Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Lesotho Driving

I reverse our vehicle out of the driveway. Since I can't hear any sirens, I feel fairly certain that the Prime Minister's high speed motorcade will not T-Bone me on the way to his residence down the street. As I pull into the left lane, I think "driver in the middle" of my right-hand drive vehicle. While accelerating down the road, I see a cow basking on the centerline. I carefully pull around the cow as several other cattle and the attending shepherd disinterestedly watch.
Oh Look, a cow in the road!
A few turns later, I have to slow down for a humped zebra. Fortunately, it's daytime so it's easy to see and my windscreen is clean. At night on unfamiliar roads, faded paint and a humped zebra have conspired together to give us a real jolt! 

No, it's not a camel crossed with a zebra
As I turn onto the main road, I narrowly miss a collision with a four-plus-one whose driver is not using his indicator. Continuing downtown, I come to the first robot and see that only the yellow is working. Ho Joalo, as they say. Then I see that a dump truck is crossing traffic. Now it doesn't matter what the robot says; size governs right of way. I slow to allow him to pass. Continuing toward my destination, I pull into the turn lane next to a twisted and broken light post and await an opening to turn across oncoming traffic. A four plus one behind me hoots, then pulls around and turns across the turn lane in the opposite direction as the faded arrow in the turn lane. Another spots a fare and reverses toward me, stopping just before I'm hit. 
On the left, A four plus one - they cause a lot of accidents as they vie for fares, but they are the main mode of transportation for thousands of people here. On the right, a taxibus.
There seems to be a slowdown ahead. A few minutes later I come upon the problem: a broken down dump truck is having major engine work done in the middle of the lane and people going around have to wait for oncoming traffic. Everyone is calm about it and the drivers automatically fall into a routine of letting a few cars through in each direction in turn, signaling one another by flashing their headlights. After passing the impromptu garage, I begin to accelerate but ahead of me I see the dreaded "L" of a learner, who are drivers who are under instruction and seem to never exceed 15 mph. After overtaking him, I decide to drive approximately the speed limit. I glance in my righthand mirror and see the red X plate of a government bakkie, which is overtaking at nearly twice the posted speed signs. In the distance is a woman with a baby waiting to cross the street. I begin the slow but then remember that here, cars (in order of size) have the right of way and that due to other vehicles, it is actually more dangerous to the pedestrians if I stop to allow them to cross. 
It's pretty common to see horses or donkeys even on main streets
I am now at the main traffic circle. Two lanes, sometimes three, sometimes a dance, sometimes a battle, as drivers vie for the circle's 5 entries and exits. Now another slowdown. A police checkpoint! I ready my license to display for the officer. I greet him in my best Sesotho, confident that my vehicle will pass any inspection they have. He smiles at my efforts, then quickly looks at my data dot and hands my license to me, waving me on. I pass several detained four plus ones with the police questioning their drivers. Most of the time they are not being detained for traffic violations. They are being detained for improper papers, licensing or having a taillight out. One of the drivers is doing pushups on the sidewalk at the direction of the policeman. He doesn't have enough money for the fine. 

This is a well-traveled road. Most roads that are not paved in Lesotho look like this. Some are even rougher
Reaching the turnoff to our church, I slow to a crawl as I leave the paved road and enter the unpaved paths that serve as roads for most of Lesotho.  I carefully maneuver around a bathtub-sized hole and then climb over a section of cantaloupe-size rocks, grateful for my high-clearance vehicle. We have arrived safe and sound; we can be thankful for God's providential protection. And we didn't even need to go to a panel beater!

Bodywork, anyone? Just beat it into submission
This story of course was a dramatization of many unusual driving experiences packed into one trip, but all of them have happened to us at one point.  Most of them happen in any week's driving. At first, this driving experience was very stressful for both of us. But with time, we have become used to it, and mostly at peace with it. At first I raged against the lack of rules and enforcement, but when I accepted that the drivers here operate on a different set of rules, I began to adapt. Some days I still get upset about the person who runs out of petrol and parks his disabled vehicle in the middle of the lane, causing a traffic jam. But then I remind myself that efficient use of time is not an important value here, and that he is probably not an inconsiderate person - he has just not been educated on how to pull over. It is important in those moments to remember that we are not here to bring the Autobahn. We are here to share the love and life of Jesus with people who live in deep need of it. Perhaps the road conditions will not improve, but if they do it will be because of the life of Jesus flowing from the drivers who put others before self as He did. In the meantime, whether we are at work or just driving to work, we are here to follow in His footsteps. 
We are blessed to have this vehicle. It has high clearance for taking the unpaved roads in Lesotho. Its size and the bull bar on the front forces the four plus one drivers to give us some space and respect

Reverse - Back up
Humped Zebra (Humped Zebra Crossing) - Speed bump / crosswalk
Robot - Traffic Light
Four-Plus-One - A taxicab, usually a compact car such as a Corolla or Honda Fit that theoretically fits four plus a driver (often has more people in it)
Indicator - Turn Signal
Ho Joalo - That's how it is.
Hoot / Hooter - To honk the car's horn, the car's horn
Garage - Mechanic shop, also a petrol ("gas") station
Overtake - Pass
Bakkie - Pickup truck
Data Dot - A paper that is displayed on your windscreen in addition to your license plate to show you've paid the registration fees for the year (similar to tabs on US license plates)
Windscreen  - windshield
Panel Beater - Body Shop

Petrol - Gasoline ("gas" is propane)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Day in The Life

Monday, October 15, 5:45 am. My alarm rings. As I rejoin the conscious world, I realize that I had been dreaming about the airport windsock winch attachment project which has been consuming my working days at the MAF Lesotho hangar for nearly two weeks. Several prototypes had failed but last Friday I had finished another prototype.  Alas, there wasn't enough time in the day to test the unit at the Mejametalana Airport windsock on Friday afternoon, so I had to wonder all weekend if this latest version would also turn to a steel pretzel under the strain of lowering and raising the massive windsock pole. Today will tell!

Heading off to work
As a recently-arrived MAF pilot/mechanic in Lesotho, I spent my first 3 months in Lesotho working (along with Karen) on learning the Sesotho language, while juggling the many details of moving into a new house, buying a vehicle, furnishing the house and starting a new job - all in a new culture. Having acquired a thin grasp of Sesotho, I will spend the next 3 months working at the MAF hangar at Mejametalana Airport as I work toward my checkouts for both flight and maintenance. Maintenance training is up first, but since there is only one maintenance trainer who is also a pilot and manager, some days I have been assigned project work. Our pilots have been risking their lives for years lowering the huge windsock poles at our remote airstrips when the windsocks have been destroyed by the wind. I have been assigned the project of reducing the complexity and danger of lowering these poles. I love problem solving and increasing efficiency, so this project is right up my alley. While I'm working my 8-5 job, Karen will juggle her role as a mom with coordinating a class on Sesotho with a local language helper. Several other missionary women in Maseru join several times a week to sharpen their Sesotho. It is important to our family to be able to talk to people here in their heart language.   

6:15 AM I have finished making coffee and I sit down to listen to Daily Audio Bible.  I take a few sips of coffee and start to listen to the narrator read from one of the Gospels.  Then I hear Tim calling: "mommy, daddy?" So that Karen can get a few extra minutes of sleep, I go and get him. He starts saying "phone, cars, tractors." It seems he is addicted to daddy's phone because daddy shows him videos of cars and tractors. He is obsessed with anything with wheels. Where does he get it? Of course I give in and show him a few videos on YouTube. He tries to sing along to the ABC Cars video.  Racked with guilt at the destruction of his mental development caused by exposure to videos, I put away the phone and read him a book.  

Grace Reading to Tim

6:45 am I am almost finished with the premade breakfast Karen prepeares for me in advance each week (chicken sausage and homemade bagel).  Meanwhile, Karen is getting Grace out of bed so she can be ready to go to school at 7:30. There is no bus service so Karen will be driving her. Grace has just finished reading her 10th book and will have her name on a leaf of the "reading tree" that is posted in her Kindergarten class at the American International School of Lesotho. Today is not a PE day so she's excited to go. 

7:15 am I arrive at the hangar not too sweaty; I rode the 2.5 miles on my bike slowly enough to stay cool. Since I am stoked about my windsock project, I begin to gather the equipment so a helper and I can take it out to try it.  First, though, we have MAF hangar prayer as we do each day. The whole staff gathers as we pray for the day. Pilot Bryan is missing; he has departed already on a scheduled flight to drop off a patient at one place and then pick up several people at two other airstrips.  Another person who is out today is our flight follower. Since I was recently trained to do this, I volunteer to fill this role. The flight follower is an important safety feature of an MAF flight program. Before and after every takeoff and landing and while enroute, the pilot checks in with the flight follower to tell about destination, passengers, route and intentions. If an emergency occurs, this information can speed our response exponentially, which could save lives.  If a code one (medical evacuation flight) comes in, the flight follower informs the pilot and coordinates the response. In addition, the flight follower reduces the workload of the pilot by coordinating things like passenger arrivals and ambulances.

8:04 am I receive a picture message (hey it's the 21st century even here) from Pilot Bryan that shows the airstrip at his first destination. Or where the airstrip would be if it were not
Uh oh, can't land here
completely obscured by ground fog.  The next message is that he was going to his next destination. I write down the information on the flight following log. I receive the message that he's on the ground at his alternate airport. Then he texts me and asks me to use our dispatch software to see if he will need more fuel if he flies on and picks up another passenger while waiting for the weather to clear at his original destination. Bryan and our dispatch agent and I work through several scenarios and decide that due to payload limitations, he has to just wait for the weather to clear at the original destination. We call the clinic at the original destination and find out that the clouds have cleared away. 

8:50 am Bryan informs me he has a problem with the airplane; when he prepared to start the engine he discovered his auxiliary electric fuel pump was not working. I check with our head mechanic as Bryan (who is a mechanic as well as a pilot) begins to troubleshoot the problem. He almost immediately finds the problem; a broken wire needs to be soldered back on. Meanwhile, back at the hangar, the mechanics are working hard to get another airplane out of its maintenance condition so that it can be used to go help Bryan fix his airplane. 

Ah, there's the Problem!

10:30 am Our hangar mechanics suggest that I go out and help Bryan. The second airplane needed some additional adjustments after its return to service flight and they are busy working on that issue. I gather together a set of tools to take with us. This includes a gasoline powered generator to run the soldering iron to solder the wire. I test the generator and iron and double check that we have everything that we could need. The head hangar mechanic and I go over the maintenance manual and discuss the procedure for adjusting the settings after we install the repaired part. I load my tools and lunch into the airplane.  Since I'm going out, Pilot Grant agrees to take over flight following. Right now there's nothing to do but once Bryan's airplane is fixed, he will be following two flights. One of the mechanics buys a deep fried sheep leg from a street vendor and munches it while he works. I take a photo to show to Grace so she can be grossed out.  

12:00 pm The food that was ordered for the passenger and for Bryan has arrived. I begin to wonder if I will have time to test the windsock tool, but the answer from the mechanics working on the second airplane is "we'll be done really soon." Pilot Jason and I wait anxiously. A code one call comes in. The second airplane will take that call when it is ready. The pressure to get things moving mounts. But rushing things in aviation is a recipe for disaster. We purposefully avoid talking to the mechanics; we let them do their jobs and try not to push them. I sneak over to the plane and get my lunch out and eat it. I talk Bryan out of taking a taxi home.  We discuss if I should drive 3 hours to take the repair kit. But then it would be 3 hours back too! The bosses tell us to wait it out and the plane will be ready.

Pilot Jason and a Guy in a T-Shirt
1:30 pm Pilot Jason runs the airplane on the ground and it works fine. We are ready to go! I warm up the lunch for Bryan and his patient passenger. They left at 7. By the time we get there, they will have been waiting about 7 hours! As we take off, Pilot Jason has me check the accuracy of the tachometer, and it's right on. The airplane runs perfectly. In a few minutes we are flying over the rugged mountains of Lesotho. I get to take the controls for a while. It's good to get used to the airplane and study the terrain. Soon I will be flying passengers on these same routes.  

2:30 pm Pilot Jason touches down at the airstrip where Bryan is stranded. We park next to Bryan's plane.  The airstrip attendant and several other Basotho run up and take pictures of the unusual sight of two MAF planes and several pilots together. I greet them in the formal greetings as I unload the equipment and lunches. While Bryan eats and I set up equipment, Jason loads the passenger from Bryan's plane to take her to the original destination that had been fogged in. He will be back in less than an hour to pick up me and the tools.

Pilot (Mechanic) Bryan Fixin it!
Me Fixin it!

3:30 pm Bryan and I finish the repair as Jason's airplane appears overhead. I load the tools into Jason's airplane and Bryan departs just ahead of us to continue his passenger pickups from earlier in the day. Jason and I will be picking up a non emergency medical patient and the code one from earlier. We find out that an additional code one has been called in. It will be a busy afternoon. I text Karen and tell her that we may be in late and that she should come to the airport to pick me up about 6 so we can go on our date night.

4:00 pm We arrive at the first airstrip to pick up the medical patient. He is not at the airstrip when we touch down, so I run down the airstrip to check the windsock pole construction while pilot Jason waits for the patient. I get a few photos for later study and on the way back up the airstrip I exchange greetings with a couple of shepherds. It is more difficult to understand them and more difficult for them to understand me than it is in speaking to our Basotho staff at the MAF hangar. They bua butle (speak slowly) to help me. At an altitude over 7500 ft above sea level, I am gasping a bit as I arrive back at the airplane. The patient is loaded and we are ready to go.

Basotho Shepherd

4:40 pm We arrive at the airstrip at the regional hospital and find a group of perhaps 10 people surrounding two patients in rough shape. One has been a stabbed in the abdomen and the other has a broken leg that appears to be infected. Because of their serious conditions, the regional hospital has elected to send the men to the big hospital in Maseru using our airplane.  The stabbed man is on a pad but there is no stretcher. As happens often, communication was inadequate and we were told that we did not need to bring a stretcher. You have to make do, though. We have a loading conundrum too, with an entirely full airplane. Jason and I work together to remove two seats and stow them in the baggage area. Then Jason and I load the man with the broken leg into a seat, being careful not to put strain on his leg. Next, we load the stab wound victim along with his pad, putting a tarp under him in case he was "leaking" as Jason put it. He is secured with what we affectionately call "the spider," a strap that holds him to the floor should we experience any turbulence. Finally, our medical patient from the first stop was strapped into the remaining seat. 

Pilot Jason Loading Code 1 Patients

5:15 pm After half an hour of loading we are ready to go again! I text Grant, who is still flight following, "2+3, Estimating 1803, 105, Fuel 132 liters."  Which means, we have 2 pilots and 3 passengers, we estimate our arrival in Maseru to be 6:03 pm, flying at 10,500 ft, we have 132 liters of fuel on board. As we fly toward Maseru, Grant is making sure an ambulance is ready. I also text Karen that we are enroute and on time for her to pick me up.

6:05 pm We have arrived Maseru and begin the process of transferring the patients to the waiting ambulance. Next, the airplane is refueled for the flight the following morning and put away in the hangar. I remove my tools. Grant sets aside his flight following role and becomes an aircraft fueler and pusher.

6:15 pm My date finally finishes her fight with rush hour traffic and picks me up. We head for a little hole in the wall café that we have heard about in the industrial area. It is as awesome as we have heard. When we got home, the kids were asleep and the babysitter was on the couch.

What a day. It was a privilege to be part of a great team that works together to make a difference in the lives of Basotho. No one was a hero. No one needed to be because everyone pulled together. We have a team, that includes Basotho, Americans and a South African, that is like-minded in bringing to bear our collective professional skills to achieve the goal of carrying hope and help to isolated and suffering people in the name of Jesus. I am thankful that God has given me the privilege of serving on this team. Our family is overwhelmed at the generosity of our supporters who make it possible for us to serve here in Lesotho. Thank you!

Oh, I suppose you're wondering about the windsock tool? Yes, Grant and I tried it the next day. It worked, and the sound it makes is very satisfying.


Friday, June 22, 2018

Hotel to House in only 46 hours

Tuesday, June 12, 9:30 am.  Our last breakfast in the USA with our parents was complete. All 13 checked bags had been weighed and re-weighed; each was just under the 23 kg limit. Our 4 large carry-on bags were packed and pretty close to the 8 kg maximum. Personal carry-on bags full of child entertainment items? Check.  Time to load all of it into Grandpa Jay's pickup for the drive from our hotel to the Seattle Airport. By 10:30 we were unloading and checking bags at the Lufthansa counter. Grandmas Holly and Janet kept an eye on the kids as we processed the totes and bags holding almost everything we own.
Our Checked Luggage is Loaded!
Breakfast Hugs!
 All the activity of the morning had kept our minds from the inevitable final goodbyes. Now with only our carry-on items we lingered at the entry to the secure area to take some photos with our parents and have our last hugs. Now it's real. We are going to Africa! 

Bye Grandpa Scott!

Bye Grandpa Jay!

Bye Mom
Bye Grandma Janet

Grandma hugs are the Best!

Grace's New Friend
Of all of us, Grace seems to be the most excited. She sits down at the gate and immediately makes friends with a family from Montana who is on our flight and bound for Paris.  She is delighted when she finds out that the mom's name is Karen!

Tuesday, June 12, 1:30 pm. We board the plane and are ushered to our seats. Now here is a pleasant surprise! We had extra room  in our row that allowed us to stand up in our row and to let the kids walk around.  Karen had called the airline a few weeks prior to request a child bassinet for Tim, but was denied. Since she could not have the bassinet, she asked the agent if she could do anything for us. The agent told us she would give us seats with extra room. We did not realize how much room this afforded us. Truly it was God's blessing to have all this space for our kids on our flights.
Look at all that legroom. We were able to play with the kids on the floor!

All Ready to Go

Wednesday, June 13, 8:30 am, Frankfurt. After 10 hours of flying and losing 9 hours to time zone change, we disembarked from our aircraft and cleared customs. As planned, we had a long layover to sleep before our flight to Johannesburg. We feel pretty disoriented as we wander through the huge Frankfurt airport, but we do manage to stop for some German soft pretzels. Grace and Tim devour them as we make our way onward to the in-airport day room.  Too bad we only have 3 of our 4 carry on bags as we leave the shop.  Who needs that pesky roller bag when there are pretzels to eat?
Wednesday, June 13, 6:00 pm. Good thing we got some sleep, because as we gather our bags to check out of our room, we finally realize that our bag is missing. We are certain that we left the bag at the pretzel stand, so we retrace our steps as best we can in our jet-lagged state. It's a race against time because our flight is at 10 and we need to re-clear customs, get through security and get to our gate by boarding time.  At last we find the pretzel stand. The girl behind the counter texts her co-workers and they tell her that that the police took the bag a few hours earlier. There's hope! Off to the lost-and-found. Too bad it closed at 6 pm. We find a friendly policeman and ask him for help. He finds no trace.  Well, time is up; we have to get to our flight. We are again blessed with the row with extra space. 

He's finally asleep and Mom can rest

Sunrise over Africa

We are really in Africa!
Thursday, June 14, 8:30 am, Johannesburg. Our second 10-hour flight is complete and we are in Africa! We are able to text our MAF program manager, Matt, about our arrival. He is waiting for us just outside of baggage claim. All of our baggage is waiting for us and nothing appears to be damaged.  The porters help us load it all onto several carts.  As we pass through customs, the agent beckons us over to the X-ray machine, but as advised, I tell the agent that we are going to Maseru and we have only personal items.  He waves us on. Thank you, Lord! With the help of our awesome porters and Matt we navigate half a dozen elevator rides on the way to the MAF van. Only one more leg on the journey remains; the drive to Maseru. We begin the journey south with Matt and Carolyn.  Why is Matt driving on the wrong side of the road?? After a few miles kilometers, the kids fall asleep. The scenery reminds us a little of Central Washington State, except that we see a wildebeest and an ostrich.   
No, You are not looking in a mirror- Right hand drive cars and left side driving are the thing.

Matt, our Program Manager and Awesome Driver
Thursday, June 14, 4:00 pm, Maseru. Matt tells us that the mountains we see in the distance are Lesotho, and a few kilometers later we see the sign for Maseru.  We have arrived at the border! Out come the passports and birth certificates. The kids are not happy to be awakened. Matt begins to whoop with delight when he sees that the line at the border is only 2 cars long; the best he has seen in months.  We try to say lumela, ntate (a respectful greeting to an older man) to the border agent. He says all kinds of words back and then tells us hello and welcome in English when he sees our blank expressions. After 5 minutes of driving through Maseru, we arrive at our house. Most of our MAF team is there to welcome us and help us carry in our luggage. A fire is burning in our coal stove. Bryan and Mari make us dinner, do our dishes, and then depart. Beds and furniture have been loaned to us. All we have to do is collapse into bed. Tomorrow we will unpack and begin our life here. 

Border Crossing into the Kingdom in the Sky.
Total trip time from HOTEL to HOME: approximately 46 hours. 
Thanks to all of you for your all your kind messages over that past few weeks. Above all. thank you for your prayers. The trip went so well; we praise and thank God for overseeing that. We have been supremely welcomed and blessed by our team here in Lesotho. We look forward to working with the team to bring the love and hope of Jesus as we together serve the people of Lesotho.

PS: After just over a week here we are doing great; Joe is driving, Karen has been shopping several times, and we are almost fully unpacked.  We had a visit to the MAF hangar where we were introduced to our team. Jet lag is mostly gone and the kids are sleeping normally. We have begun language training. Recently we tried authentic local food and loved it. Oh, and the bag left in Frankfurt? We are still chasing it down.  Stay tuned for more details.