Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Coming up for internet

Five months have passed for us since we arrived in Chad, eight since leaving Canada. It may sound strange that we're just now starting to feel like normal rhythms are in place and that we're beginning to feel settled here in N'Djamena. The adjustment has been surprisingly and unexpectedly difficult for us due to many factors including health issues, environmental differences, language and technological challenges. I'm not writing this post to detail every tough thing we've been through because frankly that would be a depressing account and a pointless exercise in complaining. Just know that we've been buoyed through this time by the grace of our Father, the knowledge that we're being prayed for and the realization of the importance of the work we are part of here in Chad.
I must, however, take this opportunity to decry the abysmal state of the internet in Chad. And to save a thousand boring words about how terrible the connection is here, I'll simply let you look at this internet speed test (http://www.speedtest.net/) that I was able to complete. The fact that I got to the end of the test to take this screen shot is amazing in itself.

Incase these numbers mean nothing to you in the land of blazing internet speeds I will quickly replace them with numbers that you'd probably see if you did the same test yourself. 958 ms should be 1 or 2 ms - that's how long it takes for my computer to send and receive a simple "Hello" from the rest of the web. Download and upload speeds should be anywhere from 3 up to 15 Mbps depending on your monthly bill. The little stick man is me, in Chad, and that arch is my 'direct' connection to which ever company is providing my internet service - for you this connection could be as close as a few blocks away or, at worst, the next city over. Looks like I'm connecting to a provider on the coast! That's over 1000 km away. Joy! 

What would we do with faster internet? Skype with family and friends is pretty much top of the list. Update this blog more often is another. We'd love to see all those fun pictures you guys keep putting on Facebook and even add a few of our own. I enjoy sending videos too. That's been a thing of the past here though.

So how I'm able to be updating this blog now? Well I've brought some passengers down to Moundou, in the south of Chad. These guys have some meetings they need to attend and will be flying back to NDJ this afternoon. In the meantime, I'm relaxing at their base which happens to have great internet - likely because they use a VSAT (satellite internet connection). I've brought all our peripherals so I can run the software updates on them while I'm here. These guys also have a big satellite TV so I'm watching the Ottawa Sens get trounced 4-1 by the Ducks (last Sunday night's game) so life is as it should be. (Sorry Stuart, and my cousins, and all you Ottawa people)

So, goodbye - until I can secure another decent connection. And please don't waste your good internet because there are people in other countries who don't have any. :)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Soroti Flight School

I recently read a blog post written by a friend who flew for Air Canada. He dealt with the concept of remembering where you came from and always thinking more of others. Yesterday I had an experience which lined up nicely with what I was reading so I commented on his post and then decided to post my comment here as it was an interesting little story.
MAF Uganda does a shuttle-type flight up into Northeastern Uganda three times a week where we pick up and drop off various mission, church and NGO workers all the way around. Each flight usually consists of about 4 stops and then back to our base. Our first stop was in the town of Soroti in central Uganda to drop off two guys from a church in the UK who were visiting a project there. There is a small flight school at the airport with a couple of 172s and I was warned by the supervising pilot, as we taxied in for shutdown, that it was normal, especially on a Friday, to be approached by some of the students for a ride back down to our base in Kajjansi. Sure enough, there were 3 or 4 well dressed private pilots watching intently as our Caravan rolled to a stop beside them. In an instant I recalled standing on the apron in Three Hills, Alberta as a King Air 200 or PC12 graced us with its presence, the unfamiliar smell of kerosene and the high pitched whine of turbine engines. Once in a while someone would work up the courage to ask to have a look at the flight deck while the pilots were waiting for a client. Asking for a ride back to Calgary or Edmonton would have been out of the question!
After checking with operations via cell phone I was thrilled to be able to welcome these Soroti Flight School students on board. We ended up taking all four of them all the way back to Kajjansi - at no charge. 3 of them sat in row 1 so they had literal front row seats to the action up front. And for the rest of the day, and the next 4 legs, I was semi aware of 4 sets of eyes watching my every move. Who knows what impact that ride on an MAF Caravan will have on those guys but if it were me - I know I'd remember it for the rest of my career.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Bug's Life

This post is for all of Kaitlyn and Lily's cousins and friends. Kaitlyn and Lily have been going on many bug and creature photo hunts since we've been in Uganda. Most of these were found around the outside of our house. (click for larger images)

Blue headed lizard This guy is very shy. We've only seen him a few times. He likes to hang out on the brick wall in the sun. He is about 8 inches long and looks like a little dinosaur. Here he was giving my camera a pose while nervously tapping his claw on the wall.

Chongololo These millipedes are very gentle but have a hard outer shell. Their legs move in a wave-like pattern when they walk. In Zambia they are called Chongololos and they would sometimes be as think as your finger and 8 inches long.
If you bother them too much they roll up to protect themselves from danger.

Common Centipede These are everywhere. You can't help stepping on them when you walk out the door. They are a little scary to look at but you soon don't even notice them.
Red-Eyed Fly According to some websites this is a Flesh Fly because they like rotting meat or dead animals. The girls liked the stripes and dots on his back.

Assassin Bug After a little reading I found out that this guy uses the dead bodies of his victims as his armour. They just walk around looking like a ball of dead bugs.
Cockroach & ants One morning we woke up and found that a victorious band of ants had captured a very alive cockroach. He was slowly being dragged, while twitching, by his antennae, across the kitchen floor. The ants were showing very good organization to work as a team and pull both feelers in the same direction.
Big Locust This locust seemed lost in our yard. Just sort of sitting around. He had an amazing lace pattern on his armor by his shoulder. And his legs were barbed by huge spikes. Ouch!

Green Leaf Grasshopper This grasshopper was hard to see until he jumped and flew away. Zoom in to see his skin and shell which look like a leaves covered in dew drops.

Spider on the wall This little spider is smaller than a pencil eraser. He is even harder to spot because he blends in so well with the rock wall.

Jumping Zebra Spider That may or may not be the real name of this spider but it fits well. He liked jumping and on the first shot he jumped right onto the lens of the camera which was about 5 inches away from him. He's only about the size of your little fingernail.
Park SpiderThis spider was hiding in the end of the swingset at a local park. He was very small, beautiful but probably deadly (well maybe not deadly, but who knows).
Here's another cool spider that was hiding under the bar of the swingset.
Purple Dragon Fly These are so hard to get a picture of. They move so fast, hardly stay still and if you do find one stopped, he'll be gone if you get within 2 feet of him. So it was fortunate when this one dropped out of the sky in front of us. He rested for a few minutes and then took off again. Just needed a time out.
I am facinated by dragonflys and how their wings work. Zoom in and look at their wings and at their 4 "motors". Then have a look at their cool eyes.
Green Silk Worm This guy rappelled down in front of us as we were walking. He is Lily's favourite bug so far. She spent a long time letting him crawl up and down her arms.
Can't trust this ant This is just an ant but he has a long pointy back end which usually means that he can give you a painful sting. Maybe not but it's not worth finding out. In Kenya there are red and black insects that look abit like this and if you even touch them you'll get blisters that look like poison ivy.
Wasps All over the world wasps look similar, and they all strike a similar fear in the hearts of those come close to them. These guys had a nest in the metal bars of the see-saw at the park.

Another wasp on the see-saw.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Driving Kampala

Here are some scenes from driving around Kampala. We've been getting our bearings as we gradually venture further from 'home'. The recipe for getting through the craziness seems to be: Drive assertively but not aggressively. Enjoy.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Giraffe, lurking cumuli and other monsters

I am enjoying the Caravan course here in South Africa. Today, when I was over Kunkuru, evaluating a dirt airstrip from the air, I made note of a certain four-legged obstacle on short final. A noisy low pass was all that was needed to chase away this giraffe grazing from a tree about a hundred yards in from the end of the runway. I'm used to watching out for power lines and telephone poles which don't move about. Giraffe are a whole new level of interesting obstacles.

The Cessna Grand Caravan is a lot of fun to fly and I'm starting to get a good feel for it. It is big - the bottom of the pilot's door frame sits at about mid chest height - it has lots of power (although those who fly it complain that it needs more) and it glides like the dickens. Actually the Canadian-made Pratt & Whitney turbine engine is so reliable that most Caravan pilots will never need that feature. I'm looking forward to filling all 13 seats with interesting people who are doing really cool things around Uganda, DR Congo, South Sudan and finally Chad.

Today we we're doing some IFR work on the way back from Kunkuru. IFR is flight by reference to instruments alone. Marco, my instructor and resident MAF guru, was wanting to get me into some real IFR weather today. His wish was fulfilled when we entered cloud about 20 minutes from home base in Lanseria. Flying in cloud is always a bit of a faith exercise. Prior to entering cloud, your instruments do a great job of confirming what you can see as plain as day outside - that the blue needs to stay up and the greenish brown needs to say down. In cloud, you suddenly switch to being severely focused on those half-dozen glass circles and their every twitch and roll. You're a dog looking at your bone waiting for the kill command, you're a cat peering into the fish bowl. Ok, a little over the top perhaps - but at once, six or seven needles are all you have to keep you upright when every spatial instinct in you is trying to convince you you're already upside down.

Why is this worth writing home about? Well in Canada, I rarely got to spend time actually in the clouds. In winter we would always try to avoid icing - freezing cloud/water particles building up on your wing causing the wing to quit flying - which usually happens in clouds when it's freezing or below. Conversely, in summer, while you don't have to worry about icing as much, you have no way of knowing if within the cloud there lurks the dreaded towering cumulus - those massively tall thunderstorm clouds which like to eat little planes for breakfast. Most MAF Caravans have a handy device for finding these monsters and planning our route around them, just out of their reach. The weather radar dome, mounted on the right wing, scans 40 miles in front and paints us a colourful picture of what can't be seen in the clouds ahead. As long as we stay away from the pink and red areas, everyone gets home safe.

Today we were in the soup until popping out the bottom - nicely lined up with the runway - and I kept the blue and greenish brown from switching places. For all these reasons, and many others, I'm looking forward to tomorrow's flight - let's hope the forecast calls for grey skies again. I'll snap some related photos when I'm able.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Entebbe Airport

I wonder how many blog posts are written from airport waiting rooms? Here I sit at the Entebbe airport in Uganda. No, we didn't just arrive...we've been in Uganda for 5 days now, and I'm already on my way out again. This time I'm bound for Johannesburg, South Africa via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The flight leaves here at 01:40 and arrives in South Africa 12 hours later. If you figured out that those destinations aren't exactly in a straight line either, then extra geography points to you. There was a flight booking complication, but then there's always something. I guess it will give me extra time to study for the next two weeks of intensive Cessna 208 Caravan training. And, as someone who likes to spend time in the air, the longer route is just fine. At least I didn't have to make the trip by bus either.

Our first five days in Uganda have consisted of getting the guest house we're staying in set up with groceries and essential living stuff, meeting the MAF Uganda team and ensuring that Merilee is set up to live by herself with the kids for two weeks. Everyone has been very welcoming and we've been hosted at a different house each night for dinner. We're living on the side of one of the 21 hills on which Kampala is built - Makindye is the name of the neighbourhood - and we're a 5 minute drive from most of the other MAF families. This has meant that we've been borrowing one of the MAF vehicles when they are available. We've both been having a go at driving on the wrong side of the roads which are mostly in bad shape with a few in amazingly terrible shape. Merilee has taken the bull by the horns and has been doing most of the driving to prepare for these next two weeks while I'm away. Not only is she conquering the crazy roads and hills and being on the wrong side but she is doing it all with a stick shift! I'm immensely proud of her and how she's adapting to it all. And if you know Merilee you know she possesses a natural ability when it comes to relating to others so she's miles ahead of me and I'll always be playing catch-up when it comes to the all-important relationships here in Uganda and then in Chad.

There are plenty of observations, stories and details to share...we're writing them down and will share them when we don't have flights to at catch.

For my part, I've been along on two MAF flights in the Caravan to get a feel for the plane. Got to fly a little too. I found these to be a ton of fun and a very useful precursor to what I'll be doing in South Africa. I wish I had access to some photos to add to this post but they will have to come with a later one. I'm told I'll have lots of homework each night in South Africa but I'll try to squeeze an update in there somewhere.

Monday, January 28, 2013

In England for a pre-Africa, two-week MAF training course

Merilee gets 5 gold stars
Our flight to London, England was mostly uneventful and apart from a toddler doing a trampoline routine on the seat-tray behind me and Merilee's inability to sleep sitting up, we all had a great time. Our 11 bags were peacefully doing the rounds all by themselves on the baggage claim conveyor by the time we made it through customs and the escalator maze of Heathrow airport.

We've had two relaxing days here at the Ashburnham Place conference center. We're down in the south of England, about 1.5 hours from London. Saturday was spent catching up on sleep. Today we attended a service in an old church on the property built around 1200. Quite something. Should be fun to go around the cemetery and look at some of the dates on the tombstones.

After lunch, the kids played in the play room where they'll spend some of their days with grandma. Mom is here to watch Kaitlyn and Lily because hiring childcare people here in the UK would have been more expensive than mom's flight and a lot of red tape. Besides, the kids love hanging out with grandma anyway.

The old church on the property
We took a hike in the woods and around the small lakes on the property and were back in time for high tea (supper). There is a photo of one of the dining rooms - there are 5 dining rooms of varying sizes in the place. There is also a photo of the room where we'll be spending our days with the MAF people.

We met Mark, our MAF host for the next two weeks, and it was good to put a face to a name. We start tomorrow at 10:00 right after breakfast. We've also met the others who are attending the course. It's a small group actually. Just one other couple our age, who left their kids back in the Netherlands and then two middle aged single women who are going to Uganda and Kenya to work in various roles with MAF. We'd thought there would be more families our age but we've hit it off well with everyone none-the-less.
Ashburnham Place - it used to have three stories
and a huge angled roof!

Mom is loving it. She's on cloud nine with all the history of the place - she loves that sort of stuff. I'll admit that it does give a sense of awe and respect to think of the hundreds of years (almost 900) that this place has been here and all the generations that have risen and fallen in its lifetime. The town of Battle is 5 minutes down the road – it's where the Battle of Hastings happened in 1066. We want to go have a look 'round next weekend.

Below are some other scenes from around the estate. If you're reading this and you're coming to the end of high school, you should consider coming to volunteer for a year at a place like this. You get free room and board and the place is staffed almost entirely by young people from all over the world. Most have come to learn English but it's also
The Ashburnham's sun dial
an amazing, Christ-centred environment which promotes growth and the staff all look like they're getting along well and making life-long friends. The conference centre gets about 36,000 people through in a year! So you'd meet a ton of people too. Merilee has laughed a couple times when I've suggested sending Kaitlyn here when she's done with high-school. Perhaps that's a little far off.

Ashburnham reflected in the 'broadwater'

One of the 5 dining rooms 
The room in which we have our MAF course 
The drive in from the main road
Misty morning, overlooking the stone bridge and
broad water on the drive up to the main building
One of two watch dogs on the front steps
The pasture 
The local wildlife