Friday, December 28, 2007
-Spent a few days in South Africa with my dad, who was coming through with work (the drive down took 18 hours when it should have taken 9 due to a lost radiator cap and much time spent waiting for the engine to cool down, averaging about 30 mph much of the time).
-Moved into a house where I'll be house-sitting for two weeks
-Studied extensively for the South African air-law exam
-Threw a birthday part for one of the other short-termers
-Had a Christmas party
-Went to a Christmas barbecue with a bunch of other people from Flying Mission and the area
-Went for a day fishing trip with two fellow Flying Mission volunteers in South Africa and fried up a good fresh bass.
-Spent a good amount of time cleaning up the Land Rover and trying to fix a leaking tire
-Took an airplane up to Maun and brought another one back
-Whiled away a good number of hours hanging out with all the great short-termers that are here (3 from Germany, 1 from Switzerland, 1 from England, and 2 from Canada)
So that's a little taste of my holiday weeks, with a lot of other little things thrown in there fore good measure. It was definitely a different Christmas, what with it being very hot, having no family around, not having the radio filled with lame christmas music and the streets filled with decorations, etc. But it's been a good time of connecting and spending time with people around here. So that's my life in a nutshell...more to come later, but for now I need some sleep.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Taking out the fridge. Christian and I came over to help, but by the time we got there they were basically finished getting the furniture and stuff out, so we stood around and took pictures.
The woods behind their house, where a little trickle normally flows (and even that only in the rainy season). Also the woods where the thieves seem to enjoy hiding. Turned into a raging river.
Playing in the yard. When the water went down, the neighbors discovered a few large snakes in their yard, which would make you think twice about letting your kid do this.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Mark had asked me last week if I had any good pictures of the King Air with a sunset or something like that to put on a Flying Mission Christmas card that he’s making. I didn’t really, but in talking about it, he mentioned that what he really wanted was some shots of the King Air in flight. I didn’t think much of it, but a few days later we had a day with a nice solid overcast layer (which is very rare around here) and Mark made a spur-of-the-moment decision that we would go up and take some pictures of the King Air, using a 210 as the photo plane. So we called Stefan, our resident photographer, to see if he could come. Stefan was giddy at the opportunity both to fly and to take air-to-air pictures, so he begged off of the work that was planned for him at the office and came out to the airport as quickly as he could. I flew the 210 as the photo plane (and the lead plane of the formation) and Dan flew the King Air. It was the first time that I had really done any formation flying, and it was a lot of fun. We first buzzed along under the clouds and took a few shots against the ground and the horizon, and then climbed up through the clouds and took some shots on top of the solid cloud layer in the sun. We wasted a lot of time trying to find each other after coming up through the clouds and then rejoining formation after a few of the maneuvers, I think mostly because both Dan and I were fairly inexperienced with formation flying. I didn’t help that the King Air is pretty slippery and was hard to get slowed down to match speeds after Dan caught up with us. We flew for a bit over an hour, and Stefan ended up with about 1,200 pictures. A few of those turned out pretty nicely, and I’ll post a few here for your viewing enjoyment as soon as I pilfer them from Stefan. It was a great experience, and it was fun to be able to get up and mess around a bit doing something out of the usual routine.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
The last week was quite a busy one, with at least one flight every day until Friday. The last flight of the week, however, was probably the hardest and most tiring flight that I have made yet. Francistown is usually where we take patients from all over the country, but if they have a patient that is too serious for them to deal with, we sometimes fly the patient to Lanseria airport in Johannesburg, South Africa where they have specialists and more special equipment. On this particular flight, we picked up a car accident victim in Francistown who was in a very critical and unstable condition. I’ll spare you the details of how he looked, but the patient was on a ventilator and completely unaware of what was going on around him. We took off for Lanseria, staying low to keep the cabin pressure from dropping. About 30 minutes into the flight, the paramedic tapped me on the shoulder and said we needed to turn around immediately and descend to get the cabin pressure as low as possible, which we did. When we landed back in Francistown, we learned that the paramedics had lost the patient and begun resuscitation, and by the time we landed they had revived him and he seemed a bit more stable. The paramedic deemed him too unstable to fly and took him back to the hospital. As we were getting ready to leave to go home to Gaborone, the paramedics got a call from a doctor at the hospital and a bit of conflict ensued, with the end result being that we were told we needed to fly the patient anyway. So the medics went back to the hospital to pick up the patient, we helped load the (very heavy) patient for the second time, and we took off again for Lanseria. This time, the patient died about 40 minutes into the flight, and all the paramedics’ attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful. The paramedic let us know, and said that since we were under doctor’s orders to take the patient to Lanseria, we had to continue the flight even though we knew the patient was dead. So we continued to Lanseria and landed there, hoping to be met by a morgue vehicle that would take the body so we could fly back home. We quickly learned it was going to be a lot more complicated than that, however, as the South African police told us they couldnot accept the body. We sat in Lanseria for several hours, talking with the police and anybody we could think of who might know what to do. At one point, it seemed like we were stuck because the police couldn’t take the body and we thought that it would be illegal for us to fly back to Botswana with the body. It was quite a mess. Finally, Brandan called a doctor friend of his in Johanneburg somewhere who did this sort of medical flying into the country quite regularly, and learned that since the patient had died before clearing customs into South Africa and was technically still “in transit,” we needed to take him back to Botswana. So we ended up flying back to Gaborone with the body, arriving just before the airport closed at 10pm. It was a long day. That was the first patient to die on a plane I was flying, so I guess after the baby born on the plane, I’ve sort of brought the cycle of life full-circle. Or something like that. The most difficult part of this medical flying is seeing some of the patients in such a painful condition, and especially seeing some of them pass away. While this was the first patient to actually die on the aircraft, this past week has seen two other patients dying before we were able to reach them, so it’s been a rough week. The last couple of days, however, have slowed down quite a bit and it’s been a bit more relaxing, which is nice for a change. Peace, and keep well.
Monday, November 12, 2007
It has been quite a busy week, and we’ve had at least one flight every day the past week from Monday to Saturday except one, and several days we’ve had multiple flights. In fact, on Thursday we had four calls for flights in one day. Two of them got cancelled, so we only ended up doing two flights, but it was still a pretty long day. So I’ve been keeping busy and not doing very well at keeping up on emailing and all the other little things that crop up outside of work. I’m also advertising my vehicle to sell now, and have been spending some time getting it ready for sale and dealing with the advertising companies and all of that jazz. Anyway, that’s a quick update on what’s going on here…more to come someday later, with a few pictures even. Til then.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The last few days of flying have been some of the best flying days that I’ve had yet. On Friday we had an afternoon flight taking a patient Maun to Francistown and on Saturday we had a flight to Hukuntsi and then one from Kasane to Francistown. It just so happened that both flights back to Gabs from Francistown occurred around the same time in the evening, right around sunset. There was a low overcast layer of clouds and some higher clouds both evenings, so the sun sinking over them provided us with a spectacular show of bright yellows and oranges that slowly faded to mellow hues of deep orange and red as we droned on towards Gaborone. It was amazing to watch, and as I sat in my office in the sky observing all this, I reflected on the privilege that pilots have to be able to see things like that. And I felt very happy to be where I was. If the sunsets weren’t enough, the weather also provided a welcome challenge on the flying side. On both days, there was a low overcast layer of clouds over the southeastern part of the country between Francistown and Gaborone (an apparently rare occurrence here), so we had the chance to fly several instrument approaches, with one of them even down to minimums. It was good practice and good fun after a whole lot of sunny, visual flying. One thing that I miss a bit about flying here is flying in instrument weather conditions, so I enjoyed the weekend’s challenges.
Other than that, life has been quite normal. We have had a visitor from Switzerland (Heinz Noettinger) living with us for the past week or so, which has been fun. Heinz is visiting for a month to see Flying Mission and their work here, and we have had a good time getting to know him and having another face around the house. My move to Maun will probably be taking place within the next month or so, although nothing is yet definite, so that is something to look forward to and prepare for. I continue to be excited about the opportunity to live in that smaller village setting (although Maun has grown quite rapidly over the past few years and is a large tourist center now) and to fly in the delta. I will keep you informed as I learn more about developments in that area. For now, it’s bedtime. Peace-
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
On Friday, I caught a bus to Mochudi to visit Bessie again (the one-hour bus ride cost all of 5 pula, or about 80 US cents). If you missed it the first time, Bessie is a friend who had lived near my family in the village of Maun for 3 years in the late 80’s. The last time I’d been there, I had driven and Bessie had met me at the post office to guide me to her home, so this time, on foot, I had a bit of a difficult time finding her house again. I wandered around the right area of the village for about 2 hours, asking people for “Magwe-Jenni” (lit. mother of Jenni) since nobody in the village knows her as Bessie, and using some of my extremely limited Setswana. It’s probably the first time a white person has wandered around that part of the village on foot, so I caught quite a few stares and strange looks. Anyway, I finally found my way to the right place, and was greeted enthusiastically by Bessie and her neighbor, Mapinki. We sat in her yard under a shade tree and chatted for a while. It was good to spend some time with her again, and this time I got to hear a lot more of her life story. The last time I visited her, both her and her husband were looking for work and were unable to find any. They have been wanting to build a house for quite a while because the one they are staying in now is falling apart and doesn’t have a proper roof – just a few sheets of tin held down by rows of stones – but they have been unable to without any source of income. This time, however, they told me with great excitement that her husband had found work building a school and clinic just a few minutes walk from their house. I also heard from a friend at Flying Mission about a possible job for Bessie doing batiks for a craft shop and was able to give Bessie some contact information for that job. Things are looking up for them, and I hope they can soon start work on their house. Even with the work starting for them now, they will have difficulty paying for their house. The builder quoted them about 4,000 Pula (about $650), but I would guess that the construction job earns them somewhere around 750 Pula ($120) per month and between feeding 4 people and keeping up with all of life’s other costs, it may take a while for them to build up enough money for the house. Bessie is desperate to get a new house, though, and says that on windy nights she can’t sleep for fear that the roof will blow off and drop all the stones holding it down on her and her family. I would like to help Bessie build her house, and if anybody wants to contribute some small amount towards the construction of their house, please contact me. I have enjoyed my visits with Bessie, and she tells me that here, sons must feed their mothers so next time I need to bring some food and make lunch for her. I’m not sure if it’s true that sons feed their mothers, but either way it sounds like a good plan to me. I’m looking forward to my next visit.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
This past week has been pretty ridiculously full of flying. After quite a long stretch of no flying at all, it poured in over the last few days. In a period of 6 days, I flew about 30 hours, which is quite a bit. And 9.7 of those hours came in one marathon day. We had some interesting flights, but by far the most exciting was a flight that we had to Gweta, a small village just on the north side of the Makgadikgadi Pans. We received the call around 7:30 am on Monday, and were told there were two premature babies who needed to be taken to Francistown. When we arrived at Gweta, the paramedics discovered that one of the babies had stopped breathing and arrested, and was very blue from lack of oxygen. They quickly began attending to the baby, administering CPR and giving him oxygen. We waited on the ground about 20-30 minutes before the baby finally was stabilized and we could take off. While the little guy was still having a tough time of it (he apparently arrested at least once more on the way to Francistown), he made it to the hospital alive and breathing, and hopefully will survive to adulthood. It felt good to know that had we not arrived when we did, the baby would have assuredly died. While our flights may often help prevent more serious complications in patients and avoid things like amputations, this was one of the flights where our being there clearly helped save a life, which is pretty fulfilling. Then, about an hour after we returned from that flight, we got a call from Maun hospital, where two stretcher patients (sisters) involved in a car accident needed transport. When we got to Maun, the paramedic determined that we needed to take the patients separately so that he could better tend to the fairly serious head injury of the one patient (with two stretchers in the aircraft, the medic would have to kneel in the aisle to attend to the patient). So we took the first to Francistown and then returned for the second, a shattered femur. It was quite late by the time we got to Francistown with the second patient, and we had to spend the night in Francistown. Like I said, we had gotten the first call at 7:30 am, and didn’t get to bed until around 12:30 am, so it was quite a marathon of a day. That was the day with 9.7 hours of flying. Between that day, a good three days of flying at the end of last week, and a flight on Tuesday, we’ve kept pretty busy on the air ambulance flight side of things, which I’ve enjoyed.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Lightning strikes from a small cell backlight by the sunset. We had just landed from a mercy flight, and there were storms scattered around the airport. The sun setting through the clouds was beautiful, especially combined with the rain showers and the lightning everywhere.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Yesterday I went on a flight with Mark Spicer, our Director of Ops, to Hukuntsi to pick up two patients and bring them back to Gaborone. Hukuntsi is one of the short, gravel strips that we go into, so is a bit more of a challenge and is a welcome change from the long paved strips at Maun, Francistown and Gaborone. Anyway, the patient that was the main reason for the flight was a maternity case. The mother’s water had broken two days ago and the baby had not yet been delivered, so the doctors expected complications and wanted to get the woman to Gaborone for a C-section. The other patient had a case of gangrene and probably could have been transported by road but took advantage of the space available in the airplane (unfortunately, gangrene brings with it quite a stench that was almost overbearing at times. We only had to deal with it for an hour and a half…the poor man has to live with the embarrassment of that smell all the time.) The flight was going along quite normally, and the few times that I glanced back into the passenger cabin, things seemed quite laid back and quiet…a typical flight. As we neared Gaborone and were getting ready to begin our descent (or maybe we had already begun…I forget now), I happened to glance back again and did a double take. Moagi (one of the paramedics) was bent over, standing up in the aisle and looking down at the bundle of cloth that he was holding in his hands, which was squirming around. I caught a glimpse of a small head peeking out of the top of the bundle and realized that the baby had just been born. I told Mark, and he snapped a few pictures with his camera phone while we descended the rest of the way to Gabs. We landed and the paramedics hurried to get the mother and the other patient into the waiting ambulance and rush the baby off to the hospital. The little boy (he looked tiny, although I’m not sure if he was smaller than normal or not) was having a little difficulty breathing, and Mark helped by holding an oxygen ventilator to his mouth while the paramedics unloaded the other two patients. As he was laying there in the blankets on the ramp by the airplane, the little guy started coughing a little and letting out a few cries in between gulping in air. I’ve never seen a newborn baby like that before, and it was amazing to watch the little miracle of a thing pull in some of his first breaths. And so goes the story of the first baby that was born on a plane that I was flying.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
For most of the time that I’ve been here, the skies have been clear and blue, without any sign of clouds or moisture of any kind. We’ve been nearing the end of the dry season (although there is no guarantee that the “rainy” season will bring much rain at all), and the last few years have been virtually without rain, so it’s been extremely dry and dusty here. There are a few trees here and there whose roots go deep enough to keep their leaves a dust-covered green, but for the most part everything is brown. It’s also been getting quite hot. Last week, though, teaser clouds started appearing here and there, innocent little puffy cumulus clouds which never amounted to anything (in terms of rain). But while Matt and I were flying a patient from Maun to Francistown on Tuesday night, we noticed quite a few clouds in areas and even a few cells complete with lightning and all. Wednesday, the skies were overcast for most of the day (the first time that has happened since I’ve been here) and enough rain fell to puddle a bit on the ramp. On Thursday, though, rain came with a vengeance. We were doing a phase inspection on the King Air in the hangar, and had been watching an ominous band of clouds approach from the northwest for a while when we began to hear the rat-tat-tat of rain on the tin roof. For a while, it drizzled lightly, and then began pouring for real. The noise in the hangar was so thunderous that it was virtually impossible to hear each other, even from only a few feet away, and we all stopped work to watch the rain for a while. The wind was gusting like crazy, blowing water through the closed hangar doors and soaking the floor 10 feet into the hangar, and we lost power a few minutes into the storm. Walt braved the howling winds and rain to take some pictures of the foreboding clouds, and I wished that I’d brought my camera. It lasted for about an hour and dropped about 2 inches at the airport. It was all very exciting. The first rains of the year are always a big deal in this parched land that depends so heavily on agriculture, and it’s nice to see the ever-present dust tamed into wet sand and mud. Already now, two days later, the first signs of green shoots are appearing by the edge of the road, and life is sprouting up from places that a few days ago appeared completely barren. People here have said that it’s been a long time since they’ve had a good rain like this one, and they are hoping and praying that this year will bring many more such rains. The country desperately needs water (I think I’ve heard that the last seven years have been drought years with light rains), so it is wonderful to see that coming. Of course, now there probably won’t be any more rain all summer…but we’ll see. So that’s the big news here. The rain has also managed to cool things off quite a bit, and that’s been a welcome relief from temperatures in the 90’s, although I’ve heard that it’s supposed to get up to 105 degrees in Maun again this week.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Before last week, I thought that I knew all the rules about what not to put in a microwave – potatoes, aluminum foil…all the stuff that exploded and sparked I knew about. I even knew that putting grapes in a microwave made for a sweet show. I was a competent and responsible microwave operator, or so I thought. Then, last week, I discovered that somehow I had missed out on the conventional wisdom that microwaves and eggs in a shell don’t mix. Our stove wasn’t working and I was out of pretty much all my food stock except some spaghetti and a dozen eggs, so I had the brilliant idea of making hard-boiled eggs in the microwave. The thought that rapidly heating the contents in an enclosed shell might result in the said contents violently leaving the shell never crossed my mind. So I placed two eggs in mugs of water, set them in the microwave, and happily let the microwave do its thing. About two minutes later the water began to boil and, while I was standing about 3 feet away mixing tea, I hear a boom like a gunshot and look over to see the microwave door blasted open so hard that it slammed against the hinges and then shut again, opening just long enough to splatter the entire area within a 10 foot radius with the soggy contents of an egg. It really is amazing how much force an exploding egg can generate and how much area the stuff inside of one small egg can cover when spread out. I suspect the fact that the egg was in a mug helped direct the force of the explosion and helped blast the door open so violently. The microwave will never be the same and now, an entire week later, the smell of egg still pervades the kitchen and pantry. I have gleaned several valuable lessons from this episode, and for your own edification I will now leave you with them:
1. Never become so confident in your abilities as a microwave operator (or anything else, for that matter) that you forget to exercise common sense.
2. Things enclosed in a membrane (ie. eggs in shells, potatoes in skins, etc.) should never be heated in a microwave unless two conditions are met: you don’t care a whit about the microwave and how it smells, and you have somebody handy who likes to clean soggy egg matter off of anything and everything.
3. If you plan on exploding an egg for the pure joy of it (and it is well worth the experience provided the above conditions are met), don’t under any circumstances place the egg in water – soggy hard-boiled egg matter is way, way grosser than normal hard-boiled egg matter.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
This past week was the first week of air ambulance flights for me, and it was a relatively busy one. In all, I flew a little over 20 hours in 7 days on 5 different flights. It’s great to be flying again, and I really enjoy the medical aspect of it. I’m sure you’re dying to know what all goes into an air ambulance flight, so I’ll tell you. It all starts with the call from the hospital telling us they have a patient to be transferred. The pilots then hustle to the airport if they’re not there already, preflight the airplane, file the flight plan, and make sure everything is ready to go and then wait for the paramedics to arrive (our goal is to be taking off within 45 minutes after we first get the call). Then we bust out of Gabs as quickly as circumstances allow and head to the referring hospital (our most common flight is to Maun), where we meet the ambulance, help the paramedics load the patient(s) if needed, and make sure to collect the needed paperwork (often the hospital will send a less serious patient along with the more urgent one just because there’s room in the plane). Then we scoot ASAP and fly to the airport nearest the receiving hospital, where an ambulance comes to unload the patients and whisk them to the hospital. The patients coming from hospitals and clinics in the southern part of the country come back to Gaborone and those from the northern part of the country go to Francistown in the northeast. So if the patient went to Francistown, we then can relax and fly a leisurely leg back to Gaborone. When we get back home, we finish all the paperwork, get the airplane ready for the night, and wait for Air BP to finish refueling the aircraft (which can take quite a while depending on their workload). The medical conditions of the patients are quite varied (many are the result of road accidents), and this week’s patients included a one year-old with a wire embedded in its eye, a fellow with a spinal injury from wrestling while intoxicated, and a car accident victim, among others. All of the patients have received health care at the hospitals or clinics that they came from and are usually quite stable but unable to be transported by road for various reasons. So that’s a day in the life. The flights will continue on Saturday when I go on call again. In the meantime, I’ve been doing orientation activities with Tina Kort and the short-termers that have recently arrived from Germany and Switzerland. The two fellows from Germany, Christian and Stefan, are going to be living with me in Flying Mission’s short-termer house, and I’m excited to finally have some housemates. They’re fun guys to be around and we really get along quite well. And that's the news from Botswana.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Also, for any who are interested, I've posted some pictures from my travels in Europe during May and June on google (which seems to function infinitely better than webshots). I will put a link to them on the blog.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
A huge event has occurred in the past few weeks that I have been remiss in not writing about. For the last year or so, all of the air ambulance flights that Flying Mission has been doing have been subcontracted to Netcare, which is a healthcare provider that won the Ministry of Health contract when it was first tendered two years ago (it had been a huge disappointment to Flying Mission when they hadn’t won that tender, although they ended up doing the flights anyway when Netcare defaulted on their contract). However, the Ministry of Health recently put the contract out for tender again and Flying Mission of course applied. After a long period of uncertainty, we learned early last week that Flying Mission had won the contract this time around, giving us some stability for the next few years and more control over the whole process since we now hire the paramedics and act as the call center for ambulance flights. The announcement of the contract was big news, and we were all very excited to hear that. It has meant a lot of work setting everything up and ironing out the details, but things are going quite smoothly considering the rapidity with which we had to start up.
One of the things that is changing is that pilots who are on standby will now be acting as “flight coordinators” outside of normal business hours, meaning that we will receive the calls from the hospital and do all of the phoning and coordinating that needs to happen for a flight (Mark and Bob, the managers, used to always do that, but we’re helping to share the load now). Since I’m not flying at all (and since I’ve basically been acting as the secretary anyway for the past few days since Kgomotso is sick), I’ve taken over the job for the first few evenings. Tonight was the first night that I’ve really handled an after-hours call, and it was a busy one. Here’s a rundown of the process: I received the call from Maun hospital and learned that they had three patients needing transport. I had to tell them we can only take two at a time, so if all needed to be done tonight we’d have to do two trips. She would call back when they decided what to do. I called the pilots and told them about the flight, called the paramedics, called Maun back to get details on the patients’ condition, filled the paramedics in on the patients, heard from Maun that they only would move two patients tonight and would have to go to Francistown instead of back here to Gabs, called pilots and told them where they were going, called Maun and gave them the ETA there, called Francistown hospital to arrange for the ambulance to pick the patient up, called four lodges in Francistown until I found one with four rooms open, heard from Maun that one of the patients had died so they would take the other two, relayed that to paramedics, gave Francistown the ETA there, arranged for the pilots to be picked up at the airport by the lodge, and called a final time to be sure that the ambulance was leaving Francistown for the airport at the right time (you can never be too sure). Then all I had to do was wait for the pilots to text message me saying that they had arrived at Francistown (we do all our flight following by SMS), and I could breathe easy again. Needless to say, the whole thing kept me busy for about a solid one and a half hours and burned about $15 worth of phone minutes (cell phones use mostly prepaid minutes here). But it was fun to be involved in the whole process and make sure everything lined up the way it needed to. Most flights aren’t quite that crazy…this one had three patients involved and required the pilots and paramedics to overnight in Francistown. It’s satisfying to know that the flights we do for the Ministry of Health are helping people who really need it and even save some lives, although of course the less we fly the better it is. Better no accidents at all than helping people recover from them. It’s somewhat of a strange paradox when you depend on people getting hurt for your livelihood. Anyway, thanks for all of your emails and support…it’s all much appreciated. Love,
We were all enjoying a typical day at the hangar yesterday when Walt (the elderly mechanic) came in looking a little bit out of breath and said “did you know there’s a grass fire headed for our planes?” Well, no, we hadn’t known. So we all rushed outside to see what he was talking about, and sure enough, there was a huge cloud of smoke billowing off of a line of flames being fanned by the strong wind right towards our hangar. We immediately raced to get the tow bars and pull the two aircraft away from the edge of the ramp to where the fire couldn’t reach them, choking in the heavy smoke. The flames were moving very quickly, and (after someone remembered the fuel cart at the last minute and we frantically moved that) we noticed they were headed for the hangar. We joined some of the other folks who were beating at the edges of the fire rather ineffectively with branches and dispensed the contents of something like four fire extinguishers, but were having a hard time keeping the flames from advancing towards the side of the hangar. Finally, the airport fire truck came barreling down the taxiway and managed to put out the worst of it with their water cannon. We ran around for a little while after that and put out the little pieces of smoke and fire that were left, and in the end we got the fire put out and saved the planes and the hangar from a sure death. It was definitely the most exciting part of the day, though, and was kind of a fun break during the times we weren’t too afraid that millions of dollars of equipment were going to go up in flames. Apparently, some chap over at Air Botswana (the national airline that has a hangar next to ours) was using a grinder and the sparks from that ignited the tinder-dry grass in the large field between our hangars. It was amazing to see how quickly the fire spread and how hot it got (it melted the plastic globe of a light on a high lamppost and some plastic netting on the lean-to on the side of the hangar). I also lost half of my arm hair and some of my eyebrows to the blistering flames. It was a good thing that Walt saw it when he did. Another day in the life, I suppose.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
On Monday, I took my P2 (copilot) checkride in the King Air. It was a bit of a confusing situation, since the pilot who was giving me my test (Dan) was being observed by a fellow named Dennis from the DCA (Department of Civil Aviation) so that he could get his license to give other pilots checkrides. So I was taking a sort of exam within an exam. In addition, one of the other pilots, Tim, was going to switch places with me and give Dan a test for the renewal of his license so that Tim could renew his own examiner’s license. It was pretty low-key. But the short of it is that I got my pilot’s license (well, I will pick it up tomorrow at the DCA, but I passed the test anyway), so that’s good news. I also went on a trip up to Seronga (on the edge of the Okavango Delta) on Tuesday with Tim, which was a lot of fun. It’s a long, boring flight most of the way up there, but once you get past Maun (the last ¼ or so of the flight), you start flying over the Delta and the scenery is beautiful. The landscape changes from an endless stretch of brown scrub and dust to a lush green maze of water channels, lagoons, and islands. It’s still flat as a pancake, but much more beautiful and full of wildlife. The flight back wasn’t nearly as fun, because I had to give up my front row seat to a passenger (because of space issues) and sit with my neck bent on the lav seat way in the back, studying a Flying Mission annual report from 2002. Other than that, I’ve been helping out with random things around the office like making up forms in excel, editing our Air Ambulance Procedures manual, and working on registering an ambulance from the UK that we’re going to be using in Francistown between the airport and the hospital. So life is good and all that jazz. And word on my residence permit is that I should have it within the next week or so, so we’ll see. Keep in touch. Peace-
Sunday, August 19, 2007
In a few hours, I will be heading for the airport for my first flight in the King Air, which I’m very excited about. I’ll be going along on a charter flight with Dan Shenk, one of the other pilots. We’ll be going to Francistown to pick up some passengers and then heading up to Kasane to drop them off before coming home for the night. This flight is to be the beginning of my orientation to airports and navigation in Botswana, and then Tomorrow (Monday) I will be doing a training flight in the King Air and then taking my checkride (a flight test) in the afternoon to get my Botswana pilot’s license. After that, I just have to play the waiting game and hope the paperwork goes through quickly. With any luck, though, I’ll be ready to fly for real within the next couple of weeks. It can’t come too soon as far as I’m concerned. While waiting for all my training to get lined up and finished (Tim, the chief pilot, has been gone a lot of the last two weeks on trips and that has slowed my training down), I’ve been helping out with the sudden rush of work that’s come into the maintenance side of things recently. I performed an inspection on one airplane and helped Walt out with a big project that he’s working on. It’s been fun to get my hands dirty and feel like I’m actually helping out rather than just sitting around and waiting to start flying. As far as being able to fly, I have come at just about the perfect time. Flying Mission is in a bit of a crunch for pilots right now, since with the recent departure of Jeff and Micelle Royce we are down to four pilots for two aircraft until I come on line. And since one of those pilots is the Ops Manager and one is the Chief Pilot, they have too many administrative duties to be considered full-time pilots. In addition, we just got news this past week that Flying Mission won a contract with the Ministry of Health for air ambulance flights for the next 2 (extendable to 3) years, which will give us a steady source of flying for a while. So, needless to say, they have been pushing to get my training done ASAP and relieve some of the pressure. Anyway, that’s a quick update on the flight side of things here. Hope that everything is going well for all of you back home. Keep in touch. Love,
If any of you had been following my family’s blog while we were traveling here in Africa, you may remember Tayopa, the boy my age that I used to play with when we lived in Maun many years ago. Well his mother, Bessie, lives in a village called Mochudi about 30 minutes from Gaborone. While we were visiting Tayopa in Maun, we had called Bessie and I had promised that I would visit her after I moved back to Gaborone. So on Saturday morning, I did just that. When I got to the post office (where we’d said that we’d meet), I gave her a call and she informed me that I should just wait for 30 minutes until she could get there. So I walked around for a little while, feeling much more out of place than I do in Gaborone and being very aware that there were no other white people around at all and also no other vehicles nearly as nice as mine. When Bessie finally arrived, she greeted me enthusiastically, shaking my hand repeatedly, hugging me, and kissing me on the lips several times (I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that, but she didn’t seem to notice my awkwardness at all). She exclaimed over and over again how much I had grown and how good it was to see me, laughing joyously and grabbing my hand to shake it anew every 10 seconds or so, and sometimes hanging onto my hand for quite a long time. Finally, we headed for the Land Rover (which I was pretty embarrassed about) and climbed in to drive to her house. I soon discovered why it had taken her 30 minutes to get to the post office – it’s quite a long walk from the post office to her house. Her plot consists of two tiny rectangular mud brick buildings, a few trees and a garden encircled by a wire fence. Two of the cutest little girls peeked shyly at me from behind the reed wall around their cooking fire, and slowly came out to greet me and shake my hand. Bessie set three small, dilapidated chairs (probably all of the furniture she has) in the shade of a tree and we sat down and chatted for a little while. It soon became clear that Bessie had hoped that I would pick her family up and take them back to my house and show them where I was living, which I had not expected at all. I tried to tactfully let her know that I couldn’t do that because I had other plans for the afternoon, and I think she was pretty disappointed. Eventually, she brought me a bowl of sour bogobe, a bitter-tasting porridge that is ubiquitious here, and I did my best to swallow a few bites without grimacing too badly. Before I left, I asked if I could take some pictures of them, and they were more than happy to oblige, but they decided that they had to get all dolled up in their church clothes first. Somewhere in there, a random neighbor who I was never properly introduced to showed up with her chubby toddler strung around her back in a cloth, and she of course wanted to be in the pictures too. So we took some pictures (which was quite an operation), and then I bid them goodbye and promised that I would get the pictures to them sometime. It was difficult to be around these people who have so little, especially with my big Land Rover and nice camera. Bessie kept telling me how hard life is for her now (neither her nor her husband – who is her second husband and not Tayopa’s father – have steady jobs), and she asked me several times if I need a maid. She would point to the bricks that are stacked neatly in her plot and tell me how she wanted to build a better house, but that it was hard. Not enough money. It was very uncomfortable for me to be in that situation, as a guest and as a sort of long-lost friend, and to be asked so explicitly for help. Before I left, Bessie apologized for not having enough food to spare me any for lunch, and then I headed back to Gaborone for a gourmet lunch of Mexican casserole put on by Flying Mission. I don’t know if I have ever felt as uncomfortable with my wealth as I did that morning.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Patrick and Mox are probably the most colorful characters that I work with. They are two
Batswana (Botswana citizens) who help out at the hangar. They’re a lot of fun, and during the days that I was studying in at the hangar, they would often come into the lounge that I was working in during their breaks and sit and chat. While I often have a hard time understanding his English or his Setswana (for obvious reasons), Patrick is my most diligent Setswana teacher. He will say things to me in Setswana and let me take all the time that I need to work out what it means, without getting frustrated and just telling me in English right away. He also tries to get me to understand some of the finer points of Botswana culture. Every time he comes in eating a fat cake (a fried ball of dough), he asks me if I want some. Of course, I never accept, since he paid for the fat cake and it’s his, right? Once he went on to explain to me that in Tswana culture, it’s impolite for him to eat when somebody else isn’t, unless he first ensures that the other person doesn’t want any food. If someone comes to visit and you happen to be making dinner, you are expected to throw on some more food and feed the visitor. If you happen to be eating already and there’s not enough food, then you don’t need to feed them, but definitely need to offer them a drink (usually tea). Another day, he tells me that “in my culture” you need to greet somebody before you ask them anything else. “If somebody comes up to me and asks me for something without saying ‘dumela’…unnh,” he grunts, shaking his head at the thought of such insolence. At the very least, you have to greet, and usually you would also go on to ask how the other person was doing, and maybe even say a few words about the weather or ask about the persons children or some other triviality before getting down to business. And I think I learn as much from observing the Batswana who work at the hangar as I do from Patrick’s lessons. In addition to Patrick and Mox, there is Cain the accountant, Kgomotso the receptionist, Kenilwe who cleans once a week, and Keanole, who helps Cain in the finance office. So with Patrick’s patient help and careful observation, I’m slowly learning a few things besides aviation regulations.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
In case you don’t already know, I’m living in the Southern-Africa country of Botswana for about 15 months to volunteer with an organization called Flying Mission. Flying Mission does two different things here, one of which involves aviation and the other of which involves HIV/AIDS ministry. I am, of course, involved in the aviation side of FM, and will mainly be flying for them as a pilot. I say mainly because I am also an aircraft mechanic and may help out with maintenance on occasion as well, although flying is really where my heart lies. The aviation program here in the capital city of Gaborone now is mostly occupied with emergency medical evacuation flights (or “mercy flights”) for the government department of health, and the aircraft they are flying is a Beechcraft King Air C90. Once I get my Botswana licenses and my residence permit paperwork comes through, I will begin flying as co-pilot on mercy flights in the King Air. Since the King Air is a twin turbine-engine aircraft, any flight time that I can get it in would be valuable time if I want to get another aviation job, so I’m excited about that aspect of it as well as the opportunity to fly. Another possibility during the next few months would be a move to the northern Botswana town of Maun, where FM will be setting up a base near the end of the year. If I would be placed in Maun, I would be flying smaller single-engine aircraft into remote camps in the Okavango Delta. Flying in Maun would be exciting flying into some of the more beautiful areas of the country, and would also mean a lot more flying hours for me, so I am also very excited about that opportunity. Either way, I can’t wait to get into the front seat and start flying again. So that’s basically what I’ll be doing while I’m here. If you have any questions or just want to get in touch with me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to hear from you. Thanks, and keep in touch. Love,
Sunday, July 29, 2007
The hospitality that has been shown us by the Flying Mission staff here so far has been amazing. Since arriving on Monday, we (Nicole, Erin, and I) have only really eaten two evening meals on our own and have spent the other three evenings in various Flying Mission houses eating wonderful meals and enjoying the company. We just returned from an evening at Mark and Debbie Spicer’s house, which we enjoyed immensely. Mark is the Aviation Manager, so he will be one of the guys that I will answer to at the hangar. It has been a lot of fun to get to know the people that I will be working with, and I think they will really make my time here a good one. On Thursday of this week, we spent some time doing orientation with Tina Cort and in the evening went with her to the Gaborone Game Park, which was a lot of fun. We didn’t see any animals that we hadn’t seen before, but we were able to see them at a bit closer range. Sometimes a little bit too close. One zebra, who apparently is used to being fed by park visitors, came up to our car and let us pet him while he nibbled at our hands looking for sugar cubes or something of the like. As he was leaving, he decided to scratch his rear on the side of the car, pushing in the side mirror in the process and sticking his tail in the open window and into Nicole’s face. For a few seconds, it looked like he was going to let loose some fragrant zebra dung on Nicole, and we all busted up laughing as she tried to get as far from the offending zebra rump as possible. It was pretty strange to see a zebra that tame, as most of the zebra in the wild seemed to be pretty skittish and shy. Anyway, today was spent running some errands and then going with Tina to a preschool in the nearby village of Kumekwane, where we spent an hour or so playing football and jumping rope with the children there, who were excited to interact with us. It was a lot of fun to talk to the children and try to understand some of the Setswana words that I asked them to teach me. A few of them got a kick out of telling us the word for “buttocks” when we asked what “hands” were in Setswana, and they of course thought it was hilarious when we innocently repeated the word everytime they asked us what “hands” were. But despite that and the fact that every setting on my watch got changed by one curious little boy, we had a blast with the kids. Then we came back and headed to dinner with the Spicers. And now it’s my bedtime. More later.
Well, I’ve finally arrived in Gaborone for good and am slowly starting to get settled in here. I’m staying in the “guest flat” for now, which is a small one-bed apartment with a tiny kitchen and living room. I’m enjoying having my own place for now, but I think when the next short-termers arrive I will be happy to have them move in with me and give me some company. There are three students from Germany who will be arriving at the beginning of September to stay for a year, and we will move into the short-termer house that is right next to my current flat. I’ve been here for two full days now, and it’s been pretty laid-back so far. The first day was a free day so that we could get unpacked and settle in a little, and Erin and Nicole and I spent some time in town shopping for some essentials. Yesterday, then, we had our first day of “orientation,” during which we were just sent out together with the assignment of traveling the town on the combis and doing a few other random things like sending a postcard and eating a traditional meal from a stand in the mall. Since we’ve been in Botswana for 4 weeks or so already, the only really new thing of the day for us was the combi system, the use of which is quite an experience. The combis are a bunch of old, dilapidated vans that circulate through the city on certain routes and try to pick up any pedestrian they pass by honking the horn and yelling at them. Since the system seems to be a conglomeration of random people who own vans, there is no central organization and therefore no published map of routes or anything convenient like that. The only way to get somewhere if you don’t know the system (that would be us) is to go to a place where combis stop (which is sometimes only apparent from the crowds of people standing by the road) and ask someone which combi to take to get to a particular place. To complicate matters more, most Batswana (people from Botswana) seem to have an intense aversion to maps, probably because they never use them, so showing someone where you want to go on a map will get you nowhere. Needless to say, we felt pretty silly standing at the combi stops pulling out our map of Gaborone and looking generally confused and clueless. Of course, it doesn’t help that the already-small population of whites in Gaborone pretty much all have cars, so a white person riding a combi is a very rare sight indeed. But we had a lot of fun figuring out which combi to get on, how to tell the driver we wanted to get off, what to do with rowdy drunks who tried to talk to us, etc. Perhaps the highlight of the day was getting picked up by a policeman. At the end of our combi-riding, we decided to walk the few kilometers back to where we had started the day. As we were ambling along the side of the large 4-lane highway, a big police truck pulled over into one of the pull-offs and called us over to him. After asking where we were going, he invited us to pile into the cab and he took us just down the road to where we wanted to go. He was a really nice guy, and it was fun to have somebody help us out without expecting anything in return. So with that, the first day of orientation came to a close.