Monday, December 8, 2014

Djiboutian Christmas


It's here! Susanna Leonard Hill's holiday writing contest. The rules are: Write a children's story in which wild weather impacts the holidays in 350 words or less. (Scroll down to skip the info and get straight to the story.)

Although my story is fictional, it is based on plausible events inspired by two of the places we've lived--a city near the Sahara and Djibouti. And no I'm not trying to offend anyone, Djibouti is an actual city in the country of the same name. 



Map of Djibouti

The French occupied Djibouti at one time and still maintain a foreign legion base there, and the U.S. military has its only military base in Africa there as well.

I googled Djibouti and was rather disturbed to find several sites that listed Djibouti's average temperature at 85°F. I suppose that number is possible if the reading was taken from the air-conditioned office of the Minister of Propaganda, but I don't remember a day that felt below 90 °F. 

In fact, it was not uncommon to have temps in the 120s. A temperature reading at the U.S. military base even placed one summer day at 130°F with the humidity factored in. 


Djibouti is hot, barren, and stinky. It's full of sand, feral dogs and goats that climb on cars or into the trees to reach the scruffy foliage that somehow survives in a place that smells and feels like a dryer full of towels washed in low tide. But it does have crystal-clear water (outside the city) and white-sand beaches. 


I frequently heard of wild sandstorms in the Sahara. I never personally experienced any while living near there nor in Djibouti, but as the video at the beginning shows, it can happen. And in my 338-word story, it does:



A Djiboutian Christmas
by Johnell DeWitt

On Christmas Eve the desert wind howled and growled. Beth growled back.

“I want to go to our old home and build a snowman with Nana.”

“Sweetheart,” said Mom. “We can have Christmas in Djibouti too.”

“I hate Djibouti! It’s too hot for snow and too hot for Santa.”

“Santa will find us,” said Mom.

“But what if Santa’s reindeers get hot and can't fly? The only animals here are scruffy goats who climb trees and stinky dogs who live by the ocean. Santa can’t use climbing goats or soggy dogs to fly his sleigh.”

“Santa won’t come at all if you’re not asleep.”

“I don’t care if Santa comes,” huffed Beth. “Even Santa can’t make it snow in the desert!”

Mom sighed and pulled one of two dangling strings. The light went out, but the fan stayed on. 

“Maybe Santa will surprise you.”

Beth grumbled as Mom closed the door, but the whir of the fan and the chick-chick-tap of sand caroled a desert lullaby.

All night the wind howled. All night the sand blew and in the morning…  

Beth’s mom shook her awake.

“I’m waking you up on Christmas Day,” she laughed. “I think Santa heard you. Look out the window.”

Beth pushed aside her curtains. She could barely see her scraggly yard. Drifts of creamy sand frosted the walls like gingerbread icing.

“It’s a desert snow!” Beth squealed. 

Dad held up a box dotted with prancing reindeer. “I think you should open this present first.”

Beth tore the wrapping off a new pail and shovel. She hugged her dad, slipped on her sandals and pushed her way out the door. 

All morning Beth packed pail-loads of sand. All morning she molded and adorned until finally...

“I’m done,” she shouted. “Santa didn’t bring me snow for a snowman, but he did bring me sand for a sandman.”

A baseball-cap-wearing, carrot-nosed sandman grinned at Beth, and the desert wind blew in to say, “Merry Christmas.”

The End




59 comments:

  1. What a unique, great multicultural story. I can just imagine the temps. I used to live in AZ where the temps would be 120-130. I like that sandman!

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  2. Clever idea and a great story, Johnell! Loved it!

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  3. I love that you gave us a little geography lesson in addition to a story! I admit to knowing very little about that part of the world. You must live a most exciting life to have been to all those places.

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    1. Thank you, Teresa. We have had some exciting times, but you know in our line of work, there's always someone with more exciting stories to tell, or more countries visited under their belt that I often don't stop to appreciate the amazing things we have been able to do. Thank you for reminding me.

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  4. Awesome job! I love how you flipped the traditional white Christmas on its head. =)

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  5. Johnell,
    This is awesome! She still got her white Christmas. :)
    Very clever.

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  6. Oh, Johnell, how very clever and unique. The Christmas Sandman

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    1. Thank you. I like your title better I think.

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  7. Excellent story. Loved learning about that part of the world. Brilliant!

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  8. I love this sentence - "Drifts of creamy sand frosted the walls like gingerbread icing." Thanks for showing me a part of the world less traveled.

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    1. Manju, I have to credit Mishka for helping me reword that sentence. I loved it too.

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  9. Johnell, this is a beautiful story. I can see it in the pages of Highlights. They love stuff like this.

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    1. Thank you Vijaya! That's so kind. I'll have to look into that.

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  10. I agree with Vijaya -- Highlights!. The language in places is absolutely luscious.

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  11. Very sweet story. Love the geography information you gave. You did a wonderful job of capturing Beth's emotions and change of heart!

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  12. I can just see the cool sandman with the baseball camp. I love that Beth found beauty, fun, and Christmas in the sand. Nice job, Johnell.

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    1. Thank you, Alayne. I really appreciate that.

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  13. Good job, Johnell. I really enjoyed hearing about that part of the world, too. Good luck in the contest :)

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  14. What a wonderful story! I love that Beth found magic in her desert Christmas. Something we all hope to do. Here's to finding more Christmas magic.

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  15. I love it! Especially this line, "but the whir of the fan and the chick-chick-tap of sand caroled a desert lullaby."

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    1. Thanks, Mishka for all your help polishing this.

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  16. Nice job painting a picture of a Djiboutian Christmas.

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  17. Johnell, I admire anyone who can handle those temperatures. This is a tastefully written story showing us what it's like where there is no possibility of snow. Very nice. :)

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  18. A sandman! I love it. I also love the phrase soggy dogs lol great visuals! Good Luck!

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  19. Love the sandman. Lots of longing in these weather stories for what we don't have. :) Great job.

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    1. For sure. I guess the grass--er weather is always better on the other side. :)

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  20. Love it. Sand is snow too! What a great way to share the thought.

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  21. What a totally unique concept, Johnell! I loved the sandman spin on snowman and the geographic accuracy, as well. :)

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  22. Fantastic story! I totally connected with Beth and felt like I was there!

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  23. Very cool. When life gives you a sandstorm, make a sandman:)

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    1. Ha. I think that will be my new motto. :) Thanks.

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  24. What a wonderful, multicultural story, Johnell! Love all the details and description that bring it to life (the scruffy goats and the stinky dogs :)) and the whir of the fan and the desert lullaby. Nicely written! Thanks so much for joining in the Holiday Contest fun!

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    1. Thanks for hosting such fun contests, Susanna.

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  25. where there is a will there is a way, sand me and snow men all over the world. :) I am reminded of the whirr of a fan because ti is so hot here in Australia at Christmas

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    1. An Aussia Christmas sounds wonderful. Thank you for commenting.

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  26. This is a very original story. I love the visual picture you paint w/the words and I can feel Beth's disappointment until...the end. Poignant. Yes, send in to Highlights.

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  27. What a great story, Johnell! And I loved the unique twist on the snowman. So glad Beth was able to find enjoyment in her situation. :)
    Loved your language and beautiful descriptions!

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    1. I appreciate your encouragement, Vivian. And thank you for commenting.

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  28. Good for Beth and her family for making the best of the situation. I really enjoyed this story. And I especially like the soggy dogs. I also love how Beth changes the argument from "what if Santa doesn't come" to "he can't make it snow, anyway." So much like kids. Great story! Good luck with the competition!

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  29. Great story! I can't believe those temperatures. Eek!

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