Monday, June 25, 2018

Back in Chad, plane fixed, test flights complete

After several months out of Chad, we returned in March 2018. Our time away was useful for resting and recovering from symptoms of burnout and a torn ACL in my knee. We also enjoyed the longer stay in Canada which allowed us a chance to connect with family and friends on a deeper level and experience more than just one season at a time in Canada.

Due to the disruption which MAF faced in Chad at the end of 2016 the flying had really dropped off over 2017. We returned to a program with much needed new staff families having recently arrived but a real need to make the services of MAF known to the mission, humanitarian and NGO communities.

As we were getting things rolling, shortly after returning, our larger Cessna Caravan was accidentally run into from behind by a towing tractor. The damage to the rear elevator (small wing at the back of the plane) took 2 months to repair. Most of that time was waiting for the elevator to arrive. The first elevator to arrive was the wrong size so we were stuck waiting for another one. The actual repair was eventually completed in a matter of a few days.

Crunch! While unfortunate, many lessons were learned from this mishap.
The return to service test flights were fun to carry out. The first 'flight' consisted of rolling down the runway and getting just airborne - 5 to 10 feet in the air - and then landing again. The hardest part of that flight was trying to get the tower controllers to understand what I wanted to do. A normal flight around the circuit was next followed by a good inspection to ensure all was good with the repair. Finally I took the plane into the practice area and put it through its paces. I carried out the more strenuous maneuvers from one of our 6-monthly pilot base checks. No flutter or vibration was noticed from the new elevator during 60 degree bank turns or a steep descent approaching the Vne speed (never exceed speed on these Caravans is 175 knots).

So we are at this 'much-looked-forward-to' point where we are all ready to go flying again! This week we have 4 flights scheduled so I'm looking forward to getting back in the air and helping people get where they need to go.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Back in Canada for Christmas

We've had to return to Canada for some program related complexities in Chad which unfortunately cannot be published here. As we left to go back to Chad last time the kids asked me, "When are we going to get a chance to see snow again?" At the time, I didn't have much of an answer for them. Little did any of us know that in a matter of weeks they'd be knee deep in the stuff!
Kaitlyn and Lily are having a blast with forts, snowballs, sledding and looking forward to learning to skate. Evie is less sure but is usually happy to just stand still and eat the snow around her. :)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Opening Gogmi Airstrip

Chad with Guera region shown
Swiss missionary Johannes Boucher called us in late 2015 very excited that 'his' airstrip, which had become overgrown and populated with new trees and ant hills, had now been cleared and leveled with all holes filled in. He was desperate to have us come and re-open the airstrip.

Johannes works in the Guera region of central Chad. He lives in the small village of Gogmi nestled amongst the rocky hills for which the Guera is known. With over 25 different language groups in the one region there is much need for dedicated people like Johannes to work alongside these people groups to protect their culture and language and ultimately to demonstrate the hope of Christ to them. I've been told that in the Guera you can have tribes living on different sides of the same hill who will speak completely different languages! The Gogmi airstrip will give these pastors, health workers and missionaries working in the Guera region better access to the capital.

Update: We already have a medical tour stop planned for Gogmi this month. Pilot Andrew Mumford will be flying in a doctor to visit the community and check that the health center is running as it should. Quick progress!

Rocky hills divide one language group from another in the Guera region.
Gogmi is in this valley over the hills in the foreground.
Looking West down the Gogmi airstrip - judging take off obstacles.
Pastor Gari Kodi, Johannes Boucher and Pastor Hissene Maïmoutou
work closely together in the towns of Gogmi and Melfi
Pastor Hissene helps me check the length of the airstrip
Lots of kids showed up to see what was going on
The Chef de Canton (head of the district) also honoured us with his presence.
As a thank you for the visit he offered me two roasted chickens and some
traditional donuts. However, it was Ramadan and eating them in front of
everyone would have been an insult so I took them to go. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ounianga - Desert Lakes

Last week I had the chance to take a small team of Chadian and EU delegates to Bardai, Faya and Ounianga Kebir in the north of Chad. They were there to see what measures are or should be in place to protect and sustain some of the natural treasures and ecosystems which exist in Chad's part of the Sahara. File it under stewardship of the planet if you like but a flight like this comes up very rarely and I made sure to snap some photos of the sites. One of them, a UNESCO world heritage site, was the salt water lakes at Ounianga Kebir...and more incredible in person than the stories of lakes in the middle of the desert that I'd heard since coming to Chad. Feeling very privileged to have laid eyes on this part of creation. To God be the glory.

Flying over the Tibesti - miles and miles of
Grand Canyons that few have ever seen.

Military presence in the north is a given.
These were the 14 guys assigned to guard the plane
over night in Ounianga Kebir.

Desert sunrise over the lakes.

The most striking thing about Ounianga Kebir
is the juxtaposition of so much sand with so much water.
There are 18 lakes in the region in total, although some smaller
ones are covered in vegetation and others are being
slowly filled in by the desert sands. The local
community are hard at work creating sand barriers
to keep the desert from blowing in.

Makes you want to dive right in - although the salt
content felt about 10x that of the ocean.

I couldn't get over the colours

One last look at the lakes on our departure

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Medical Safari - Flying Doctor

Kouno, Southern Chad

I just returned from 4 days of flying in the bush transporting a Chadian doctor between remote villages.
Dr. Antcha Bissa (red shirt below) has been tasked with checking in on the over 50 small health clinics around the country which the national church has set up. Travelling between these clinics is not easy work so MAF teams up with the national church and donates 20 hours of flying per year to get a doctor to some of the more remote centers. Having a doctor visit every few months means people are lined up and consultations continue until well after the sun has set. Part of his job was also to check up on the administration of the clinics - which in most cases needed plenty of attention. If the doc was sleeping before 11:30 pm it was a good day!
Dr. Bissa going over the clinic's books in Mogo.

These clinics might have a local person trained as a nurse who can administer meds and some even have a lab tech who can check for the most common culprits like Malaria, but a visit from a fully trained doctor is unfortunately rare. Chad has a very low doctor to patient ratio - 1 doctor for every 25,000 people - which places it at or near the bottom of the list.
Topping up the oil with cattle looking on
Adding oil with an audience in Tchaguine
Each day Dr. Bissa and I tried to be up and airborne for the next village at around 7:00. He'd start seeing patients mid-morning after greeting the staff, shaking many hands and being offered breakfast (usually rice or pasta with chicken or goat sauce). As the visitors, we were, of course, offered the choice bits - chicken gizzard is actually way more scary as a concept.
Traveling light - we just bring the eye chart and find a place to hang it. (Kouno)
As the pilot, my work wasn't over just because we were safe on the ground. Dr. Bissa had me helping with eye chart tests on everyone before they went in to see him.

Emanuel is working on becoming a nurse. I was helping him run the eye tests in Kouno.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Unexplained Graces

Edit: This post talked about the International Airport in N'Djamena before it was renovated. The redesigned airport, baggage claim area and lobby are clean and function well.

We arrived back in N'Djamena, Chad on October 21st. Thank you for praying as we traveled - we saw His providence in several different phases of the journey.

Departing Kitchener for Toronto the normally reliable minivan began to play a symphony of bells and flashing lights – no doubt complaining of the heavy load. Mer's dad's advice was comical, "don't worry about the warning lights, they mean nothing and go on and off as they please". This one was the coolant temp - which actually was telling the truth but a short stop to top up the levels and we were on our way - now with only false warnings showing. Initially I had visions of being towed by CAA into the departures level of Pearson Airport. Nice to avoid that sort of start to the trip.

Merilee holding the bags at bay before leaving London.

Then at the check-in counter the Air France lady was understanding and lenient with our 13 piece armada of baggage and miscellaneous items including a stroller, a booster seat and an infant car seat. She noted that some of the bags were over the 23 kg limit but chose to take the average of everything in the end. The guy checking that our hand-luggage was up to latest specifications was so bewildered by the 4 loaded baggage carts that we didn't actually have to undergo that particular bit of scrutiny. I suspect one or two of them might not have actually fit in that tiny metal frame they use as a benchmark.
Baggage checked and ready to go...believe it or not, that's all hand luggage.

It was on to security next and into the frenzied circus of lineups, x-rays, plastic bins, no shoes, no belts, and not many smiles. We readied ourselves for a long circuitous line up but a yelling and waving official at the front saw our kids and ushered us down the VIP line. A piece of advice for the security line...don't pack wrapped Christmas gifts in your hand-luggage. A set of drill bits won't make it past the checkpoint but it's a good way to get an x-ray scan of what you're getting for Christmas. So that resulted in me abandoning Merilee and the girls on the air-side of security and hoofing it back through the circus and past a trio of still-waving grandparents to check bag number 14 at the counter. Amazingly, I didn't have to pay for this extra bag and I was back through in a flash to meet up with Mer and the kids.
At times, it felt like this...

As for the rest of the trip, it seems that having kids in tow is as useful as being one of those Platinum Premiere Club members you always see boarding the plane ahead of you. We were first to board both aircraft, allowing us unrestricted access to those coveted overhead storage compartments which are so much in demand in this time of airlines minimizing under-seat space and charging for checked bags. Kaitlyn pulled her weight (almost literally), deftly handling her full-size rolling carry on, beaten only by the stairs off the plane in N'Djamena.

And that brings us to the airport in N'Djamena. I actually woke up early a few days before the trip going over in my mind all the different ways the arrival at Hassan Djamous International Airport could go. Being anything but our first time through that airport makes it worse, because you've had a taste of the chaos. My helpful sister sent me an article a week before the flight of the top ten worst airports in the world. You can guess where this is going...yes N'Djamena definitely made the list. Arriving at night was a welcome change from the norm for us. We stepped off the plane into an agreeable 28°C at 9:00 pm. The smells of Chad met us, both good and bad, as did a line of military police. This would be alarming anywhere else, here it's just what happens every time a plane comes in. I guess they really never know if an Air France passenger is going to disembark and make a break for the fence. Regardless, it was a reminder that we were back in Chad!

They screened us for Ebola at the door to the terminal. Everyone got a zap on the head for a temp check and then a mandatory drop of hand sanitizer in the palm from masked medical personnel. It was more than I was expecting, especially as we were arriving from Paris, but we're happy to see that they were taking it seriously. Our visas, which caused such a last minute rush, were accepted without hesitation or question and with only the baggage claim remaining, things were looking good. However, only a passenger arriving for the first time would make the mistake of thinking the worst part was out of the way.

It's not easy to adequately describe with words the chaos of the baggage claim area at the N'Djamena airport. If you were to cross the airport security area of Toronto Pearson with Pike's fish market in Seattle (switch the flying fish with flying suitcases) and you'd be starting to get a good idea. Now throw in 15 guys running the x-ray machine, lots of yelling, an assortment of insects strewn across the floor and you're just about there. We were trying to get 13 bags through off the conveyor, through the x-ray and out the door. I hired a few guys who specialize in getting your stuff through - anywhere else they'd be known as porters or baggage handlers but here they have to be negotiators, heavy lifters and acrobats. I struck up a friendly conversation with the police officer in charge of the whole thing who took kindly to me asking about family and life in general. All the while bags were slowly moving through the queue. After exiting the x-ray a couple of our bags were set aside by the 15-strong team of x-ray judges but each time the officer yelled something over to them and the bag would be put back into the line. Before we knew it, we were done and all the bags were out! It was as close to a "these are not the droids you're looking for" moment as I have experienced. Small answers to prayer at every turn. Thank for praying.

The last step was to get out of the building, which meant pushing loaded carts through a New York subway-esque turnstile/meat grinder apparatus. This is where the baggage guys really earned their wage. There was vicious pulling, heaving and slow squeezing and finally we popped out and into the hot heaviness of N'Djamena at night.

A brief side note about the x-ray. Many visitors comment on how strange it is that the bags have to get scanned on the way out of the airport. While this seems a bit late to be detecting anything dangerous, what they are really looking for are things destined for the market. Almost everything for sale in the market comes from outside the country - so the customs awareness in Chad is very high. If you bring too much of the same looking item into the country then your bag will get pulled aside for "further inspection", and when you bring 13 bags through the assumption is that somewhere in there you must be bringing something in to sell.

Arriving home we found our house had been cleaned, beds made and some fruit and bread in the fridge for breakfast. There was even a lasagna in the fridge for dinner the next day – all thanks to some of the other MAF families. Kaitlyn and Lily found Whiskers the cat right away, much to their and his delight.
Josephine works with us and was very happy to meet Evie

K and L slept until 9 and 11 the next day. Mer and Evie got plenty of sleep but for some reason I was up at 5:30 sharp. That's my normal wake up time around here anyway so my body was just getting onto schedule from day one I guess.

By now we've unpacked everything, have gotten back into our Chadian routines and have linked up with friends again. We also continue to train the kids to try to keep the door closed - however here we're keeping the warm air out.

Thank you for the part you have in the work here in Chad. Talking with the other two pilots upon my return, they confirmed that there has been and will be just as much a need for the service of MAF as ever. For example, the road out to Am Timan (directly East across the country) was washed out during the rains. We had several flights out that way as a result. I've since been on some blog-worthy trips so there will be more to come.