Monday, January 24, 2011

Shopping...Bunia Style

Well, it's only Day 2 and I've already forgotten to take my daily photo...I'm not doing so hot, I know.  Instead I'll paint a picture for you with words.  Most of today was spent showing the new family around Bunia--where to buy different kinds of furniture, where the local Home Depot is, that sort of thing.  It really is amazing what you can find here in Bunia, tucked away in the corner stores, as long as you're willing to look for it (all day) and pay an outrageous price for it once you find what you're looking for.  It's like one big garage sale.  The rest of my day was spent fixing our electrical system...yes, again.  Well, at least I think I fixed it.  I don't smell anything, or see smoke anywhere.  Here in Africa, we wire our houses all on one phase of AC, instead of like the US, where your house would be split between all three phases.  The reason is because there's usually one phase that's practically useless, one more that's unreliable, and one that is decently strong (anywhere from 80 volts to 180 volts)...sometimes.  It's supposed to be 220 volts, but that's a different story.  So we pick the strongest phase and wire everything off that phase.  Our house is a little unique, in that, we have one phase that's stronger during the day, and one phase that's stronger during the night.  So we switch between the two every day, otherwise we wouldn't have enough electricity to run two light bulbs and a radio.  Anyway, we had installed a swtich to...well...switch between those two phases and it's now in switch heaven.  I went looking for a switch today around town, but had no luck, so I resorted to using two circuit breakers, one for each phase...just don't turn them both on at the same time!  So, my photo for today would be me cringing and ducking right before I turn the circuit breaker on for the first time after re-wiring it, crossing my finger and hoping I don't melt/electrocute/set on fire/or otherwise ruin perfectly good and expensive equipment.

On the upside, I didn't electrocute myself today.  I've learned to just go ahead and turn everything off whenever I'm working on the electricity :)  Tomorrow I'm off again to Kampala, Uganda, for maintenance on the 206.  I should be there only for 2 or 3 days, and on the way back I will be bringing the last 400 kilos (almost 900 pounds) of the new family's shipment to Bunia.  Pray that I can feel better, I have had a stomach bug now for a few weeks, and that's never fun.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Photos Anyone?

I was reading about a cool little idea for people who like photography that I'd like to try.  Every day for one year, take a photo that describes the day or highlights the day.  So, I'd like to give it a go, even though I know I'm going to miss many days because I am too busy, or it just slips my mind.  So now you should hopefully get a glimpse of every day life here...every day!  Here's my photo for today...that's right, these have been my best friends for today.  One of the less glamorous sides of living in a (let's use the politically correct term) "developing" country is picking up nasty little bugs like giardia.  Click on the link to learn more about it if you want; I don't have the heart to tell you about it myself. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Little of Everything

That's what today was like.  We've all been so busy here that last night, we realized there was a new family arriving from the States this afternoon, which meant we needed to re-wire their house, set up appliances, clean...the whole nine yards.  So the program manager and I went over this morning to try and tackle the electricity while others cleaned.  We were just getting into it after an hour when we got a call from MSF (Doctors Without Borders) for a medivac flight up North.  They needed a patient, nurse, and friend transported to their hospital base 25 miles South.  I think Ngilima is the only airstrip we fly to that is limited to the 206 (the small airplane), and even then we can't take a full load.  That meant it fell to me to do the flight (which I was more than happy to take).  Ngilima is 1 1/2 hours North of Bunia so I had a long time to think and wonder about what was waiting for me when I landed.  Was it some kind of accident?  A fight?  Did someone fall out of a tree?

Well, it was clear upon landing what had happened.  I was in high gear the whole time; Ngilima isn't a terribly technical airstrip, but there are very tall trees at the end, making for an approach that's not quite in line with the runway.  There also seems to be a lot of animals running around as well.  So I'm attentive and alert as I circle around for landing.  I come in from the right at an angle to dodge a REALLY big tree right on centerline, giving up several hundred meters of airstrip in the process.  But I land where I want to and squeeze the brakes as the airplane takes a beating from the hard, packed, and uneven dirt.  I taxi to the end, swing around and shut down.

As I hop out, I hear horrible screams of pain as folks from the village carry a man out to the plane on a stretcher.  I can't help but notice someone has forgotten about the IV bag, and it's just dragging on the ground behind the stretcher.  I run out to the road and quickly grab the bag, hold it up above the man, and walk the rest of the way to the airplane alongside the strecher.  We set him on the ground as I take some seats out to fit the man inside.  Now it seems the entire village is 2 inches from my airplane.  It's hard to do anything, but I keep working.  Once everything is set, I hop in from the pilot's side to receive the patient as they load him in.  I can hardly look.  He has deep deep lacerations to his head, shoulders, arms and legs.  Flesh is open and hanging.  They are somewhat bandaged, but it leaves nothing to the imagination.  There is also a deep gash from one side of his throat, to the other.  This must be from recent LRA attacks in the area.  Although he looks terrible, he seems to be doing better now that the IV bag is in the air.

Then he suddenly bursts out laughing and singing and waving his hands around.  It takes me a minute to figure out what's going on, but it dawns on me that they had cranked up the IV drip to it's maximum because they thought it wasn't working (as it was hanging on the ground).  But, when I hung it, he actually started to receive the medication...a lot of it.  So I quickly grab the line and turn it down to adjust the flow and strap the stretcher down with cargo ties.  I am also looking for something to hang the IV bag on, as it doesn't really work any other way.  I quickly grab a carrabiner from the back and think of the fish scale we use to weigh baggage.  I grab it, secure it to the ceiling and slip the IV bag over the hook...perfect!  I instruct the nurse to watch the patient carefully and hang on to the IV bag as the takeoff is usually very rough from here. 

Everything looks good so I hop in, start up, and go through the checks.  I apply full power, hold the brakes and check the engine instruments at a standstill, before we start rolling, so once we do I can divert my full attention to the task at hand.  Brakes are released and we are pushed back in the seats.  Speed check is good, acceleration is normal and we shoot by the takeoff abort point, but still not airborne.  I elect to continue the takeoff and soon after we are off.  Ngilima is always a tough airstrip meantally come takeoff time because of the colossal trees at the end.  Once the airplane is airborne, every fiber of your being screams at you to pull back on the stick immediately so you can clear the trees.  But that would be suicide.  I need to let the airplane accelerate, so I push the nose over for several seconds and wait for the proper speed.  Then, and only then, I pitch up and hold that speed, clearing the trees by 50 feet.

Once the takeoff is over and all the obstacles are cleared, I turn around and check on the patient...he seems content right where I left him.  The nurse on the other hand looks terrified.  I reassure him with a smile and a nod and yell to him that it will only be 10 minutes until we are on the ground again.  And before I know it, we are on the ground at the hospital station, unloading the patient...and two terrified individuals.  I say a quick prayer for him, bid the staff farewell and I'm off for home.  The flight back is empty as well, so I take this rare opportunity and climb up to 11,500 feet to get above all the smoke, haze, and bumpy air, and save a jerry can of gas.  It's calm, quiet, and cool up here; what a contrast to down there where it's hot and crazy.  I wonder what tomorrow will be like?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Deja Vu

They told us this would happen in orientation at MAF.  They said once we got to the field, I would be so excited to finally be living out my dream as a missionary pilot, while my wife would be at home pulling her hair out trying to figure out how to manage electricity from an inverter and water from a tank.  She would be learning how to cook and maintain a house all over again, while I was doing what I had trained for and dreamed of for the last 10 years of my life.  Then, after 6 months or so, we would flip-flop; Joy would be getting the hang of everything and start to feel more comfortable managing the house, while I would start to get frustrated with flying every day, dealing with people, loading and unloading the airplane all the time, etc.

Well, I think we're starting to arrive at that point.  Joy is beginning to feel comfortable with cooking completely from scratch, doing everything in a different way, while I am starting to have feelings like, "This isn't all it's cracked up to be," and, "Why did I even come here?"  "Why did I trade a 'normal' life for one like this?"  "What am I doing here?"  All the excitement and adventure of coming to Africa have worn off, and I find myself wanting.  All the anticipation and newness are now commonplace, even a little boring. 

Maybe I should back up a little, and explain how this progression of thought came about.  I was flying yesterday (on what was supposed to be a day off) to an airstrip about 30 minutes North of Bunia.  I was flying out to this airstrip in the afternoon to pick up the governor, so the flight out was empty.  It was hot, very bumpy, and uncomfortable.  But this time I started feeling a little nauseous...a feeling I've never felt before when flying.  So I opened the fresh air vents, tried to focus on things outside the airplane, talked to myself...all the things I normally tell my passengers during my preflight briefing.  But nothing seemed to be working, the feeling just got worse and worse, so I pulled out one of the little "blue bags," fully intending to fill it.  I managed to keep my lunch where it belonged until we got back to Bunia, but it got me thinking during my flight.  "Did I come all the way out here just to be the governor's personal chauffeur?"  "How is that spreading the Gospel?"  "This isn't at all what the pictures were like!"

Then I begin to build my case against God (as if I could ever win!).  "God, if I spend one more sleepless night hugging the toilet...if I get electrocuted one more you know how hard I worked on the plumbing just so we could have water at this house?  And now everything leaks!  Is this some kind of cruel joke?!?  God, this guy shows up EVERY DAY at my gate asking for money, and EVERY DAY I argue with him and tell him to go away...If one more government official demands dishonest payment...If there's one more change in the schedule...Do you know how much I sacrificed to come here?! 

That one got my attention; I remember the other thing MAF told us in orientation...You can go overseas for any number of reasons, but if it's not for the people, you're not going to last.  If it's for flying airplanes, you can do that anywhere.  If it's for the adventure or the experience, that will soon wear off.  Sooner or later you will find yourself questioning why God "called" you here, but your answer better be for the people...learn to love the people.  Build relationships, have conversations, be involved in the community.  It's why you choose to daily put up with "missionary discomforts" like no electricity, leaky plumbing, corrupt officials, schedule changes.  For the chance, no, for the privilege of living a life for Christ and showing those around you what that looks like.  All the way home I contemplated the sacrifice of our Savior and how good I really do have it.

I am not here to "save" Congo, but if the Lord can work through me and every weakness I possess to show someone the way, then I will hug the toilet til the good Lord takes me home.  I realize some of these same thoughts and questions have already been mulled over in previous posts, but I need reminding often.  Some things are better learned over and over again.  And as one of my professors always used to say, "It's alright to be a dumb sheep when God is your Shepherd."