24 July 2011

Weekly Wrap: July 18-24

  • Apparently a Congolese government official died this week. Something equivalent to a senator I was told. They flew the body back to Lubumbashi and for some reason the greeting party decided to gather very near to the MAF hangar. The greeting party consisted of 4 motorcycle cops, a couple trucks full of police, a truck full of guys in funny green uniforms, a marching band, 50+ cars, and hundreds of foot traffic. Oh, and an ambulance made a brief appearance and then left, which I thought was a little cruel. Anyways, just utter chaos, but Congolese people just love a good funeral.
  • I think I may have suffered a case of Giardia this week. It grosses me out just to even think about that.
  • I started my first SNERTZ this week. Brutal, but it felt good.
  • I guy shows up to the office at 6pm wanted to send a package on one of our flights. I asked him if he could come back the next day. He said he'd be there in the 7:30-8am in the morning. He shows up at 5:30pm. "Sorry I am a little late". Classic "Congo Time". I will not miss this aspect about Congo.
  • 27 days until I leave Congo. 40 days until I arrive in Boise. But who's counting?

16 July 2011

Weekly Wrap: July 11-17

Most of this week consisted of "Diamond Mining for Jesus" so I will start with that story. We have had this flight on the schedule for a month. I did not really know what the flight was about, but I did know a few general details, which included the words missionary and diamond mining. So I therefore dubbed the trip as "Diamond Mining for Jesus". There was room on the plane so I was more than happy to go along on this 4-day trip to the center of DRC and see what this whole thing was all about. The trip started off with a bang when our Jesus-loving diamond miners lost their baggage on a connecting flight from Zambia. Since they were short on time, we offered to fly down to Zambia to pick up the bags.

Everything went smoothly in Zambia, as it is an African country that seemingly has things put together, until we went to takeoff from Zambia. Apparently we had missed the part were we needed an additional clearance from the Zambian Air Force to fly in their airspace. After informing the air force that we had flown in their airspace, which they yet to realize, this is what the commander in charge said, "We are going to have to lock you up." He said it so nonchalantly that I almost laughed out loud the moment he said it, which probably would not have been good. We ended up not being locked up but were trapped in their offices for a few hours until our proper clearance came through. Then we were off to Lubumbashi to pick up our passengers.

From Lubumbashi we flew into Lusambo, which is almost smack-dab in the middle of DRC. From there we took a motorized canoe up river on a 2.5 hour ride. The area the diamond-mining missionaries is pretty far out there in the middle of the bush. Just a small village set up around this mine. The purpose of the visit this time was to do some testing on the soil to see if the earth appeared to be rich of areas where you might find diamonds. This testing required lots of trekking through the dense surrounding jungle to put in cables that would produce the test results. I spent a little bit of my own time exploring the area on my own. One of the sad things about Congo is that most of the wildlife has been decimated, either due to the war or starvation of the locals. The villagers there said they had hunted and killed pretty much every animal in the area so I knew I was pretty safe not to run into any killer animals or snakes.

I was pretty skeptical about this project before and throughout the trip. It seemed like a far-fetched idea to do some diamond mining and call it a mission project. However, after spending 4 days and hearing the strategy and the heart behind the man with the plan I think I became a believer in the project. The project has been a long time coming and there seems to have been a lot of preparation. It is a project done for the community and includes the community and will really benefit them in the long run I think. The money made will cover the costs of the mining itself and the rest will get put back into the community (hospitals, schools, roads, churches, etc.). Plus the mining itself will employ many of the locals, who have been without substantial work for many years. So during my trip with the team I could really notice that the locals were excited to have the project and were already very involved. The focus of putting God in the center of the project was very evident as well and had already made an impact of the people's lives there.

Some highlights of the trip were.
  • The boat ride up and down the river. Beautiful large river in the middle of the Congo. Surrounded on every side by think jungle. African grey parrots and other birds flying all around. Amazing. And to do the boat ride in a dugout canoe just makes it so much more better.
  • Trekking through the jungle. They had already been hacking away at the jungle in previous weeks to make some small paths through or else trying to walk through the jungle would have been miserable. Beautiful though just to stop and hardly be able to see any sky because the vegetation is so thick.
  • One day we were there their was a man just digging on his own. He called us over because he had found some diamonds that day. He had a handful of about 20 tiny stones. All diamonds. So crazy to see real raw diamonds freshly plucked from the earth.
  • The night before we left the small village there gathered and sang some songs for us. Everyone in the village joined in from the little kids to the mamas and papas. Everyone singing and dancing and worshiping in the middle of nowhere. Just another surreal experience.

10 July 2011

Weekly Wrap: July 4-10

  • Last week was Congo's Independence Day. Ironically, my friends from the Belgian School left the Congo for the summer. This week was the American Independence Day. Symbolically, I moved out of the house with my British roommate. USA.
  • While on the way to the airport for a flight we came to a road block, in which soldiers were saying the airport was closed. It was closed because the president had left from the airport earlier in the morning but they would not open up the airport until the president's car had exited from the airport as well. So basically they closed down the airport for VIP car.
  • I have been trying to figure out all week how to put bed sheets on a water bed.
  • We pulled up to the hangar in the middle of the day to find 5 naked military soldiers taking bucket baths on the side of the military hangar which is next to ours.
  • 44 degrees the other morning. I was freezing my buns off. This does not bode well for winter in Idaho.
  • I got pulled over by the traffic police again. After a lot of wasted time and much arguing over an infraction resulted in me paying $8 for a $50 fine. I think I might hug the first police over I see when I get back to the US.
  • This morning's church service concluded by the pastor asking the congregation to give "a big crap offering". Those "L"s can be tricky to pronounce when English isn't your first language.
  • Currently reading: "Blood River" by Tim Butcher

06 July 2011

Weekly Wrap: June 27-July 3

  • The plan was to arrive in Uganda Monday and leave Friday. We were doing an engine swap on our plane. We had a loaner engine in our plane and needed to put a new one in. However, the engine got stuck in Belgium somehow while it was shipping so we had to wait an extra week for the engine. Another week in Uganda so I can't complain.

  • Walked around downtown Kampala. Big city. Big buildings. Lots of people.

  • Saw some kids playing Ultimate in a small grass field next to where I was staying. Upon closer observation I noticed they were doing Ultimate drills. Awesome! I just sat and watched for awhile. I was impressed with the skill level and the fact that they were playing ultimate instead of soccer.

  • We ate dinner several times at a restaurant called Coffee At Last. It was great food and the price was very reasonable. It was quite a luxury from Congo. We went there so often that we became friends with the owner. It was a perfect place because we could sit on the balcony overlooking the street and be entertained by the things of Africa.

  • Another long flight home Saturday flying at 14,500 feet with our oxygen masks on. Kind of weird to fly a long flight on an airplane that didn't have an engine in it 2 days prior.

  • After arriving home in Lubumbashi, I went straight from the airport to a little animal park. Met up with some friends and walked around with the animals.

Currently reading: "The Shack" by William P. Young

Weekly Wrap: June 20-26

  • I got up bright and early to fly our airplane to Uganda with my coworker Nate. Our aircraft have to have a maintenace inspection every 200 hours of flight time. We do not have the proper tooling and facilities here to do the maintenance so we fly to another one of our bases in Uganda. It was about a 6-7 hour flight up. Barrels of fun.

  • Flying in the Congo during the dry season is not much fun because of the dust, smoke, and pollution that is in the air. You can hardly see the ground. I though Uganda would be different, but is we flew in over Lake Victoria, one of the largest lakes in the world, it was quite disappointing. The pollution in the air was just horrible. It is quite a shame because the terrain on the ground is quite beautiful.

  • Met some MAF pilots and families living and working in East DR Congo and Uganda. It was nice to meet some fellow MAFers working in other parts of Africa and see some of the work they are doing there.

  • I was put to work in the hangar doing some small maintenance items on the plane. I am not a maintenance guy at all so I felt like I was more of a liability. But I think I helped out a little. Took off the tires and greased the bearings and changed out the breaks. Took off some paneling on the wings and landing gear. Put together some new airplane jacks. Repainted the prop.

  • Uganda is one of those crazy places with millions of motorcycle taxis everywhere. They are called "Boda Bodas". They are all weaving in and out of traffic or carrying ridiculously large loads. We nearly killed one Boda Boda driver as he was driving too fast down a dirt road and swerved to avoid us but couldn't avoid the tree stump. His two child passengers were alright, but the driver busted up his knee. We took him to a clinic and paid for his medical bills even though we were not at fault. He showed his gratitude by calling the next day to say that he would be calling the police to demand more money from us. Cool.

  • The whole week I was singing the song, "Boda boda boda boda boda everywhere!" in my head.

  • Spent a day with my UN friend from Lubumbashi who was passing through Entebbe on his way home for leave. It was good to see him one last time. We went bowling in a mall, which seems like an insane idea when you living in Lubumbashi.

  • I went white-water rafting on the Nile River on the weekend. I had been hoping I would get the chance to do this while I was in Uganda and I am so glad I did. The river was just amazingly beautiful. Spent 5-6 hours on the water. There was mostly Class 4 rapids. A couple Class 5 rapids that we missed because of the wimpy tourists I had on my boat. 2 Class 6 rapids that we avoided thankfully. Rapids were tons of fun but enjoyed just floating in the river on the slow parts and just taking in the idea that I was on the Nile River in Africa!

  • I think I had a serious case of culture shock on the 1.5 hour bus ride to the Nile River. I sat in front of 6 American college girls. "Like OMG, I totally want to take a baby goat home with me!". I had forgotten that this crazy species of humans still exist.

Currently reading: "The African Dream: The diaries of the revolutionary war in the congo" by Che Guevara

Weekly Wrap: June 13-19

My attempt at bring more proactive in updating my blog by offering weekly highlights. A few weeks old due to lack of computer and internet.

  • We flew a baby chimp back to Lubumbashi on one of our flights. It had been bought off some hunters and is being taking to a Chimpanzee sanctuary. So now I can say that I helped save a baby chimp in Africa.

  • Went to the "Bush Camp" restaurant in town for Tim's birthday. One of the nicer places in town that is full of African decor. Good food too. I think I will go back someday.

  • Lunar Eclipse. I think everything seems more amazing when you experience it in the Congo and this was no exception.

  • Political campaigning season here. Lots of politicians flying around the province campaigning for people's votes. Often there is a mini-parade with banners and a marching band waiting for some political figure as he steps of a plane. It is all quite ridiculous and humorous at the same time. I am still not quite sure what their jobs are, other than eating lots of food and making lots of money. Crazy place.

  • Went to a concert at the French Cultural Center in town. Some girl and her band down from Kinshasa. She was apparently pretty popular and the place was packed. I showed up late and felt really awkward when there was a crowd of people trying to get in and the security guard sees me and my other white friend and personally escorts us in. The perks of being white? Awkward. I did enjoy myself once inside though. Awesome group. I even bought her CD and got a picture with her backstage. Silly.

  • We had a good-bye party for my friend who works with the UN and will be moving to Kinshasa after he takes leave. The party was at my house and we had a huge bonfire in the front yard. Lots of laughs and dancing with good friends.

  • Another good-bye party the following day for the volunteers who have been helping out with my roommate's street kids project (Kimibilio). So we had a bbq at a river just outside town with the Kimbilio kids and the volunteers. Good group of people.

  • Observation of the week is that I noticed a lot of the people who work for MSF, who we fly for, are smokers. Just seems ironic and confusing. Seems like strange example to have as you are trying to solve the health issues in Africa.