Friday, 15 November 2013

Perhaps one of the most select pieces of art work in the world.

Surely, this is one art gallery only the hardiest of travellers, will ever see...
If you had 5 months to spare, 30 tonnes of paint and enjoyed being creative when the temperatures rise into the 50's, degrees C that is! What would you paint?  In 1989 Jean Verame used the huge natural 'amphitheatre' of magnificent rocks around Ehi Kourne a few miles outside of Bardai, some miles north of the Tibesti Mountains in northern Chad, due south of Libya.  Using a spray gun, the blessing of the Chadian President and some helpers one would imagine, he turned a selection of khaki sandstone rocks into a kaleidoscope of colours from a gorgeous deep blue, spectacular purple, coral pink, to a crisp carbon black and snowy white.

The spectacular blue is now only visible beneath some of the small stones that make up several of the more individual pieces of patterned stone work but the huge rocks and boulders the core of the image remain.  Shades of ghostly whites and pink for all to see, despite 34 years of searing sun, freezing winter nights and the driving blasts of the Harmattan sands.  These strangely beautiful set of rocks may have lost their virginal crispness but they have gained the weathered beauty, the patina of age, their mystique is perhaps barely noticed by locals and yet is admired by a handful of tourists that journey each year through this remote region through one of the world's incredible art galleries. I wonder how long though Jean's art will last?

'Down the road' south of Bardai are some rock carvings, scratched into the soft sandstone,  a leagacy of times past, showing animals that are no longer seen in this neck of the woods, elephants, leopards and cattle. Despite billions of gallons of water hiding below the desert surface, this is now a world where only date palms, and the hardiest of animals survive Addax, Dorcas and Rhim gazelles to name a few. These carvings are found all over the Sahara in the soft sandstone, an eternal parchment telling tales of times past, of changed climates of perhaps happier times. All are unsigned, many are hundreds, some thousands  of years old.

I wonder what kind of legacy we will leave behind? Perhaps it will be a thing of beauty that will still be talked about 25 years on, or maybe like William Wilberforce, I saw a play about his life recently, it will be more enduring. 
I am on day 18 of a 42 day project reading Rick Warren's 'What on Earth am I here for ? (Zondervan 2013). It is thought provoking and one is reminded - What will I leave behind? What is my legacy? Ummm now that is food for thought.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

'Dad I want a job like yours where I don't have to work for a living.'

Some years ago my son looked up with his usual grin and said in all seriousness, 'When I'm older Dad I want a job like yours, you know, where I don't have to work for a living!'

I guess one is apt to groan at the work word but equally if for whatever reason there is no work the groan then penetrates the very heart but I guess the term paid employment & no choice perhaps have something to do with our general dislike of the word.

I think I can safely say I have the best work/job/employment in the world, after all they give me a working aircraft  and a tank of fuel and say go do something useful - actually those are my words.  Apart from when I have to fulfil the occasional paperwork requirement from a ground based office somewhere or other - now that is work, I have loved doing/living it for the last 21 years. 
Generally I have a paper free office, though the old joke about aircraft can only fly when the weight of the paperwork equals the weight of the aircraft still exists. My offices have been able to look after between 3-12 passengers, cruise at between 100-150kts and at various times been able to operate on land and sea and all with one engine.  
There have been times when I have groaned at the occasional 0400 wake-up call from the alarm in Chad, the prospect of fitting what looks like a 1000kg of freight into a space built for only a smidgen over 500, the fitful nights sleep in the tropical heat whilst camped out in the back of my 208, the shiver of cold water trickling down my back on the cool rainy season pre-flight in Uganda and my helplessness sometimes in the face of hopelessness.

The mobility of my office is second to none!
But when the truth is told, this is work as it was meant to be, a delight.  Ah you see there is nothing quite like an early morning departure, the smells and sounds of the African dawn still lingering in ones memory as the airfield boundary slips away behind you; a bumpy approach in a stiff cross-wind, ones dancing on the rudder pedals caressing 4 tonnes of slippery Alumium and people into a shortish rough dirt strip on a wet day in Karamoja; or the delight at seeing missionary youngster (MK) throwing his arms around his mum's neck when he's returned home from boarding school. Umm.... memories, so many.

Sometimes 3hrs into a long flight the desire for leg stretch become almost over whelming; equally 4hrs on, on a day full of very unhappy weather with another 7hrs more to be added to it, you think being somewhere else might be nice. But as the days events roll on, you realise where else do you get a chance to give a gift of a blessing to your passengers, put a reasuring hand on a medi-vac patient before departure or spend an hour, a day, a night, with some amazing people, doing some incredible stuff in some unbelievably remote places?
Perhaps it is only when your work takes you to to some sad sad places, you realise how privileged you are, doing something you want to do, are called to do, can do, then do do and do with a passion.

I was amazed to see there are over 50 jobs going around the world in Mission Aviation Fellowship. I cannot believe we have so many gaps for numerous managers of all types, about 5 accountants - there cannot possibly be a shortage of accountants can there, suspect we would consume all the engineers (aircraft) we could find, and as for christian avionics engineers they are almost almost as rare as a few grains of Astatine!

My bonus is I get to then talk about my work to pilots, rotarians, school children, non MAF people, MAF supporters, actually any one who asks me and anyone who will listen!

Also on Face Book and just about on twitter!

 ...the life of a bush pilot the last great truly civilised job in the world!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Always wear the shoes you are going to walk home in!

The Airbus bounced gently in the cool pre-dawn air, as it banked and descended lazily into Charles de Gaulle (Paris). I slipped on my boots, they felt somewhat snugger than normal on my slightly altitude swollen feet, tying my shoe laces up and put my seat back in the upright position. I made myself comfortable for the early morning landing, only five and a half hrs from Chad, yet I seemed to be landing in a different world. My flying boots looked smart, an almost new sparkle to them, as yesterday I had sat in the shower and given them a good scrub removing the ingrained dullness from weeks of desert dust. I'm fond of my boots, they feel good and provide me with a firm, secure footing be it  on scree slopes, rudder pedals, rocks or ladders. I guess I've had half a dozen pairs of Merrell's through the years, though this set of vibram soled ankle boots must be the most expensive yet! But when the time comes for replacement, the old ones get passed on and I try and get the best I can afford, as a phrase given to me early in my bush pilot career always echoes in my mind when I am tempted to save a few £/$  'Always wear the shoes that you are prepared to walk home in.' Something I might add I have oft quoted to my flipflop or fashion conscious children though it was only heard with only 'moderate success'! 

'Be prepared' is more than just a good motto if you are a Scout or Guide, it is sound life advice. These boots really do keep one out of trouble, they really do keep one in readiness when I fly into some pretty remote and wild places. It reminded me of a book written by a chap by the name of Paul, he wrote about always being prepared as well, 'and your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.' Ephesians 6:15.

Flip flops or last years cast offs are just not good enough to get you out of the desert, jungle or mountains. You need the right shoes for the right job but even good shoes can let you down if...

It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it is the grain of sand in your shoe.
What a great quote, and as I am now into the final year of an MA, it goes against the grain, pardon the pun, not to be able to attribute a quote to an author - it thought to be from a trade journal for the Insurance Industry in 1916*. I guess it is alluding to the fact that it is sometimes the small things that can knock you off track/wear you out/disable you, often more so than the big and often obvious ones. That Paul bod has something to say about this as well 'You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth.' Galatians 5:7 
Limping along is not a good idea, sometimes you need to stop, empty your shoes and get back into the race. Sadly a number of friends over the years have thought they could get by with spiritual flip flops or whilst well equipped forgot to sit down, get refreshed and empty the sand out of their shoes.

So always wear the shoes you are going to walk home in!

Thinking about shoes I did find this Charlie Brown type amusing quote!
“Never dance in a puddle when there's a hole in your shoe (it's always best to take your shoes off first)." - John D. Rhode


Friday, 19 July 2013

A shortish walk in the middle of know where!

Eric Newby writes beautifully in his A Short walk in the Hindu Kush, one of his best, he crafts words in such a way that you walk the journey with him and can almost smell the fragrances! I wonder what he would have written had he been with me in this remarkable, little known region, in this barren yet beautiful part of Northern Chad. Today the skies are so clear you seem to be able to see forever.

The golden dust cloud rises up high into hot afternoon air making a distinctive wall trailing behind me marking my track as I bounce across the rough airstrip, the sand itself provides more effective braking than anything my brakes can offer. The wind has long since scoured a natural parking area onto the bed rock, as the nearest other aircraft is probably about 400 miles away, so finding a parking spot was not terribly difficult!

I secured my hotel d'avion for my two night stay, whilst my pax, engineers from the region's Aviation Authority carry out some routine work on a nearby communications network in what could only described as the in the middle of know where. If you look carefully below you can see them in the distance!

Supper was a tin of French Military beef lasagne, not bad actually, even had to have a mug of black instant coffee, whilst not usually my favourite made for a pleasant evening drink. As night fell with it's usual rapidity, so the wind began to pick up speed. I prepared my boudoir, tonight I decided the aircraft floor offered the best sot, my portable mattress, more like a large babies changing mat with one imagines a similar level of comfort fully explaining why babies cry when it is nappy/diaper time!

My not so comfy pillow was my puppet Jim Le Huray (everything has a dual purpose, as every kg counts) and was between the boarding stairs and the freight door, created the most marvellous wind tunnel as the desert windows began to really howl across the sands.  When it was time for slumber, closing the two lower doors with the top two open to the universe, removed worst effects of the gale that now gently and occasionally not so gently rocked the aircraft at it's 'mooring'. Then the display started, a million individual stars blinked on, suspended as background to the milky way as it swirled and illuminated it's majestic way across the inky blackness of space. A streak of light, zips across the sky, the image remaining  half a second after the errant rock has turned to vapour, it sets one's imagination racing*. The play that unfolds is magnificent, beautiful perhaps one of the few times awesome can be correctly used,  'He stretches out the heavens like tent.' (Psalm104:2) Eventually sleep moves across my thoughts pulling my eye lids closed.

So friday morning I wondered if I could make a phone call! I set out to climb the pile of rock before me what I guessed would be an hours walk away, perhaps 5km across the golden but firm sands before the heat of the day though at this time of year the temp is more in the mid upper 30's than 40's.
I kept were I could to the vehicle tracks, as we do fly MAG (Mines awareness group on occasions) and it was a delightful hike. I was able to set a good pace up the slopes as the rocks were generally very stable mixture of scree with the odd outcrop of what appeared to be crumbling sandstone. I decided about about third of the way up, that if I wished to continue flying perhaps thus far and no further as it was rather steep and arguably steeper on the descent. I doubt I would be missed till it was time to take-off, so one had to be careful! I then skirted around to the right maintaining my altitude till I could get a signal from a phone tower some 15km away in a small but important nearby village. I was able to ring a friend who had arrived there an hour an a half earlier after almost a week of driving across desert and mountains to do what I had done between 0645 and 1400 the day before. Managed two bars and so best of all I was able to ring my wife, Trish in Guernsey. Phone call achieved.

Anything after a bit of hard graft and effort, ah, how sweet it tastes!

* Made me think of Antoine de Saint Exupery author of the Little Prince. Published in 1943. A great read for young and old.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Lake Bol by diesel 182

So to give you an idea of what it is like in operation last month I had a chance to fly to Bol on Lake Chad with Andrew to pick up an amazing lady who works as a mid-wife in this area.

This last few weeks we have had the opportunity in the UK to show off the latest gift from MAF's loyal and generous supporters, a diesel powered 4-seat Cessna 182, MAF's newest and smallest tool to be added to our toolbox. Hard to believe we have around 135 aircraft operating in over 30 countries all involved in bringing help, hope and healing to whoever needs it. In fact this is our 6th diesel powered Cessna182, the others being stationed in Madagascar, Chad, Angola (2) and DRC. This airframe is the same age as the Chad aircraft having been built in 1979 so it's hardly new, yet it has a beautiful paint job, is really well equipped but best of all has a diesel engine built by SMA - Societe de Motorisations Aeronautiques.

Petrol when sold for piston aircraft is called av-gas, for our piston engined aircraft we use a particular brew called 100LL (low lead), made to a specific fomula, it is expensive and difficult to find in some of the remote places we fly.  However Jet fuel, called Jet A-1, kerosene/paraffin to lesser mortals, the same stuff our turbine Caravan burns, as does your favorite wide bodied jet, is very much cheaper, more plentiful and hence easy to find in most countries of the world, is the stuff burnt in diesel engines. 

So Jet fuel-paraffin is cheap compared with Av-gas, more environmentally friendly and a safer fuel. This machine 227hp machine burns about 2/3rd of the fuel of the avgas powered version so fully fuelled it can carry a bladder busting 9.5hrs of fuel travelling at 110kts (110nm an hour) you can go a fair old distance in this machine and because aircraft, subject to pilot, go in straight lines that makes for a lot more economy, than your average Toyota or Land Rover bouncing on a circutous routes at 30mph on the nearest track below you!

So this will be jaunting around the UK in June and July before heading for Juba in South Sudan.

Friday, 24 May 2013

If you want to invest for your retirement? Well I have a secret.

Just got back from the Dr's down in St Peter Port, for a routine appointment and paid my £41.15 and thought need to go to the Dentist soon which invariably is another £40-50 if they find no holes, cracks or voids in my mouth! I thought even though I do not really have any spare cash, I can always find it from somewhere and as a result I can go to the Dr or Dentist when-ever I need to. They are always there, dare I say it waiting for my call!

A few months a go in Chad I flew a couple of dentists to an area where there had been no dentist since probably the last time they came! We (I use that term carefully) took out 144+ teeth and filled many others and gave out toothbrushes and it convinced me again that I am so glad I am not a Dentist or Dr. I just find it great that as a high speed taxi driver, I end up working with some amazing people, men and women of resiliance and tenacity, imperfect they may be but they just love other people, often  doing remarkable things, in peculiar places. How brilliant is it to be given an invitation to join in and be part of the team!

Unloading freight in the outback in temps 30-35-40-45+ Actually in a dry heat with some friends and a job to be done, it is good fun. The drive to the village is far far more hazardous than the flight; certainly rougher.
Hotel accomadation is provided free of charge! 

Working with some peculiar people, comes with the territory. Here is our diminutive pilot Jim Le Huray with a couple of enthusiastic scholars.

Keeping fit involves at least 500 circuits of the aircraft before take-off. Here I am waiting for the next blast of sand that caused white out every 15-20 minutes, am waiting to medi-vac my passenger who had been involved in a vehicle accident.

Simmering under the sun, refuelling at 42C, ideal for increasing Vitamain D levels, but what job invites you to spend a restful 20mins in the sun in the heat of the day. Then provides you with evening entertainment down at the local water -hole. This is in  Zakouma National Park, head much further north and you find rather alot of sand. 

A waddi offering underground water and shade. Sometimes you need to climb up to a hill top and take time out to enjoy the majestic hilltop view.

We need in MAF more managers, pilots, and lots more engineers! Perhaps it's time you started training for something new a few years down the road. It will be hard work, costly, challenging, difficult but brilliant. If you want to invest for your retirement live your life full on now! 

Jesus was saying in  John 10:10b something along the lines of:- 

I came that 'you' might have life, life in all it's abundance.

All the photo's were taken in the last 4 months.

Friday, 3 May 2013

A Morning in the Life of a Diesel 182 in the Sahel Lakeland!

04:28 I am wide awake, how is that possible the alarm is not due till 0430! Leap out of bed, shower, mango and mug of rooibos, drive, open hanger doors, pick up weather, passengers briefed. Under the calming effect of my noise cancelling Bose headset the throaty rumble of the diesel Cessna 182 is converted to a complex mix of sound the gentle clatter of a tractor with the hissing chatter of a sowing machine. I love tractors and the sound of a sowing machine brings childhood memories of mother sowing flooding back. So...

The diesel 182 is MAF's newest tool in our aviation toolbox. This airframe is a '79 so it's hardly new yet if you look up SMA's history (Societe de Motorisations Aeronautiques) you will find this engine is. It is one of the new generation of aircraft engines that use diesel technology but burn jet fuel (Jet-A1), the same stuff our turbine Caravan burns, as does your favorite Jumbo jet.  Jet fuel-paraffin/kerosene is cheap compared with Av-gas, more environmentally friendly, plentiful and a safer fuel. Plus this machine burns about 2/3rd of the fuel of the avgas powered version so fully fueled it can carry a bladder busting 9.5hrs of fuel at 110kts/hr that is a fair old speed & distance and because it goes in straight lines a lot more economical that your average Toyota or Land Rover bouncing circutous routes at 50kts below you!

The early morning Chadian air is delightful, warm, fragrant full of promise, imaginations of the tock of willow on leather flicker through ones mind as one ponders the prospect an ‘English summers day’ ahead of us, though I come mid-morning the Saharan sun has very different ideas. The colours are all ready washed out by the bright sun as we climb on track through 5000ft, the land to the left and right merge into a khaki haze. To my port is the Chari River, as it wends it's way towards Lake Chad, it makes a distinctive border with Cameroon and we are only a stones throw from Niger and Nigeria. Our two local passengers are delighted with the views on this short 80 mile, 45 minute hop, they work with Margareta a Swedish linguist who we are going to pick up from Bol.

Bol a small town that has a 800m asphalt strip on one of the many shores of Lake Chad. It is not long before the 'every shade of ochre' turns into the greens and blues of a beautiful spread of glittering waters. Such a contrast to the golden sand dunes 'a few miles away'. Whilst the Lake has receded dramatically in recent years, remember MAF started working here in a floatplane in the mid 60‘s! It was never that deep in parts and even now varies with the season, a couple of feet of water depth can make a huge difference to the area covered by water.

We skip onto the 800m asphalt strip in a cloud of sand as TT-BRT bounces into land and taxi to the little terminal where  Margareta our Swedish passenger is waiting for us, everyone seems pleased to see the aircraft arrive - I doubt it is a busy place! 
Camels, horses and donkies amble cross the airstrip on their way to and from town. Whilst there are trees and shrubs the lakes effect stops only metres from the shore line as a lot of the soil is silver sand. Margareta is so thankful for our aircraft and chats freely telling me stories about how the flying makes makes such a difference to her travels and she goes onto say that over the years it has saved the lives of a number  of people who she has managed to get flown out.  I think she would be worth chatting to as you feel she has many many tales of God’ providence to tell. 

                Some passing camels drift by to have a look at our ship of the desert. 
                                                                                               Then we are off.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

There is something about a river...

...two minutes under the tarpaulin and we realised that this was not the place to sit on a 40C+ day in southern Chad, what little breeze there was just was not man enough to penetrate the brick wall! So about 30 of us, all men from (Entente des Eglises et Mission Evangelique au Tchad) all decamped as one, to the cool of a gloriously shady mango tree, interestingly where the women where already sitting on their reed mats. This ancient umbrella was heavy with delicious fruit but sadly they were  still a week or two away from cropping. I sat listened to the conversation's in a language I just did not understand and then I heard it... at first almost imperceptible like a sigh on the wind and then oh so clear, the call, it was a clear unmistakable call from the river just a stones throw from where I sat. Slipping quietly from my seat I answered the call.

The cool river breeze was a delight, carrying the fragrances of life, a hint of smoke, a taste of gras and whiff of dust. There is really nothing like a river, even more so in a land locked nation, it is a place of remarkably diverse activity, just about all the activities of home carry on either by or on the river. I recently re-read Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame published some 105 years, and Ratty whilst chatting with Mole about his beloved river made this unforgettable quote "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing -  absolutely  nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." and all those in their canoes today looked like they were having fun. 
E.H. Shepherd  gave the words even more life, with his wonderful water colours. 

                                      Mole and Ratty

... down by the river, near Lai, I was amazed at just how busy the river was, people washing dishes, fishing, playing in the water, cleaning their clothes, washing their hair, taking time for a medative 'loo' stop or just to watch the world go by... It was a place for the old and discarded to rust or rot quietly away or perhaps bide it's time till it was whisked away by the rising waters when the rains come, as soon they must.

Sadly this old timer's cross river days have come to an end.

This Chinese hurricane lamp is unlikely to light the way of a weary travellers journey home from the river 


Saturday, 23 March 2013

A Desert Hope

I thought I would ask the Poet at Jaybern to write poem about the desert and this is what he wrote, what do you think?

The golden sun glares down
sapphire skies stretch to the horizon.
Heat shimmers like waves
over the barren landscape.
Yet nothing moves.

Barren land lies tortured,
its surface cracked and split.
Each shattered fragment
crumbles at its edges.
Barren and crumbled.

The occasional withered stick
or sun bleached carcase
break the monotony
of the shimmering surface. 
This is a forgotten land.

Here in the midst of nothingness,
shattered, desperate souls live,
in a shattered desperate land.
Yet this stretch is set apart.
Here in the middle of nowhere
three tracks appear.

Unlike all other tracks;
these do not pass through,
they simply exist.
Three straight lines
scored on the barren land,
a trinity.

The tyre tracks bring
hope, help and healing,
doctors, teachers, and relief staff bring skills
and the materials for a better life,
but more important; MAF aircraft*
represent the coming of the message.

The tracks herald news,
great news.

John Carré Buchanan
22 February 2013
MAF stands for Mission Aviation Fellowship a charity which loves to bring help, hope and healing to remote people in remote communities, using small aircraft.
The photo's were taken by Biggles Abroad recently...