Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A few reports from 12°6′N 15°2′E. Mentioned in dispatches 1.

Over the next couple of weeks I thought I would blogg a few notes that I jotted on my kneeboard somewhere within 500nm of 12°6′N 15°2′E the capitol of Chad N'djamena. 

It is hard to imagine that when I was here in April I was frying in the day time and simmering at night. One dreamt of cool breezes & cooling rains. 
Now the rainy season is upon us flash follows flash, like a mighty artillery barrage, truly spectacular, as the skies open fire followed by the thunderous explosions of battered clouds overhead, reverberating off the tin rooves and the MAF compound is awash in the deluge. Another  wave of flashes illuminate the compound, trees thrash in the winds, a stack of small branches break off crackling like pistol fire as they are hurled to the ground...
Parts of the country in the south are cut off as roads become impassable and MAF comes into it's own. 

Decided to skip the instrument approach that I was planning, as the storm whilst seemingly far off when it seemed a good idea, was moving in very fast. If I do not switch to a visual approach I will be extremely lucky to complete a full instrument procedure  before the rather solid looking lump of water  hits the airfield. So wisdom says beat the rain and get on the ground fast. The storm is steaming relentlessly onward like a huge battlecruiser, N'djamena bound. The curtain of water is at first transparent, very quickly builds up fold on fold of white, grey, greyer then blackly impenetrable, a solid wall of water.

Pushing, shoving, pulling, squishing the freight is finally  in, it  is hot work in what is quite a humid day. I seem to be getting quite adept at fitting a quart into a pint pot, still I guess as I have flown with MAF now for 20 years that is to be expected. Only 8 passengers  today but I am saving them perhaps a 10-14 day road trip if they were to go by public transport. Mother & 7 children weighing in at a somewhat feather like 250kg, which is exactly the same weight as the freight, and whilst I could have put 100kg more on board the only place left for anything is on my lap! Every cubic inch is taken up, as there seems to be rather a lot of mattresses board, as well as some essential supplies for the work up north, so we are  as they say well and truly full up to the gunnels.
Heading for Bardi (kind of near Aozou on the map above) with the family of one of Mark's co-worker's. Mark had taken only 7 days 6 nights to drive the 1700km steaming across the desert to hit reach their destination, a mere 5hours for me, though a leg stretch and refuelling at Faya Largeau will mean we'll make it for a late lunch. Think he'll be happy, along with his team, to catch the flight back.

Sitting on the sand at Faya, resting in the sun, under azure skies, rainy season? Seemingly little chance here a cloudless sky, a golden carpet lay, before me  rocky outcrops stand aloof, guardians of the silence, broken only by the abrasive whisper of sand upon sand, as it swirls around rocky outcrops like children playing chase, barely leaving their footprints in the sand.  

The race is on! I am cleared for start up by the Tower but a couple of French Military Mirages have already gained the upper hand by dashing onto the runway ahead of me and before you know it, they  crisp the air into submission as they launch, tail pipes aglow as they roar skward. Alas that delay makes it to late for me, the clouds sliding in rapidly, the blue skies vanish, the cloud ceiling comes lower and lower and the bright morning turns to gloom, the wind picks up knot by knot, second by second. The skies have darkened as the jets crackle into the distance making their noisy and rapid escape, the race is lost and the door of escape has well and truly shut for me, as the first drops bounce on the faded apron. Control locks go into place, extra chocks under the wheels, hatches battened down,  sunglasses back in their case. My wife and a Dr, passengers for the two hour flight to Am Timan in the south East along with a mound of freight are boarded and tied down respectively! The storm hits with total enthusiam... 
Am Timan is a  small town is already pretty cut off by the rains, one of the quirks is the stack of huge 'mines' guarded in an out building just where we park!the aircraft. We wait it out for 90 minutes passengers lulled gently to sleep by the rocking slush of rain on tarmac, the rainy season in a dry and desert land!  

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Remarkable Interview .... Father Christmas parks up his sled for the year

Greasing a sled onto a steeply pitched roof top with 35kts of cross wind, at night, in driving snow would make even Biggles blanche but it  is all part of one evenings work for this man commonly called Father Christmas, St Nick or Santa Claus by his friends and followers. But what about the 'day job'? I had often wondered what it was that  he did during the other 364 days of the year. Some would say he spent his time  repairing and making new toys, others until they saw these remarkable photo's suggested that he spent time at his local Greenlandic Health spa, not so, whilst he looks pretty trim and sprightly for a man of his years, he assured me that it was the cut of his shirt and the sky blue that always made him look thin
Well what about the day job? Here is the answer...

It was over a year ago that I met what I consider must surely be the world's most experienced pilot ever, this bush pilot extrordinaire then it was in an undisclosed part of Africa. So it was to my amazement that I have for the 2nd time met my child hood hero, only this time in an environment even more bizarre, one of  Harmittan's, dust storms, heat, rainy seasons that even Noah would have enjoyed and scorching sun that will boil an egg before you can say 'Bob's your Uncle! Well this world is all part of FC's day time employment. 

'So you work for MAF,' I asked, 'Sure do, Mission Aviation Fellowship, greatest flying job in the world,' his voice roared back at me, eyes grinned with a sparkle from under bushy eyebrows, his weather beaten bronzed skin, all seemed at odds with his some what full snowy white beard! "Well we fly these small aircraft, there are about 135 of them, based in over 30 different countries, each able to bring help hope and healing to some of the remotest communities  in the world, we partner with lots of organsations and it is great getting to know some remarkable people and supporting them in their work. Sometimes it feels like Christmas Eve every day." he laughed loud and long as if this comment touched a memory. 

So check out what he had to say...

So there you have it from the horses mouth. Good ol' FC seemed pretty enthusiastic about his work and it was a pleasure to meet a man who felt at home doing what he obviously enjoys, who would argue that when his trade mark call is Ho! Ho ! Ho!

Posing whilst taking a break, against a somewhat battered scout car

Above and below Enjoying meeting some students at the Teda
language and library centre in Bardi
FC teaching one of the locals how to read his new written language 

            Years ago the environment in Northern Chad was very different to what it is now.
Here some really old rock carvings that show there were once ostriches,
cattle , elephants and leopards in this area.


Standing next to his mount,
the start of the Tibesti mountains in the background.
Below Bardi At a view point

Shaking hands with South Korean Peter down in Bailli
Lending a hand in Zakouma National Park
Grabbing 40 winks on a passing elephant!