Archive for March, 2008

The Other Side of Goma

March 31, 2008

The flight to Goma on Friday was uneventful.  I guess boring is what we typically aim for when making a flight.  I think I am slowly getting used to the chaos that is flying in Africa.  The weather was beautiful for the entire flight.  It was about the first time flying between Kinshasa and Goma that we didn’t have to do a bit of weather dodging. 

It was fun to see the other two pilots from the orientation class that I went through back in November in Virginia. 

On Friday night almost all of us went out for pizza.  It was an amazingly clear night and we could see the glow of the volcano reflecting off of the steam it continuously spews.  I didn’t imagine that I would be eating pizza in Africa.  It’s not quite the same as you’d get back home, but its still pizza.  In order to fully Africanize the pizza you must add the additional topping of Pili-Pili, which is ridiculously hot.  I have been told that the benefits of the Pili are many which include, repelling mosquitoes, preventing food poisoning, malaria and cancer, among other things.  I saw a few of the passengers that I had flown out to Goma previously there. 

A few of the pilots who had to fly the next day ended up heading home before us.  About a half an hour after they left, they were back and seemed a little shaken up.  They told us that we needed to leave immediately to go to the office compound.  This seemed a bit odd, so they explained that they were on the road home when they saw a military roadblock with something going on not far beyond it.  When the driver (local Congolese) saw this, he made a hasty U-turn and sped off back to the restaurant.  Apparently there was some sort of demonstration going on between where we were and the crew houses.  The military and police came in to get things under control.  They don’t have tear gas or bean-bag guns to disperse an unruly crowd so they make use of other tools.  I think the driver had good reason to not want to go anywhere near the activity. 

All of us were rounded up to make sure that we all made it into the Land Cruiser.  We stood around the truck waiting for a few stragglers and trying to figure out for sure where we were going to go.  About this time the skies seemed to open up and dump buckets of water on us.  We waited for ten or fifteen minutes for a plan to be made by our security coordinator and then joined up with an armed convoy that was going our way.  The convoy took a serpentine route through alleys and back roads to avoid where the activity was taking place.  It took a while, but we made it back to the houses without seeing anything of what was causing the problems. 

The next day we drove the route that was blocked on the way to the airport.  I couldn’t see any evidence of what had happened.  When most of the buildings are already derelict, I guess it’s hard to notice any new damage. 

It’s not easy to know if the reaction that our security coordinator had was a bit of overkill.  I have talked to several other expats from other NGO’s here in Goma that seem to think that Air Serv is overly paranoid when it comes to security.  Still, I would rather see an extremely cautious response than to have a situation ignored and presumed to be normal.  It is really easy to be here in Goma and appreciate the beauty and relative luxury and not be fully aware of the surroundings.  I suppose this is the type of thing we need to see every now and then just to remind us of where we are and how careful we need to be. 

Bandundu

March 27, 2008

The runway at Bandundu was really rough.  I could almost hear the plane complaining about the rough “pavement”.  Before we landed we had to make sure all of the people who were walking around on the runway were gone.  That was a first for me.

When we landed in Bandundu today everyone wanted their picture taken with me (the Mazungu) and the plane.  One of them had a camera and I had them take some with my camera also.  The cameraman had a very hard time working out how to use my camera.  First he was trying to use it upside down.  It looked to me like he was aiming the camera a bit low.  As it turns out, I only ended up with one where I have (most of) my head in the shot.  Here I am with the local immigration official: Patrick and DGM official

African Music

March 23, 2008

Friday night was a lot of fun.  We (the other pilot and mechanic) went to hear some local music.  I have to say that I was sceptical as to the potential quality of this jazz music we were going to hear. 

When we arrived at the place, the power was out and the place was lit by a lot of candles.  There were several instruments leaning against the wall as they were useless without electricity.  They were left with a trumpet, saxophone, a variety of drums and an acoustic guitar. 

After a few minutes, the drummers (two of which would later play guitar and bass when the power came back on) started to play a tribal sort of beat.  The rhythm was complex but coherent.  After some time of drumming, the trumpet player began to play the easily recognizable (to me at least) melody of the jazz standard “Take Five”. 

They played many other old jazz songs with a distinctly African feel to them.  When the power came back on the electronic instruments were brought back to life and the music had an almost Caribbean sound to it.  There were many other expats in the place that all knew about the music that was played there and came every week. 

Tomorrow we finally fly again.  It’s meant to be just a quick out and back, but I always bring a change of clothes whenever I leave a base as I’ve had this type of trip turn into an extended stay and it’s always good to have clean underwear.

I wish I could have written this:

March 21, 2008

I’ve listened to a lot of music while sitting in Kinshasa waiting for the next flight:

 

We barely remember who or what came before this precious moment,
We are choosing to be here right now. Hold on, stay inside
This holy reality, this holy experience.
Choosing to be here in

This body. This body holding me. Be my reminder here that I am not alone in
This body, this body holding me, feeling eternal
All this pain is an illusion.

Alive, I

In this holy reality, in this holy experience. Choosing to be here in

This body. This body holding me. Be my reminder here that I am not alone in
This body, this body holding me, feeling eternal
All this pain is an illusion.

Twirling round with this familiar parable.
Spinning, weaving round each new experience.
Recognize this as a holy gift and celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing.

This body holding me reminds me of my own mortality.
Embrace this moment. Remember. We are eternal.
All this pain is an illusion.

Unpacked… finally

March 19, 2008

I have finally unpacked my things after finally moving in to my apartment here in Kinshasa.  I share the place with the first officer (from South Africa who came with the plane when Air Serv leased it).  Most of my things have been living in my luggage since coming to Africa a month and a half ago.  I have been “living” in Kinshasa for a few weeks, but have been other in Goma (among other places) more than I have been here. 

Now that I have unpacked, I bet it’ll soon be time to pack back up and head off somewhere else.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see.  I think I will have a few more days to enjoy my new place in Kinshasa as I don’t think there is a flight scheduled for a few days.  As long as the power is on and the A/C is cranking, it’s not bad. 

Goma

March 10, 2008

Goma is absolutely beautiful.  It’s like a tropical Lake Tahoe.  This is from the porch of the Air Serv  crew house:                         lake-kivu.jpg

Here is the view towards Rwanda:

 lake-kivu-2.jpg

And here is the view in the other direction:

 Lake kivu

And here is Air Serv’s vermin abatement program in Goma:

Vermin abatemet

Well, tomorrow I am heading back to Kinshasa, but I think I’ll be back in Goma soon.

First Flights and Bruce Yoder Pizza

March 7, 2008

I finally got to work on Wednesday. I flew to Mbandaka with the South African captain who was out here before I got here. I got to spend a few hours back north of the Equator (just barely) while we waited for the passengers to come back from what they had to do. While we were there, we had the pleasure of meeting the “chief inspector” of the civil aviation authority in Mbandaka. At first we mistook him for the driver that was being sent to take us to lunch. He said, “I am transportation service”, and it seemed logical that he was going to take us to find food. I found out that we were wrong when he said that he wanted to see “the documents”. I showed him the aircraft documents (copies) and he appeared to study them. “Oh no, commander, this document is not good. It is expired.” I pointed out that the date he was looking at was the date it was issued, not the expiration date. He studied the page some more, “commander, I cannot accept this. There is no stamp. How do I know if it is valid without a stamp?” It was clear where this was heading, so I called the manager back in Kinshasa who was very interested in talking to the inspector. I handed him the phone and I could hear angry shouting on the other end. I thought to myself that this could either go well or very bad. The inspector (who was clearly looking for an easy bribe) seemed flustered. We weren’t meant to leave for several hours, so I figured I might wait him out. He asked for money to pay for his phone since he said that he always had to call Kinshasa to sort out my problems, then he asked for two beers, then he asked for a coke. I told him that I couldn’t give him anything. He asked why not and I said, “do you remember that man you just spoke with?” “Oh yes, commander. Very mean man. Not nice. I do not like him.” I said, “when he finds out that I gave you money, he will fire me.” “Oh no, commander. He is not nice.” Eventually he gave up and we waited for the passengers to come.

Yesterday morning was both frustrating and amusing. The passengers to go to Lubumbashi were all strapped in and the engines were started and it was time to call N’dolo tower. There was no response. I tried a dozen times and there was nothing. I called N’djili tower controller (nearby airport) on the radio to see if he would let me take off but he was not interested in helping. He said, “I do not have your flight plan. I cannot do this without your flight plan. You must take your flight plan to the N’Dolo coordination office (not easy to do while sitting inside an airplane) so they can give it to me.” I called Kabemba (our operations manager) to ask him to do it. He drove to the tower and when he got there, the controller told him that the generator that powered the radios would not start. He took out jumper cables and hooked the Air Serv Land Cruiser to the generator and gave it a jump start and then we were on our way.

It was a good time in Lubumbashi. I got the introduction to Bruce Yoder Pizza which was made as a team effort by everyone there, but spearheaded by Bruce Yoder (one of the pilots there). It was funny because everything we ate was a Bruce Yoder something. I think that it must have been a gimmick that started there at some point. We even had Bruce Yoder brownies. There were the Airserv pilots, a mechanic (engineer as they are called here), and a half dozen or so MSF doctors and nurses that came out for Bruce Yoder pizza night. It was good times.

There I was… on the Congo.

March 1, 2008

Tonight, I had dinner on the banks of the Congo River.  It was a surreal experience.  I saw the water flowing by with clumps of river grass and dugout canoes making their way up and down the river.  The pilots of these boats were constantly yelling back and forth at each other in their own languages.  There were also the boats that made regular trips across the river between Kinshasa and Brazzaville.  I couldn’t help but be amazed at where I was.  I think I had a similar feeling when flying over the Mississippi.  It just seemed like such an epic event for some reason. 

I ate dinner with the Chief Pilot and some South African businessmen that he knew and some Congolese people.  Most of the conversations were in French, which was a minor problem to me.  One of the Congolese helped me translate some into English.  That helped a lot.  The one that translated was about my age.  He spoke several African languages as well as French and English.  He worked for one of the South Africans, handling all of the day to day business for him.

It seems as if everyone that’s in this country from other places is either here to make a buck or to make a difference.  I have yet to see how effective either is.