Today starts early for me. I'm up at 5:30am, getting ready for the 30 minute drive to Kajjansi Airfield. Kajjansi is half way in between Kampala and Entebbe. I've been here all week, working on our 206's. The air is crisp, the morning is cool, and a mist hangs low over the ground (and over my head until the coffee kicks in). First I'll be flying to Entebbe to drop someone off and fill the wings with ever so precious avgas. I've got 2 55 gallon drums strapped behind me already, but we need it desperately in Bunia. After a quick prayer, we're off.
[ It comes from refineries in the US, on a boat to Africa. From there, it get's trucked to Uganda, where we pick it up and bring it in to Congo on our airplanes. By the time it reaches our depot, it costs $10 a gallon, on a good day. ]
The dividing line between Entebbe (Uganda) and Bunia (DRC) is a big lake called Lake Albert. I've flown this route many times now, but this time is a little different. As I begin to see familiar sights on the ground, I start thinking about our life in Congo, flying, living, spending time with people...and I get, of all things, excited. I breathe a sigh of relief as I cross over into Congolese airspace, much like you do after a long trip, and you finally step into the front door and collapse on your bed or your favorite couch. You just let go, relax, let your guard down.
That's what I'm feeling. I can finally "let my guard down." I have a full day of flying ahead of me, and on final approach into Bunia, I peek out the window and spot our house...I'm home. The familiar landscape, the familiar voices on the radio, the people on the ground...everyone's happy to see me, and I find myself happy to see them. I only have minutes though, as I need to be heading to my next destination.
Somewhere in between graduating from college and finally getting here, I think we lost our sense of "home."
Before I know it, I'm taking off for Isiro, 1:30 minutes into the jungle. I'm picking up 3 Dutch folks from Canada that I brought in a few weeks ago. They actually flew all the way out to Congo to visit family--what an experience! (right mom?!?) Come to find out, you can't get away from Dutch folks anywhere, even in the middle of an African rain forest. A quick discussion leads to the fact that my wife is Dutch (and I am not), and grew up in southern California. They happen to know people down in the same area that Joy's family knows, and in the Dutch world, that makes you family. All I can do is shake my head in disbelief.
I take them back to Bunia so they can catch the MAF-Uganda flight back to Entebbe, and then on to Europe and finally home to Ontario, Canada. But my day's certainly not over. I have a local Bible translation expert that needs to go 1 hour North to a place called Auzi. I always like going here, the people are friendly, the airstrip is nice, and I usually can get in and out in 10 minutes or less. After that, it's a quick hop over to Aru to drop off 4 more passengers and pick up 2 55 gallon drums of avgas and fill the wings again.
By now, there are rain showers everywhere, and it's a bit of a challenge to make it where I want to go, but hey, nobody ever said it was easy. As I land, I notice a storm approaching, so I'm rushing and rushing to get things done. In typical African gesture, everybody is standing around. I take charge and start giving people tasks to do, but there aren't enough people to help me lift the drums into the airplane. So it's just me vs. the 360 lbs drum. I make short work of the first one, but I struggle with the second one. I guess this sort of thing is what makes you old.
After those are strapped down, and they are almost finished with fueling the wings, big fat rain drops start coming down, one by one. The storm is only 10 miles away, with big booms of thunder crackling overhead. I don't mind them fueling in light rain, but lightning and avgas just don't sit well with me, even though I know the likelihood of anything remotely close to that happening are next to nil.
On the way back to Bunia, it's more of the same. Watching out for lightning and flying my way through a maze of rain showers. Back in Bunia, I leave the heavy unloading to the national workers. My arms are like jello. I smile on the way home--all the familiar sounds and sights and people. It's good to be home.