As our time in Djibouti was coming to a close on this USO–NCS trip, one of the officers invited us to join him and others at the Chief Petty Officers club. We entered through a rusty gate past some piles of what some might call “junk”, and entered through a door into a structure of plywood and magnificent air conditioning. There we socialized with some pretty nice folks after a long day of heat, sweat, and drawings (not necessarily in that order).
As would happen during our drawing sessions, conversations with soldiers here at the club could sometimes reveal how hard it is for them while serving so far away from home. That night I met one gentleman who had been through the ringer. He started off by telling me that just two days earlier, his cousin and an aunt had just been murdered back in the States, his daughter died back in February, and his sister-in-law had a heart attack this year. So much personal tragedy for this man, and he was unable to go home to deal with any of it. He said those buddies of his in that room helped him through it all. He was living proof that it sometimes is a great sacrifice to live a year away from home and family.
The next morning we left the base in the daylight which allowed us to finally see what the area was like since we had arrived under cover of darkness. The poverty was astonishing.
I will say this about the Djibouti airport experience – the place is full of crooks. When our vehicles pulled up to the curb, we were approached by MANY aggressive porters all with their hand out for tips. Of course, we turned them all down. Who requires a porter when suitcases all have wheels today? As I entered the airport, I had to pass through security right at the door. They kept buzzing me at the metal detector, and when I finally got through, my suitcase was missing from the X-ray machine belt. Turns out a porter ran around the other side of the machine and grabbed my bag and was demanding money. I looked him right in the eye and firmly said, “NO.”
Later as we passed through a second security check point, the security man boldly confiscated Sam Viviano’s batteries of all things! He just told Sam, “Not yours. Mine!” and took them! When we arrived at our next destination in Turkey, Paul Combs found that his running shoes had been stolen from his suitcase. We had been warned by our USO traveling companion that Djibouti could be that way, and sure enough, it lived up to its reputation.