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CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti — Pierre Simmons’ march toward glory last December in the Camp Lemonier dining facilities began with an act of hubris: He put chili on his hot dogs.

He was that confident.

The previous camp record holder for most hot dogs eaten in one sitting had downed seven.

Simmons, a 28-year-old cameraman from a news station in Norfolk, Va., stood at 6 feet 4 inches and tipped the scales at around 300 lbs.

“I got this,” he said as the challenge to the record began.

A small group of witnesses sat and watched. Simmons talked and laughed through the first four hot dogs. Then, the typically garrulous and chatty Simmons grew quiet as his chewing slowed.

“These last ones don’t taste right,” he said. “What are these? Camel dogs?”

He pressed on. At the last half of a hot dog, Simmons sat and stared at his plate.

“I can’t get up from the table, right?” he asked.

A ruling was made. Simmons had to remain at the table or the record would not count. Simmons separated the last hot dog — No. 8 — from the bun and downed both separately. A new record holder had been crowned.

“I am never going to eat another hot dog again,” Simmons said.

Forbidden fruitArmy Sgt. 1st Class Jason Wood, a 32-year-old from south Texas, said that on every man’s to-do list should be an entry that reads: Smoke a Cuban cigar.

“As a man, that’s just something you got to do before you die,” he said.

Being stationed in otherwise sleepy Djibouti does have its advantages for cigar smokers such as Wood. Though they can’t bring the banned cigars on base, smokers are free to puff away when in Djibouti City, as with many other foreign postings.

“A Cuban cigar in Djibouti is only about $8,” Wood said.

A cigar of comparable quality in the United States would probably cost twice as much, he added.

Another servicemember, Omar Perales, a 35-year-old from San Antonio and a fellow cigar connoisseur, said that while the Cuban cigar is undoubtedly a quality smoke, much of its allure has to do with the fascination for “forbidden fruit.”

Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Shannon Thornton agreed with Perales as he held a lit cigar.

“It’s not the kill, it’s the chase,” he said. “You always want what you can’t have.”

Test of language skillsMadina Abdallah, a translator at Camp Lemonier, said that as a person who works with languages, there’s a joke she likes to tell:

People who speak two languages are called bilingual and those who speak several are multilingual, she begins.

“And those who only speak one are called Americans,” she said.

It’s a bit of good-natured ribbing, she assured. But, she points out, it is not uncommon for Djiboutians to know several languages, while Americans seldom seem to venture past English.

“We have languages that we speak at home and then we have official languages,” Abdallah said of Djiboutians.

Americans, typically do not make that distinction, she said, since English is the dominant language in the United States.

Djiboutians, however, speak their tribal language at home and, in official circles, switch into French or English, she said. Abdallah speaks Afar, her tribal language, as well as Somali, English and French. She has noticed, however, that when Americans find themselves in a multilingual environment they make an effort to pick up phrases in a different language.

“They try,” she said, “they try.”

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