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Sunday, September 5, 2021

MAF Liberia

A few weeks ago I was asked to pop over to Liberia (on the west coast of Africa) to help with their flying for six weeks. Our Liberia program has been short on pilots and very busy with flying, so of course I was happy to help!

Above is a shot of a bunch of Covid vaccines and other medicines and medical supplies that I delivered to a remote hospital in a town at the very southeastern tip of Liberia. Below I'm unloading cargo before picking up two serious medical patients (you can see the stretcher behind me.)

This is one of the airstrips that we frequently fly to... as you can see it is very close to the ocean.

There are a number of towns/villages situated just along the coast, but frankly I've seen virtually no roads along the coast. Occasionally, near a town I'll see a few muddy narrow 'roads' branching out a few miles from the town, but then they seem to vanish. So, for the most part it's just rugged coastline that merges into jungle.

And I've also seen no large ships, though I'm sure they must come to/from the capital city from time to time. But up and down the coast I've seen nothing other than a few small canoes and very small wooden boats. And if you pan the camera just a few miles in from the coast, then it's nothing but dense, sopping wet jungle. In short, it's definitely a place with vast geological barriers where the need for the plane is obvious!

Now that I've shown you the 'nice' shots of what it can look like when the sun is shining (which in my short time here seems to almost never happen) now let me show you what it usually looks like...

Actually, even the above two shots are not really accurate, because most of the time I can't see the ground at all once I'm at an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) altitude. It's rainy season here right now and it's an understatement to say that it rains a lot. I've lived and flown/worked in a lot of places around the world, but I've never seen a place that can put out so much relentless, pounding rain day after day after day, most of which is not even tied to thunderstorms. It's just sopping wet atmospheric stuff. Incidentally, it seems that this is where the brewing begins for those storms that build into monster hurricanes that cross the Atlantic and eventually slam into the Americas this time of year. Fun fact: Monrovia (where MAF Liberia is based) is the wettest capital city in the world! They apparently get about 15 feet of rain a year, and I believe it!

It's obviously challenging weather to fly in, but frankly, I've been enjoying it. It reminds me a bit of some of the flying I used to do in Indonesia. I've definitely done quite a number of low-pass runway inspections before landing here, just to make sure of the condition of the surface--b/c of all the mud/rain. 

But if you maintain margins and are careful, it can still be done safely in the rain. And a little rain never hurt anyone, right? I've enjoyed seeing, and being a part of, the wide variety of strategic flights that MAF does here--from 'traditional' mission flying to critical medical transport flights, to humanitarian and community development etc. This past week I was the only MAF pilot in the country so I was flying every day and really enjoying it.

Earlier this week Henk Jan (below, right) who is the MAF-International Africa Regional Director, dropped in for a two-day program visit. He has an extensive and distinguished background/career in aviation, including (but not limited to) many years in MAF. I was privileged to have him join me for a flight interior, and I was glad that the weather cooperated that day--in fact it was the nicest day, by far, since I've been here. (Below, Henk Jan talks to missionary, Kim Smith, about his ministry while I was waiting for my return load/passengers back to Monrovia.)

One rare evening when the sun popped out for a few minutes before it set, I walked down the beach. No, I haven't jumped in yet, but I'm guessing I will before I leave in a month. That said, because of the nearly constant storms, the surf is really rough, and there are also many hidden rocks in the surf, and I'm told there are also strong undertows and rip currents in this area. Plus, the water is muddy brown and full of seaweed because of the winds/storms. So I need to wait for the right place/time so that I don't become shark or shrimp food.

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