This blog is a continuation of last weeks blog. So if you missed part 1, check it out HERE.
We climb into a small fleet of vehicles to take us on a tour of the town.
Djibouti is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s incredibly poor, more so than any other third world country I’ve been to. People are living in shanties, on sidewalks, under makeshift roofs made from strung sheets and blankets, anywhere and everywhere. The streets are lined with trash and sewage and herds of goats scattered about feasting on all of it. The handful of modern roads are virtually useless. The few locals with cars drive very badly and hundreds of people crowd the roads and streets since the sidewalks are covered in garbage and the homeless. As we enter downtown Djibouti, kids are banging on the sides of the van trying to direct us to a parking space (so they can collect a locator’s fee), one particular boy seems relentless, he follows our van for fifteen minutes until we finally park, as soon as we get out of the van not only does he ask to be paid for finding us this spot, but another local comes up asking for money to “watch” our van for us while we shop.
We visit the local marketplace where I practice my haggling techniques with the vendors. The local past time here is a plant called Khat which the locals chew, that makes them very high. Apparently, the whole city shuts down between 1 pm and 5 pm so they can all get stoned. I’m told stories of people walking around talking to street signs or sitting in a huddled mess drooling on themselves. Not a pretty picture.
While making our way back to our van, we seem to have forgotten exactly where it was parked. Suddenly, three plainclothes military pop out of nowhere to make sure we are ok? Our drive explains he forgot where he parked and they immediately guide us to the van. They had been with us the entire time as security escorts and were invisible right up until the tiniest sign of trouble. Crazy, it was like they appeared out of thin air!
It's ungodly hot here, 110 + at the least, the air is thick with the stench of garbage and sewage, the water is unsafe for drinking or brushing your teeth and the food is hard to stomach.
1 pm -I head to the area of the base where the stage is supposed to be for our show tonight. There is no stage, only the outline of a large rectangle drawn in the dirt, with piles of wood and cinder blocks surrounding it. Just this morning this area was a bumpy hill which has now been transformed into a large flat expanse of dirt and sand with the help of heavy equipment and a lot of manpower. But there is no stage, not a soul around, our equipment has not yet arrived, and the show is scheduled for 8 pm. Things are not looking good. Since there’s nothing I can do at the moment I decide to head to the mess hall.
Our equipment shows up around 3 pm and we now have a flatbed stage. In a mad rush, everything comes together for the show.
10 pm -The show is over and soldiers are coming up to us by the dozen telling us how much it means to them for us to be here. We've been getting that a lot. There is an incredible amount of energy coming from the crowd. During the sho,w I had the harsh realization that some of these guys (possibly many) that we encounter over the next several days, are not going to make it back home. It’s rather unsettling and humbling. Some of these kids are living it up as best they can, not knowing what tomorrow will bring or how many tomorrows they will see.
Still in Djibouti. Last night after the show the Special Forces unit on the base invited us to a party at the Cree (their part of the base), during which they gave our drum tech, a mohawk. Unfortunately for him, he had mentioned that he wanted to shave his head and they offered to do it for him. After the part,y we were all invited back the next day for some fun.
We started with a tour of their arsenal and all of their toys- body armor, C3, C4 explosives, weapons, flash-bangs, tools, med kits, everything they carry on their bodies for a mission.
Next, we get a hands on look at their guns, passing around an assortment of rifles and handguns and a tour of several assault vehicles. After that, we head over to the “house” where they run practice drills and training. It’s a wooden shell of a house without a roof, and an ever changing floor plan with moveable walls and doors so they can change the layout to encounter any possible situation. These guys are amazing, there’s no messing around here, very highly skilled and trained.
Now the fun begins, they’ve brought a couple rifles and handguns along for us to try some target practice and we take turns trying on all of their gear. The vests that they wear when fully loaded with armor, weapons, med kits, etc., weigh about 80lbs. I felt like I sank three inches into the sand when they put it on me.
I could barely walk and it was so hot I was drenched in sweat within seconds. These guys have to run around the desert in this stuff, I don't know how they do it. Quite an interesting bunch of characters, they shared some good stories with us and we all headed back to their private bar "the Bitter End" for a group photo.
8 pm -We take off from Djibouti on board the General's jet bound for Kuwait. Midnight- We land at the US military's air strip in Kuwait. After taxiing off the runway one of the flight crew opens the door and turns around with a rather concerned look on his face. Outside, circling the plane are 16 armed American soldiers with their rifles pointed at the us. Apparently, they didn't get the message that we were coming and wanted to know who was on this unannounced flight. It's all cleared up quickly by our Air Force LT and we are on our way to our hotel in Kuwait.
The hotel is amazing, it's a world class 5 star resort on the beach of The Persian Gulf. We're staying in two story, beach side Villas with 5 bedrooms and 4 baths, pretty nice. The complete opposite of our accommodations in Djibouti.
Right before the show, the crew is asked backstage to personally meet all of the Generals and top military officials on base who thank us for coming out to do this. On with the show and there are thousands of people here to watch the performance. From what I'm told this is the biggest crowd that has ever turned out for one of these shows.
The drummer for the band has been sick for several days, (got something in Djibouti), he’s severely dehydrated and is in no condition to play so just before show time the band informs his drum tech that he will need to cover for the drummer. Talk about being put on the spot! Luckily, the drum tech is a talented drummer himself. He does a great job considering he’s never played all of the songs before.
Did I mention Kuwait is a "dry" country? No alcohol, anywhere, it's illegal, but these soldiers are carrying on like a bunch of drunk rednecks at a tailgate party! The response from the crowd is incredible, it's unlike anything I have ever seen.
The band is going to Iraq to do a quick meet and greet with the troops in Karouk, Baghdad, and Baqavah. Those of us who didn’t need to go are spending the day off here in Kuwait. I’m anxiously waiting to get out of the desert, tired of feeling gritty, breathing in sand, and slathering on sunscreen all the time.
Everyone returns safely from Iraq and at midnight we head to the air strip. 3am and we’re on board the luxurious C 130 again with all our equipment headed to Bahrain again for a quick stop before going back to Europe.
Day off in Bahrain, next stop Aviano, Italy
We have a 6:00am flight to Italy for a show tonight. After seven hours of flying, we finally arrive at the base in Aviano around 4:00pm. Everyone works their butt off to get the show up on time and during the second song, the power to FOH and the PA goes out. After a few minutes of troubleshooting, we’re back up and running and the rest of the show goes smoothly. Neve a dull moment.
Return to Rota, Spain for one more show. We were supposed to be doing a show on an aircraft carrier here, however, a few days ago it was relocated to an undisclosed location, so they threw a small stage in a field behind one of the bars on base and that’s where we’ll be. Oh, and did I mention I’m mixing FOH from the Monitor console? The band agreed to do an acoustic set and someone decided that we could pull this off with one console instead of two! So the monitor engineer and I have set up a perimeter down the center of the console...you stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine! ‘Oh and by the way we’d like to you record this show to the six channel Fostex field recorder that we’ve brought along.’ 'Anything else you’d like to throw on top of me at the last minute'?
All in all the show goes well, and the end of the tour has arrived!
After 13 hours of flying and several refueling stops, we are back in the USA. Despite being utterly exhausted we all survived just fine and the enthusiasm and response from the troops made it all worthwhile!