On Saturday I head to the airport for a lunchtime departure to Bukavu and Shabunda.  I hadn’t flown in a few days, so I was looking forward to it.  When I get to the airport, the plane that I am to be flying isn’t there yet.  It’s been delayed on the way back from the morning flight.  Edmund is going to fly with me to help load and unload the cargo that is listed on the manifest (four 55 gallon drums of fuel going from Bukavu to Shabunda).  Just after takeoff, I get a call on the HF from our radio operator saying that the weather was too bad in Shabunda (odd, I think it was reported as good by the same person five minutes before takeoff…).  I return to Goma after five minutes in the air.  The flight will wait until the morning. 

I go back to the airport in the morning and get the plane ready to go.  Edmund gets back into same copilot’s seat that he was sitting in twelve hours before.  He’s excited to go flying.  Edmund knows about Bukavu and the crash.  I decide to try to fly over the crash site, but I either can’t find it or it’s obscured by clouds.  While heading back into Bukavu the plane becomes nervous about the proximity of the terrain and starts to complain in its female voice, “Caution, terrain!! Caution, terrain!!”  Since the visibility was very good and I could see the mountains, I knew it wasn’t a problem.  Edmund sat there quietly looking concerned as we continued the descent towards Bukavu.  Edmund had been thinking about the crash and asks me, “Please tell me Patrick, why did they not listen to her?”

“That’s a very good question.  I don’t know why.”  The 1900’s have a different system that wouldn’t warn quite in the same way or under the same conditions.  I could see that he was trying to make sense of the crash just like the rest of us.


There really isn’t much interesting about the Bukavu airport, but the surroundings are very beautiful.  I admire the peaks to the west of the airport the same way someone might admire the beauty in a graveyard.  When I can see them, they are the headstones of two friends and the fifteen others that died there with them eight miles or so from the airport. 

I like flying to Shabunda.  I think it’s a lot like the picture of an airport that I had in my head when I headed to Africa.  The airport and village is in the bend of a river, the runway going from river bank to river bank with huts and trees and such all around.  After we land, Edmund rolls the fuel drums out of the plane, letting them land on a tire that was placed below the door and then rolling away from the plane, then throwing the bags of cement out.  A small choir is at the tree-line singing a farewell to the four passengers that will be leaving with me.

On the way back to Bukavu, I can’t get a hold of our HF radio operator in Goma.  I finally get him when I was on approach to Bukavu.  I was able to talk to him the whole way from Bukavu to Shabunda and since I was flying the same route back, I figured he was just taking a nap or something.  I started to get a bit annoyed.  When he finally answers the radio, he wants a lot more information than I am interested in giving when I am about to land. 

After landing, I go into the airport office to pay landing fees, already a little mad about the radio thing.  The people in that office are particularly trying of the patience of all of the Air Serv pilots.  The landing fees add up to 25.6 dollars and the “lady” tries to round it up to 26.  I put lady in quotation marks because none of us are really sure if that person is in fact female.  Anyway, I give 25 dollars and make up the .6 in Congolese money.  I argue for a lot longer than it was worth arguing about over 40 cents, but I guess it was just the principle that I was thinking of at that point. 

Now she tells me that the $20 bill that I gave her was not good.  Here’s a little lesson on spending dollars in Congo:  They love dollars, but they won’t take a bill if it has the tiniest tear anywhere, or of there is writing on it, or if Andrew Jackson has a pimple.

This particular bill had a microscopic tear at the point where it had been folded in half.  I argue for a few minutes about the validity of the bill, which went nowhere.  I took the bill back and tore it in half.  I heard a few gasps and whimpers in the room after I did that.  They try to get the cleanest bills possible and then give back the dirtiest bills they can find in change.  They could still use the twenty that I had given.  At worst, they might not have been able to get a full $20 worth out of the bill, but I’ve managed to spend bills worse than that one all over the country. 

They gladly accepted the next bill I pulled out of my pocket. 

I grabbed the receipt from the desk and walked out toward the plane.  They threatened that the tower wouldn’t let me take off since I hadn’t paid the 40 cents extra that they wanted.  Well, that didn’t happen and I was off to Goma.


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2 Responses to “Bukavu”

  1. The Dave Says:

    Sounds like you are having a lot of fun. It is good to know that people can by a pain any where in the world and not just here back home.

  2. Matthew Says:

    Nice… There was a security “lady” at the Dodger game the other night… You reminded me of when Aunt Kathy ripped your $20 in half at your birthday party years ago.

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