make me laugh!!
  2. 1 denise abrahams 05 Dec
    I loved this article ... laughed right through it 


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