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

Friday, May 29, 2020

Our Summer Plans up in the Air... And a Motorcycle Adventure from Late Last Year

I mentioned in a recent letter that we sent to many of you, that you should check this blog for the latest updates regarding our plans to be in the U.S. briefly this summer. Well, as you can imagine, those plans are totally muddled right now because of all the Covid-19 related travel restrictions, both here in Uganda, and around the world. What is clear is that our plans will not pan out as we had originally intended (we would have been leaving for the U.S. this weekend, but everything is still closed here.) So for the time being we are stuck here. When we know more, we'll let you know.


In the meantime, I thought I'd share some fun photos from a little motorcycle adventure I did with some friends a few months ago (seems like a lifetime ago) back in early December. Motorcycles are a great way to decompress in my opinion (so long as you don't get knocked off by a drunk driver and subsequently run-over by a Landcruiser, in which case you can become quite literally 'decompressed'.) You get to enjoy the open road (which can be tough to find in much of Uganda), feel the wind and sun on your face, and feel like you are a part of the world around you, rather than staring at it through the tinted glass of a car window. Plus, motorcycles are very cheap to operate here. Mine only sips about 1 liter of fuel for every 30-40 km. We had 4 guys on this trip... (above, from right to left) one each from Uganda, Scotland, the U.S., and Canada.


We took a 4-day weekend to ride to the far northeastern part of the country, which is one of my favorite parts of Uganda as far as scenery goes. The wide open vistas remind me of the American west and southwest. I love the huge skies and mountains and grasslands and acacias. And the animals... see the elephant in the background of the picture below?


Of course, when you have a group of dudes itching for adventure, riding smaller bikes designed for 'off-road', you sort of seek out the rougher, muddier trails, just for fun.



On our way back to Kampala we took two days to ride through Karamoja, in eastern Uganda. Below is a very typical scene in that part of the country--absolutely beautiful in my opinion. Please pray for the people of Karamoja. Not only are they dealing with all the hardships of the Covid-19 lock-down and loss of income (very difficult for people who live hand-to-mouth day to day) like so many others here in Uganda right now, but on top of that they have been dealing with extreme weather swings, from droughts to flash floods (depending on the area) and even massive locust swarms that are threatening their crops. It's a tough place to live!


Of course, one of the 'fun' things about a long motorcycle ride like this (we clocked 600km or more on unimproved roads and trails) is the inevitable breakdowns. This one, below, was just a simple flat tire (one of several on the trip), which ironically happened shortly after we reconnected with the modern, paved roads after two days of rough stuff.


This one, below, was a bit more serious. Despite having two aircraft engineers (well, three if you count me, but I don't really work on the 'fixing' of the planes anymore, so I don't really count) with us, and a lot of motorcycle repair experience among us, we were never able to get the bike going again. It just suddenly decided to quit running and that was that. We worked for hours, and had some local guys trying to help (who work on the local variety of street bikes) but all to no avail. Eventually, well after dark, we loaded the bike in a passing truck and our Ugandan friend went with his bike to the next town, where they were able to repair his bike a few days later.


This was the sunset we enjoyed as we worked on the bike. It was a classic Karamojang sunset. However, it was a bit of a mixed blessing, because as we watched the sun set, we knew that we were in for some really hard riding in the dark. The three of us who had to continue, still had a LOT of riding to do before we could stop for the night (we had to be back in Kampala by the following day so we could be at work the day after). Our stopping point was on the far side of one of the worst/notorious long sections of road in the country. And to make matters worse, a huge thunderstorm came through just after dark and absolutely soaked that entire area. We started riding again about 9 p.m. and didn't arrive at our destination until about 2 a.m., utterly exhausted and covered in mud from head to toe. (We had started riding the previous morning at about 8 a.m.--a very long day, but still fun!)


The next morning (or more specifically a few hours later that same morning) we woke up to this view, below, of Sipi falls, which you can see in the distance on the right side of the picture. We only had a few minutes to enjoy it before the early morning fog rolled in off of Mount Elgon, and totally enveloped us. From there we rode the rest of the way back to Kampala, and back into the choking dust and city traffic, refreshed (sort of... but at least with a good adventure fix under our belts) and ready to start a new week of flying and wrenching for MAF the next day.


Here's a final parting group shot, taken somewhere near Kotido, in the heart of Karamoja.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Rain Rain Go Away...

This past year has been by far the wettest year since we've been in Uganda. Last year we had a very short dry season, and then the rains came again with extra vengeance. The second, shorter, dry season that is supposed to come about half way through the year--well it basically didn't happen at all. This year's dry season (which would normally start around late Dec or early Jan) was also very short, and the rains since then have been relentless. (The picture below was taken a few weeks ago, on my phone, from our house, overlooking Kampala as a storm builds.) 


The result of all that rain is that Lake Victoria is now at record high levels. Yesterday it officially passed the previous highest-ever-recorded level. Many homes and businesses close to the lake are flooded. In fact, MAF's own runway was almost half underwater when we were finally able to get heavy equipment in there to start working on it, trying to build it up above the water line. Meanwhile, in both Eastern and Western Uganda, there have been widespread flash floods and landslides. Last weekend, tens of thousands were left homeless in western Uganda as a result. Here is a news story talking about it

The picture below was taken by my friend and fellow MAF pilot, Andrew Parker, standing from the 'high' position up on the area where the MAF planes are usually parked. The nice, dry bit with the dotted lines on the right side--that's the taxiway to our parking area, which, although it doesn't look like it in the picture, is elevated quite a bit above the level of the runway. Beyond that is the runway, stretching across the picture from side to side. The picture is taken from about the middle of the strip. From there, all the way to the far end of the strip on the right side, the strip is completely under water--almost 2 feet deep at the far end. The water continues past the middle, towards the left side, where you can see that the workers were hard at work piling up loads of dirt, trying to make enough 'useable' runway for two of us to fly two of our planes out before the water levels rose even more. (I describe more of that below.)


And all of this is happening while the country is under a virtual lockdown due to the Covid-19 issues. These are tough times for a lot of people around the world, including for sure, here in Uganda. Between the Covid-19 lockdown (and resulting loss of income for many here who live hand-to-mouth), and the flooding, and the locust plagues, this is a very difficult time indeed for Uganda and the great part of East Africa.

I mentioned that much of our runway here was underwater. After a ton of effort form a lot of people building up the center of the runway, and creating a new taxiway, our engineers were able to tug two of our Grand Caravan aircraft to the dry end of the runway so that I, and the chief pilot, could reposition those aircraft over to the international airport 5 minutes flight away. The hope is that we (MAF) will be able to bring help and hope to many who are suffering in this region, though we are still struggling through myriad permission issues related to the lockdown. We appreciate your prayers in these matters. Below is a video of my takeoff from our home runway, Kajjansi, to reposition the plane to Entebbe, with about 500 meters of useable runway available (out of the usual 1100 meters).
At the end of my last post I promised to show you some more pictures of the beautiful people of South Sudan. So there they are...









Thursday, April 30, 2020

Run For Radios

This week our whole family ran for radios in support of Every Village. If you're not familiar with them, take a moment to check them out now. 


Joy and the kids walked a brisk (and dizzying) 32 laps around our yard...


...which not coincidentally equals a solid 5K!


As I've still been working full-time these days, albeit mostly from my desk during the Covid-19 lockdown, I ran my 5K on the treadmill at a different time. Even Britton did a 5K back in the U.S., along with our niece, Rebekah.

(On a side note, last year at this time, I was just starting out on our new treadmill as part of my rehabilitation. About 5 months prior to that I had been run over by a large SUV, after getting knocked off my motorcycle by a drunk. I remember last April that I was barely able to complete one, very slow and painful kilometer at a go on the treadmill, as I could still feel many acute aches and pains from the myriad injuries I had received. But here I am, one year later, and I'm enjoying running 5k several times a week, and chipping away at my times week by week. We continue to praise God for all that He has done in healing me, and for all the people who prayed, and helped in the process.)


Why did we all go crazy with 5Ks last week? Because we love our partner organization, Every Village, and the awesome work and ministry they do in remote parts of South Sudan. Last week Every Village was doing a fundraiser for solar-powered radios that allow many thousands of South Sudanese to hear the Good News in their own language. Each individual radio is listened to each day by an average of 7 people or more, as they often listen in family groups, like in the photo I took below (you can see the little blue radio in the middle).  


Not only do we love what Every Village does (they do a lot more than radio by the way) but we also love who they are! We are privileged to count many of their staff, both South Sudanese, Ugandan, and American, as good friends of ours. And I have had the privilege of flying for Every Village many times, which are always some of my favorite flights. I was actually scheduled to do some flights for them recently, in March, but sadly those flights were understandably cancelled because of all the International travel restrictions related to the coronavirus stuff. However, I got to spend a few days flying them, and helping with a big radio distribution, a few months back, in November. Here's a shot of the awesome team that I got to hang out with for a few days.


And here's a shot of me unloading thousands of those radios, which start their long journey in Canada (check out the amazing GALCOM who makes them, and why), and eventually make their way into the hands of a bunch of very Eager South Sudanese, after flying the last few legs of the journey on the wings of MAF.


The radio distributions are always a huge deal to the communities. There never seem to be enough radios to go around--every family is desperate to get one. The vast majority of the cost for the radios are covered by donors (from the company who makes them and from donors to Every Village--like the 5K run we did). However each family who receives a radio is asked to pay a very, very small fee, and as such, they take personal pride and ownership in their radio, which becomes a hard-used treasure that will last for years. 

Here, my great friend Andrew Brown, Executive Director of Every Village, prays over the radios and the days activities, before the well-organized distribution begins. 


This radio distribution was fully planned by Every Village's local South Sudanese staff. It was very well organized and orderly. Each of the gentleman you see on the bicycles or motorcycles is a head representative from a church or community. Many have travelled long distances. Each one has come with a list of pre-registered names of the families who they represent, along with the small token 'fee' for each radio, and in a very orderly fashion they line up one by one to verify the above, and to collect their radios for distribution in their own areas.


I was very impressed with the planning and accountability that went into this. It was definitely not a fast process (took all day) but time is not something that tends to stress people out here, as it often does in the U.S. No one was bothered but that. They just hung around visiting until it was their turn, and then, after receiving the radios for the people they represented, they each happily left on the (often long) journey back to their village (picture below). 


Sometimes the distributions take place directly in one of the local churches, which draws huge crowds and interest, as in the picture below.


It is a very common sight to see people walking around (like in the open air market below), or sitting in large groups, listening to the radio, which usually broadcasts for a few hours each morning and evening, mostly in their heart languages.


On a much less meaningful note, here's a selfie I took of me and my bushbuck buddy that was always hanging around my sleeping hammock looking for a handout. It was interesting/funny to me that the super-tough South Sudanese dudes who I was chilling with, were actually acutely aware, if not slightly scared, of this bloke. Apparently they know all too well what those very sharp pointy horns can do. I was told that just the week before, this same furry fellow rammed one of his horns clear through the thigh of a guy who apparently ticked him off somehow. Apparently this bushbuck was raised in the compound ever since he was found as a little injured fellow, but my guess is it won't be long (maybe already has come to pass) that he will wind up nicely roasted, and served with rice, as a result of his cantankerous attitude.


One of things I've enjoyed doing for Every Village, on several occasions when I've been able to spend some time with them upcountry, is to take photos for them. The first photo at the top of this post (which is the one that EV used for their Run For Radio promo stuff) and the top header photo on the Every Village Facebook Page, and many others they've been using, are photos that I've been able to take while hanging out with them in South Sudan. I'm glad that I'm able to use my photography to help them out in this way. But that said, I don't often get good photos of myself b/c well, it's not like I'm going to set up my good camera on a tripod to take a high quality selfie... that would be super weird. Sure, I do occasionally take selfies with my phone, like the above shot with my bushbuck buddy, or I'll throw my phone to a bystander and ask them to take a picture (like of me unloading the radios up above) but I don't often get any really great (non phone) shots of me. That's fine, as I'd rather be behind the lens than in front of it. That said, this time there was a really great videographer/photographer along on the team, Zach Callaway, shooting some stuff for Every Village. So we traded... I took some random shots of him and he took some of me. Here's one that Zach took of me, catching a break in the heat of midday. If you need a great video, or photos, check him out--he's very talented and willing to travel.


Next time I'll share a few more photos of the wonderful people in South Sudan.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Life Under Lockdown in Uganda

Hey folks. Several of you have been asking how things are going for us over here in Uganda, considering how disruptive the Covid-19 stuff has been worldwide. Well, since my previous blog post (on March 24th) Uganda has basically gone under a virtual lockdown. I took these two selfies while doing MAF-Uganda's last flight (March 27th) before the lockdown was instituted. It was a domestic medevac flight for a couple who live/minister among former child soldiers in Northern Uganda. The patient had a very serious case of malaria, which together with her Parkinson's had left her in bad shape. They were extremely grateful for MAF's help to get them to Entebbe, where they were hoping to catch a special repatriation flight to their passport country a few days later.


As you can see in the above photo, the plane was empty on the way upcountry to pick up the patient and her husband. That was one of the many requirements that we needed to follow in order to secure numerous permissions from various agencies to conduct the flight. Upon landing to drop the couple off at Entebbe International Airport, we were all required to wear masks and gloves, and all of us, including even me (picture below), went through health screening procedures. 

Uganda has been taking this whole thing very seriously. All public transport is banned, and even the use of private vehicles is banned. All stores are closed except those considered essential, exercise in public is banned, and a curfew is in place which prevents anyone from leaving their house for any reason at night. There are a lot more restrictions in place, but suffice to say that the result of these restriction is that most businesses are closed and most people are stuck in their homes. Yesterday we were informed by the president that these restrictions will continue for another 21 days across Uganda.

Meanwhile, the total number of 'known' cases of Covid-19 in Uganda stands at just 55. Most of these cases were people who flew back into Uganda on International commercial flights several weeks ago, and who were already under government-mandated quarantine. All of the cases in Uganda are in stable condition, there have been zero deaths from the virus here, and several have already fully recovered and been released. That said, there are many, many people throughout the country who are struggling and/or concerned about their livelihoods--about finding enough food to eat--as a result of the closures and lockdown. The government is trying to help some, who've lost their jobs as a result of the lockdown, with immediate food needs, but things are definitely very rough for a lot of people throughout the country. As this continues, many will get more desperate. So please keep praying for all these folks!


Here is a picture of my friend and fellow MAF pilot, Ping. He originally hails from India (and incidentally is always whipping up super-delicious Indian food, which is our favorite!) and has been an MAF pilot for several years, first in Australia, and more recently here in Uganda. A few weeks before the lockdown in Uganda, I had the privilege of doing some flights with him as he transitioned to the larger Caravan aircraft... which was also a great opportunity for me to take a few pictures. :-)


All schools continue to be closed in Uganda, including HIS (Heritage International School) pictured below. Hannah and Hudson are continuing their school each day online with their HIS teachers. This is Hannah's senior year--she will be graduating at the end of May. For now, the school has still not fully cancelled classes past May 5th, (the date of the extended lockdown throughout Uganda) so there is still a small chance that the kids may have the last few weeks of school in person. But otherwise, they will finish online, and their Senior class trip (that they've been working all year to raise money for), among other things, will be cancelled.Obviously this is not an ideal way to end your senior year, with many things being cancelled, or at risk of being cancelled. Yet, her perspective on everything is solid, and she seems to be handling it well.  


One side benefit of this lockdown is that we now have nowhere to go and nothing to do in the evenings (usually, although sometimes we do have zoom meetings etc.), which means we have a lot more family time. So we've been playing a lot of outdoor games in the evenings, like croquet...


...and corn hole, among others.


If you've ever played corn hole you will appreciate the picture below. I was throwing the green bean bags, and I had two of them hanging right on the edge of the hole, when Tanner threw a yellow one and it was caught by my green ones, and just hung suspended over the hole. Despite several more throws from others, none of those bean bags went through the hole much to Tanner's chagrin. Haha. Good times!


Oh yeah, and the boys and I have occasionally been known to break out the airsoft for an epic battle which often leaves us looking like we have a bad case of the chickenpox.


Meanwhile, Britton was on spring break from Liberty University, hanging out with my family in PA, when things got crazy in the U.S. He's still there, doing his classes online. Like Hannah's situation, it's not ideal, but like her he has a really great perspective on things, and has really enjoyed the time he's been able to spend with his grandparents, Uncle and Aunts, and cousins. He's probably been able to spend more time getting to know them throughout this ordeal, than in the entire previous nearly 20 years of his life, since we've always lived in faraway places, with only a few days or weeks of visits at a time every few years. So this has been a silver lining for him. Joy and I are very grateful for the love and care that my parents and my sister and brother-in-law have been giving him. Thank you!

Below, a shot with my parents. They have been taking him out on hikes, and showing him the G-castle vibe (well, as much as possible during Covid-19), where I spent my junior high and high school years. 


Hanging out with his cousins... 


Before things got really strict, Britt was able to see his Aunt Jenn as well, and was even able to help her release some baby trout she had raised (she teaches biology etc. in a H.S. down near DC). 


And he continues to enjoy drawing. You can checkout more of his drawings at: https://www.instagram.com/brittish_arts/




In other news, last month we celebrated the twins 13th birthday, which means that we officially have 5 teenagers!... ate least for a few more months until Britt turns 20. Makes us feel really old!


And also last month, Sanyu turned 4. There's never a dull moment with her around!


Hannah loves to bake... which incidentally is a lot tougher to do here than in the U.S., as we don't often have the exact ingredients called for, and it's very difficult (or impossible) to control the oven temperature. Yet, she still manages to create really scrumptious desserts one after another. Here is an Easter cake she made--an empty tomb, with a cross on top. 


Some of you are curious if the Covid-19 stuff will impact our plans to come back to the U.S. for two short months this summer, for a short Home Assignment, and to drop Hannah off at University. In short, we don't yet know, but obviously the longer this stuff drags on, the more likely it becomes that our plans will be impacted. We appreciate your prayers for wisdom as we decide what to do, and when we know more, we'll let you know. In the meantime, I am actually quite busy, working from home, mostly behind a computer (which is not my favorite type of work) doing a lot of MAF-related stuff that is probably important, but not nearly as fun as flying airplanes. Haha. :-)