All photos and text are property of Dave Forney and may not be used without express permission.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Flying in Chad

I'm currently in Chad, where I'm flying for the MAF Chad program for three weeks. Their plane is currently down in Uganda getting some major avionics upgrades, so we've lent them one of ours (one of the MAF Uganda planes) for the time being. However, being that the loaned plane is registered in Uganda, they needed a Ugandan-licensed pilot to come over here and help to fly it. That's where I came into the equation. Yeah! :-) Meanwhile, Joy and the kids are holding down the fort in Uganda.


These shots (the one above and the two below) were taken just moments before the sun dipped beneath the western horizon of the Saraha, where I spent a night last week. It was a surreal, mysterious beauty--reminding me a lot of the desolate, boreal forest and barren tundra, north of the Arctic Circle, where we called home for two years shortly after my first son was born . Only this was a LOT HOTTER! But it sports the same ephemeral, harsh beauty, which is both intriguing and frightening all at the same time. I like it.


Don't be fooled! Behind the veil of this beautiful, fleeting sunset is a desolate, deadly desert that can, and does, kill without hesitation. The land offers no compassion to the traveller. Nothing is promised but the extremes--extreme heat, extreme thirst, extreme distances. Of all of the places in the world where I've flown or travelled, this has to be one of the most impressive, not in its overall grandeur, but simply in its overwhelming vastness--its blatant hostility to life.

Truly, for someone like you or me, not having been raised with the special skills and training needed to survive in this unforgiving land, if we were to be stranded out here, alone, it would be no different than if we were abandoned on the surface of the moon. The inevitable outcome would be as certain and final as it would be quick. This land gives no quarter to the weary traveler. There is no mercy for the week or lost. This is the Sahara!


From 10,000 feet above, it appears as an endless ocean of sand, stretching as far as the eye can see in any direction. On my first flight here, when I departed from the capital city in the "green" part of the country, the Cessna temperature gage (having been in the sun for barely 15 minutes), registered a rather toasty 135°F (57°C). However, the official temperature from the control tower (not in the sun) was a much more pleasant 116°F (47°C). Imagine how hot it was down on the surface of that endless sand, under the blazing rays of the desert sun?


On the surface, its a mixture of various types and colors of sand and rock, constantly being shaped and weathered by the fierce, hot winds that rip across the land. I found this area particularly interesting. It was a very chalky substance (indeed it looked, felt and even tasted--don't ask--like chalk) bisected by cracks and lines of red sand.


There are very few roads in Chad, and even fewer that would be considered 'safe'.  To venture far into the desert by vehicle, is to risk your very life. Even here, in the relative safety of the isolated oasis village of Faya, I saw numerous trucks broken down, or hopelessly bogged, in the constantly shifting sand dunes. From the air we saw many more. And this was in the village itself, or on the immediate outskirts of the village. 

It took us three, safe, relatively comfortable hours (even at cruising altitude it's still very hot!) to fly to Faya in the MAF Grand Caravan. But can you imagine what it would take to drive those same, nearly 800 kilometers, through the scorching, ever-shifting desert sands? Brutal! Perhaps even deadly.


The truck above has obviously been around for a while, but even new, properly outfitted 4x4 trucks don't handle these extremes well for long. And they are very expensive to maintain and operate. Thus, most locals simply walk, often using a more reliable, if slower, donkey or camel as their 'truck'.


The palms, in the shot below, indicate that there is water beneath the surface of rock and sand. Where there is water, there is life--trees, animals, people--they can all be found, and tend to congregate where there is water. The fuzzy sun, and the orange sky are due to the sand and dust that was whipped thousands of feet into the air, from howling winds that had just subsided a half hour or so before I took the picture. This little sand storm was relatively minor compared to what the Saraha can, and does deliver. This one lasted through the night and into the next day, with winds of 25-40 kts. It blew sand into our eyes and ears, and into all of our stuff, as we tried to sleep on 'mattresses' placed on woven matts that were directly on the sand floor of an open, woven hut.  But really, it wasn't that bad. Compared to the infamous storms that the Saraha is famous for, this was merely a small taste of what could have been unleashed, without warning, anywhere across this rugged land.


Here is the group we flew to Faya. It was a very interesting and unique opportunity. We had some of the highest, most respected leaders of the Christian Church in Chad, together with an Imam who is an equally high and respected Sheik in the majority Muslim population here in Chad. In a very unusual and bold move, the Pastor and the Sheik have decided to work together to try to spread a message of peace and reconciliation (non-violence) between Muslims and Christians throughout Chad. If it sounds like a much bigger story, and one which involves some very complex and multi-faceted issues--well, it is! But I don't have time to write it all now, and I need to save something for later. But suffice it to say that this was a ground-breaking and courageous trip, which had the blessing of the governor and religious leaders of both faiths in the area, and was facilitated through a generous flight subsidy from MAF. In fact, the trip to Faya would almost certainly not have happened if not for the help of MAF. The team was very grateful to MAF, and they treated us (fellow MAF pilot, Andrew Mumford, and me) as part of their own group.


Here's a few shots from around the village of Faya.




Next two shots: The Sheik and Pastors are welcomed after disembarking from the MAF plane in Faya.



Here, Pastor Victor addresses a crowd of locals, in a 'town hall' style meeting. 


Tomorrow I'll be departing on a four-day flight to the Northern Sarah. After returning next weekend, its likely that there won't be any internet available, for several days or so, during the announcement of the results of the recent presidential elections in Chad. So it may be a few weeks before I can post another update. In the meantime, I appreciate your prayers for Joy and the kids back in Uganda, and for continued safety and wisdom in all of the MAF operations here, and around the world.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Rains

I am blessed to have some really great views form my 'office window'. I especially love watching the changing weather from a bird's eye perspective. The most 'epic' weather is often the most interesting, but it can also be the most challenging for flying. Two weeks ago was one such day. It started out absolutely gorgeous! Here's a view (below) of the Nile, taken that morning, as it flows north out of Jinja, just after it leaves lake Victoria. 

Up to this point there was nothing to indicate an impending, massive storm raging in from the East. The skies were beautiful, and there was a very thin, scattered to broken layer of clouds up high. It was really an unusually beautiful, calm, smooth morning, with no weather problems expected. Ha! Boy was I in for a surprise!


It's very rare to have visibility as clear as this. Here is Mount Elgon, over 14,000' high, just on the border between Uganda and Kenya. It doesn't look very high, or impressive, but that's because it's so HUGE at it's base. The enormous girth of the old volcanic mountain helps mask its height. There's a lot of great waterfalls and trails on Mt Elgon. One day I want to spend some time climbing it.


As I approached Mount Kadam, just west of Amudat, I was beginning to see a very dark horizon towards the northeast, which is where I was heading next. You can see it in this photo, just beyond the mountain, and below/beyond the thin clouds above and in the foreground. It sort of came out of nowhere, and had a very Morodo-ish look.


Here's a closer view of Mount Kadam, just over 10,000' high, and very rugged--another one that I'd like to climb someday. Although the sun was poking through here, and the ride was very smooth, those clouds about 15 miles north were looking really ominous.


Well, after landing at Amudat, I called a guy we know in Moroto (my intended next stop) to see how the weather was there. It didn't look too good from my perspective, and I was thinking I'd probably just sit it out in Amudat. But he assured me that it was "Quite good...you should come". From a pilot's perspective, that is not a very helpful weather report. We want to know all kinds of specifics--about the visibility, how high are the clouds, how far can you see, which direction is it coming from and moving to, and how does it look in those directions? Is there thunder and lighting? How are the winds? etc. etc. I tried and tried to get some of that type of info from him, but didn't really get anything beyond the "it looks good, you should come..." statement.

So, with the warning to my passengers that we may likely return to Amudat, or divert somewhere else, we departed for the 17 min flight to Moroto. I've 'worked' a lot of bad weather in Indonesia,  during my years of flying there, but this was definitely the ugliest I've seen in my two years in East Africa. As it turns out, this was the front end of a massive, ugly, powerful, fast-moving, but vast storm. I got to within 4 miles, but was never able to make it into Moroto. A pilot always has to keep a back door open, and I had several, but the return to Amudat was no long one of them, after the storm spilled over the mountains and enveloped that area as well. I could have gone straight to my third choice, but figured it was worth a shot at the second option first. With some effort I was able to work my way up in VMC (pilot speak for flying visually--not in the clouds) to a safe altitude, that allowed me to then safely enter into the clouds/weather (which is called IMC). Without radar in our planes, that would have been impossible, or at least stupid. But I was able to negotiate safely around the worst parts of the storm, to the next best option, which we eventually arrived above, only to find that it was completely flooded (I had our flight followers previously call some people there as well, and we were told that this one was ok too).

So finally I had no choice but to divert to Soroti (which was not even on our schedule at all that day, but which I was planning to use as my final  fail-safe 'out'). Sororti is one of only a few paved runways in Uganda, and they actually have some instrument approaches into there (one of only two airports in Uganda which have instrument approaches). The funny thing is that, the one day when it would probably have been most useful to have an instrument approach, the electricity was off and their generator wasn't working, so there were NO instrument approaches available that day. But not to worry, I had planned and prepared to get there in VFR, before the storm front hit the town.

Flying on good weather days is easy. These are the days when we really earn our paycheck... as if that's why we do it. In places and conditions like this, the pilot has to constantly be thinking way out ahead of the situation.  It's nice to have good equipment and resources available in the aircraft, which help make our job safer and less stressful. Anyway, we made it (1.5 hours after departing Amudat) safe and sound to Soroti, where we spent most of the rest of the day waiting for the weather to clear, and for fuel (since we don't store any jetfuel there). About 15 mins after landing in Soroti, I took this picture, as the storm bared down on Soroti. A few mins after taking this shot, it was raining cats and dog and the wind was blowing something fierce! Usually storms like this last less than an hour, but this one went on much of the afternoon.


Very late in the afternoon, it finally blew threw. MAF sent another plane up, with fuel, and a plan to split my remaining schedule into two, so we could tag-team it, and both get back to our home-base just before our last landing time. Here is what it looked like up near Moroto after it all blew threw. There was a very high overcast, but it was glassy-smooth air, and the visibility was fantastic.


Soon, all of these black, and brown areas will begin sprouting grass again, and everything will turn green.




Nice view from my office window, hugh?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

South Sudan Trip, Part 2 of 2

Here's some more shots from South Sudan, during the week that I spent flying ,and hanging out with, the Every Village team. 



You see a lot of donkey's pulling two-wheeled carts in this area. I don't know why exactly, but I really like these donkeys. They clearly work hard, but they seem to have great attitudes...and I think they're cute. At least the ones that I saw, and patted on the head. Maybe I should trade in our van (which keeps breaking down all the time) and get a donkey instead. We could put a couch on the cart and all our kids could sit up there. Haha.


Of course, as I was taking a picture of the donkey, the kids (who were following me in a big swarm) all gathered around for a donkey candid.  The donkey seemed quite happy with all the sudden attention. Or terrified. Not sure which. :-)


I had to show you this shot--it really captures what was going on 80% of the time, while my camera was out. In the last post I mentioned that the kids were pushing and fighting to get in the shots. That was not an exaggeration. It was pretty brutal actually. I tried really hard to make it a point to take pictures of the little kids, or the ones on the outskirts, who were too afraid, or too small, to bully their way in. But I literally had to push and shove my own way over to them, because I was in the middle of dozens of kids all the time, all wanting to have their picture taken. It felt like full-contact, tackle photography. In fact, I got knocked over a few times, when crouching down to be on eye level.


Here's a sport I know and love. It seems like kids everywhere in the world play football (not American football, but the 'real football'.) Most kids here use balled-up plastic bags, or other home-made roundish objects, but these guys were fortunate to be able to borrow a real ball from the mission school.


The big smiles indicate success!--success in having finally caught the chicken, which they were chasing all over their little compound. The chicken, which is hanging from the hand of the boy in front, is going to market.


I really enjoyed my time with Every Village in Mvolo. The people there were so kind and welcoming.


Here, the Every Village short-term team is praying with the family and friends of one of the guys (in the blue shirt) who has been helping Every Village in Mvolo. He's an amazing, invaluable guy, with a great attitude and work ethic, not to mention smile.


And this is his father, a very kind, elderly man, who happens to be fully blind. Each time they have a short-term team come here, they make sure to visit him at his home (that's his home behind him) and each personally greets him. He was smiling broadly the whole time, clearly honored by all the guests.


A group photo in front of his home.


I just had to throw in a few more airplane/flying shots. Here, a crowd gathers around the plane in Mvolo.


This is the Mvolo airstrip.


Much of the landscape was barren, with no trees. Or, if it had trees, they were scorched from the fires.


That little greenish ribbon through the middle of the photo is a seasonal creek--but it still holds moisture, and that's why the cattle (all those white dots) congregate here. Nearby, the grass was burning furiously as I flew overhead.


But, not far away, huge storms (the first of the season) pounded down rains. It will still be another month or so before the whole area gets enough water for things to start turning green again, but this is a good sign!


A parting shot of the plane in Mvolo. I loved how all the kids swarmed onto that big, old log, a great vantage point from which to watch the pilot put the plane to bed for the night. This is clearly not a common sight in Mvolo. I can guarantee you that if I was a child living here, I too would be perched on the log with a big smile on my face. :-)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

South Sudan Trip, Part 1 of 2

Last week I had the privilege of spending a week up in far northern South Sudan, flying around (and camping with) a really awesome partner organization, Every Village. I love this type of flying, where I get to hang out with our users, and see what they're doing, and the impact they're having.


Every Village is a great organization with a unique approach to serving, ministering, and bringing the love of Jesus to people in South Sudan. They basically have a four-pronged approach. First, they do a number of short-term trips each year. These are usually groups of key folks coming in from the U.S., as was the case with the group I got to fly around and hang out with last week. Among other things, these trips provide opportunities for follow-up on previous and current projects, vision and strategizing opportunities for future projects/ministries, and encouragement to the long-term missionaries. There's a lot more to it than that, but suffice to say that the short-term trips play a big part in Every Village's strategy.

The second thing they do is to bring drinking water (by drilling wells in strategic locations) to thousands of people. You can imagine, in a parched land like this, where water is SO very scarce, the impact that this would have on the people! As they bring clean drinking water to villages, they earn trust and respect, and in so doing the doors are often open wide for them to share the Living Water as well.

That's where the third step comes in--long-term missionaries. We know most of the Every Village missionaries living 'up country' and they are really great folks! We love and respect them all. They live in the villages with the people, learn their language and culture, and share the love of Jesus. It's NOT easy by any means--it's a long-term commitment, to live a radical life with an eternal perspective.

The fourth step in the Every Village strategy is usually to introduce Christian radio, in the local language, to reach everyone in the area, no matter how poor or remote. So they erect broadcasting towers and simple recording studios in the middle of nowhere, providing tens of thousands of simple, rugged single-channel, solar-powered radios, so that everyone can hear the worship songs and teaching in their own heart language. It's a very powerful tool, that can reach hundreds of thousands of people from each radio tower, (or in the case of the station pictured below, more than a million!). One can only guess the eternal impact that the radio is having throughout South Sudan!

So now you can see why us MAF pilots love flying these Every Village people around. They're all a bunch of fun-loving, down-to-earth folks, who just happen to be living sold-out for Jesus!


This is a typical scene in the mud-hut villages scattered all over the region, as families gather around their solar-powered, single-channel radios that have been provided by Every Village, so they can listen to the only radio station available in their local language.  The radio is the little blue device being held by the boy in the red shirt in the center. They truly love it!


Joseph is such an inspiration to me! He's a 26 year old Kenyan, with a well-connected family, and a very good education. He could definitely be living the 'easy life' back in Nairobi, or elsewhere, enjoying a huge income and lots of public respect... if that is what he seeks. But it's not. Instead, he's living in the middle of 'nowhere' South Sudan, managing the radio station and other projects, and living in relatively primitave conditions (though I have to say he's rigged up some impressive little improvements to his humble abode.) This is a smart and motivated guy! Rarely have I met a man of his age, with so much wisdom, insight, and humility, and with such a knowledge and love of the Word. This is a guy who most definitely has an eternal perspective--laying up his treasures in heaven, rather than worrying about his riches here on earth.


We visited another one of the Every Village radio stations that's currently being built in Mvolo.  This tower just went up in the past few months, and the simple studio building is currently under construction nearby. The team I was with took some time to pray over the tower, and for the future radio ministry that will reach hundreds of thousands from this location.


This guy was putting the grass roof on the little guard shack at the front of the radio property. It's amazing what these folks build out of the resources that are available to them!


Not far from the new radio compound is a wonderful piece of land that the commissioner and community gave to Every Village, where the future missionaries will live. The community is already very familiar with this organization, and they are very supportive of the work that has already been done (many wells drilled in the area) and is being planned through even more wells, the radio, and the future long-term missionaries. In the middle of the land they were given, is a big rock outcropping. On top of these rocks stands huge, old, (but still very solid) brick pillars.  Apparently this used to be some sort of court house back in the colonial era.  The community would like the mission to incorporate these into some sort of new community center, so several of the guys on our team (who are engineers by trade back in the U.S.) took all kinds of measurements. As often is the case in these parts of the world, they had to get creative, since we don't always have access to all the normal tools and equipment that you'd have back 'home'. In this case, they were throwing a weighted string to the top of the pillars to measure their height.


The project manager, who is overseeing the construction of the radio facility, took advantage of the high rocks, and a length of leftover cable, to put up a zip line. Work hard, play hard, right?  Several of us had a go on it--yours truly pictured below. Great fun!


Again, the team prayed on the top of the hill--thanking God for the land that was given, and praying for the future ministry... and for the missionaries that will (hopefully soon) live and minister here. As of now there are still no missionaries that have stepped forward to accept this long-term assignment, so this continues to be a prayer request. 


Here is a typical village scene in northern South Sudan. This happens to be sunrise, but it looks about the same at sunset. The skies are hot and clear, the temperatures soaring well above 100°F  by mid day, and the air is so dry it just sucks the moisture out of everything. (When I landed in Wow, for fuel, one day, the temperature was over 115°F in the shade!) The houses are made from mud, or mud bricks, and the roofs from sticks and grass. In the dry season, the land is mostly dust, any signs of green having vanished long ago.


As soon as the kids see that I have a camera, they swarm me! In this case there was easily more than 50 of them following me around, each one hoping to have a picture taken, and then to be shown that picture. Most have never seen a clear image of themselves, so this is pretty exciting! They push and shove and fight to get in the image. Frankly, it can be a bit stressful, as I like to try to make it fair. But it's tough to do that when there's so many of them! Here, I tried a different technique, by holding the camera high above, so I could get as many of them as possible, unobstructed, in the same shot.



It's not too easy to take a selfie with the rather heavy, mirrorless camera, but these guys indicated that they wanted a photo of them, with me in it, and this is the result. :-) Good thing I had my smaller, mirrorless, rather than the huge, 5DIII.


Check back next week, when I'll have a few more shots of the people, and the flying, from my week up in South Sudan. 

On a totally different note, I wanted give kudos to my son's basketball team for winning their championship game yesterday. The HIS (Heritage International School) boys, 'under-16 team' won decisively, to finish the season undefeated. Even more importantly was the way they played. Led by some great coaches, they demonstrated that you can play hard, and play 'well', all at the same time. Well done boys! 

My son, Britt, is the second from right. Three years ago he had never played, or even seen, an organized sport, having lived most of his life in Indonesia, in a home-schooled, or one-room-school environment. The first time he picked up a basketball, when we were on furlough 3 years ago in Oregon, it was almost agonizing to watch him fumble it around.  But after growing a LOT in the past two years, and practicing a ton, he wound up being one of the starters this year, and played almost all, of every game this season.