Thursday, March 31, 2011

Problems and Solutions

I turn on my laptop and up comes a screen that says something along the lines of, "I think you have a big problem--one of my very important internal parts is having issues and I need to run some checks to verify and solve whatever is going on."  So I hit enter and the computer does it's thing and then starts up as normal.  I thought the problem had gone away, but after dinner, Joy comes out to the storage shed where I'm slaving away making her beautiful kitchen shelves.  She has to yell to get my attention...I'm in the "zone" with my Bose headphones.

She says, "Chris, something is wrong with the computer, it's saying I need to backup everything, get a new hard drive, and restore the computer."  Great.  This is my work computer, the one I write our newsletters on, manage our entire fuel inventory, write blogs, do all the paperwork from flying, keep track of duty times, store my logbook, everything.

When something goes wrong, you want to call a professional, someone who has experience and knows what they're doing.  When you're out in the jungle and need to get to a hospital, you don't call Echo Flight, you call MAF.  For plumbing and electrical problems, you call my dad.  For car problems, you call Caleb.  For family problems, I'd call my brother.  And for computer problems, I call Owen.

I met Owen in Dungu, after he was there for a week installing V-SAT internet systems for NGO's in the area.  He flew back to Bunia in the 206 with me.  He was here as part of an orientation process, to see how our program works, to experience life in Bunia, and to meet the team.  He has years of experience in the military and knows what he's doing when it comes to computers.

So he promptly responds on Skype and goes straight to work.  Then all of a sudden, things start happening on my computer screen.  Owen is actually controlling our computer here in Bunia, all the way from his couch in Iowa!  I watch the mouse move across the screen as he checks this and that, runs anti-virus software, changes settings, and verifies the problems I'm experiencing.  After an hour, the problem is found and he tells me what I need to do.

Owen, in his element
He gives me further instructions and advice before getting back to his day.  He is a busy guy.  His family is currently in the process of finding a team of ministry partners to stand with them through prayer and financial support as they look forward to living and working here as our IT specialist family.  And I don't have to tell you that we desperately need them here.  Our IT ministry has skyrocketed in the last few years and it is impossible to keep up with all the needs and requests we are constantly receiving.  It's a great ministry, not only to the Congolese and local churches, but also to many of the humanitarian organizations and NGO's currently serving here as well.

So, if you see a guy named Owen with a big MAF display hanging around your church, please oblige--it would make my life a whole lot easier!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Evening in Kama

After completing my postflight checks and securing the airplane, I find some folks who know where I'm staying and have them take me over to the house.  With my hands full of bags and water bottles, I follow two guys down a dirt path that is actually quite nice.  It's lined with shrubs and palm trees...then a ball flies straight past my head, missing me by inches.  I turn in the direction it came from and maybe 20 kids are staring wide-eyed as I set my stuff down and run to get the soccer ball.  I kick it back to them, and all they do is laugh at me, so I grab my stuff again and head to my room.  The sun is going down, but there's no relief from the humidity and I'm guzzling water like there's no tomorrow.  I just get settled when a young man comes in and hands me a huge plate of rice, beef, and sombe, and another plate full of peanuts.  We chat as I eat dinner and I learn that he has three children and has never left Kama.  He helps out with the Brethren mission.

After dinner, I decide it's time to show these kids that a mzungu can play "football."  As I walk over, I watch a young kid, maybe 7 or 8, playing goalie.  His agility amazes me.  He leaps into the air, catching balls and somehow always manages to land on his feet.  I walk up and start playing, but all they want to do is kick the ball at me as hard as they can and hang all over me.  Oh well, at least I got some exercise and they got a few good laughs.

As the sun begins to set, I think it's probably a good idea to throw on a little bug repellent.  Can't be too stingy with that stuff though, so I practically bathe in it.  By the time I'm done, I can't even see my hand in front of my face, so I grab my flashlight, head out to the living room and join in some conversation with a few other men.  There is no electricity, just a flashlight of sorts to cut through the darkness.  We talk about politics and religion for a few hours before everyone retires to their own houses.  It's still only 8:30pm, so I step out the front door for a bit of fresh air and the view literally takes my breath away.  I have seen lots of stars before, but never like this.  Now I know what the Lord meant when he told Abraham his descendants would number more than the stars in the sky.

The airstrip at Kama
I feel privileged to be a part of such a spectacular view.  Shooting stars streak across the sky; there are so many it overwhelms me.  All I can do is stare into the sky and try to take it all in.  It's as if God is saying to me, "Just be quiet and rest; think about the vastness and beauty of what is before you."  So that's what I do.  For a moment, I forget all about electricity and water problems, no air conditioning, the fact that I live in the middle of Africa 10,000 miles away from my family, the intolerable humidity, and that I just had a really long day.  I forget everything.  I enjoy the scenery, that's all.

Then it's more talking about how Congo used to be under Belgian rule, and how it is now.  We make our way inside after the bugs become unbearable, and it's off to bed.  I'm greeted by an old friend, but I've lived in Africa for more than 6 months now...I just grab my boot and squash him (more than 1 year and I will invite him to share the covers).  My mosquito net looks like a bunch of fishing line loosely woven together--it will keep the bats out, but not much else.  I briefly think about putting more bug spray on as I pull the sheet up to my chin, then it's morning.

Overnight Kama Day 1

One of Goma's volcanoes seen from 12,500 feet
Today I'm taking off for passengers, just me, a 55 gallon drum of avgas, 6 empty jerry cans, and my overnight bag.  The weather looks wonderful, the plane is loaded, and my flight plan is filed, so I'm off.  I request runway 10 just so I can make sure Joy and Kaitlyn are up as I roar over the house at 500 feet.  Then it's a right turn heading south, and a 30 minute climb to 12,500 feet.  I'm not allowed to go any higher without supplemental oxygen, but on long legs, climbing high has its advantages.  It's smooth, clear, hopefully a stronger tailwind, higher ground speed, lower engine temps...etc.  If the weather holds out, I might even be able to take a peek into the cone of a volcano!

Once I reach 12,500 feet, I level off, and accelerate, but unfortunately, no tailwind.  Oh well, at least I can save a jerry can of fuel along the way.  I'm also treated to another wonderful view of the Rwenzoris.  I wait until the plane is settled, then I pull out my breakfast and munch on an apple 2 miles high.  Not a bad way to start the day, especially when you have a view like that!

An hour and a half later and I'm nearing Goma, and the volcanoes.  I spot the one I'd like to take a peek in, and it looks possible, but as I get closer, it starts belching out grayish clouds and smoke, so I decide against it...I know the plane needs a paint job, but no sense in making it any worse.  Another 30 minutes and I'm landing in Bukavu, with a full load of cargo waiting for me on the tarmac.

I'm thinking ahead to my next stop already, as the MAF staff begin unloading.  I go right to work siphoning fuel out of the wing tips, and managing the loading of all the cargo.  Looks like this time I have many boxes of Bibles, supplies, and food for the Kama mission station.  I pay my taxes, double check the loading and the fuel, and then I'm off to Kama--1 hour southwest into the jungle.

The weather is holding out...for now, and after flying 2 hours straight, this leg goes quickly.  I reach the airstrip and circle overhead, impressed with what I see.  Last time I was in here I got the airplane all muddy...and I mean all of it.  The grass was overgrown and the gravel was just wide enough for my tires.  Once on the ground, I express my appreciation for their hard work (it's not easy cutting 6 foot tall grass with a machete for 700 meters!)  I take a few minutes to chat with the folks, and then it's back to loading more suitcases and rearranging the cabin to fit four passengers.  One thing is for sure, it is hot, and it is oppressively humid.  Yet, men are wearing jackets, long sleeves, pants.  I feel like the 20 minutes on the ground here has already scorched my skin; the sun is brutal.

On the way back to Bukavu, I climb to 7,500 feet, just high enough to fly through the pass safely, but low enough to avoid the strong westerly winds.   I'm still 5,000 feet above the ground, but the visibility is excellent.  I study the ground--rivers, hills, trees, towns, old airstrips.  I see 3-tiered waterfalls, trees blooming white flowers, rocky outcrops, and coffee colored rivers.  Closer to Bukavu, the ground rises to 7,000 feet and I need to pay more attention to not hitting things.  Bukavu sits adjacent to Lake Kivu, surrounded by towering mountains and steaming volcanoes.  When the weather is nice, it belongs on a postcard, but when it's not, it's quite a workout.

Lucky for me, it's been gorgeous all day.  I have 2 passengers and more cargo waiting for me on the ground, and after fueling and loading again, I get my passengers settled.  I make sure my Congolese passenger knows how to use the doors, the sic sac, the seat belt, and the fresh air.  She just smiles at me, mumbling something in a language other than French, so I greet her in Swahili, smile, and enlist one of the MAF workers to brief her.  My other passenger has probably flown with MAF longer than I have, so I give her a headset and remind her of the important things.

Lenticular clouds...a warning sign of turbulence--think of rapids in a river.  These clouds can be formed hundreds of miles away from the mountain range that produced them

See the grayish smoke coming out of the volcano?
Back to Kama we go!  A few thunderstorms are popping up now, but nothing I can't easily fly around.  I look for the cool waterfall I found last time, but to no avail.  It's even hotter in Kama now, so I work quickly, unloading the supplies and one passenger, and picking up four more for Kipaka...even further into the jungle.  It's only 25 minutes but unfortunately, there's no relief from the humidity.  I fly overhead Kipaka, evaluating the airstrip and circle around for landing.  I smile as I touch down 50 meters from the end and squeeze on the brakes all the way to the end.  I'm greeted with not one, but two glasses full of freshly squeezed lemonade.  Ah, the life of a missionary pilot!  I have one passenger back to Kama, where I'll be spending the night, and it's starting to get dark.  By the time I make it back, shadows are already covering the landing area; it's a little difficult to see, but the landing is nice--I'm glad this day's over, I'm tired!

Saturday, March 26, 2011


The plane was loaded the night before, I have no passengers to my first destination.  Today is going to be a fun day.  I get to go to airstrips out in the jungle called Nebobongo and Epulu; I'm like a little kid who can't wait to play with his brand new toys the day after Christmas.  After doing my preflight and double-checking the cargo, I'm off to Isiro with 460 pounds of medicine for the hospital in Nebobongo.  Although Bunia's airport is clear, as soon as I takeoff I notice most of the surrounding area, including the entire jungle ahead of me, is covered in a thick blanket of white.  Somehow the weather folks never seem to mention this sort of thing when I ask them how things are looking. So usually, I have to make my own determinations and decisions and whether or not I should continue the flight.  As I climb out over the hills surrounding Bunia and enter the jungle proper, I start to notice patches of green broccoli amid a sea of white.  I check our operations manual to remind myself what it says about flying in conditions like this, and elect to continue.  I know I can safely make it to one of these "holes" and land if I had any problems.

As I continue my climb to 10,500 feet, I realize there is more than one layer of clouds beneath me.  There is the puffy white blanket a few hundred feet above the jungle canopy, and another layer a few thousand feet above that, which looks a lot like someone took a big paintbrush and stroked these wispy clouds right up in the air.  I level off at 10,500 feet, but soon find myself descending with a lowering overcast above me.  At 8,500 feet and much deeper into the jungle, I come across yet another layer of very thin clouds.  So, I descend a few hundred feet and skim the bases.

I'm pleasantly surprised with the wonderful visibility in between layers, even with some light rain showers.  I'm now flying over a scattered-overcast fog layer and a scattered layer.  While at the same time flying underneath a broken layer and a solid overcast with growing thunderstorms.  It kind of reminds me of my flying days in the Pacific Northwest, minus the huge mountains and deadly icing (ice cubes don't fly very well). 

Making my descent into Isiro requires dodging many clouds and finding holes in between layers, kinda fun actually!  In Isiro, I pick up two passengers with a Christian organization called MedAir, a few of their things, and takeoff for a 10 minute hop over to Nebobongo.  I stay beneath all the clouds and snake my way along 500-1000 feet above the trees, just in case I get there and can't find any holes in the clouds.  Circling overhead, I evaluate the airstrip and notice they've finally cut the grass down on the last 200 meters (that's 10 foot tall grass, mind you).

After landing, I begin to unload the 450 pounds of medicines when the Doctor shows up.  "What's all this?" he asks.  "I didn't want this yet, this was the last priority, I really needed the medicines, not all the bottles and solutions, oh no!"  But, as I continue unloading box after box, he starts to realize and exclaims, "Oh my goodness, thank the Lord, you brought EVERYTHING!"  "How is this possible?!?  I just ordered all these things two days ago and now they are here!  Oh my goodness, it's like Christmas!"

It's almost an hour to Epulu, my next stop, so after all the medicines are unloaded, my passengers and I hop back in, takeoff, and turn southeast.  I decide to climb above the thick layer of clouds, but as soon as I do, it's just white for as far as I can see.  One of my instructors from Moody, who also happens to be a MAF pilot and flew in these parts of Congo, always used to tell me, "Chris, flying is a whole lot more than just manipulating controls and watching engine gauges.  You should always be evaluating your surroundings, the wind, the weather, yourself, the airplane, etc."  It's so true, and I have never forgotten that.  And suffice it to say that some of my observations have most certainly saved my bacon on a few occasions.  It is those sorts of things...something just doesn't feel right about this takeoff...strange that the wind would be coming from this direction...I'm tired, the weather is terrible, and my passengers are being's only 5 extra kilos....

So many times I thank the Lord (and everyone who made it possible) for the exceptional training that I received.  It has undoubtedly served me well.

So, as I climb up above the layer of clouds, I automatically make a mental note of where the bases are...1000 feet above the ground, and I also make a note of where the tops are...about 1000 feet above that.  So the layer is 1000 feet thick and leaves me enough room underneath as an option in case I need it.  I end up flying from hole to hole, kind of like connect the dots, again evaluating the conditions underneath the clouds at every hole.  About 15 miles out of Epulu, I find a nice big hole on the back side of a ridge.  The visibility is good underneath, I can safely descend through the hole and have enough room to maneuver around and climb back up if I need to...Let's do it!

I set the airplane up in what we call 80/20 configuration for the third time since I've been here...80 knots, 20 degrees of flaps, and all the engine controls setup for full power if I need it.  This provides me many advantages:  much better visibility over the nose of the airplane, a slow airspeed that I can turn on a dime, and a climb power setting already dialed in.  The checklist is complete, it's time to go for it.  As I set up for a 500 foot per minute descent, I glance at my's completely asleep, the other is deep into a good book.  The "hole" I'm aiming for is a long, straight stretch on the back side of a ridge, so I make an approach, much like I would if I were landing.  I make notes of wind direction, headings, and altitudes.  Turning final, I notice that I'm quite high, but no problem, I just pull the power back a little bit and slow to 70 knots, check on my passengers, and remind myself that my escape route is full power, straight ahead just in case I need it.

Reaching the tops of the clouds, I can finally start to see underneath again, and it looks wonderful, no rain, no ground fog, and tons of visibility.  Keeping an eye on the ridge to my right, I make a tight 360 to lose more altitude...this is fun!  Oh wait, I have passengers...yep, one's still sleeping, and the other has taken to snapping a picture every 3 seconds.  The last 10 minutes of the flight is humid, hot, and bumpy, but my passengers don't seem to mind.  They've been very excited to get a chance at seeing some of the indigenous pygmy folks that usually show up at the airstrip.

See the puffy clouds and the wispy ones?

Epulu is quite long, but a little tricky with the landing.  It has undulations in the landing area and can be quite hard on the airplane if you don't do it right.  I make a soft field landing, keeping the nose wheel off the ground as we bounce down the runway.  I have one passenger here with quite possibly the biggest suitcase I've ever seen.  And unfortunately for me, it weighs a lot too!  I heave it into the airplane, and at the same time wonder what my back is going to be like in 10 years, and then it's off for home.

By now, the sun has burned away most of the cloud layers, and I can see blue sky all around.  Amazing what 30 minutes can do!  Some smoke on the ground clues me in to a pretty strong easterly wind, so I stay low and take advantage of this rare opportunity.  Some of those puffy white little clouds have now turned into towering thunderstorms, but it's fun picking my way around them.  It seems all the trees in the forest are blooming too; white flowers are everywhere, what a beautiful site.  It kind of reminds me of the fall colors back home.  Better yet, I land in Bunia before lunch time!  What a day!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


When living in a "developing" country, many extraordinary things become quite ordinary in a very short period of time.  One becomes quite adept at accomplishing certain tasks that, in the U.S., are better left to the professionals.  For example:

I have recently acquired my Congolese electrician's license.  Only least 100 strong, to quite electrocutions, with a minimum of one welded tool.

I am also now a certified Master Plumber--meeting the needed "25 hours with your head in a tiny hole emitting an indescribable smell."

A few weeks ago, I got my car maintenance license by passing the "find the clanking problem caused by deplorable roads and fix it with whatever is currently in your backyard" test.

I am a certified Carpenter, after cutting, planing, sanding, and constructing a table with shelves, using a handsaw and a hammer.

I am a licensed Exterminator, 5 dead rats, countless cockroaches, and one major ant invasion later...all I need is a spear and a full can of DOOM.

With one V-SAT installation, 10 hours of internet troubleshooting, and 3 rooftop jobs under my belt, I have a solid foundation in the IT world.

50 hours spent arguing over taxes, fines, and fees has earned me the "French Debate Team" merit badge.

Ordinarily, these jobs would be accomplished by professionals, who know what they're doing and are experts in their particular field.  But, living in a "developing" country, these tasks fall on our shoulders, and are completed in a manner suitable to functionality and available resources.  Nevermind, the house is one big electrical fire waiting to happen, all the faucets leak, and I sometimes give in to unfair and dishonest "taxes."

This is not to say that I know everything, and can tackle any job that comes my way.  That is, in no means, the case.  On the contrary, "...the life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me."  I have merely learned that one of the keys to "survival" here is being flexible.  How does that go?  "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall never be bent out of shape."  Something like that.  Also, be patient, ask for help, and be willing to give anything a shot, are a few other good things to learn.  Of course, staying "in tune" with your Maker is the reason we are here in the first place, the reason we stay, and the reason for our every breath.  He is not merely at the top of my priority list or the first thing I cross off my "to do" list every morning.

When we first arrived in Bunia, part of our orientation involved talking with long term missionaries about longevity.  Honestly, I don't remember much about our conversation, but I hope it has something to do with flexibility, patience, and living a life worthy of our calling.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Too Much Or Not Enough?

I am sooo frustrated, the electricity hasn't worked here since we moved in 3 months ago.  I have asked and asked for someone from the local electric company to come out and fix it, but to no avail.  We get usable electricity once every two weeks or so, for a couple hours, and then it's gone again.  Worse than that, it is somehow draining our battery system as well.  After frying two batteries already, I'm much more careful with the four I just bought to replace them -- these things are EXPENSIVE!  I eventually get so frustrated with the situation that I end up turning off the circuit breakers for city power all together.  Unfortunately, that still doesn't seem to solve the problem with my batteries.

That means I have to run my generator twice a day to keep a good charge on the batteries, and that's getting really expensive (gas is $6/gallon here, that equates to about $15/day).  And, to make things worse, the generator we just bought blows smoke everywhere, and that's about it.  So now we don't have any electricity at all.  I dive straight into the diesel engine, even though I know next to nothing about them.  But hey, I'm willing to give anything a try once.  So the tools come out and 5 minutes later I have diesel fuel, oil, and dirt all over me.  I tinker, clean, and get to know the engine a little bit before putting it back together.  When everything's back where it belongs, I give the chord a pull, figuring I've got nothing else to lose.  And what do you know, it works. Score one for me.

Even though we have a generator again, I lay awake at night, trying to wrap my head around these really confusing electrical problems.  As a perfectionist, this is just not acceptable, and it's only a matter of time before I'm back outside, staring at the power pole, debating whether I want to risk my life in exchange for a little electricity.  I decide that I'd like to be around for my family a while longer, and get the idea to just disconnect all the wires at the box where they come in from the pole, that way at least my batteries won't drain faster.

Safe person that I am, I check to make sure there's no voltage between the wires first.  I use my electrical meter to verify between AC neutral and all three "hot" phase wires, and as usual there's nothing.  So I start to undo the wires one at a time, no sparks, no shocks, no melting wires.  Great! This is turning out to be a good day.  I pull out my trusty multi-tool and grab the first wire, wrap it in electrical tape, and continue on to the other wires.  I get to the second phase, squeeze my pliers against the cable, and that's when my involuntary reactions take over.  You know, the ones that pull your hand away from a hot object, make you blink, or keep you breathing without thinking about it.

After sitting up and realizing what happened, I quickly take inventory...phew, 10 fingers ok!  I decide to take a little stroll and "walk it off." I come back after putting my hair back down and the throbbing in my ears subsides.  So, I take my trusty multimeter and measure between the wire that nailed me and all the other wires.  Between that one and AC neutral I read nothing, just like before.  That makes no sense to me.  So I check between phase 1 and phase 2...285 volts!!  Ouch!  So how does that work?!?  Oh well.

So I hook up my neutral and hot wires to these two wires, flip all the switches one by one, making sure I don't melt anything along the way.  There's power at the main box coming in from the pole, that's good.  I flip the circuit breakers ON to send the power to my main switch inside, and yep, I've got power here, so far so good.  I flip the main switch to city power, sending it through all the circuit breakers, stabilizer, and inverter, and everything comes to life.  The stabilizer actually has to lower the voltage to a usable 230 volts and the inverter accepts it right away, taking part of it to charge up our batteries, and the rest to run everything in the house.

That was 4 days ago; we've had city power almost nonstop ever since.  Sometimes it's so strong (280-300 volts) we can't even use it, which I suppose is just as bad as not having any at all.  But those times are relatively rare.  We haven't had to run our generator once since then; what a huge blessing just to take a hot shower!  I just wish I didn't have to get nailed or weld my pliers together to figure it out, but hey, that's life!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Is It So Quiet?

So, it's been one of those evenings with a 1 and a half year old, who thinks she needs to be a 2 year old.  She wants to eat dinner with a fork and do it all by herself, but can't resist the temptation to repeatedly throw the fork on the floor.  So the fork conveniently gets lost, but now she's "not hungry" and doesn't want to eat at all.  She just wants water, milk, and juice.

It's a hour after dinner and she tells me that she's hungry when a big flying bug comes in through the window and starts flying around the floor.  Kaitlyn is deathly afraid of this thing at first and won't stop screaming.  But, soon she warms up a little and inches closer and closer, making sure it's always on her terms and not the bug's.  I tell her it's called a bug, so she follows this thing around the room, saying, "Bug, bug, bug, bug."  Next thing I know is it's real quiet and Kaitlyn is sitting on the ground with her back to me.  Any parent knows that when things are quiet, the kids are up to something.

So I ask Kaitlyn, "What are you doing?"  She doesn't say anything, just tilts her head a little; I know she can hear me, she's just choosing to ignore the question.  So I shrug it off and continue working on my newsletter.  A few minutes later Kaitlyn comes up to me and wants to show me something.  Still working hard, I half acknowledge her until I realize it's one of this bug's four wings.  I then pay a little more attention and notice there's another wing sticking out of her mouth.  I tell her to open, but it's just the wing, so I ask her, "Kaitlyn, where's the bug?"  Her gesture says it all, she points to her belly button and tops it off with a smile and a "yum!!!"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring Time

Now all we need is a blanket and a good movie!
Not quite yet here in Congo.  It's been one of those "Coffee/tea, popcorn and a movie type mornings."  And as you can see, we've donned the sweatshirts and wool socks, even though it's 76 degrees outside.  That's plenty cold when you're used to abundant sunshine and 90 degrees all day every day.  March brings the rainy season, something I think we're very thankful for, as all of us are more or less dependent on rain drink, cook, shower, get the idea.

Wrong, just wrong!
Speaking of water, it doesn't go down the kitchen sink very well; I've been working on it ever since we moved here.  I could get it to drain well for a few weeks, then it would clog up again, and I would have to unclog it and it would be fine for another couple weeks.  I hate doing this, because the end of the pipe is a foot down into the ground, so I have to stick my head down there as I shove the drain snake in, and it smells like...hmmm, I don't have words to describe it.  Suffice it to say I hold my breath until I start to black out, then I run away and breathe for a few minutes before coming back.  I just can't get over the smell.  And to make it worse, the dog loves whatever comes out of the drain, so she's always jumping on my head and trying to rip the snake out of my hands like the world's greatest pull toy.  Well, this time (after the entire kitchen faucet broke off in my hand) I couldn't believe what came out.  After I took the photo, I went to set the camera down, and grab my other glove to properly dispose of this thing, but the dog had already taken care of that job.  I almost lost my lunch just thinking about it.  By the way, the dog is still alive today, so I guess it was edible. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Not Again!

Unfortunately for the rat, yes.  It all started yesterday evening after dinner.  I hear a rustling in the kitchen, so I quickly grab my "torch," (the English word for a flashlight), climb up on the counter, and peer behind the china cabinet.  That's the usual place they hide, and sure enough, the one I speared last time must have left an unlucky cousin behind.  This one, unlike most others I've exterminated, is quite a bit smaller and a little skiddish.  Usually, they are fat and easy to catch once you trap them in a corner.  This time, the rat is smaller, and seems to jump at every little noise, scurrying around in response to my every movement.

After 10 minutes of unsuccessfully cornering him, I gave up.  I couldn't hear him anymore, and figured he had escaped back outside.  I heard him again around 9:30pm  clanking around in the kitchen and decided to give it another go with Joy.  Usually we make a pretty good team, but tonight things just aren't clicking, so we head to bed, but not before re-baiting the trap with some peanut butter.

At 11:30pm, I awake to very loud chewing on wood, and rip the covers off, ready to throw the dog over the wall, but as I make my way out to the living room, I realize the sound is coming from inside the house.  I stop; I listen, but nothing.  I climb up on the counter and check behind the cabinet again--still nothing.  I'm so disgusted, I don't feel good, and I just want to get a good night's sleep.  Frustrated, I trudge back to bed, praying along the way for the swift death of all rats worldwide.

I have a hard time falling back asleep, and after what seems like minutes, I wake with a start and grab my flashlight, heart pounding in my throat.  Someone's breaking into my house.  Sliding out of bed, I search the bedroom for some kind of weapon to defend myself.  But, after the sleepy fog lifts, I notice the sound seems to be coming from the kitchen again.  I switch gears, grab my spear and head to the kitchen again.  But the sound isn't coming from the usual places.  Where could it be?

Tip toeing into the living room, I try my best to locate where this clanking and chewing noise is coming from.  Then, I hear him.  He's in the office room.  I've done this a few times before, and I quickly gather a few things to barricade the door so he can't escape.  I shove a few books underneath the door, open it with a start, and slam it shut.  It's just me and the rat now.

I look behind the bookshelves, listen, and shine my flashlight in all the dark corners, but can't find anything.  So, as with fishing, I wait patiently, but I don't have to wait long.  I hear scratching and scurrying coming from behind the big bookshelf, and suddenly I'm staring face to face with my arch enemy.  I just stare right back and mutter, "Prepare to meet your Maker!"

With that, he literally jumps off the top of the bookshelf straight at my head.  I scream like a little girl, but quickly regain my composure, hoping Joy didn't hear me.  What time is it anyway?!?  Tracing him across the room, I trap him in the corner and take a quick shot, but miss.  The little coward runs straight into my desk.  I rip the drawers out from bottom to top, and as I do, I realize where all the chewing sounds have been coming from.  This little turd has eaten a hole in every single one of my drawers, pooping all over my MAF stationery, and everything stinks like rat pee.  Now it's on!

Stabbing blindly into the desk, I flush him out and chase him across the room, taking shots all along the way.  He hides, like the coward he is, behind the bookshelf next to the desk, so I hop up on top of the desk, plastering my head against the wall...DEATH from above!  I take my time with this shot and stab hard; he squeals and runs across the middle of the floor, leaving me with a tuft of hair--missed again!  I react quickly, leaping from the desk, spear in both hands, like some kind of gladiator.  I hit the floor hard, but the rat proves too fast once again, running full steam into the other corner again.  Only this time, I see the CAT-5 cable for our internet moving back and forth.  It runs up to the ceiling, going through a small hole up to the antenna on the roof.

I stare in utter disbelief, mouth gaping, as the rat makes a break for the attic, climbing all the way up the cable to the hole.  I notice he is bleeding a little bit, must have nicked him that other time.  He tries his best to squeeze through, but can't quite make it.  And, not wanting to chop my cable in half, I flip the spear over and use the butt end like a baseball bat, swinging hard and shooting him right off the cable and slamming into the wall with a thud and a squeak.

After chasing him around the room several more times, I can tell now that he's getting tired.  But I am too.  I can't quite see straight, but I trap him in the corner again, take my time, and slam the spear right in his side.  It doesn't take long, and I carry him outside triumphantly, skewered on my trusty spear like a rat-kabab.  I delight in launching him as far down the street as I can, clean up the mess, and trudge to bed for the second time tonight.  I crawl under the covers and hit the light on my alarm clock...4:11am!! Oh man, I have 21 minutes before the Muslim call to prayer, but at least my house is rat free for the rest of the night.  I wonder what my neighbors think of me?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Life of Joy

Living a Life of Joy is an every day conscious choice.  It's much easier to do so when things are going well, your day goes as you planned it, and everything works like it should.  Try having the same joy without electricity, water, or even the internet.  I invite you to follow along as Joy shares what her days are like here in Congo.  Many of you get to read and see all the exciting things I am a part of, the struggles and frustrations, and the triumphs of being a missionary pilot.  But that's only half the story.  While I'm out "making a difference" and saving lives, Joy is here, keeping up the house, cooking, cleaning, raising Kaitlyn, going with the flow, etc.  While I get to see many exciting and wildly different places all in one day, Joy is here, in hot, dusty Bunia all day, every day.  While I deal with government officials, broken airplanes in the jungle, and sometimes pushy passengers, Joy puts up with unreliable/nonexistent electricity...I dare you to live one day without electricity.  She deals with water problems, bug problems, house problems, generator problems, and people constantly coming to the gate asking for handouts.  Yet, somehow she manages a smile when I walk in the front door after a long hard day.  Even more than that, she has dinner ready, the batteries charged up, the laundry done.  Unbelievable.  That is where the "rubber meets the road."  Again, I invite you to follow along with her side of the story, and don't forget to ask yourself, "What am I going to choose today?"


There are many many people, missions, churches, hospitals, and humanitarian organizations we serve here in Congo.  But, every now and then, I not only fly with MAF, I fly for them.  This usually coincides with trips to Uganda for maintenance on the airplane.  We just completed another inspection on our 206 and flew back to Congo Thursday afternoon.  Here's the story:

It's Tuesday morning, and I'm looking forward to the next few days.  It's bittersweet (at least right now) to be heading out to Uganda for maintenance again.  I like it because it's a change of pace, something different from flying, and they speak English!  I don't like it because I leave my family behind for several days at a time.  And, invariably, something always goes wrong with the house, the electricity, the generator, the plumbing.  It pains me enough to be away from my family, but when I'm not there to put my finger in the leak or hit the generator with a hammer, it makes things even worse.

Nonetheless, I'm excited to be heading out.  Maintenance is something I've grown to love, there's always something new to learn, and it gives me a great chance to get more familiar with the airplane I fly around every day.  I have a few stops to make before heading to Uganda, and it's early afternoon before I takeoff.  Rodney (our most recent addition to the flight line/hangar floor...yes!  I'm not the new guy anymore!) is coming along this time, so I have someone to talk to.  Even though I'm not a flight instructor, teaching is also something I really enjoy.  So I take this opportunity to familiarize Rodney with the route, the radios, some paperwork, and the airplane.  It's late afternoon by the time we land and taxi up to the hangar, but we stay a little later than usual and get a jump start on the inspection, draining the engine oil and checking the compression on all six cylinders.

Wednesday is more of the same, and by the end of the day, we are finished with the inspection.  All that's left is to put everything back together, do an engine run up and a flight test, and head for home.  I run Rodney through the post-maintenance run up tests and the flight test and everything checks out fine.  Now it's on to loading. 

We'll be returning to Bunia with one 55 gallon drum of avgas, two propane gas bottles, two monstrous batteries, and a whole bunch of groceries.  That's right, I said groceries.  Here's how it works:  the MAF wives in Bunia write an email shopping list to Pam, the maintenance specialist's wife, flight follower, hostess, and shopper extraordinaire.  Pam goes shopping for the Bunia wives in Kampala, where things are much more readily available.  And, by the time we are done with our maintenance, we load up the airplane with all the requests and fly it back to Bunia.  Today we have a drum of avgas (for the airplane of course), the gas bottles fuel our stoves, the batteries power our houses when there is no electricity, and the groceries, well, who wouldn't smile after getting Cheerios and decent toilet paper from the "civilized" world.  As we were flying back to Bunia, I was thinking of all the people we are an encouragement to, but I never stopped to think that sometimes, we are even an encouragement to each other.