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Darlene flying!!!
Darlene flying!!!
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Description: Hi all!!!

I hope everything is going well for you wherever you are!

Here are some news from Mbandaka where I am based now! This is in Democratic Republic of Congo - Africa. Mbandaka is a huge village of 500 000 people located exactly on the equator line. So it happens to be pretty hot and humid... The temperature reaches 30°c or 35°c every day. The rain season has started a few weeks ago for us so we get quite a bit of rain and thunderstorms.

People here are really poor! The average income is 1$/day. So they don't have much to live on.There is almost no economy and most of people don't have a job. Mbandaka is like a ruin : no electricity, no running water, really bad roads. The all country is suffering from several years of civil war, dictatorship and few decades of Belgium colonization. The first democratic elections since 40 years are happening now... This process brings a lot of hope to the population but it also creates a lot of trouble... Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a pretty dangerous place where people don't hesitate to use guns to fight. A few weeks ago a rocket destroyed the vice president house... We fly to Kinshasa once a week and we can feel that the atmosphere is a bit tensed sometimes... The other day we spent the night in Kinshasa. We slept in a nice hotel... But a detail took my attention : the front wall had some bullet impacts and the curtain in the lobby had a burned hole in it... A bullet landed in the lobby a few week before. 23 people were killed that day...

The company I work for ("Aviation Sans Frontières" = ASF = Wings without borders) is specialized in the Humanitarian Aid. We are under contract with the United Nations. They give us a certain amount of money to operate the plane and then we offer to carry people and/or freight for free. The contract is 75h/month. We flew 110h in September! Our customers are only other NGO's (Non Governmental Organizations). We carry drinkable water, medicaments, medical supply, school supply, crop for "farmers"... So it is very diversified! The needs here are so huge that the demand is very strong. The country is pretty large, there is no road, no railway. People use pirogies on the Congo river for their transportation. Conditions are just horrible on those embarkations and it lasts forever to get to the destination. Lots of diseases, sink and mercenaries...

We are almost the only ones to operate in this part of the country. Airserv and MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship), 2 other humanitarian companies, are more in the east side of DRC. ASF has only one Caravan and I am the only captain (operated 2 crews) for the next few months. It guaranties me a reasonable amount of hours! This plane is really nice to fly. Most of the time we commute between our base and remote communities lost in the jungle... It is real bush flying. We land on gravel or grass strips... Local people crossing the runway as we are taking off... It's awesome!!!

Everything is logged as IFR. But there is not a single radionav aid in service... The ATC service is more like a good entertainment than a real service... They are just useless and hopeless! The other day, the controller in Kinshasa asked me over the radio to bring him back some fish from Mbandaka (famous for the fish)... We were taxiing to position for take off and waiting for the "IFR clearance"... It's like this everyday : a big joke! There is also no weather forecast for the all country... We just go on the Internet in the morning to check the satellite picture. It is the best weather forecast we can get... We have to be careful though because the thunderstorms can be huge here.

The most disappointing aspect is the attitude of certain people. The only thing they think could be translated like this : "white people with a plane = $$$". They don't care at all about our humanitarian mission. The only thing they want is our $$$. The corruption here is huge!!! And they have a lot of imagination to find some reasons to fine us... They check plane's documents, our licences, all the authorizations, immigration paperwork... Sometimes we just loose patience with those people because most of the time they don't know what they are talking about. They don't understand we are trying to help their community and we don't have time to waste with this bull$%&£!!! The situation is pretty tensed sometimes but usually when we take off we are the best friends in the world... It's Africa! A bit tiring...

We have also very good times. Especially when we land in remote communities. It happens the whole village comes to the airfield to see the plane. People are very curious about us and our metal bird!!! A few weeks ago we went for a walk in a small village : some very young children were terrified to see white people... I think it was the first time for them... It's pretty difficult to communicate with local people as they don't speak a very good french or no french at all...

So... I am very happy with my situation! It's a great experience so far! I think I will be happy to come back to the "civilized world" after 6 months here though. I am planning to be back in Canada for the end of february!!!

Take care, fly safe and see you soon!

Date: 11.10.2006 23:19
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