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

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Latest from Uganda

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. 

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Random Shots from the Phone

This post features a few random shots from the iPhone. Some are from my very old iPhone 5s, that recently died. And some are from the refurbished iPhone 8 that replaced it. As a photographer, I don't buy into the concept that phone cameras will ever totally replace 'real' cameras. That is a discussion for another day, but trust me, there are many situations and types of photos where a phone will never come close... especially if you know how to use a 'real' camera and it's settings. However, it is true that the best camera is the one you have with you, and I don't always have one of my 'real' cameras with me. But I usually do have a phone. So, although they aren't quite as striking, here are some of those phone shots...

Above, a shot taken late in the day after completing a flight to South Sudan. There was a lot of rain earlier that day which cleared out the dust and haze and led to a beautiful, late afternoon sky. 

Below, the pilots often get to see some pretty awesome sunrises out over lake Victoria as we pre-flight the aircraft. 

During dry season it gets extremely hazy/dusty and smoky. However, the past year has been one of the wettest on record here in East Africa, and this has been a strange dry season, with lots of intermittent, heavy rains. Here's an early morning shot of the outskirts of Kampala (one of  the well-to-do areas) after some heavy rains cleared out the sky.

One of the places we frequently fly to is called Kalongo. You can see the end of the airstrip in the lower left third of the picture, just below and to the left of the group of blue-green roofed buildings surrounded by green trees. All those little buildings make up a small hospital that sees many hundreds of patients each day from all over the region--people with every type of ailment, injury and sickness you can imagine.

I had the privilege of flying these really great friends of mine, whose organization is doing some really awesome stuff in the remote, northeastern corner of Uganda, and elsewhere.

A few weeks ago, Joy had the opportunity to speak at a chapel service for hundreds of high school kids who had come here from several International Schools around East Africa to play a football (soccer) tournament hosted by our kids' high school. That can be a tough audience--a bunch of teenagers who have no idea who your are and why they should listen to you. But Joy really knocked it out of the park, sharing from the Word, and speaking Truth, while sharing bits of her own testimony and our family story. Everyone was totally tuned in and listening to every word, and the feedback we got confirmed that her sharing had a big impact!

In other news about Joy, the past two weeks have been pretty rough for her. Two weeks ago she started feeling really ill. Long story short, after passing out twice, and with extreme dizziness and fatigue etc., she eventually wound up in the hospital for 3 days here in Kampala. Interestingly, after first being in the ER for a few hours, and then the maternity ward (apparently that was the only place that had a bed available for a while) she eventually wound up staying in the exact same room that I was in 15 months ago after my motorcycle accident. Obviously that brought back a lot of not-so-good memories for Joy. Two weeks later, we're thankful that Joy is continuing to slowly get back to normal, and feeling a small bit better each day, gaining a bit more strength and energy.

This was a daddy-daughter date with my beautiful big 'little girl' Hannah. She's no so little anymore but she'll still always be daddy's 'little girl'--she's a beautiful, amazingly talented young lady who will be graduating from Heritage International High School this May, and will be starting university this coming fall in the U.S., studying pre-med. Her and I am a lot alike in our personalities, humor, likes and dislikes... which, yes, includes riding the motorcycle. Several times she has thanked me for giving her such a vivid demonstration of the medical world (by getting run-over and squished by an SUV) so that she could see first hand that indeed she does like trauma medicine and most likely wants to pursue that as a career. Haha. See... we both have an odd sense of humor. I thought it was funny. Anything for you Hannah... it was the least I could do. :-)

And here's my other beautiful little girl, Sanyu. I always tell her that she's daddy's favorite little girl, so when she heard me telling Hannah that Hannah was daddy's favorite big 'little girl' Sanyu burst into tears. Through her sobs, with big alligator tears streaming down her face, she asked me why she wasn't my favorite little girl anymore? Then we had a good talk where I explained that she was daddy's favorite little 'little girl', and that Hannah was daddy's favorite big 'little girl', so they were both my favorites, and then everything was ok. That made perfect sense to her and the tears stopped and the smiles came back. :-)

She loves to be daddy's little helper with anything and everything that I am doing, including making pizzas. 

Speaking of food... fried grasshoppers are definitely 'closed-eye-worthy,' a term that we coined after our son, Tyler, always used to close his eyes every time he bit into something that he thought was super succulent. So now we often do that to emphasize something that is super tasty, which is what Sanyu is doing here as she enjoys this seasonal treat--crunchy on the outside, and squishy on the inside. Yummy!

And since we are on the subject of food, last week I whipped up another batch of my famous (well, it's at least famous in my own house) hot sauce. The base for my pepper sauce is a variety of the scotch bonnet pepper, grown locally, which is much hotter and tastier (in my opinion) than an average habanero. Then I throw in a few other types of chili peppers, some onions, lots of garlic, and a ton of cilantro. All of that becomes a pepper mash, which I carefully weigh to the exact gram, so that I can add just enough salt and vinegar to allow it to age in corked bottles on the shelf. The longer it ages the better it gets. This made about 10 liters, which will probably last us about a year and a half or two. How hot is it? Well, it's not even comparable to any of the average Tabasco's, but if you've ever had the Habanero Tabasco, then it's probably at least about 2-4 x hotter than that. It's not as hot as Dave's Insanity Sauce though. What I (and some of my kids who also like hot stuff) enjoy about it is that it not only has just the right amount of heat, but also has a very complex and delicious flavor. We put it on just about everything. :-)