Here's a picture taken while I was doing an early morning pre-flight inspection 2 days ago, on Sunday, on a remote strip in South Sudan.
It's not normal for us to do flights on Sundays, but we've had an aircraft stuck in that location for a long time now, requiring some TLC from our engineers. There have been a number of attempts to bring the aircraft back to Uganda, but b/c of various complicated logistics, it hadn't happened yet. But seeing how the world, including Africa was shutting down travel, we all felt better if we could get the aircraft out of that remote location. Thus, I was asked to fly an engineer, and another pilot up to that village on Saturday, with the idea that we would all come back Sunday in both planes. Here's a shot of some test flights the other pilot and engineer were doing in the Cessna 182 aircraft.
Unfortunately, late Saturday evening Uganda announced impending closures of their borders and all international flights. There were so many other complicating factors involved in this maintenance-ferry flight, that we and management made the decision to leave that plane where it was, rather than run the risk of having us (or the other pilot) stuck in countries away from our families for possibly extended periods of time. So we hightailed it out of there early Sunday morning (picture below) and flew straight back to Uganda. We were really thankful for the hospitality of the AIM folks there, and their past and continued help in keeping an eye on our little plane sitting off the edge of that runway.
Meanwhile, here are some other random shots from the past two weeks...
We've had tons of rain, which has led to challenging conditions at a lot of our strips, including both our home strip (b/c Lake Victoria is actually so high that it's flooding over the end of our airstrip) and the airstrip pictured below in Karamoja, Uganda. In the photo below, I was giving a routine proficiency check to another one of our pilots (something we all undergo on a regular basis) and he had to evaluate the condition of the runway where water was flowing over from one side to the other. In the end we 'cut-off' the unusable part of the runway, rather than risk sinking in, and were still able to take off with our required safety margins on the remaining portion of the runway.
The past few weeks were extremely busy as MAF not only completed normal flights, but also did lots of extra, last-minute, urgent flights at the request of many people and groups who were afraid of being stranded here in East Africa as international flights worldwide began to get cancelled. I was happy to be able to do one such flight for our friends from IMB who had a short-term group from the U.S. helping out in northeastern Uganda.
Here's a picture of the very typical housing setup of the villages in Karamoja, Uganda. For the vast majority of people in this part of a the world, life goes on completely as normal, no matter how the rest of the world is reacting to Covid-19.
The flight from Arua, Uganda to Yambio South Sudan takes us over the northern part of East DRC, a vast area of wilderness.
This is a tea plantation that we fly past every day when we land at our home base in Kajjansi.
An early morning departure out of Kajjansi on our way up to South Sudan...
This was the view from my bedroom window on Saturday morning.
We've been enjoying our 'family time' most evenings, with various outdoor games like croquet (pictured below) and corn hole, rollers, can jam, spike ball, etc.
Many of you are curious how we are doing (with the Covid-19 situation) and what is going on with that here in Uganda. If you don't care, you can skip the rest of this. But if you do, then I'll give you a brief update.
For what it's worth, MAF has a Crisis Management Team that is meeting daily, and keeping an eye on situations all over the world where they have staff. There are numerous procedures in place to minimize our own risk, while allowing us to continue to provide help to others if/as able. Obviously it's a highly dynamic situation, so things continue to be monitored and often change daily as needed.
As I mentioned previously, we at MAF were extremely busy the past few weeks trying to meet all the urgent flight requests. Many foreigners have now left East Africa, and returned to their passport countries. But some are still here. Most of us at MAF are still here, but our flights have now been drastically reduced, as most people are understandably limiting travel. Last week Uganda announced the closure of all schools, churches, public gatherings, etc. for 32 days. Obviously that had a big impact on families like ours, who have kids in high school--they are now doing school from home, online with their classes and teachers.
Over the weekend the government further closed all international borders and banned all international flights to/from Uganda. So we are here for the duration. Uganda had their first (known) case of Covid-19 a few days ago, and now they have 9. Life for some people has changed rather dramatically b/c of the aforementioned closures/restrictions. However, for the vast majority of Ugandans and East Africans, life goes on as normal, almost as if nothing is happening elsewhere in the world.
Most people in Uganda live hand-to-mouth, day-to-day, without any discretionary income to stockpile food or even to buy 'excess' stuff like hand soap/sanitizer. They often live many people in one small house or hut, and share a common outhouse, if even that. The idea of social distancing in those situations is ridiculous. Furthermore, they have to continue to sell or do whatever it is they do to get their small daily income--for example, selling street food, or produce from their garden, or eggs, or whatever, so that they have a bit of money to buy food for that day. None of those activities will stop. That hustle and bustle just continues to go on, because it has to, no matter what virus is out there.
It's worth noting that many people in this part of the world have suffered so much in their lives, often on a wide scale, and often more than most of us will ever suffer in a lifetime. There are certainly those (especially in the city) who do feel fear/panic, but there are many, especially in more remote locations, who do not. They don't really even have a choice. They live life in a raw, gritty, real way that many of us don't understand, and with that they see pain/suffering/death as a very real part of life... not something fun, but not something strange or foreign or to be feared. In other words, they have been facing this type of struggle (and worse) often throughout their entire life and they just deal with it as it comes. Many also have a deep faith that God has already chosen their day, and they have peace in that. We should too!
So all that to say that yes--many things have changed here, specifically as it relates to public gatherings and organized things like school, government, and travel. And the next days and weeks do hold a lot of uncertainly for us, as they do for you. But we rest in the peace and confidence that God is in control, and none of this took Him by surprise.