Things are getting better in our area of Congo and security has been improving some. A good first sign of this is when an airstrip in a previously bad area is put back in service. It is always a fun thing to check out a new airstrip or reopen one that has been “out of service” for a long time. We had received a call from the chief of Burasi the week before asking if we could pick up his shepherd who had been shot in the shoulder by militia and needed to get to the hospital. I know, it doesn’t sound all that wonderful as far as security goes. But even little steps forward are great. There had been termite mounds all over the strip and it was just not usable so while they went to work fixing it up for the next time the shepherd had to go by car. It was an 8 hour road trip to Boga which would have taken only about 8 minutes to fly in the plane or 12 minutes to get all the way to the mission hospital here in our home village of Nyankunde.
It was great that we needed to do this strip check at the same time our new pilot, Dave Petersen, needed some experience with this so we went together. We do a Wind “LASSO” check, (which you can read about in the November 2010 post), before landing. It is interesting to see exactly how accurate you are after you get on the ground and can measure the strip with a wheel.
Burasi is up against the Semliki River which is the boundary of Congo and Uganda and it is down over the escarpment from where we live, so it is lower and hotter and totally different vegetation. It is very flat and open for the most part and it reminds me of being in the Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe, although all the wildlife has been killed off by years of war and no control.
As we flew over the strip checking its condition people gathered on the ground and, by the time we touched down and rolled back to the opposite end, there was quite a crowd of people there. A representative came to the door of the plane and said, “The chief is here to greet you. He is the one in the hat with his wife next to him.” He was a very distinguished looking man and I would have chosen him as the one, but it was good to know for sure. I walked over and greeted the chief and everyone else and said we were so glad to come here again after so many years. We took pictures of the event and then Dave and I, and a lot of the crowd including the chief and even one of his wives in her nice clothes and shoes, walked the strip checking it out. They had done some good work removing termite mounds and clearing the strip. I was a bit concerned that in a rain, the honeycomb of the mounds would become soft and collapse when the wheels of the plane ran over them. Also, if the queen is not removed, the mound is repaired and the problem remains. They said they would fix it. When we got back to the plane, the rain was coming quickly and we needed to get going. But not before the Chief presented me with a beautiful hind half of goat meat. It was a lovely time and we had made some new friends.
Dave grew up in West Africa and loves goat meat so I cut him off a back leg when we got home. Cher fixed ours for supper last night and we had the very best goat meat and potatoes that I have ever eaten. Ah, the joys of bush flying in Africa.