1-Sept-Cher goes to Nairobi to visit the kids and grandkids
7-Sept- Took plane load of Pax Christi people to Yambia in Sudan for a conference on the LRA and what might be done. Came back over Garamba National Park. Saw elephants and herds of buffalo.9-Sept –Filled the Caravan with a load of Medicines for Nebobongo Hospital and after dropping that off flew on to Kisangani in the center of the continent to pick up the Governor and his party. There was a terrible storm to the south of the airfield and we waited for hours for the lightening and rain to stop before heading off to Aru. There were also storms all around Aru but we managed to get in and out and back to Bunia without too much trouble. 10-Sept – Cher back from Kenya after lovely visit for Raeleigh’s birthday and lots of stories. Great to have her back. 11-Sept – Picked up the Governor in Aru and flew back to Bunia in the sunshine while just off our right wing there were huge buildups of cumulonimbus clouds and lightening flashed wildly the whole way. It was wonderful to see but not actually be in!
13-Sept- Up to Sudan again to pick up the people from LRA conference. Lu, my sister came along. She was surprised to see how high the grass was. Right up to the top of the elephant’s backs. Sudan was nice. No harassment from officials or anything. We also brought home 3 Congolese girls who had been abducted by the LRA. I love this part of my job.
15-Sept – Did a quick round robin trip to Dungu, Isiro, Doko and Bunia before meeting the MAF-Uganda flight bringing in our new pilot family. Then I jumped in the co-pilot’s seat of the Grand Caravan and headed off to Entebbe to catch the Air Uganda flight to Nairobi. My son Josh picked me up and we had a lovely evening together.16-Sept – Got to spend time with my kids and grandkids. That is great. I love those kids! Took Gabe with me to Wilson Airport to meet with Emmanuel de Merode, the warden of Virunga National Park in eastern Congo. We have been communicating by email for some time and I am to fly their newly arrived parks aircraft, a Cessna 182, over to Bunia.
The plane looks great but they are still doing some mods on it to make it a bit more bushworthy. Big main gear tires and brakes and what is turning out to be a huge nose wheel.
17-Sept – Met with Emmanuel again at Wilson. He is quite an amazing man and he tells me enthusiastically about Virunga National Park. He is a wealth of knowledge and I can not help but admire him for the work he is doing to get Virunga back up and running after years of warring militias and other troops have killed off so much of the game that had been so abundant. I found out that Virunga was the first place to be designated as a National Park in all of Africa, a few months before Kruger in South Africa. It is huge, stretching from the Nyiragongo volcano in the south and the pointy 14,000 foot high extinct volcano with gorillas in its foothills to the towering Rwenzories with glacial snow at its 17,000 foot high peaks. In between are savannas and Lake Edward and rain forest and amazing biodiversity. Emmanuel has actually written a book about it that I am really looking forward to reading. I am also looking forward to helping them out in the park in any way I can. Right now, I am to fly his new parks plane back to Congo and check out Emmanuel in the Cessna 182. But the plane is still not ready yet. Getting the nose gear STC installed is taking longer than expected. But of course it is. It always takes longer than it takes. We had a nice lunch at the flying club while we talked over the plans. I have always loved helping out the National Parks wherever I am in Africa and have made some life long friendships over the years with Parks staff. Emmanuel is so much like many of these friends that it is easy to feel like we have always known each other.
18-Sept – The plane still not ready. Still problems with the nose wheel. The STC mod allows for a large 9.50 X 6 nose wheel but it makes the nose sit up so high that the tail is very close to the ground. We finally switch it to an 8.00 X 6 and it works well. Frazer Smith loans us a drum of Avgas since Nairobi is completely out.
After the last few problems are sorted out I can finally test fly the plane in the late afternoon. Wilson airport boarders Nairobi Game Park and I see eland, topi, buffalo, giraffe and even a rhino as I do touch and goes to test the new landing gear and get current in the plane. Africa is great!19-Sept – After goodbyes to the kids and a few requisite dramas, I took off by myself in the little C-182 and cruised under the layer of low clouds until the ground dropped away from me into the great Rift Valley. I flew over Lake Nyvasha and Lake Nakuru with flamingos painting the shorelines pink and over the tea estates with neat swirls of intense green. It was a lovely trip on a route I don’t get to fly much and never just by myself. It is very nice being in the air by yourself. Much more birdlike somehow. I finally came over Lake Victoria and past the mouth of the Nile River on its long journey to the Mediterranean and landed at Entebbe to fuel up for the rest of the trip to Bunia on my own turf. I got back just in time for the end of the welcome to Bunia dinner at MONUC Club for Konop’s, the new MAF family. 20-Sept – John Woodberry, our MAF rapid response and security office, arrives to start a 3 week survey of security issues in Bunia/Nyankunde area. He is a friend and will stay with us for a week or so. Lots to talk about. Bisoke, a local pastor drops by and tells John and me of amazingly hard times the people have gone through here. He runs an orphan school of kids whose parents were killed in the war. He tells of how he works toward reconciliation of the kids who hate those from other tribes responsible for their parents’ deaths. He is a great man. I will have to talk more on this at another time.
22-Sept – pick up Scottish missionaries from Nebobongo who used to work there years earlier, one lady for 30 years, after a return visit. Bet she has some interesting stories.
Also drop and pick up people from Doko and Isiro and rush back to meet the MAF-Uganda flight. Emmanuel is on the plane and I take him home and get him settled in before we begin his checkout in the C-182. We have a good 2+ hour session of flying and Emmanuel does a great job. We work on many of the things that will help keep him alive in the kind of demanding flying he will do over the park. We have lots of guests but it is very fun conversation around the dinner table.
23-Sept – Flew with Emmanuel again today. More mountain flying techniques and landings. We had a great time and he is doing very well. I will feel good about sending him off tomorrow although we love his company. He is a prince of a man! Went out to supper at Monusco club with everyone from our house. Nice evening. I have put a link to a great web site for Virunga National Park and Emmanuel’s work there. http://gorillacd.org/
28- Sept – Caravan down to Bukavu to fly Fred and Karen Vinton back into Kipaka after their furlough in the US. They live at a far distant mission station and we have flown in much of their hospital supplies and building materials. The daughters liked to point out all the Antinov crash sights as I flew them back and forth to school from holidays and tell of horrific stories of laying on top of the load of un tied down cargo with their faces were only a few inches away from the roof of the plane. This is before their dad decided not to fly that way any more. It is good to have them back. I put their son, Matthew, up in the front with me this time and let him “fly” the plane. I remember that I was once a young missionary kid and wanting desperately to know more about planes and the pilots who flew them but was too shy to ask or say anything, if you could imagine that. Now a new generation of pilots is needed and who knows where they will come from or who will take my place.