Archive for February, 2008

OK, now I really made it to Africa.

February 27, 2008

OK, now I really made it to Africa.  I arrived in Kinshasa, DRC this afternoon.  The main thing that was bothering me on the way up here was just getting through customs and out of the airport with the pile of bags that I’ve brought.  I have heard stories about people (especially those with an American passport) being given a hard time by the various people along the way. 

On the plane I met a South Africa businessman who was coming to Kinshasa for some sort of project.  He knew several pilots that were flying around the DRC and wondered if I knew any of them.  I said that I didn’t, that I most likely would know some of them soon.  This guy had gone through the rigmarole many times and knew how to get through fast and easy.  He found the immigration officer that he knew gave him a little “coffee money” along with his passport and that was that.  He then grabbed me and said that I was with him, and that was that.  The only thing that almost snagged me was that they wanted to know where I was going to be living.  I didn’t have a clue so I just told him that I was going to live at the airport while pointing to the stripes on my pilot shirt and showing him my badge and such.  He just gave me a strange look and stamped my passport. 

When I made it to the baggage claim area, I spotted my Airserv contact-Henry, a truly massive Congolese man.  He saw me and made a bee-line towards me.  “Ah, Patrick!  Comment allez-vous?” 

“Tres bien, merci”, I answer in the most mangled French ever (I had been listening to the French CD’s I had loaded on my Ipod on the way up).  Anyway, all my bags showed up and then we were on the way. 

South Africa was a good warm up for real Africa.  A lot of the South Africans that I have met in the last few weeks would often refer to people they knew who were “flying up in Africa”.  When I would hear that, I would think to myself, “isn’t South Africa in Africa?”  I guess now, I see what they were talking about. 

In South Africa, it wasn’t “just like home”, but it was very comfortable.  There was just about anything you could want to buy and everything was modern.  Still, you couldn’t go far without seeing something to remind you that it wasn’t “back home”.  And I am not talking about chickens under cars and such.  Every house/complex that I saw had 12 foot high walls with razor wire and/or electric fencing.  That’s not something I was used to seeing, but I think it will be the norm for a while. 

There was also a huge contrast between rich and extremely poor.  There was a lot of brand new BMW’s driving by vast shanty towns.  I think it would be like if the wall between the US and Mexico was taken down one day and Tijuana and San Diego instantly became one city.  I guess that is essentially what happened at the end of Apartheid. 

So far, all I have seen of Kinshasa is between the airport and where I am staying.  It really is a sprawling city.  There are many obvious reminders of the wars that have been fought here.  It seems that there has been little or no reconstruction since then.  I saw many of the walls along the roads with bullet scars and holes from various explosions.  I saw a few places where bridges had been demolished and not rebuilt.  Maybe I can get some pictures once I get more of a feel for things here.

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Kinshasa, DRC!

February 21, 2008

Here is a bit of information that I got about the place where I will be living for at least the next little while.  It should be interesting at the very least:

Kinshasa DRC, a sprawling filthy city of 6-8 million people, full of extremes in wealth, sights, smells, and sounds.  It is actually amazing as well as disturbing, at times.

We are living 300 miles south of the equator so the weather is usually hot and humid with usual temps in the mid 90’s during the day and down to the mid 70’s at night. The climate in Lubumbashi and Goma can often reach some cooler temps so plan accordingly in case you end up there overnight. Generally plan on warm temps so dress appropriately...

 kinshasa

 I have finished the exam that I needed to do here in South Africa and am getting closer to getting to work.  I am supposed to do a flight test this weekend and then my validation will be complete.

I’ll see if the place looks like the picture.

Rhino and Lion Park

February 18, 2008

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This place was absolutely amazing.  They let you drive your car around all of these wild animals.  It would not have been a good place to have a convertible.

lion.jpg

 When I passed through the gates, an attendant reminded me not to let the lions get too close as they will try to bite the tires and other things.  Lucky for me, they had just been eating something much tastier than car tires:

beast.jpg

 Or maybe it was a few of these poor guys:

animals.jpg

They also had packs of wild dogs which were entertaining.  This is what I call throwing a dog a bone:

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 These guys were very bold.  One tried to peck his way through the car window.

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Pictures

February 11, 2008

This is the view from the window where I am staying.

lodge

This is the yard at the lodge where I am staying.

field.jpg 

There’s dinner hiding under my car.

chickens under my car

American Lawyers Beat me to Africa

February 11, 2008

At most places I’ve been so far in South Africa the coffee has been instant.  I guess that’s how it’s done here.  This is a pack of “creamer” that I was given the other day.

cremora.jpg 

The disclaimer is pretty funny.

 cremora-not-for-babies.jpg

Dangerous Gringo

February 7, 2008

The last few days have been busy, but not too busy.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I found out that I had to get a South African validation for my pilot’s ratings, but at least so far I seem to have overestimated what it was going to take.  I expected to be in classes from 8am or so until 5 or 6 in the pm.  Every day so far, the classes have started at 9 (ish) and have been done by no later than 2pm.  The classes so far have been not much to speak of. 

Monday and Tuesday were taken up by “CRM” classes.  The classes had very little practical application of anything.  Most of the time was spent by listening to the instructor try to remember details of flying 747’s and other big planes for various airlines that don’t exist anymore.  I was hoping for a bit more real world type scenarios and other useful things rather than just listening to mildly amusing tales that occasionally drifted into Afrikaans.  As I sat there, I was thinking how angry I would have been if I had to pay to take the class as many in the room had to.

Most of the other people in the class were “contract pilots” (as I suppose I sort of am) for various companies around Africa.  Many of them had to pay for the training out of their own pockets rather than having the training paid for by the company as is the norm in the US.  One told me that it was a good thing for them to do it that way so they wouldn’t be obligated to their employer for a specific period of time to pay back the training costs. 

Today was a class on DG (dangerous goods).  The instructor read the manual we had been given word for word.  Matt Payne could make a mint if he wanted to come to South Africa to teach DG.  Pepe and Larry (the Venezuelans) rode with me to the class which was about 20 kilometers away from the lodge where we are staying.  They started to call me “DG”, which stood for “Dangerous Gringo” in reference to my LA style combat-mode driving (which seems to work well here as long as I remember to stay on the left side of the road). 

I made it to Africa!

February 5, 2008

I made it to Africa.  I spent about as much time in an airplane as anyone would ever want to spend.  My flight got into Johannesburg about an hour late and it took another hour and a half before I was on my way out with my luggage.  Apparently, by the time I got out of customs, the driver that was sent to pick me up had grown tired of waiting for me and had gone back to the hotel.  I waited around for a while and decided that no one was there to get me.  Several cab drivers noticed this sad looking American sitting around with a cart full of luggage and offered to take me where I needed to go.  Since I wasn’t entirely sure where that was or if it was a good idea to take a ride from one of these guys, I figured that it would be better to try to make a phone call.  I got 500 Rand (about 70 dollars or so) from an ATM and bought a phone card.  I tried every number that I had and there was no answer on any of them.  Great…  I went back to the lady who sold me the phone card and asked her to help.  She came back out and tried one of the numbers from the pay phone that I was using and she said that the line was “engaged”.  I listened to the sound and it was the same sound that it made for every number that I had dialed.  She let me use her mobile phone and I was able to contact the shuttle service.  She then took the calling card back from me and gave me my money back.  A few minutes later, the van showed up and I was on my way. 

I managed to get a full night’s sleep and spent most of today in a class with six other pilots.  Four of them were South African one was a Brit and the other from Ghana.  The South Africans seemed to stick together and speak Afrikaans when out of class.  After class was over I went with the pilot from Ghana to a shopping center to buy some airtime for our mobile phones but we couldn’t buy any because the power was out.  I ate dinner with a couple of Venezuelan pilots who were training at the same place.  They mostly talked about how they disliked their president Chavez and were curious about the elections happening in the US.  Once that topic was exhausted, the conversation moved on to various tales of pilots and passengers peeing in bottles and dropping deuces on seats and in pants. 

I guess two things span international borders: a general dislike of politicians…. And poop jokes.

Unemployed?!?

February 1, 2008

This is such a wierd feeling.  Yesterday was my last day at Ameriflight.  So for two whole days I am unemployed.  In a lot of ways, I grew up while working for this company.  Not long after I first started, Kurt (My boss when I first moved to Salt Lake) sat me down in his office and told me that I wasn’t going to be the same person after working there for a while.  I don’t know why he said that.  Maybe it was because I was just twenty years old and had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I am really going to miss about 96% of the people I worked with there.  In the three quarters of a decade that I’ve worked there, I’ve met some very interesting people and made some life-long friends.  And I’ve lost some friends.  I don’t know why that comes to the front of my mind when I look back at the years working for this company.  I guess those are the things that get comfortably buried under years of routine. 

Kurt was a big man.  Not obese, just big.  Maybe he should have been a lumberjack.  I remember when he met my parents when they were dropping me off at the Burbank airport.  He had a fresh scar on his forehead that he got from walking into the back of a propeller.  The most vivid memory I have of him was from an after-company-christmas-party-party.  By the time I got there, he had found a bottle of absinthe and was dancing around the room with a pink feather boa.  A shocking image.  Kurt was killed in a hospital after checking in for neck pain and being given a lethal dose of pain killers. 

Fred got to the Salt Lake base a few months before I did.  He was kind of like everyone’s uncle at the base and would say some really funny things just out of the blue.  He had a purple heart and a bronze star that he earned in Vietnam as a medic, though he never said much about it.  He slipped on ice and broke his shoulder and ended up going to fly for another company when his shoulder had healed.  I remember talking to him that cold morning on the UPS ramp just a few hours before his plane crashed near Hailey, Idaho. 

Perry was one of the breakfast regulars at the Wagon Wheel in Saint George.  A half dozen of us from different companies would fly in every morning and meet up and tell flying stories-usually greatly exaggerated and acted out with hand motions- over a not so healthy meal of eggs, biscuits and gravy, hash browns, toast and coffee that cost only about 3 bucks.  One morning, Perry didn’t show up.  We waited for him for a while, and then decided to head to the “wheel” without him.  Later, we found out that he had been talked into flying the night before after being up all day and had crashed into mountains in Colorado.  Nobody could tell for sure, but most figured that he had fallen asleep.

Carl was one of the most skilled pilots that came through training in Burbank while I was working there.  A couple of years before that, I was up in Billings temporarily and I remember him passing out cigars to everyone the day after his first child was born.  When he was down for 1900 training a couple of years later, he told me how nice it was to get a full night’s sleep since he hadn’t been sleeping much since his wife gave birth to twins (I guess that’s what happens when you have 3 young kids at home).  I was asleep in a hotel room in Seattle when my phone rang and someone told me that his plane was missing.   I remember the nausea that hit just then.  I remember it coming back as I sat with a few other people in an office listening to the last few words he spoke over the radio as we tried to figure out what happened. 

So maybe Kurt was right.  I barely remember the person I was when I started with AMF.  I’ve grown up (though some may argue that one).  It seems like I’ve lived a lifetime in these seven years.

Anyway, enough looking back for right now.  Time to look forward and pack for Africa.