Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Djibouti is the funniest thing ever

I have been under the constant bombardment of almost guffaw at work for the past couple of weeks.

This involves a lot of backstory to understand why I find it so funny, but the gist is that we share an office with folks who do a lot of travel. One of the places they are going to is Djibouti. They mention Djibouti a lot and I find the use of the word Djibouti to be hilarious in just about any context.

When I was active duty, I was deployed to Afghanistan from 2002-2003. I edited the area newsletter there. It was daily, so we were always filling it with whatever news we could get out of any Central Command areas. One CENTCOM area of operations was the Horn of Africa – Djibouti.

You do a lot of things to keep yourself sane during long deployments. Honestly, in the non-combat, office kind of role, it’s like being in a really stressful workplace. So, you do what you can to ease the tension. One of those things became the Djibouti running joke.

To understand the Djibouti running joke, you have to understand the DINFOS running joke (one of them, anyway). At the Defense Information School, military students from all services are taught print and broadcast journalism in an intense, couple of month program. DINFOS journalism is not nuanced. They teach you basic rules and expect you to develop your skills on the job. One of the rules taught at DINFOS deals with time and place.

Every story you wind up writing there almost always contains the following: “here, today, at DINFOS.” Because when you’re learning to write news, you learn that your lead must contain the who, what, where, when, why and how. So the practice news articles with which you begin the course, with notes, quotes, etc. provided by the instructor, lead you to write your leads in a very regimented manner. A story about a plane crash in Denver would read something like: “A DC-10 crashed during landing here, today, at the Denver Airport” or something like that. You might have more details, but this is the formula.

DINFOS students have to do this so often that they wind up walking around campus saying things like, “We just got back from the bowling alley … here, today, at DINFOS,” “We’re looking for Pvt. Snuffy … here, today, at DINFOS.” And, during those brief weeks assigned there, it almost always elicits at least a smile.

During our Afghan deployment, we’d use our free time (of which we had a remarkable amount) to pursue whatever. Often, when most of us were in office, we’d have some good bullshit banter going on. One time, after posting a story about operations in Djibouti in the newsletter, I made some kind of joke about someone busting ass and ended it with “here, today, in Djibouti” and that was it. Djibouti became one of our running jokes. That day we spent hours making lame Djibouti jokes. And they were la-a-ame. Like, “The weather was hot and muggy, here, today, in Djibouti” (it was summer in Afghanistan at the time) or “A foul odor permeated the region, here, today, in Djibouti.” It always worked best when someone, usually a visitor to our office, made some kind of innocent comment and one of us would then add “here, today, in Djibouti.” Of course, it also evolved into simple “Djibouti” comments. You might have someone ask, “Did you hear about that explosion last night?” “In Djibouti?” Yes. LA-A-A-A-AME. But I can’t even write these things without smiling. Hell, almost busting out laughing.

The response is almost Pavlovian. My mind is trained to react to Djibouti in such a fashion (think about that sentence and tell me that’s not funny!).

The guys sitting in the cubicles next to mine keep talking about Djibouti. “We can’t drop Djibouti.” “Is Djibouti ready?” “Have you heard from Djibouti?” “Djibouti’s important.” "You're going to be in Djibouti for a few days."

And I almost lose it. Every. Single. Time.

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