Djibouti, although sweltering and hot, humid, and a shared base between all military branches (which can make for some confusing rules), was for me the best show on the trip. The crowd was drinking, great lights (first time we had lights), and although not the best sound system, this was a crowd ready for a show. A packed house – finally! I did some improv comedy regarding our stay on the base and it went over so well. We did a most fun show, with another standing ovation to end and a final moment to relish in the joy we could offer these wonderful people serving our country.
Following the show at 11:30 PM we had a Meet & Greet in the Chapel and did a mini-Fireside, kind of a “Meet the Mormons”. We had a nice turn-out and this whole aspect of this tour has made it even that much more touching and poignant at each location. To help our fellow comrades realize we believe in Christ, we worship and live to spread the Gospel, has been eye-opening to those attending our impromptu meetings. I am continually amazed at Dean’s wit, his genius on the piano, his spirit which pretty much can barely be held inside the bounds of his physical body. He is a spiritual giant and has become one of my life heroes on this trip. Dan has been a friend for a long time, and I thought I knew all he could do. But my eyes have been opened to his ability to connect, to draw in any audience, his stories that resonate on another level, not just humorous or motivational as more inspirational, it has been incredible to watch him. And David, he is a most wonderful gift to our earth. His spirit is great, his heart is pure, his example something I wish I could emulate. We all need to “Mimic Masters” (a Chapter in my Book, “Signature Moves”), and I want to mimic all of these most marvelous men.
By 1:30 AM our fireside was over. The spirit was there, the feeling of love and respect was strong, as we heard testimonies from those of many faiths. What an experience! Bed by 2:30, up at 6 for breakfast, on the bus by 8 for the long, sweaty, check point after check point Djibouti departure. The airport is literally on the base of Djibouti, but we had to go outside the gates to fly out, so in essence it’s a 5 minute drive. However, it took us 2 hours to get from the base, through all security, to the Airport check in, which was another fiasco, and finally to our gate by 11 AM in time for our 11:50 departure. From there we went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a most welcome layover, as the air was COOL, wonderful, beautiful greenery contrasting Djibouti’s desert sand conditions.
Our layover in Addis Ababa was 10 hours. Had I been alone I would have not gone to the hassle of doing anything, I would have written in my journal, written a blog, called my family, etc etc. But not with these guys around! Dean worked so hard to put together the most significant moment of the trip regarding our spiritual aspect of it – an LDS Fireside for all of the people able to make it. It was a FULL HOUSE. A few white people including us, and to walk into that chapel and see these beautiful Ethiopian Saints, I’m not sure there are more beautiful people than Ethiopians. Their skin is flawless, their eyes shine light, their smiles are ever-present. I’ve not been to Africa before to feel of their great spirit, but Dean told me there would be something I’d never felt and it was true. Upon entering the Chapel I just started crying at the sight of these great people, sitting side by side, black and white, it was something my eyes will never forget. And to be able to address them and realize that my material works in any language (although a majority of the youth speak English), to hear explosive laughter, to see their smiles as David sang, Dean played piano, Dan told stories, it was most remarkable. We all bore testimony and spent over an hour taking pictures. This was my favorite moment of the whole trip. To know we could combine inspiring the Troops and do service for our Saints at the same time, this was something most perfect. It was also a pleasant surprise to have a few youth recognize me from doing assemblies and leadership trainings they had attended all the way back to elementary and high school. So amazing, such a small world in the Church.
The Branch President, along with the missionary couples, took us to an authentic restaurant of Ethiopian cuisine and experience prior to our return to the airport. I’m sad I missed the name of the place, but just driving there was like being in NASCAR while dodging other cars swooping through roundabouts, as well as people walking in the streets, honking, lights flashing, people crashing, it was a sight to behold! The level of poverty was extreme, kids standing on the streets with their hands out as we passed, a woman with one white eye came up to the car begging for money as we raced away in the van. This was just like every movie I’d seen, so sad, so incredible the challenges people the world over face, and here I am complaining I’m sweaty from the heat….
The restaurant was worth noting, filled with music and a live band in front and center, the stage captivated the audience with dancers, singers, African music that drove a stake of authenticity and beauty into my heart. No auto-tune. No fake pretty faces lip syncing. No frills and fireworks. This was tribal dancing on stage, joyous smiles and faces were REAL on the face of happy people dancing their hearts out, playing their instruments like it was the most wonderful moment of their life. I already love music, but being in Africa, seeing people play, sing, dance just reignited my desire to get to the root of what my next album will become. This was a most significant night, and I could help but shake my bum as I walked to my seat, garnering stares and smiles from the multi-cultural audience.
Encouraged by some to take the stage, as audience members are to run up and put money in the shirts of the dancers, I hesitated too long and never got my chance. It wasn’t meant to be. But next came a real special moment, when the restaurant owner approached our table and begged David to sing. Now, I can only imagine how he felt. I’ve been invited to many a Christmas party and been disappointed to find out it was only because they wanted me to be the show after dinner without my notice or preparation. But this moment proved the humility of David and his kindness. I have been around other celebrities asked to do things and they say disturbing insults to the one asking. David tried to let them know he wasn’t prepared and was embarrassed, but not in a jerky way, just in a “who told them I could sing?” kind of way. After enough prodding he took the stage. Dean brought his guitar in case he’d have a chance to play with the band. When introduced the crowd kind of took notice and clapped a little, but once he laid into the first line of “Stand By Me” with “When the night has come”, there was a collective gasp and everyone reached for their phones to record it. With the flutes and drumbeats, and whatever other instruments were on stage, backing Dean and David’s performance, this was something most unique to witness. The cheers following the song lead to him throwing down REM’s, “Everybody Hurts”, to which the audience chanted “ONE MORE! ONE MORE!” upon his finish. Turning red from embarrassment we returned to our seats to sit back down and then came the flood. The whole room seemed to converge on David like a swarm of flies to a recent kill. We had to flank him with our people as we rushed him out of the place for his own safety. One guy grabbed David, in a headlock for a picture, Dan and I ripped the guy’s arm off David and yelled, “Hey, NO Touch!” It got scary quick.
And that was our night.
As we drove away people were taking pictures of the van, looking in, it was like the Beatles but wrapped in one person. To scare them off I did my Raptor face out the window, which did scare a few people 😉
An all night flight and we are now in Paris, France awaiting the long flight home. Direct flight to SLC, UT.
In Djibouti, as I announced it was our final show for the Troops, I said, “We have been waiting for this day to come in anticipation of returning home to our families, but at this moment, here with you, I feel like I don’t even want to leave, we love and appreciate you all so much.” And that was the overall sentiment.
To think that it could only get better the next day in Addis Ababa, speaking to the saints, being missionaries as we will be the rest of our lives, the whole trip came to the perfect close.
Seated here in the Charles DeGaulle Ariport in Paris, France I don’t know anyone but my 3 travel partners. I don’t know about their lives, where they are headed, from whence they’ve come. A lady on the shuttle over here, with her children, said she was just coming from Kenya to refuge in San Francisco following her husband being shot and killed in their home country a month ago. These children are now fatherless. Had we not said hello and asked why she was going to SF, CA, USA, we would have never known her story. My heart wrenches for this family. Seated next to me is a couple in love. Stealing a kiss in between enjoying a croissant and a tonic water. The languages, the smells, the excitement in the air, the heads cranked down studying their phones, the smiles on faces of people passing by….
I sit here in quiet contemplation knowing we have just had a most significant moment, a trip of a lifetime; the smiles, the hugs, the tears, the coins, the mishaps, the triumphs, the songs, the machine guns, the heat, the small inconveniences that became the inside jokes of the trip, the moments everything went right in the name of bringing joy, the little parts that make up the whole, the faces….
The faces of the unknown Troops.
The gratitude, the service, the care they gave to us.
Was this a trip for them or for us?
I have to laugh at the fear I felt upon leaving my family in Salt Lake City. The fear is gone. I have been surrounded by people who know they face death daily, and there is no fear. Just a peace that if it is their time they will go in peace, knowing they had done a job, and well, and for a higher purpose.
Upon our return to our homes, I feel a greater peace than I’ve ever felt. The peace that only comes when you have done something for the right reason, for the service and love of others, and no matter what I do from here on out with my carer or life, with my gifts, I know that for one trip, for one magical 3 week tour of the Middle East and Southwestern Asia, I did something good and it was for my Country, for my God, for my family.