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

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Recent Stuff

A few weeks ago we (fellow MAF pilot Andrew and I) landed at Amudat airstrip for the first time in a very long time (below).

Over the past year and a half quite a few of the upcountry airstrips in Uganda (especially in Karamoja) deteriorated so badly that we had to stop using them. There were several contributing factors, mostly related to the Covid lockdown and lack of flying for so long, but also due to various organizations and users  being short of staff and funding. The next two photos show the Amudat runway from the air (from both directions) during the time that it was closed. It actually got quite a bit worse than this later on, as these were taken soon after it was closed.

Our sending church in Oregon gave a very generous gift to help facilitate the reopening of several of the closed airstrips. MAF sent a work team to oversee the project in Amudat. Here is a photo of the cleaned/repaired/improved airstrip, just before we landed there a few weeks ago.

Here's a shot of Andrew and I with the MAF guys that oversaw the project. They also hired many locals to help with the work (which was also a great way to help the people during these very difficult times when it is SO hard for them to find a source of income), and purchased some tools that will be used for continued upkeep of the strip.

Anytime a plane lands, especially after it's been a long time, people will seemingly suddenly appear out of nowhere to watch. This time was no exception.

Here's some random shots from the air that I've taken in the past month or so. This first one captures sort of the classic northern Karamoja.

This is the very point where the Nile leaves Uganda and enters South Sudan. In this photo the water is flowing from the lower left corner to the bend on the right, and then continuing up towards the upper left corner, on its way South to North. The brown (left) side of the river is South Sudan, and the green (right) side of the photo is Uganda. Just behind/beyond the bend is the town of Nimule, South Sudan. It might strike you as odd that the brown and green are so distinct. It is not always like that. And it's certainly not normally that abrupt of a change between the two countries. It's true that parts of South Sudan can be much dryer than Uganda, but in this region it is generally a much more gradual transition. The reason it's like this here, in this photo, is because the Uganda side is very flat and swampy, hence the greenery, whereas the South Sudan side is the higher ground, and thus dryer, when this photo was taken. But for much of the year both sides are equally green.

Speaking of green, this was a very odd (algae?) green floating mass of something that was on top of the Lake Victoria water for several weeks, not far from the shore. I have no idea exactly what it was, or what caused it, but it was almost an iridescent green. It's gone now.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Subsistence Living, Way Back When

Well, it's been forever since I've posted and I won't even begin to make excuses. But before I try to start posting stuff from East Africa, I figured I'd finish that series I had started over a year ago about Way Back When we used to live just north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska.

In the small village where we lived, subsistence living was the way of life. There was a small store in the village, but it had very limited items--canned or pre-packaged stuff that had no shelf life, or at least a very long shelf life. There was rarely fresh produce available, or anything like fresh milk or stuff like that. And there was no fresh meat. Instead, we had to go find our own meat to eat. I realize that there are lots of strong opinions out there regarding hunting, but let me just say this--what I'm talking about in this village was not 'trophy hunting'. This was hunting for food. Below, a shot of me, on my snow machine, with my rifle, far out in the wilderness.

During the very short summer, folks stocked up on salmon, cleaning and drying/smoking it to put away in large quantities for the long winter. We were a very, very long way from the ocean, so the salmon were extremely tired by the time they got to us. What that means is that they were not as fat/rich/tasty as the salmon down on the Yukon, or other places closer to the sea, so often these salmon became the main source of food for the dog teams that require a lot of protein throughout the winter. Then, folks in our village would often trade other types of meat that we could get more easily, with friends/relatives further down river, or out near the coast, and in exchange they would be given the nice, fat salmon for eating.

In the winter I helped some men build a fish trap that was frozen into the river ice. Then we would go check it at least once (or often twice) a day and almost without fail we'd find a good number of large fish in there. Depending on how cold the temperatures were, we would have to chip away several inches to even a foot of ice from the hole, before we could peer into the fast moving water. And yes, that is me gaffing the fish, and no, it is not in the middle of the night--it's just dark most of the time there in the middle of winter since it's so far north.

A very big source of food there was moose. It basically served as the 'beef' of the far north.

And caribou was a real tasty treat when they came through the area.

We also hunted bear (which is what we are doing below)...

And trapped beaver (below) and other fur animals. The folks would sell the furs and/or tan the hides and prepare the furs themselves, which they would then turn into the best winter clothing, mittens, mukluks, etc.

Even though it was extremely cold, and often dark, I was blessed to often be out in very remote, rugged and beautiful wilderness, which had an astounding surreal beauty.

In the far distance  (in the picture below) you can see some snowcapped mountains. Those are the foothills the to Brooks Mountain Range and the Gates of the Arctic National Park... the most remote National Park in the U.S.

Well, that finally concludes my "Way Back When" series. Now I will try to post some much more current stuff soon...

Monday, November 9, 2020

Northern Scenery, Way Back When...

Today I'm returning to the "Way Back When..." series, highlighting some of the surreal beauty we enjoyed in the boreal forests of the far north.

Obviously most of these photos feature frigid beauty. That's because it was cold and snowy/icy much of the year. Also, there were no roads going anywhere outside of the village itself. So during the very short summer, we were basically trapped in the village, since we didn't have a good boat with a reliable motor. So the long winters was when I was actually able to get out and about.

During the cold months I could go just about anywhere on my snow machine. I made trips to the "wood yard" to cut wood for our stove, accompanied local guys on their traplines (to get furs that they tanned and used to stay warm in winter) and hunting for food, and did some long trips to other villages when there were dog races (I helped pull loads of dogs and/or dog food).

When I look back at these photos I have to laugh a bit. The beauty in the landscape is quite obvious. But it's a bit embarrassing to see the poor quality of the photos. I was still shooting with film cameras in those days (usually shooting slides) but I had also just purchased my first digital camera, which was a huge joke compared to even the cheapest cell phone camera today. Some of these shots, like the one below, were taken on slide film, and many years later I scanned them, complete with dust and marks, into digital. 

This was called 'blue ice' for obvious reasons. I didn't see it very often, but ran across it this time on a long trip to a different village. It was really creepy because although it was very thick (probably 5 or 6 feet or more) you could pretty much see right through it. But what made it really unique was how slick it was. Most of the rivers and lakes froze solid and then got covered with snow. Occasionally the ice would crack under the weight off the snow (as the water underneath depleted, leaving the ice hanging above like a bridge) and then when the weight of the giant slab of ice would push down onto the underlying water, it would push the water up through the cracks and flood the ice. But the overlying water would 'hide' under the snow creating 'overflow' which was actually quite dangerous. There were signs to spot overflow if you knew what to look for (they taught me) but if you got into it unexpectedly, it would very quickly fill your entire snow machine with slush and water, which would instantly freeze, and within seconds you could find yourself so stuck that you would never get your machine out again until it thawed in spring and fell right through, sinking to the bottom of the lake. 

But in the case of this blue ice, it was so slippery that snow didn't seem to stay on the surface, but would instead just blow away. And I found out that if you try to drive across it, you don't get very far before you come to a very long, sliding halt. Then, when you try to push the machine, both you and the machine slide away in opposite directions, almost like you're in space or something. Weird but cool.

The northern lights were insane. We saw them so often and they would light up the whole sky. Green was the most common color, but we also saw shades of pink, purple, red, blue, etc. Sometimes you could hear a crackling type sound, or almost 'feel' them as they were so intense. It was difficult for me, back then, to get good shots of the lights, b/c my digital camera had way too small of a sensor to take photos at night, but my film camera had other challenges. I found that the film often got 'exposed' directly, right through the camera case, by the intensity of the aurora borealis. Somehow my slides would come back and there would be vertical lines spaced evenly across the entire role, each fuzzy line overexposed. In fact, even in the photo below you can see some of those lines at the very top, spaced evenly all the way across. But often they extended all the way down across the image, rendering it useless. If I had a chance today, I'd love to re-take some awesome photos of the northern lights.

Here's a few 'warmer' photos.

Next time I'll show you some of the subsistence-living shots... some of the hunting and fishing that we did to be able to eat and survive up there.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Rib Day - 2 Year Anniversary Celebration!

Two years ago, on October 17th, this happened...

Long story short, I got knocked off my motorcycle by a drunk driver, and then a different vehicle, a large Toyota Landcruiser (SUV) promptly drove over me, right across my torso. I should have died right then and there, and many other times in the minutes and hours that followed. But for some reason, God chose to keep me around here on this earth a bit longer. Those were tough days on my family. Joy and the kids carried a HUGE burden in making many decisions related to my care, that could literally mean the difference between life and death. The family was split between the hospital, the home in Uganda, and eventually the U.S., after I was later flown back there for further care. Many of you chipped in to help us in so many different, practical, meaningful ways during that tough season, for which we will always be grateful!

In some ways it seems so long ago, and in other ways it seems like it just happened. But yesterday was the two-year anniversary of "The Squishing". In addition to our strong faith in Jesus and his sovereignty in our lives, our family also has a bit of an odd sense of humor, something that really helped us through some of those tough days. So it's not too surprising that we came up with a bit of a weird, new family tradition last year (on the 1-year anniversary of "The Squishing") to commemorate the event. Rib day! 

Along with many, many other broken bones and serious injuries, basically all of my ribs were broken, either in the front, or back, or both. Therefore, we thought, what better way to remember and commemorate the event, and God's miracles, than to enjoy some racks of ribs every year on the anniversary? And thus a new family tradition was born. Rib day! :-)

Right now, for a variety of reasons, our family is actually scattered all over the world again. Hudson and I are here alone in Uganda, so we had our own small rib party. (By the way, I noticed later, after I took the selfie, that I was actually wearing a shirt that my sister had given to me, which says "Unbroken Bones are Overrated". I didn't plan to wear it for this on purpose--but it's a comfy, old t-shirt that I often wear around the house--and pretty good coincidence to be wearing that specific shirt on Rib Day evening, don't you think?"

Joy and the younger kids are in Oregon, USA, right now, where Joy is getting some much-needed medical attention and also taking care of some adoption stuff for our daughter, Sanyu. So they got together with the grandparents and cousins there for a big rib party! Thanks guys!!! Wish we could have been there too, but so fun to see you all enjoying some ribs together. :-)

I noticed that in the nice picture they sent me,  below, that they had a green vegetable, green beans. That did make me feel a bit guilty. I need to start feeding me and Hudson some more healthy veggies. We did have coleslaw with our ribs, baked beans, and fries. Does coleslaw count?

Meanwhile, Britton was chowing down on ribs over on the East Coast of the USA. 

He happened to be hangin' with his really good friends, the Morris's, who are a blast, and so kind and generous, and apparently whipped up some really awesome ribs for the occasion. Thanks guys!!!

Hannah is at University right now, so she is stuck with whatever they fed her there. But next time we get together with her we'll have to try to make it up to her. :-)

Meanwhile, this past week was Hudson's 'fall break' (even though there is no autumn season here) from school, in Uganda. So he and I enjoyed a few excursions out of the city, to get some much-needed soak-up time in Nature. One thing we did was a birding cruise in a small boat through a swamp on the edge of Lake Victoria. It was so much fun. We saw a ton of different birds, including several of the elusive, and very strange looking Shoebills, which are currently listed as vulnerable, and declining, on the IUCN Red List. Maybe when I get a chance to look through my photos I can share some of them here on the blog.

We also did a few days of camping up in the remote Kidepo Valley National Park. The weather was insane--tons of rain and horrible roads--but that is a story for another day. Most of the park was cutoff from vehicle travel due to flooding and/or overgrown nature that has been claiming back the park in the many months that Uganda has been 'locked down' due to C-19, without any foreign tourists. It is just starting to reopen, so hopefully things will improve in that regard. However, we definitely had the campsite all to ourselves--well, at least as far as people go. It didn't look like anyone had camped there in a long, long time, and the animals seemed to be very comfortable just sort of meandering through our camp at any time of the day or night. All kinds of animals...

... including many buffalo and yes, even a pride of hunting lions. But that's a story for another day as well. All I'll say for now is that it definitely gets your blood pressure going when you're sitting in the dark by the campfire, just you and your son, (at least you think it's just the two of you) and then you hear a strange noise and looking around with the spotlight you realize that there are dozens of buffalo all around your camp--in between you and the vehicle, less than 15 feet away, staring at you. But that was only the start of an exciting evening. Shortly thereafter we heard the loudest lion growl/grunt, and the closest, that we have ever heard. And within seconds they started to appear inside our camp, including a huge, maned male who walked right in like he owned the place, and was really not happy with us, or afraid in any way. There's a lot more to the story, but that's for another day. I'll just show you a picture, below, of us just after we transitioned from our hammocks that we were planning to sleep in (and had slept in the night before) to our new sleeping quarters inside our vehicle. And yes, the lions continued to roam around and through our camp, making lots of noises throughout the rest of the night. :-)

We discussed the option of leaving early the next day, and abandoning our last day in the park, but decided to stay, despite (or maybe because of) all of the lovely wild creatures that were sharing our camp with us. However, we were a lot more cautious the rest of the time there. ;-)

Here's a parting shot of us standing on the 'lion rocks' late one afternoon. Just behind us, down in the grasses, you can see a bunch of black spots, which are buffalo. In the background, the blue mountain is in South Sudan. 

Some day maybe I'll show you some of the photos of the flooding, muddy, horrible roads, and some of the amazing animals we saw up close and personal during our little camping trip. Good memories!

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.