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

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Living up North, Way back When

Here's a shot of the little village where we lived for several years. It was nestled on the banks of the Koyukuk River, just above the Arctic Circle, not too far South of Gates of the Arctic National Park. There were no roads to the village. You could only get there by airplane from Fairbanks. Or, if you had many days, I guess, you could have theoretically taken a boat upriver from the Yukon, hundreds of miles to the south.


And this was our home, a little 490 square foot, one-room log cabin on the edge of the village.


It was pretty rustic at first... not much furniture, not well insulated, the door didn't properly close, etc. 


But before long we had it snugged up, which was good, because winter came fast and early, with a vengeance. In the dead of winter, there was very little sunlight, seeing as how we were above the Arctic Circle and the hills on the horizon also blocked some of the light. This is what it often looked like in December and January, although many times we had brilliant northern lights and/or stars to enjoy. I'll show you some of those pictures later.


If you live in the far north you need a sled dog right? Yes! Well, sort of. Our dog was a super handsome purebred Siberian Husky, but he was much better at snuggling and looking good, than he was at pulling sleds. That said, when it got really cold (as in minus 60 and even minus 70) we did use him to pull a sled to haul our water. At those temperatures, even the snow machine didn't want to run, but Tonwashte was living his dream in those cold temperatures.


Here's a few more shots of Tonwashte.



Aside from building relationships with everyone, with a deeper end-goal in mind, we were also really focused on the youth. So as things got colder, we often found our ATV (and trailer) or snow machine (and sled) overflowing with kids who wanted to come over to our cabin for weekly Bible Clubs, or to just have a safe, fun place to chill and play.


Over time, I made some improvements to our little cabin, putting a stove in the corner (instead of the barrel in the middle of the room that tended to burn people when they bumped into it) and adding some windows, carpet, better insulation, an insulated front porch, etc. Joy also made curtains, painted, and worked her magic to make it feel warm and cozy like a home should feel. 


But we still had no running water, which means that yes, we did have an outhouse (pictured below). That said, I built a super tiny bathroom in our cabin, and put a little 'honey bucket' in there (actually it was a nice little flushable pot designed for camper trailers, that some friends bought for us) so that we didn't need to run the risk of getting frost bite in places where you don't want to get frostbite when it got really cold outside. Every few days I had to empty that little 'bucket' and I have some great (actually awful) stories about what happens when you dump a very warm and stinky pile of you know what, into an outhouse when the temps are -50 or colder. Someday you can ask me about that, but I probably shouldn't write it out here as it's pretty gross. Although, looking back, it's also pretty funny. 

Once a week, usually on Saturdays, I hauled extra water and Joy would heat it on the stove/fire so that we could take a shower, one at a time. I had a little 5 gallon jug into which I installed a shower spout, and I would lift it up high onto a shelf and we would stand in a metal pail and open the shower spigot just a tad, so that it would last as long as possible. When it was finished, I would have to dump all the dirty water into another bucket (the metal pail was too big to fit through the tiny bathroom door) and carry it out and dump it. Again, I've got some interesting tales of what happens to that warm water when you throw it out at minus 70, or what happens to my wet hair at those temperatures, or...


As you've already figured out, we had a long, cold winter, which means everything would freeze. It was actually good when things froze up, including the river, because then it was easier to travel around to places. This is the 'road' across the frozen ice of the river.


The main method of transportation in the winter was snow machines. This is me, driving down the frozen river on my way to cut some wood for our wood stove.


Often I came home looking like this after cutting wood, or hunting and trapping with the men in the village. Actually, it often got a lot worse than this, but then I would have been wearing a fur rimmed hood, and it would have been too cold to take a photo. So this was probably a rather moderate temperature day for winter.


Aside from snow machines, some people used dog sleds, although not very many anymore. Historically, that is what everyone used, but not so much anymore. It takes a lot of dogs to pull a sled with a big load. And it takes a lot of work to feed, and house, and care for, and train those dogs. So not many people do it today. But there are still a few. And every year the village would participate in, and host, dog sled races, and other fun stuff like that. Here's a shot of Britton when he was 2 or 3, riding a one-dog sled in a race that the village held every spring. Yep, it's spring. Can't you tell? 


But the main way of getting around the village in winter was just walking. You can tell it's not very cold (probably somewhere around zero to twenty below) in this picture, because no one is bundled up too much. 


But in this one it's a bit colder... maybe 40 below or so. When it got really cold, the best stuff to wear was the stuff that the village women made from various animal hides and furs, which way outperformed anything from NorthFace or any other fancy brand.


I spent much of my time building relationships with the men in the village. That meant hunting, fishing, trapping, cutting wood, telling/listening to stories around fires and/or food, etc. And when I wasn't doing that I was usually fixing broken stuff--either at or in my house, or in my little shop where I also helped other people with broken snow machines, ATVs, etc. I also helped Joy with the Bible clubs, and we helped lead a church service in the village. Joy was kept super busy with Britton, who was 1 year old when we arrived, and Hannah, who was born the following year, and all the many kids who hung out in our house day and night. Occasionally, but very rarely, we had the opportunity to sneak away as a family from the busy village life, like this time in spring, when Joy and the kids road the snow machine with me to the wood yard. Joy got a kick out of doing the lumber jack thing for a day. :)


During the very short summer, everything changed. The sun would never set, everything warmed up and we found it hard to go to sleep, even in the middle of the night. Showers could be had anytime down at the river, or outside with my shower jug on a stump. :-) People would fish, and make repairs on things that were buried under snow in the winter, and prepare in any way they could for the coming fall and winter. It was a busy, but fun time, buzzing with excitement (oh, and billions of giant mosquitoes!)


On a side note, as a pilot with MAF, I have flown many hundreds of medevac flights over the years, most of them when we lived in Kalimantan, Indonesia. In many of those cases, the patient was critical, and would likely have died if the plane was not able to arrive in time. Sometimes, due to bad weather, or other issues, I was forced to delay an arrival for several hours, or even until the next day, knowing full well the potential consequences to the patient and his/her family. I used to tell my friends in Indonesia that I never took those decisions lightly, because I have been on the other side of that situation. Yet, I always have to make the safety of the flight the first priority. Because if I can't land and takeoff safely, then I can't help anyone at all... and in fact, I could make the situation a whole lot worse. 

When we lived in Alaska, twice we had to medevac our son, Britton, to Fairbanks. Both times he was in bad shape, and getting worse fast. Both times we had been on the satellite-linked phone out of the village to a doctor in Fairbanks, with the doctor saying that if little Britt didn't make it out today, he would likely not be alive tomorrow. And both times the weather was bad when the plane was coming, and we didn't know if the plane would make it in to pick up our son and save his life. We praise God that in both cases the plane did arrive, and Britt did get to Fairbanks in time and was obviously treated and recovered. But all that to say, I clearly remember what that feels like--to feel completely helpless on the other end, knowing that your child needs advanced medical care, and the only way to get it is if the airplane can make it in time. So I can very much sympathize with those who are on the other side... and I can appreciate the hope and help that is represented on the wings of MAF to people who are in those types of situations. I'm SO thankful that I've been able to play a small part in brining that tangible help and hope to many people over the years that I've flown with MAF, and not just in medical evac situations, but also in many other ways as well.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Making the Most of Being Stuck

I'm taking a quick break from the series I was doing about our past, to update you on what's going on here right now. 

I mentioned a while back that I would update you regarding our summer plans when we knew more. Well, the uncertainty has persisted throughout the summer, so I kept delaying any sort of official announcement that we had given up on our plans to go the U.S. Yet here we are in August, and the international airport here is still closed, and there is no sign that it will open any time soon. So I think it's now safe to say that we are stuck in Uganda for the duration of summer--which means that we will NOT be able to come to the U.S. to help our daughter transition to University, or visit churches and supporters. That obviously makes us sad, but we trust God, and will continue to evaluate future plans as the situation changes.


Well, seeing as how we are stuck here right now, and since we had not taken a family vacation out of the city of Kampala in well over two years (since we were in the U.S. last summer), we decided to take a few days to get out of Dodge, and breath some fresher air.


Some MAF friends of ours own a small rustic cottage in Western Uganda, that they rent out for very affordable prices, nestled in between two small crater lakes. There is a bunch of wide open space with hiking trails, grassy hills, and the sounds and smells of nature... just what we needed!


Here is the view that we enjoyed from the front porch of the cottage, as we ate our home-made dinner. Those mountains in the distance are the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountain range--the highest mountain range in Africa. They are on the border between Uganda and Congo, and although the ones in the picture are only 7-8,000' high, they actually get much higher just a bit to the south, reaching heights well above 17,000', with permanent snow and glaciers. Some day I would love to climb them, but it is very expensive to hire the required guides, so who knows. 

We enjoyed watching the sun set behind that cloud, which looked to us a lot like a nuclear mushroom cloud. We joked that maybe some people just got so fed up with the Covid-19 stuff that they just decided to set off a nuke... thankfully it's not quite that bad, yet.


While we were there, Hudson turned 16! We celebrated by taking the family to dinner at a restaurant in Fort Portal. Being a large family on a tight budget, we don't often get to all go out to eat, so this was truly a rare treat. Hudson enjoyed a crocodile burger. Yes--it really is real crocodile. Don't worry, there were also plenty of chips (their word for fries) and a pizza, to help fill him up. ;-)


I mentioned that the cottage is nestled between two crater lakes. Here's a panorama showing the area. Tanner and Sanyu are on the edge of the rim of one of the craters. If you're interested, you might be able to click on the photo to enlarge it and see more detail.


The boys always dream of fishing, but very rarely seem to get the chance. There are HUGE nile perch available to catch up in the protected areas of Murchison National Park, but that is crazy expensive. In normal times, people fly here from all over the world to take part in fishing competitions there in the dry season. And you can also hire expensive guides and boats to go out onto Lake Victoria for trophy perch. But we were just happy to have a hand at catching some small tilapia in the quiet waters of the local lake. The boys were very persistent and patient, and eventually they all caught a few.


We also enjoyed swimming in the cold waters. The lakes are very deep, and so the boys thought it was fun to swim in the 'creepy', dark water. 


We also did some paddling around in a little raft. If you look closely, you can see Sanyu also along for the ride.


In truth, it was mostly just Joy and I that paddled the raft around--the picture below is one of the rare times that the boys were actually using the raft in the way it was intended. Normally they were using it as sort of a floating "king of the mountain" thing--seeing who could get onto the raft and control it, without being pushed off or flipped over by their brothers. Good fun!


One of our favorite things was just to go for long walks... something that is definitely not doable (at least not with the peace and quiet and beauty of nature all around) in the city of Kampala.


One morning Sanyu (who absolutely loved hiking and climbing the 'mountains' around us) and I got up early and climbed to the top of a steep, pointy, peak, several hundred feet above the lakes. Once on top, we enjoyed a breakfast picnic of hot chocolate, cold dry cereal, and apples, as the sun rose.


And then Sanyu, who is extremely coordinated and flexible for her age, decided to do some stretching and then started doing cartwheels right up on top of the peak, with a tremendous view in all directions. It was totally epic!


Speaking of epic, the sunsets were pretty awesome when the haze cleared. Below, Joy and the kids are walking in front on me on the rim of a small crater, overlooking the farmland and forest leading to the foothills in the distance.


And this is just a classic one--Tanner and Sanyu, walking hand-in-hand as the sun sets in the West. So cute!


Ok, well I hope you enjoyed those photos as much as we enjoyed making them. We were way overdue to get a breath of fresh air, and it was SO worth it for our sanity! Next post I'll return to the little series on how we got to where we are today.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Heading North, Way Back When...

As promised, I'm continuing from my previous post about way back when... 

After I graduated from University and flight school, we briefly moved to Oregon as we prepared for future, cross-cultural work/ministry. That fall I had the opportunity to go on a short vision trip to a very remote part of north central Alaska, to an area where we felt that God was leading us.


Joy had spent several summers up there, volunteering at a small Christian camp. But I had never been there. I spent a few weeks with this wonderful family, who kindly hosted me and took me all over that part of Alaska. Since it was the time of year for bringing in the meat, I even joined them in their family moose hunt.


He was not only a very widely known and respected Athabaskan elder, but also a pilot. So he took me around the region in his Pacer. That's when I started to see how immensely vast and wild Alaska truly is... we flew hours upon hours and saw nothing but wilderness, among which were scattered a few, isolated villages along the main rivers. There were no roads whatsoever.


We visited several different Athabaskan villages, all very remote and isolated.


I was drawn by the rugged, harsh, and surreal beauty of the land and her people. 



Long story short, God confirmed His calling in our hearts, and Joy and I eventually made the decision to join a small organization and head to the far north. The plan was to move into a specific village that was located just north of the Arctic Circle, building relationships with the elders and others, while specifically working with the youth. The idea was that eventually we would incorporate a small plane into the ministry. This was my very first visit to 'our' future village, which I got to see (photo below) during that vision trip way back when.


Before we just up and headed off, we first had to get a group of churches and friends to commit to both pray for us, and also to sponsor our 'work' there. We also completed some additional training in several different areas. It was a busy time--we were constantly on the go, traveling, speaking in churches, meeting and sharing with people, and moving and moving and moving again. Come to think of it, we've never really stopped doing that for the past 20 years. :-) 

Anyway, a very short seven months after the vision trip mentioned above, we were off to Canada, where we underwent another 3 months of training focused towards helping to prepare us culturally, and in other ways, for living and working among "First Nations" or Indigenous people of North America. Part of that time was dedicated to an extensive wilderness training program in the Churchill River system, which was nothing short of a blast.


I especially loved it when they marooned each of us, individually, on our own separate island, without food or any survival gear, for 24 hours. I wish it had been longer, as I had a lot of fun with that. 


Unfortunately, Joy was not allowed to do the full wilderness training, since we had an infant who needed her full-time care. But I'm sure she would have loved it also. Here's a shot of her and Britt, latter that summer, soaking up nature (and mosquitoes a plenty).


From there we continued directly to Alaska, where we spent the initial few weeks helping at the same  Camp where Joy had volunteered many times before, on the banks of the Yukon River.



Joy was able to reunite with many of her friends from previous years. She was really in her element, both living in the 'rougher' conditions of the camp, but also and especially, in building relationships with the Athabaskan youth, whom she so loved.


We were involved in a myriad different tasks... from teaching and mentoring, to helping with the grounds and maintenance, and construction, cooking, cleaning, and on and on.



Joy even got to be an 'exterminator' at one point, when a pesky porcupine kept eating various parts of the camp buildings.


After the camp we spent a few more weeks with our manager, who was also a pilot, and who's family lived in a remote village much further north, about halfway between the camp and where 'our village' was located. He flew a Cessna 180 on floats, skis, and wheels, depending on the time of year. Here's a picture of his plane, out behind his cabin, on a small lake from where he operated.


A few weeks later, near the end of summer, he took our little family (Joy, Britton, and me) and a few of our belongings, up to our future home, dropping us off on the river bank of our little village.


This is a shot of his plane departing... and there we were. Home.


Britton had just turned one. The ice was already freezing on the puddles at night. Fall and winter were rapidly bearing down on us like a runaway freight-train, and we were setting up our home in a tiny, dilapidated, one-room cabin, on the edge of one of the most isolated villages in all of North America. We needed meat, fire wood, and water, forthwith, for our very survival. This was a subsistence village, where you hunt and gather much of your food, and haul ALL of your water to your cabin from a central location in the village, or from the river. But equally important for our emotional wellbeing, we needed friends and relationships. 

We were young and energetic and willing... and WAY in over our heads. But we didn't really know it quite yet, which can sometimes be a good place to be. Over the next two years we would learn, in a hyper-intensive way, just how incapable we were/are on our own, but how more than capable our God was and is. The lessons we learned were invaluable. The relationships we developed were unbreakable. The adventure had just begun.


Stay tuned for more...