Friday, February 22, 2008

Ghanzi and Back (the promised photo-story)

Last Saturday, I had some work to do on the vehicle that I'm trying to sell, so Stefan and came out to the hangar. He played around on his laptop while I worked on the Land Rover. In the afternoon, as we were getting ready to leave, I got a call for a mercy flight to Ghanzi. Stefan had been dying to go along on one of our flights, so I called Mark (the Director of Operations) and asked if it would be okay if he rode along. It was, and Stefan was tickled. Stefan is quite the amateur photographer, so his official duty during the flight was to take pictures (that's why this is a photo story). Since I was at the hangar already, I did the preflight inspection, filed the flight plan, and got the airplane all ready to go. Matt and the paramedics arrived pretty quickly, and when they did we all jumped in and blasted off. The patient was a pregnant woman who was having fits of some kind, and the doctors were worried that the fetus wouldn't be getting enough oxygen. It was a fairly uneventful trip to Ghanzi, flying into the setting sun. Ghanzi is in the far western part of Botswana, across the Central Kalahari that dominates the middle of the country. We arrived just before sunset, and the ambulance was waiting on us there. We quickly loaded the patient (who was luckily pretty light) and headed off before it could get dark enough for them to have to set up the portable runway lights. On the way back, Stefan got stuck on the little potty seat in the back and probably got a bit of a cramped neck from the lack of headspace, but he says it was worth it. It was worth it for me too, because I finally got some decent pictures of a full mercy flight without having to remember to bring my camera along. Enjoy the pics.

They even let me fly from the left seat now. Fancy that. I still can't be captain because the contract with the Ministry of Health states that the captain needs 1,500 hours of flight time, and I fall about 500 hours short of that right now.
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The weather was decent, but we had to wind our way around a few little buildups like this one. Luckily it had cleared up on the way back in the dark (when it's quite tough to see clouds and the storms that they hide).
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Moagi, one of our Rescue One paramedics, catches some shut-eye on the way to Ghanzi.
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The photographer himself.
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Matt does his radio duties.
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Very short final to runway 08 in Ghanzi
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Getting ready to load the patient.
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The Ghanzi airport control tower (hut?)
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The medics working hard.
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Unloading the patient in Gaborone for transport to the referral hospital, Princess Marina Hospital.
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Monday, February 18, 2008


Today's my off day, but I'm at the hangar now. Why, you might ask? Well, I didn't really know it was an off day for sure until I got here. The schedule is pretty crazy right now because things keep changing with airplanes and pilots and flights and such, so one never knows. But I'm taking some vacation time next week, which I'm looking forward to. For now though, I'm gonna go and do what really should be done on an off around and take care of business that is overdue. And then go home and relax. Coming soon...a story complete with pictures. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

In The Dark

A few years back, I remember hearing stories about “rolling power outages” in California. I don’t think I stopped to think about it too much at the time, but I’m beginning to wonder if such episodes might not become normal parts of life even in our little haven of endless resources in the US. Power shortages have suddenly become very real here in Botswana…it’s a reality that it seems nobody anticipated until too late and one that people are going to have to learn to live with. The real shortages are in South Africa, because Botswana gets nearly all of its power from its big neighbor to the south. Apparently even some of the big mines in South Africa were shut down for lack of power for a few days, which must have cost the companies and the country millions in lost revenue. Flying Mission has purchased a few small generators to have around and one big one to be installed at the hangar, since power goes off randomly fairly often and work basically comes to a standstill without it. It’s not the households that are hit the hardest by power cuts…after all, the worst that can happen is candlelight dinners and maybe a few rotten fridge items…but businesses must lose a lot of money when they lose power. Matt and I were walking around a big fancy western-style mall in Johannesburg when the power went off, and most of the stores had to close their doors (I would assume for security reasons). The lucky ones have some standby power with a few lights and cash registers working, but even there it seems like they lose quite a few customers. No coffee was to be had at the coffee shop. The worst of it, though, is the traffic lights. Traffic in Joburg is horrific already, but when large areas of the city are without power and the lights don’t work, it can be an absolute nightmare. Once in a while, at a major intersection, some traffic cops might arrive before the power comes back on, but usually it’s up to the drivers to negotiate, which is painfully slow. Anyway…it’s amazing how much we rely on electricity. It will be interesting to see how the demands for power and other natural resources (especially fossil fuels) play out in the next decades. Unless we come up with some better solutions soon, we are either going to have to learn to do with less or we will force a lot of people in the world to go without (that’s probably happening already I suppose). I guess I’m worried about the violence that could erupt (and already has?) around the competition for our limited resources, but we’ll see. So do your part! That’s me standing on my poorly constructed, rambly conservation soapbox.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Visits to Mochudi to see my friend Bessie continue to be some of the most refreshing and relaxing parts of my time here. Whenever I have the time to (which hasn’t been all that often lately) I like to take the bus-ride up to Mochudi. From the village center where the bus drops me off, I flag down the route 3 combi and ride it for a few miles to a little store, where I pay my 40 US cents, get off the combi, and walk another 20 minutes or so to Bessie’s house. I love walking through the village after the hustle and bustle of the city. Old women, sitting in their fenced-in yards under a tree or on their porch (if they’re lucky enough to have one), talk to the neighbors, prepare a meal, or just enjoy the afternoon. They nearly all greet me as I pass down the dirt road, and if there are children running around the yard they’ll stop to shyly wave or try out their English greetings. Here and there a donkey cart with a team of donkeys stand under a tree, lazily swinging their tales and not taking notice of much other than the flies on their backsides. If it’s later in the afternoon, groups of chattering school kids pass by, slowly making their way home (and giving me obvious looks, probably wondering what in the world a “lekgoa” like me is doing walking around their roads). It’s a much slower pace of life, and walking through it makes me feel a bit more in touch with Botswana and its people, many of whom still live in rural villages despite the rapid urbanization that is taking place here.

For those of you who helped out with Bessie’s house-building project, you should know that she is getting close to being able to break ground. When I visited her last week, she had purchased all of the doorframes and windowframes that she needs. She had been planning to buy a load of sand, but decided that with all the recent heavy rains it would probably be a better idea to wait for a bit so it doesn’t all wash away. The rains are slowly ending, though, so soon they should be able to start tearing down the little pantry-type building that now stands where the new house will go. I will keep you updated as things progress.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Moving (home again?)

In general, I haven’t reflected too much on the fact that being here in Botswana is coming back to a place that I once would have called home. In some ways, since the memories I have of this place are so dim and more attached to physical places than feelings of home or comfort or identity, it seems like it hasn’t made much of a difference in my experience here. I know that I’ve been here before…it was all I knew of life for the first seven years…but haven’t attached a whole lot of significance to that. This past week, though, we (the short-termers) moved from our home to a new house across town, which happens to be the same house that I spent the first two years of my life in. It’s changed quite a bit since then, but it’s odd to be able to point to corners and say “that’s where that couch was in all those pictures of me in a diaper trying to walk,” or “along this wall was the cabinet that I used to crawl into and play ‘airplane.’” It’s like I’m an intruder on my history or something. But I guess it’s kinda neat to be living in the same house again under such different circumstances. Anyway, it’s made me think a bit more about my history here in Botswana.

In other developments, two weeks ago Matt and I took our written tests in Joburg to get our South African licenses, and just last Sunday we flew down to take our flight test. Luckily we both passed on the first try, and it feels great to have that over with. That process has been hanging over my head for the past two months, and I’m ready to be done with all the stress and studying that goes along with it. That’s been keeping me busy, along with all the flying that I’ve been doing. January was a particularly busy month, and I logged the highest number of hours in one month that I’ve had since I’ve been here (78, for those who care). So that’s the update for now….standby for more one of these days soon. Love,


Friday, February 1, 2008


I knew it was getting hotter here when I got in the car this afternoon and basically scalded my hands on the steering wheel and stickshift handle. I literally couldn't touch either of them for more than a few seconds without it being quite painful. So just as I got done saying how nice the cool rain was, the rain stopped, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out. It's pretty brutal too...normally the heat is dry here, but all the recent rains have apparently provided plenty of humidity, and just walking anywhere outside brings instant sweat to the surface. Oh well.

Otherwise, things have been pretty busy around here, which is most of the reason that I've been doing a poor job of updating the blog. The airplane that we are leasing to use in Maun is registered in South Africa, so in order to fly it we all need to have South African validations on our licenses. That basically means that we need to take a written test on South African aviation regulations and also take a flight test. So last week, Matt and I drove down to South Africa to take our written tests (which we both passed, thank goodness). Now this weekend, we will be flying our leased King Air down to Johannesburg to take a flight test. It's a bit of an intimidating venture for me, because it's been a long time since I've done emergency training in multi-engine aircraft and it will be the first time that I really take a flight test in a turbine aircraft or any aircraft as big as this one. I've done a few training flights with one of our training captains here, Dan Shenk, but it's still a bit nerve-wracking. After Sunday, it should be all over, though, as long as things go well. I've also been doing some training on our Cessna 210 in the last weeks, and took my checkride on that aircraft with our Chief Pilot. So the last month has been a lot of training and learning for me. In addition, I've been helping out with some of the maintenance office work, trying to get data entered into some new software that we just purchased and finish out all of our billing and paperwork for maintenance from last year. They've kept me going pretty steady, but I'm enjoying it. Better busy than not having anything to do for sure. So that's a quick update. I'll try to be more regular with the posts in the near future...but I just seem to run out of time. Life in the fast lane, I guess.