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...

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Final desert despatch... Harmattan Season

A couple of weeks ago I was taking a team to a quiet part of Chad, one of the remoter parts of the world we fly into, my passengers included a couple of dentists with their kit, who would be rare visitors in this most beautiful part of this remarkable nation.  Much of Chad is covered by the most the most splendid golden sands, filling horizons as far as the eye can see, and some of the mountains could be scenery usually only found on Mars! Most of the time the dry air provides skies that are so clear you can see forever especial in the higher grounds.
Here we are giving some soldiers a lift into town from the airstrip

Pre-dawn tow down to the main apron to file flight plans,
 pick up weather and find any passengers
... but it was very different arriving early in the morning at our hanger in N'Djamena to pre-flight the aircraft and get it ready for it's day's work, at a time I might add when any truly sensible bird would be pondering if it was worth throwing off the sheets and popping out for a quick worm or in this neck of the woods, lizard! Driving through pre-dawn N'Djamena is like driving trhough a ghost town.

Visibility was down to 1500m due to sand and dust suspended in the air which whilst not the end of the world in my well equipped aircraft at an International Airport like the one here,  after all I could land if needed in only 700m visibility; though I would need 1200m to depart! However it is very different operating into simple airstrips in remote areas where weather reports are not so easy to come by and of course it is worth remembering that weather can get better, but it can also get worse on any given day! So you need much better visibility than this if you are going to head out  into the wild blue (or Khaki)  yonder and it did not look great enroute, at my destination or the airfield I would need to divert to if I could not land at my destination, a mere 1hr 50 flying time from where I was trying to get to!  All in all translating pilot speak into English, 'Time for coffee as we are remaining secure on terra firma for the day', as after all this is Haramattan season.*

The sky was a beautiful blue, the air temp slightly on the warm side of 42C, my aircraft's bright orange high viz paint scheme (standard issue for all aircraft based in Greenland, as it once was) contrasted beautifully with the silvery sand pouring along the airstrip in the fierce breeze, like staring into a hair dryer on full blast. Then on the edge of the sandy airstrip you could see it, a white wall tumbling down the runway, then the sandblast hit, one turned ones back into the sharp probing sand needles as the silver white cloud enveloped one, the silicon fog gave all and sundry a good shaking before it was gone in an angry cloud of dust, off to cause havoc to all who got in it's way. A couple more of it's friends gusted in but the patient that I was evacuating to N'Djamena after a car accident, arrived with an escort of soldiers and vehicles between 'visits', so I soon had him strapped into the stretcher and ready to go.  As I taxied the aircraft to my departure point I kicked up my own dust wall but needed little of the sand covered airstrip as I headed into the turbulent heat seared air, climbing bouncingly over the desert dunes to head the short trip back to the Capitol. It is Harmattan season.
This photo is the start of the wall of sand crossing the end of the airstrip  and actually looks quite harmless!

*Wikipedia on the Harmattan winds. In some countries in West Africa, the heavy amount of dust in the air can severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days,comparable to a heavy fog.It can even break the trunk of the pine trees, growing in that region, through their dryness. The effect caused by the dust and sand stirred by these winds is known as the Harmattan haze, which costs airlines millions of dollars in cancelled and diverted flights each year and risks public health by increasing meningitis cases.The interaction of the Harmattan with monsoon winds can cause  tornadoes. Humidity drops to as low as 15 percent and can result in spontaneous nosebleeds for some. The wind can cause severe crop damage.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Despatches from the desert at 12°6′N 15°2′E

...the door swings gently on it's worn hinge, touched by a morning zephyr, the hard earned heat flees from our mud brick hut into the cool dawn air, the fragrance of wood smoke wends its way into our sleeping bags, the scent of morning, a new day's dawn is upon us. African sunrises are glorious and the 
smokey dusk fires are a sure and certain clue that 'cooking is a foot'*, a cooking of the most delicious kind; fresh bread. Each morning our b'fast revolves around us men sitting cross-legged on a mat enjoying each others company, a bowl of hot sugared milk (with coffee) and a stack of freshly made crispy brown 'Tandori style' flat circular sour dough bread 'loaves' and this morning an invite had been extended to come, watch, smell taste and enjoy.

It was an honour to be invited into the outside kitchen to see the experts transform a soggy paste into a work of art. The women chattered laughing together whilst children looked on, no doubt apprentices in waiting. A hand full of fermented dough is taken out of a pot prepared a few hours earlier and with remarkable dexterity it is needed and spun into a dinner plate sized disc, which is then stuck to the wall of a very hot preheated fuel drum that is buried in the kitchen sand, embers from a fierce fire of date palms and scavenged wood glow happily in the bottom of the barrel, and when the drum lid is put in  place another fire is is kept alight on the lid as per the photo. Then experience kicks in as no oven timers can be seen, 7 minutes later with only one short look, the bread is ready - voila`. With care one is able keep all ones fingers to avoid the flashing knife scraping off some of the embers and sadly some of the crunchy bread and snitch a few pre-b'fast morsels and child hood memories flood back as one is reminded of how good fresh kitchen gleanings taste. 

Whilst looking at some goats nibbling at nothing in a wadi, a chance conversation, which I did not understand, with a passer-by resulted in a warm and friendly invitation to come and see his garden. It truly was a oasis in a dry and parched land, beautiful full of lettuce and other salad like vegetation. What I loved about Hassan was his total enthusiasm for what he was doing, which was linguistically incomprehensible yet totally understandable.

The secret apart from his passion for growing and hard work was the well. The desert waters were sitting, resting, waiting little more than 10 feet down and once the 'nodding donkey' brought them to the surface,  they took on a new life as the bucket of clear crisp cool water, gurgled it's way merrily down the channels to the various metre square garden beds, bringing refreshment and growth wherever they went.

Water and bread are the two physical things that will keep you alive in the desert. Interesting what the book written by John had to say on the subject, in John 7:37 Jesus says "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.' and then in John 6:35 he said 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'

There is a quote by Bear Grylls on the back of THE MANUAL (Bible notes for Men, available from Amazon) that says 'powerful personal and relevant - it has helped me alot to live my faith day by day.' that applies to the Manual as well as to John's writings.

* a vague allusion to Sherlock Holmes