|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|
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|
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.
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.