Nu Mă Iei
Gary Brolsma released his “Numa Numa Dance” video on Newgrounds.com fifteen years ago today. I didn’t see it for the first time until midway through 2005, when my buddy Martin1 played it for me after he got back from Iraq with the rest of our battalion. While Brolsma’s video created (and remains) one of the great viral web moments, I suspect my reaction wasn’t a common one among American viewers. You see, my reaction wasn’t amusement, but a flood of viscerally-felt memory: “Holy shit, I know that song!”
Brolsma’s video revolves around him lip-synching & dancing to “Dragostea Din Tei”, a song by the Moldovan pop group O-Zone. The song was released in August 2003, and reached mega-hit status on the European charts in the summer of 2004. While no chart existed to record its effect, “Dragostea Din Tei” was a massive hit with a platoon of Marines in western Iraq that summer, too.
I was attached to Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines suddenly in late January 2004. Echo had just received a deployment order for Iraq, and personnel were needed to augment key support roles for the battery. I was one of the folks from 2/11 chosen to go with Echo. The rest of the battalion was to remain behind, then deploy later in the year.
Without a parent unit like 2/11 to look out for Echo, the battery was at the mercy of operational decisions made by regiments we were ostensibly there to support with artillery fire. Echo logged a bunch of miles running missions for regiments that seemed at times arbitrary, capricious, or undesirable. Without our battalion CO there, we were bounced from doing counter-battery fire at Camp MEK in Fallujah, to counter-battery at Al Asad, to guarding Haditha Dam as a provisional rifle company, to participating in Operation Vigilant Resolve. And, finally, Echo wound up amputated into four parts that were scattered across western Iraq — a platoon shooting counter-battery missions at Al-Mahmudiyah, a command/control group at FOB Korean Village, and two platoons supervising border security, one on the Syrian border at al-Walid, the other on the Jordanian border at Trebil.
Eventually, I moved from Korean Village out to Trebil, where the platoon lived in a small group of buildings that once were part of the Saddam government’s border complex. Up on the roof of the building we used as a squad bay, next to the metal tank that held sun-warmed water for our weekly gravity-fed Navy showers, was a dish for satellite TV, erected by some unknown predecessor.
That dish brought in a grab-bag of channels, including a European music video channel that delivered the top hits of the Marines at FOB Trebil — Beyoncé’s “Naughty Girl” and O-Zone’s “Dragostea Din Tei.” The TV was in a lounge that was effectively the hub for guys coming & going — on or off a post, a working party, a vehicle control point, or a patrol — and the TV was always on. Any time either of those videos came on, anybody within earshot would flock to watch it.
None of us spoke Romanian, so we had no idea what the lyrics were saying. There was no obvious reason the music video would appeal to us. Except: just like the Beyoncé video that was our platoon’s unquestioned favorite, it was escapist. A cargo plane with props that turn into subwoofers as it whisks you off to someplace more fun — who doesn’t want one of those? Fifteen years later, I can still see sweaty Marines, so filthy we’d stopped being able to smell ourselves, linked with arms put around one another’s shoulders, dancing in a line in that lounge, just like the O-Zone guys did on the wing of their plane. I don’t know where we went mentally when that video came on, but we weren’t in Iraq anymore. When it came on, we always started smiling.
When Martin played “Numa Numa Dance” for me that first time, I knew where I was. I was back in the lounge of our improvised squad bay on FOB Trebil, petty differences and fraternal squabbles washed aside in a blast of Romanian pop. The song’s power to transport survived the trip back to the States.
A week ago my wife & I had an impromptu dance party in the hallway to “Dragostea Din Tei.” I don’t remember why. Instead of dancing like the O-Zone guys, we taught her the Brolsma dance. We were laughing & smiling.
Watching “_Dragostea Din Tei_” & “Numa Numa Dance” again today, I’m still smiling.
Martin also introduced me to a host of other memes & viral properties of that era, including Daler Mehndi’s “Tunak Tunak Tun,” Salad Fingers, “The End of the World,” “The Kitty Cat Dance,” the GI Joe PSA parodies, & Viking Kittens.↩︎