Friday, 27 July 2012

Dragons, Scorpion Zappers and Mountains carved out of Stone

Looking down,
I was somewhat surprised to find the chart on my knee did not have a deep carmine image stamped on it to indicate that 'ye should beware of dragons'. I was approaching the mountains at 10,000ft and 149kts, I had often talked about them when speaking about MAF's flying in Chad but till the last couple of weeks I had not seen them except from the comfort of an airliner, so that does not count.  The previous week they had looked almost friendly, perhaps somewhat like a caged lion, their 1000 hues of brown and umber truly impressive when viewed under a jay blue sky that stretched forever and back again. Today though they painted a very different picture, looking almost evil, dark, malevolent; as rain & lightening where watering and splitting rocks on this usually arid moonscape of tumbling boulders, ravines and cliff faces that stretched up to 11000ft. I gently probed the foothill boundaries looking for a suitable gap but the flash of dragon fire was sufficient for me to decide that they had decided to bar all visitors today, so I bounced into a hard left bank and left them to themselves and skirted around them till I spotted a clear passage. Getting over the Tibesti's and onto the airfield some 80 miles south of the Libyan border is usually but 5hrs total flying in a Caravan, though an upload of fuel in Faya Largeau is required and makes for a welcome leg stretch, whilst a few folk are able to hitch a lift on the occasional Government transport the alternate is 6 nights & 7 days on the 'road' across at times virtually trackless golden desert in the hands of a kamakazi desert driver's land Cruiser or up to perhaps 12/14 days perched on/in the back of a lorry or similar. This is a beautiful, stark, landscape, an unforgiving region for the ill prepared or unwary, remote and little visited area but populated by lovely desert people.

Jim Le Huray our diminutive pilot also popped in to the centre
The two trips I made up did here were for very different reasons but actually both had the same aims, which basically was to make a difference to both the local populace and those who work in the region. One involved flying technicians to service a remote antennae and solar powered aircraft communications station and the other to support a language project which in the last few years has enabled the local written language (unwritten 20 years ago) to blossom, such that a new dictionary and the first copies of a newspaper printed in Libya are now being published. Having the written word is of great importance in a keeping a culture intact and healthy. The small centre is also able to offer the local community English teaching and introductory computer courses as well as the  use of a small library.

We also brought up a scorpion zapper, it probably has a far more technical name, in a nut shell it puts out a pretty healthy electric current (not unlike that from a cattle fence) which is passed through the sting and brings tremendous relief from the pain caused by the toxins, it has been used with great effect by missions in remote areas.  Whilst dismissed by some medics, it works well with scorpion and snake bites and the results are well documented and they have been used to save many lives as well as bring pain relief to many, you only need to speak with those who use them regularly to see they are a great tool. In the week between flights they used it 4 times on scorpion stings, here it is in use when this chap was stung by a scorpion which at first he had thought was a mouse!

My taste of the local driving involved a 25 minute drive through some pretty wild country from the sandy airstrip to the small town built around scores of date palms, whilst fun for half an hour it made me very quick to appreciate the advantages of flight! Chad is a remarkable country and what a gift I have been given to be part of the team that stretches around the world making a difference to people in some of the remotest communities on earth.