Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Re-opening Koblagué Airstrip

In MAF we love opening new airstrips. For MAF, it represents the potential to reach more people with the love of Christ through aviation and technology. A new airstrip represents entire new communities with the potential to be transformed physically and spiritually.

For the missionary or the church worker a new airstrip means the promise of a vital link to the capital or easier access to healthcare, provisions, and personnel to assist in the work. For the community at the airstrip it can represent a major step forward for the usually small village. They often see it as a step up in status knowing now they have an ‘airport’. For the children it is definitely exciting because now a loud, shiny airplane will be coming in with all the wonder and joy that brings.

We recently opened the old airstrip in Koblagué in south central Chad. There was an old airstrip there but MAF had not landed on it for over 12 years. That much time will really change an airstrip for the worse. So when SIL missionary Andrea Suter called us to ask if we would look at Koblagué back in 2016, we were hesitantly optimistic that we could get it going again.

First we asked an engineer from SIL to go and survey the airstrip. He was already working for SIL in N’Djamena at the time and was willing to go down and take some measurements to draw up a plan. Once his plan was made the local population got to work clearing the extra 500 meters which were needed to ensure the strip could be used safely.
Unfortunately at about this time a man from the village built his new house halfway into where the airstrip needed to be. Not to worry, the people from the village just went around his house and kept on clearing. With the clearing work done they called us to come and have a look with the plane. On the next flight down that direction the aircraft diverted to Koblagué and set up for a low pass. Unfortunately what was seen as the aircraft turned final made the pilot's heart sink. They had gone around the problem house and it showed!

2016, the runway was cleared around the house

Aerial shot 2016

To add to the unfortunate series of events, due to circumstance, it wouldn’t be until mid-2018 that MAF personnel would be able to get down to Koblagué by road for a proper airstrip inspection. More work was completed by the dedicated team of worker in Koblagué and thankfully in that time the offending house had been ushered off the strip. With the help of a Chinese road grader, the airstrip was looking useable. One last mango tree had to be removed and then on March 15th 2019, MAF was able to make the first landing in 12 years at Koblagué.

Much better without the house.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Flying for the Local Church

One of our flights last week was for a missionary here in N'Djamena who flew to the south of Chad for a week of teaching at the missionary training school, here is his story from the week:

This past week a colleague and I had the privilege of being served by MAF as we went for a week-long visit to the remote town in southern Chad.  Located on the outskirts of the town is a small missionary training school run by the Eglise Evangélique du Tchad.  I had been invited down by the school’s director to teach a week-long intensive course.  Having  served for two years previously at this missionary training school I was looking forward to going back down and having another opportunity to pour into future national missionaries who would be reaching the unreached peoples of this country.   

Though it’s been well over a month 
now since the rains have ended and the roads are dry, I was informed prior to our trip that the roads were really bad and that I should plan on a lot of time to reach the town by vehicle.  My problem is that my role  for our mission organization does not allow for a lot of extra time – there’s always a need for me to be somewhere doing something.  In this particular situation, I needed to be at the school by a Saturday evening (though I had meetings all Saturday morning long), and I needed to be back to the capital by the following Saturday morning (though I would be teaching up until early Friday afternoon).  By car, there’s no way I could have made this work.  MAF graciously accommodated our needs and enabled my colleague and I to make it to the town in time to worship with the church on Sunday morning, and back to the capital in time to welcome our sons who were just returning from their first term at boarding school outside of the country.   

I ended up having a wonderful week down in the south – teaching the ten eager students in the classroom, eating large portions of millet paste and rice with various sauces, walking the sandy paths into market to greet old friends, and looking at the countless stars that only seem visible when in the African bush.   

As I reflect upon my trip down and the role that MAF played, I’m reminded of one of the truths that I taught my students this past week – “Good leaders enable others to do the work as well”.  This is the work that I see MAF doing – helping enable others to do the work – the same work that ultimately drives all of us who are in various fields around the world to say goodbye to family and friends and launch out – the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ.   

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Wildlife in Chad

We have seen some interesting wildlife since we've been living in Chad so here is a selection from photos that we've taken.

The Sun beetle is very common here.

This colony of epauletted fruit bats sleep in the tree next to our house and fly around the compound at dusk.

 Geckos are absolutely everywhere in Chad.

This is the (male) red-headed rock agama

Possibly a rain frog, he puffed up to an impressive size when we found him.

Bethan found this praying mantis soon after we arrived last year

This is a citrus swallowtail or a Christmas butterfly

One of many animals that Bethan has attempted to keep as a pet in our house, this Giant African fruit beetle seems to like its house, probably because of the fresh mango and pineapple that it gets each day.

Our friends found this water beetle and invited us over to take a look and warned Bethan not to try and keep one of these as a pet!

We found lots of these Red Velvet Mites on a walk down by the river last week.

We don't see them very often in N'Djamena but outside of the city, it is common to see camels.

I saw this Red Billed Hornbill when I took part in the ebird global bird count in May (photos taken by A.Wolfe)

            as well as a red-billed quelea (amongst many others).


Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Chad by Road

Last Monday my flight plan was to leave early in the morning for Roukoum to drop off 2 passengers and then continue onto Zakouma to pick up missionaries who had travelled from nearby Am Timan for a flight back to N'Djamena. I expected to be back by lunchtime but that all changed when I landed in Roukoum and discovered my left main wheel was flat. First job after unloading the passengers and their luggage was to ascertain how much of a puncture I had - if it was a slow enough leak I might be able to pump it up, fly back and gently land it back in N’Djamena. This seemed unlikely though as it has gone flat in the 2 hour journey from N’Djamena. When we pumped it up we couldn't see an obvious puncture but after pouring water over the tyre, several small holes releasing air appeared. In 10 minutes the tyre was already going down and it was clear the aircraft wasn't departing any time soon! 

Plan A would normally be that we dispatch our other aircraft with an engineer to rescue the aircraft, or if the road is good enough, we send the engineer out by car. This time though our other aircraft was grounded with a damaged elevator and our engineer was in France. We enquired with some other aircraft operators to see if any of them could fly past and pick me up but no luck so the best solution was for me to come back by road. By this time it was already 10:30am so there would not be enough time to get back in one day before dark. The helpful people in Roukoum offered to drive me back and initially the suggestion was to leave Roukoum early next morning to do the whole journey. But I think my dismay at the thought of not making any progress on the first day encouraged them to make arrangements for me to stay in their main base in Biktine, 4 hours away. I was very pleased that I would have a chance of getting back home by lunchtime on Wednesday rather than dinner time. It would be the first night I was away from Luke and I was keen to get back! First though we had lunch in Roukoum (the lodge there is run by French staff so having lunch is very important!) where I got to watch the monkeys and some of Chad's spectacular bird life. Unfortunately I only had my phone camera which lacks any zoom or the ability to capture the true beauty of the scene.

Roukoum Reserve

I was warned that the first 4 hours of the drive would be on dirt road so was fully prepared for an uncomfortable, bumpy journey as I remember well the dirt roads of Madagascar with their many potholes and rocks. This one was compact sand and really good so we did about 60km/hr along it and the journey was very smooth. I spent the night just outside of Biktine at the base managed by an Italian named Carlos. He has been working in the area for the last four years with a team of 200 Chadian people, building water towers and providing irrigation systems. He travels up to 400km to build and maintain water systems in the region.

Just leaving Roukoum

Obligatory Sighting of Camels

Fantastic Dirt Roads in the Green South

Busy market day in one town
 At 5:30am we set off for N'Djamena, proposed to be 20 miles of dirt road and then 5 hours on a good tarred road. From Biktine the road was amazing, it looked like it was newly built and we made good progress until we got to within 180km of N'Djamena when the road got progressively worse as the pot holes got bigger and deeper. Often the driver had to drive on the sand road used by the camels and donkeys as it was a quicker and smoother option! We made it back to our compound at 12:30pm, 7 hours after setting off, and was greeted by Luke who was very happy to see me!

Some of the beautiful scenery en-route

A lot of the trip was just vast expanses of nothing

Yesterday I went back to Roukoum with an engineer to rescue the aircraft. While our Caravan is stuck on the ground awaiting parts, a pilot and plane from MAF Kenya has come to help us out and he flew us back to Roukoum in 1.5 hours! The engineer replaced the wheel, I got some fuel from the other aircraft and dislodged a few spiders from my pitot tube and flew back in time for lunch.

It was fun to make the journey by road and get to see some of Chad's scenery at ground level, but it was also very nice to make the return journey by air rather than a full days travel.

MAF Kenya's aircraft helped rescue our 182

Sunday, 18 March 2018

9 Days in Cameroon

The River Chari, which runs along the edge of N'Djamena, separates Chad from Cameroon. Cameroon is so close that you can see it from the city and I fly over it during the approach into N'Djamena. It is also where Mercy Ships are docked until May so we felt it would be nice to catch up with friends while they are so close and also take a break from Chad. Northern Cameroon is considered fairly unsafe at the moment and it's a good 28 hour drive to the coast (according to Google Maps) so we opted instead to fly with the regional airline Asky direct to Douala. The start of our trip highlighted many of the quirks of living here starting with the airports insistence that passengers must travel from the terminal to the aircraft by passenger bus:

Clearly a bus is required to get from the escalator to the aircraft!

On arriving in Douala and passing through the routine checks we took an airport taxi into town. Despite asking repeatedly to be taken to where the buses depart for Limbe the taxi driver insisted we would be better travelling by shared car as it would be the same price but better. So 20 minutes later we were waiting at a shared car for the remaining places to be filled in the heat (and high humidity). The car seemed nearly full so we were optimistic that we would soon be on our way but little did we realise how many people can fit in a 6 seater! When the 12th passenger squeezed herself in, we set off on our 1.5 hour drive to Limbe via many check points for fees and paperwork checks along the way.

Every bit of space is used
We spent 7 days in Limbe, staying in a self catering apartment found on Airbnb. On the day after our arrival we explored the town of Limbe. We visited Down Beach, but having not done our research thoroughly enough we discovered it was high tide and there wasn't a lot of beach, and what there was was also full of litter. Having had quite a lazy start to the day it was getting close to lunch time so we abandoned plans of going to the beach and visited the cafe at the wildlife centre to enjoy fresh mango juice.

Bethan wore an ironic t-shirt, Down beach certainly wasn't beautiful, it was just a visual reminder of how much plastic we thrown into the oceans every year.

Our trip to the cafe became rather eventful, while enjoying our juice, watching the gorillas that the cafe overlooks and waiting for our food the waiter ran over and demanded we came inside the kitchen area and hastily locked all the doors and window. Apparently one of the chimpanzees had escaped and was running loose!
Trapped behind bars in the cafe kitchen 
After a while a call came through to say it was all clear and we could go out and enjoy our food. After lunch we went around the centre where the guide informed us that chimpanzee escapes were fairly common! He showed us the Silverback Gorillas, Drill monkeys, Olive Baboons and many other primates that had been rescued from being illegal pets. Bethan enjoyed throwing leaves in for them to eat and one chimpanzee called Chinoise was so excited by Bethan's gift that she did a dance and threw a rock back for Bethan.

We spent the following days exploring the local beaches, enjoyed playing in the sea and building castles with the black volcanic sand. One of the local beaches had as much litter as Down beach so we built a sand sea turtle to highlight the problem!

Mile 8 beach

Sometimes it all gets too much and you need to sleep right where you are
Swimming in Plastic
In home school Matt and Bethan have been learning about volcanoes so we also took the opportunity to climb along the lava flow from Mount Cameroon's 1999 eruption. Unfortunately the clouds stayed resolutely over Mount Cameroon so we only saw the very base of the mountain, and to Bethan's disappointment it didn't erupt while we were there either!

Lava Flow
We were also blessed by the company of a friend from Madagascar who is serving on Africa Mercy and was able to come and spend a couple of days with us in Limbe. Bethan enjoyed jumping in the waves with Rachel and teaching her to play cheat, and we enjoyed catching up on the last 18 months.

On our last day in Limbe we hired a driver to visit the historic site at Bimbia where many Cameroonians were taken aboard ships as slaves. It was a very interesting and poignant visit as our Cameroonian guide explained how the slaves were treated and showed us what the now-ruined buildings were used for and the door of no return. None of the slaves that left Bimbia ever came back to Africa, in fact only 800 of the 2000 aboard each ship even made it to the USA alive.

Our driver then took us to our last destination, the Mission Baptist Guest House in Douala, which was a much more comfortable journey than being squished in the shared car. While in Douala we visited
the maritime museum to learn about shipping in Cameroon and went out for a meal with Rachel. Lastly we had the opportunity to spend a day on the ship, giving Bethan a tour of the hospital and cabins and catching up with our friends from MAF Madagascar who are now serving on board. It was a lovely way to end an enjoyable week.

We were pleasantly surprised by Douala Maritime Museum

Catching up with the van den Bosch Family

Bethan and Luke's first trip to Mercy Ships

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Beautifying Our Car

No we haven't painted go faster stripes down the side of our forerunner, added any fluffy dice or upgraded our hubcaps....

One of the wonderful/frustrating/interesting parts about living overseas is getting to know the culture, the rules and the faux pas. One of the rules of the road here (well it definitely was a law but no-one is really sure anymore and it's best not to take a chance) is that it is mandatory to have small warning triangles attached to the bumpers of your car. We have duly obtained said triangles and this weekend we attached them, which was a very exciting task in the eyes of our children who's help turned it in to a whole mornings task!

What amuses me most about these triangles (which are supposed to help prevent accidents) is the marketing on the packets, these triangles will:

  • Beautify your car
  • Prevent Accidents
  • Give the rear of your car a new look (whilst this is true I'm not sure it is a selling point!)
  • They are good for your car

In other news we also put up a hammock, this definitely did enhance our garden!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Training and Preparation

Good news! Its taken 4 months but my Chadian Pilot's Licence Validation was finally issued this week! I haven't flown since my test flights when we first arrived in Chad and its been much longer since I was flying regularly so I'm feeling a little rusty. Aviation rules state that I must have completed 3 take-offs and landings in the last 90 days to be allowed to carry passengers, so it was time to get some practice and become current again!

Having not yet flown to the South of Chad, Andrew (MAF Chad's supervisory pilot) and I devised a plan to fly down to Baili to practice some landings and then come back. Next week a medical safari is planned and Baili will be one of the stops so it was a good chance for us to check out the condition of the airstrip before it needs to be used in earnest next week. We will also need extra fuel in a nearby town of Tchaguine so we planned a stop there as well. Tchaguine is home to a long term missionary family who have been serving in the village for 26 years! Knowing how remote Tchaguine is and how little fresh food is available we offered to bring some vegetables down. This offer was gladly accepted and 39kgs of fresh vegetables, salad, meat, new plates and toys for the local children also came on the flight.

Near to Baili, just north of the river is another town called Boudamasa, where another missionary family are looking to open up a new airstrip. A team will travel down this weekend to assess the site but as it was almost en-route, we also took the opportunity to see how the land lies. Apparently we caused quite a stir as the sight of the MAF plane caused people to knock on the door of the missionary family's house to tell them that we were coming!

Planned location of the airstrip - not much to see yet!
Baili is just over an hour from N'Djamena in the Cessna 182. We did a low pass to check the condition of the airstrip before landing and noted a couple of people stood to the side. Locals had obviously been preparing for next weeks visit as the strip was in excellent condition. As we didn't need to drop anything at Baili we kept the engine running, taxied to the end of the runway and turned around to takeoff again. In the time it took from landing to being ready to be airborne again everyone who lived in the surrounding area had decided to come and see what was going on and the runway was filled by a swarm of people coming down to see the aircraft. We had to sit for 10 minutes waiting for them all to make their way down to our end, where a few guys with sticks took it upon themselves to provide crowd control and keep them away from the aircraft.

Waiting to take off at Baili

Next stop was Tchaguine to meet the family there, unload the vegetables and de-fuel 100 litres of Jet A1 into a fuel drum ready for next week. Again the whole village came to see what was going on, but in a more controlled manner! The missionaries there came prepared with a rope that everyone had to hold and stand behind (although the goats weren't so well behaved and did run across the runway as we were approaching).

On the way back we practised an instrument approach at N'Djamena as one of the biggest challenges of flying in Chad is low visibility due to dust. It was great to be up in the air again and it was good to combine the training with a delivery of fuel and food.

Crowd control at Tchaguine

Finally get to fly a MAF plane again!

Spot the plane!