Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mobile Medevac

Why is it always Friday afternoon when you get the call for an urgent flight? Why can't people be sick on a Monday morning?! This time one of the mobile phone companies has a sick worker at a cell tower site, isolated on the top of one of the many mountains in PNG. It was too late to be able to collect him that day as, apart from anything else, the site was already shrouded in cloud. 

So, early Saturday morning I prepared to collect him. Despite the early start, the weather was already not looking too promising as I approached the site.


But thankfully appearances can be deceptive - the cloud was sitting in front of the hill, so the site itself was clear.


I was grateful to have recently completed my refresher mountain training, as the site was at just under 8000 ft - our company limit for normal mountain ops. And also because, whilst they clear sufficient space to land, it's not exactly generous.

The landing site is to the left of the tower

There's enough space for the skids, plus a bit to be able to squeeze from one side of the helicopter to the other - what more could I want?!

At least I don't have to worry about anyone walking into the tail rotor!
The rest of the flight was thankfully simple - load the passengers and head back to base. I believe the sick guy was fine.

I really take my hat off to the guys who re-supply these places with loads slung 200 ft or more under the helicopter - that's some tricky flying!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tapini

Papua New Guinea is an amazingly beautiful place. Every time I think I must have seen the most stunning part of it, a new sight mesmerises me.

We went to Tapini to move building materials for a classroom and aid post, provided by a charitable foundation, into a remote village.  Thankfully it wasn't all work and we got a chance to explore some of the surrounding sights.

Tapini sits on a small plateau, surrounded by mountains.

Tapini
 We were mostly slinging various external loads: steel, timber, cement...

Lifting a timber load
 Between each load we re-fuelled from drums driven up by truck.


This video shows one of my colleagues taking-off after a re-fuel and lifting a load of cement and concrete flooring.

video

The destination is Kerau, a village at 7000' (4000' higher than Tapini). It is an interesting mix of old colonial housing and traditional bush buildings.

In this clip you can see the distinctly foreign constructions, the materials which have already been transported laid out and the open area we were dropping them off in.

video

Along the ridge from there are some homes made from more readily-available materials.

Part of Kerau village
 When we weren't moving materials, we had a chance to go on a couple of walks to investigate the village amenities and a waterfall we had seen from the helicopter on our flight in.


Waterfall, hydro plant and water source

The village has a reliable power supply from a small hydro-power turbine. It's amazing how thankful you can be for being able to easily do simple things like cook and wash after dark!

 Just outside the village, the stream is coarsely filtered, before part of it enters a pipe and flows down to this building.

The generator hut (and our guide)
 Inside are the turbine and generator


 Above the village is another area where a stream is coarsely filtered and piped - this time providing fresh drinking water to the houses.


The water source (with another guide)

But the highlight of the trip has to have been the waterfall!

The beautiful waterfall (with one of the SIL loaders who went to help rig the sling loads)
 Even the flight home afforded some great views:


All the classroom and aid post building materials ready to be put together

The valley leading up to a ridge we needed to cross at around 10,000'

Lake Wanum near Lae

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Contrasting Chronicles Part II



0800 - We start the workday with a brief prayer time. Today we particularly remember one of our colleagues who was seriously injured in a motorbike accident two days ago.

0810 - Fire up the computer and see what the email has brought for today.

0815 - I get 2 phone calls: one from Trudie saying the Reuben was not exactly overjoyed to be left in daycare [he was fine after 5 minutes], and the other from a colleague saying he's going to be late into work as it's the primary school's sports' day, so he's going to be there supporting his son.

0820 - Taking care of our fuel caches around the country is one of my office jobs. I try to follow-up on a shipment I'm trying to get on a vessel today. The fuel company isn't answering the phone so I email the shipper to see if the fuel drums have arrived, and to check on payment for the shipping. The ship has been delayed, so at least I have some more time, now. Trying to call the fuel company becomes a recurring part of my morning.

0835 - We are no longer in need of one fuel cache we have. Thankfully we've used all but 1 drum there, but follow-up on selling that drum to another mission.

0845 - Follow-up is turning into a big part of my morning. A nearby company has agreed to lend us an aircraft seat whilst one of ours is sent off for repairs, so check to see if they've managed to identify a seat we can borrow yet.

0850 - The same company have agreed to provide us with some training whilst our own trainer is out of the country. I check-in to see how arrangements for that are going.

0855 - We have had an email from a church team coming to PNG, to see if we'd be willing to offer them helicopter support should they get into difficulty. I put my thoughts down and forward them to the chief pilot.

0910 - We are trying to expand the commercial flying we do with the helicopter, so as to generate income to support the translation work. We expect sling loads to form a significant part of that, so I look into getting one of our ground personnel some training in the preparation of sling loads. We have a job next week that will be really good exposure for him, so I start to see if we can have everything in place for him to be able to come along.

1000 - Break time. Malolo - relax.

1015 - Look at a request to take an MAF pilot into an airstrip with the helicopter, so he can evaluate if it's safe to take an aeroplane into. We have a flight going that way it might fit into, but it will make it a long day.

1035 - Speak to the person we are considering for the sling load training, to check they're interested. Then check with their supervisor that they're ok with us borrowing the individual for a couple of days next week.

1050 - Someone we're collecting from the village next week has emailed to say they're expecting a package to come on the flight out. Go to look for it - it's not arrived. Email them to let them know. When looking for that package, I notice a box for a translation team Trudie and I are the support team for. Email them to see what they want done with it.

1105 - In order to be able to train the ground crew for sling loads, the pilot who will be working on the cargo with them needs to have that authorisation renewed. In order to renew that I need to get authorised to give training in that area. So, I get the Principles of Instruction module and start reading. Something I'll come back to throughout the rest of the day.

1130 - I need a break from reading so check the email again. It seems that I couldn't get through to the fuel company because they're on strike. As they provide most of our fuel around the country I take a preliminary look at how that might affect upcoming flights and the fuel caches we have.

1200 - Lunch. Jump on the bus home.

1300 - The missing package for the village was found over lunch; pass the news on. Continue reading about instruction.

1335 - I complete the sale of our excess drum of fuel to the other mission. Cross it off the 'To do' list.

1355 - Fill in some applications for time off. One for time I get in lieu of a night I was away from home, and a day off for Trudie's birthday.

1415 - Try to enhance the Search Engine Optimisation of the website I recently developed for the department (shameless plug - www.silaviation.org). I find the address for the sitemap and upload it into Google's webmaster tools. I also email a few colleagues to see it they will link websites they control to our new one.

1500 - Break. Sit, chat and eat passion fruit.

1515 - Back to reading.

1545 - Finish the initial 'read through' and email our training manager to see what the next step is.

1630 - We try to keep the fuel drums in our caches off the ground to reduce the rusting they experience. So I go to look for some suitable wood to take out to a site where I noticed the wood was pretty rotten last time I went through.

1700 - Home for the weekend. Tonight the teens are serving burgers as a work experience / income generating / community service opportunity; one not to miss.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Contrasting Chronicles Part I



I thought I would find it interesting to chronicle a couple of my days at work, to contrast the difference between when I fly and when I don't. I have to say, though, that the flying day is not exactly my average outing!



Our Kodiak & helicopter fleet

09 October 2014
0545: Arrive at work. I should have been in earlier, but I should be ready as I spent yesterday preparing for this flight and if I arrive too early then I risk exceeding the 12 hour duty limit if there are any delays. 

The loading is complicated - split over 3 aircraft, so I go over its division with the loaders, who'll also weigh and prepare it.  Cargo that was dropped off yesterday is loaded into the helicopter whilst it is still in the hanger.


When it gets light, I start checking the weather on the couple of web-cams that cover my route. I need to decide whether to track more-or-less direct to my first destination, or take the longer but more likely to succeed coastal route. The critical area isn't visible, so I decide to think about it for a while, hopeful that the Kodiak will get airborne first and then I can ask them for weather. A report over the radio from the destination says that conditions are good there. So at least I know that if I can get there, I can land.


Go to chat to the Kodiak pilot. He's sick - a replacement  pilot will be on their way in soon. So much for asking the Kodiak ahead of me for weather! Our home airstrip is currently sitting in fog, so everything's going to be delayed! Go and pass on the 'good news' to the passengers.


Push the helicopter outside and load the rest of the baggage so we'll be ready when the weather clears up.


Look at more weather information to try and decide which route to take. I need more fuel to be able to take the longer route, but if I take extra fuel and then can route direct I'll arrive too heavy to be able to carry my cargo for the next leg. Text a friend who lives in that area to see what he can see, but no reply. The edge of Australian weather radar shows a fair amount of cloud around where I need to cross a 7200 foot high 'gap' in the mountains, so I decide to take more fuel.


The replacement Kodiak pilot is nearly ready to go and the fog is lifting, so I load my passengers and start up.                         


 
Leg 1


0736: Get airborne. I am 35 minutes late, but couldn't be helped, given the weather. A few minutes later the Kodiak gets airborne, too. Just as well, as I need them to overtake me and drop my cargo for the next leg at my current destination! Thankfully they go quite a bit faster and are able to go direct, through the weather, rather than going around it like I expect to.


The weather isn't quite as good as I'd hoped. I have to follow the 'low route' out into the main valley, and even there I have to be wary to keep clear of cloud, both vertically and horizontally. I look towards the more direct track - it is totally obscured by rain and cloud; I am glad I've taken the extra fuel.

I'm now in controlled airspace and have an aircraft taking-off towards me. Eyes peeled to make sure I don't get an unpleasant surprise from a medium-size jet appearing out of one of the clouds around me!

I am getting pushed lower and lower. I cross overhead the airport to the south-side of the valley so I can follow a river. Having taken off at 5100', I am now down at 300' peering through the rain to avoid the birds and find the coast. My passengers had expressed an intent to sleep on this flight. It would seem they have changed their minds!

The corner looms up and I turn south. One of the webcams had shown that things should improve down the coast, but no sign of that yet.

A few minutes later the coast is still shrouded in rain and cloud, but up to my right the mountain tops are clear with blue sky visible beyond. I contact the Kodiak, which is now ahead of me, to check the weather there. I decide to cut inland to investigate. I am fortunate - after a bit of climbing and weaving to find the best route through, the cloud allows me pass over the ridge and down into the valley beyond.
  
Our first stop
0907: Gratefully, we arrive at stop number 1. The Kodiak is still on the ground, but thankfully has offloaded its cargo which enthusiastic locals are carrying up into the village. I land in the village to collect it and have a chat with the guys who have been storing cargo which was dropped-off for us yesterday. They agree to have it, and a fuel drum, out and ready for my return as I need to fly this leg twice to be able to carry everything.


Leg 2

0920: Depart my first stop and head out towards the coast. Thankfully the weather isn't as bad as it was further north, but I still have my fair share of cloud to work around and under.

Shortly after taking off I get a message that the delays with our initial departure mean the plan needs to change, or the second aircraft I am to meet won't finish before dark. They want to drop my second trip to the village I am going to until the next day. I have a quick think about the fuel implications and check with my passengers (whose stuff it is) and say that it is fine by us.

Our second stop
0947: Drop off my passengers and cargo. Part of their cargo is Scripture portions (a few books of the Bible) that they have just finished translating and had printed. There is a small celebration to welcome them.


Boxes with Scripture portions in

Leg 3

1016: Depart stop 2. Thankfully the weather is now much better and I can pretty much track direct.


1044: Land at stop 3. The Kodiak that dropped cargo at my last stop also brought some passengers and cargo for me to this airstrip. Unfortunately I can't carry it all on my next leg as it is too heavy (which was planned), so I leave some for the following aircraft to collect and bring to us later. I speak to them on the radio to ensure they know to bring the bags we left. They were a bit late leaving due to a maintenance problem, so I am able to take my time getting ready - nice in the heat and humidity of the lowlands.

After re-fuelling, we load up and go.


Leg 4

1142: Depart for our next village. Weather again is good, so apart from following the coast to avoid going too far out over the sea, we can go direct.


1212: Land to another small ceremony. The village translators have arranged for one of the doctors from our centre to visit for a week, so the villagers are honouring their guest's arrival. The doctor plans to have immunisation clinics, before doing as much General Practice as time and supplies permit.



video


Load my one remaining passenger for departure. As the Kodiak meeting me at my next stop is carrying Jet fuel, they are not allowed to take passengers as well, so I have to fly the passenger between our two meeting places.


Leg 5

1231: Take off to meet up with the Kodiak once more. I've not been to my destination before, so am interested to see it.







1244: Land and find some shade. It is going to be a while before the Kodiak arrives, so I relax and chat to my passenger.


Waiting

Having sat around, it is now time to move. We roll the fuel drums from the Kodiak up to the helicopter, set up our pump and start cranking the handle to put the fuel in the chopper. Whilst one person pumps, we roll up a second drum as one will not be sufficient for my next leg and return. Then we get the liferaft and life jackets ready as I am going to be crossing over to one of the islands.

Leg 6

1412: Depart on leg 6. As I have no passengers, I take the opportunity to try to do some fuel planning for the cargo run which was cancelled earlier and put into tomorrow. Where am I best to take fuel from and how much? How much fuel do we have where and how old is it?


The landing site cut out of the jungle
1509: Land to collect the translator. This is my first time into their helipad.


1520: Depart back to where I've come from. Chat a little to my passenger; the translator is leaving the village so that they can help another language group by checking some of the work they've done so far.

I call ahead to the shop near the airstrip - they are to bring out supplies for me to carry into my final destination for the day. I also text the waiting Kodiak to let them know when I will arrive. They too have goods to unload for me to take on.


1626: Land back with the Kodiak. I finish off the second drum of fuel and we load the empties into the plane. They take my passenger, I take their cargo and they head off. The van from the shop arrives and I load the goods onto the helicopter.


1709: Depart back to the village I left the doctor in. The doctor may only be staying a week, but the translators will be there a while longer, so I am taking them food and supplies.


video


1722: Land for the night. We unpack the cargo and I 'put the aircraft to bed' just in time to remain under my 12 hour duty limit.


Then it is our turn to eat and get ready for bed.


I slept under the translators' house

 
The full day

The following day I re-trace my steps, doing the cargo run I missed out and collect another translator from their language group along the way.
 
The following day's route

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I can't find Autumn




Sometimes I am at a loss about what to blog about and yet I feel the need – must blog, haven’t blogged for 6 weeks, must blog, must blog…and so here I am sat at the laptop on a sunny Friday morning. Reuben has just begun his morning nap and I am listening to the competing sounds of the bread machine, the washing machine and the birds singing outside.

My thoughts are a jumble. There are so many things I could write about and yet nothing seems big or important enough. I feel overwhelmed by small stuff, but I am not sure any of it is the stuff of blogs. I am momentarily put off, distracted by other things I could or should be doing, and yet…

Something I have started thinking about in the last few days is seasons. People are posting pictures of their children playing in piles of leaves, friends here talk of yearning for ‘fall’ days and trying to wear orange scarves even though it’s too hot for scarves, and it has gradually dawned on me that this is the first autumn we have missed. In 2012 we experienced ‘fall’ in the US when we drove along North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway in late October – the colours were incredible, burning themselves into my memory with their intensity. Last year, we were in the UK with new baby Reuben and I remember walking through a forest near our home with him sleeping on my chest in the baby carrier. This year, there are no visual changes in my environment that refresh memories or thrill with their vividness. And yet, the more I ponder, the more I see that there are ‘seasons’ here – some that are predictable , but most that are not.

We have noticed that the jacaranda trees bloom at this time of year. The centre is a patchwork of purples and they are truly beautiful. Indeed, we have just planted some where the much missed trees were in our garden. They are tiny now, but we hope that they will grow. You can buy mangoes again at the market and the kingfishers are in residence for a time. Other markers recently have been the end of the financial year (here, it is the end of September), so everything has been shut for stocktake. Worst of all, the store was shut for over a week, but the inconvenience of its closure has now been replaced by the relief of reopening and the reminder of how lucky we are to be able to access so much, so much of the time. It is easy to forget that we live 5,000 feet up in the mountains and expect things to be the same as they are in the UK.

The seasons I feel the most here are those that occur in relation to people. July is the main time people leave for furlough (a year in your home country) and everyone braces for a time of loss. But then new people arrive and the cycle begins again. But other exits are more unpredictable – people suddenly disappear for a whole host of reasons and suddenly a season has changed and you had no warning. It’s unsettling, confusing and occasionally frustrating, but it is just part of life here and being in this job. And then there is the constant hum of homesickness that unpredictably starts to buzz so that you can’t ignore it and makes you spend hours languishing on facebook, emailing and yearning for family. It stings, it subsides into the background, it stings, it subsides, it becomes like a season that I dread and yet desire.

On the home front it feels more like we are navigating milestones than seasons as Reuben grows and develops. He is really walking now and into everything. He is weaning, stacking rather than destroying, opening and closing doors, trying to talk, sharing, finding his ‘will’, waving, high-fiving, mimicking, making friends, wearing shoes, moving things, exploring and and and…surprising us with his energy, yet reminding us of his vulnerability. He is even experiencing some independence as I begin some teaching again in the next few weeks. He is very sociable so we hope that going to nursery regularly will be fun for him. But it’s definitely a season change for him and me. I am going to teach a short course on basic critical thinking skills to new Papua New Guinean Bible translators. I haven’t taught adults before, so no doubt it will be a steep learning curve.

I told you that my thoughts were a jumble, but here they are anyway. Now, I must hang out the laundry, finish dealing with today’s vegetable haul from the market and do some more lesson plans before Reuben wakes up. Tell autumn that we miss her.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The trees

On Friday morning, as I prepared our weekly fruit and vegetables for the fridge, I looked out of the kitchen window and contemplated an empty patch of sky I am not used to seeing. The thing is, our trees are gone and worse than that - we had them cut down. To me, cutting down trees is like burning books and so to say that it hurt to watch the trees fall, would be an understatement. But, the hard facts were that the trees were too tall and they couldn't just be topped without killing the trees anyway. A similar tree had fallen on a house in recent years and some were worried that that might happen again or that someone might be injured. People who know about trees said they needed to come down and so come down they have.

When our organisation moved to Ukarumpa 55 or so years ago, we planted trees in the valley that was just covered in kunai grass. Now, the centre is covered with trees and I am so glad, but they do get too tall...So we employed a team from our 'Construction and Maintenance' department to do the work and last Monday they arrived.

It is hard to find a picture that really communicates the height of these trees...
I watched in awe and quite a lot of fear, as Tama, the Papua New Guinean tree man, scaled the first tree (the one on the right) and began cutting off branches with an axe. Another man stayed on the ground and collected the branches after they fell.




As you can see from the pictures above, it is pretty precarious work, but amazingly skilled too. It was interesting to watch Tama prepare to go up the tree each time he had to re-ascend. He would approach almost reverently, stare up at the tree, take a few minutes and then finally begin the climb. Later, he told me that in the stillness before the ascent, he always prayed. Tama carefully created 'steps' for himself as he cut, and all his movements were very slow and considered. I hope he didn't mind me watching. 

Very soon, there was a very big pile of branches.

At the end of day one.
On day 2, work began on the middle tree. Half way up this tree, the trunk split into three separate trunks, so it presented some new challenges. At one point the man on the ground was holding a rope attached to the middle trunk and Tama was working on cutting it through. Unfortunately the wind blew in the wrong direction at the just the wrong moment and it fell towards the house, instead of away, as was intended. The man holding the rope fell on his face, but his actions saved the roof of our house. I happened to be outside videoing at the time. I dropped the camera in my surprise (fortunately, I was wearing the strap), but everyone was okay, if a little shocked.

The end of day 2.
After the excitements of day 2, it was decided that they would just cut the trees down without removing any further branches. So on day 3, 12 men arrived with chainsaws and more ropes and Reuben and I were asked to come out of the house so that we could watch from a safe distance. Tama climbed up each tree in turn to attach ropes and then all the guys held onto the rope to direct the fall of the trunk down the the road. Then he came down and whilst another man used his chainsaw, Tama used his axe to help as well. The three trees were safely felled and the trunks cut into 5 metre lengths and removed by a large digger, and all by lunch time! The ground shook as each tree fell, and friends all over Ukarumpa said they heard the noise as they hit the ground. It was sad, horrible and impressive all at the same time. When the first tree was about to fall, Reuben reached out his hand from the stroller to take mine. I don't know who was comforting who.






Tama and his axe.

Some of the team.

:(((

And so they are gone. I think there is a little more light in the kitchen. We might, perhaps, get more hot water because our solar panel won't be shaded at certain times of the day and we can plant something else. Suffice to say, we will miss the trees. Maybe I have read too many books about trees that talked and even walked. Maybe I have been too emotional about this, but I'll always wonder what they could have told me if they could talk...but now we can plant new trees and give them new stories to tell...

As I typed the paragraph above, Reuben took three steps towards me. HE TOOK THREE STEPS TOWARDS ME. I have my perspective back.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Losing my voice

When we first started blogging we had a particular audience in mind - people who didn't receive our prayer letter updates, but who wanted to follow our adventures in PNG. We imagined that only our friends would read it - people who knew us, our personalities, our senses of humour, our voices. We have both blogged from the different perspectives our different roles have given us and  tried hard to portray our lives here honestly.

Early on we realised that it wasn't just people we knew who were reading the blog. We were pleased and excitedly looked up the statistics page, enjoying how our readers seemed to be spread across the world. What I didn't do was think about how this would affect how I wrote and how it would affect how I would be understood. I didn't think about how our voices might change either, or the ears that might be hearing them. This is interesting because back in my university days, this is exactly the sort of thing I was fascinated by - I was excited by what happens to meaning when it is interpreted by someone else who has a different perspective. Now that we live and are heard in a cross-cultural community in the middle of a country with a very different culture to the one we knew, I often find it a struggle to feel understood, even by those with whom I share a language. 'Do you know what I mean?' is a question often on my mind and in my mouth. Most of the time I think I am blissfully ignorant to the oddities of how I sound to the people I meet. I assume understanding and when I realise I have been mistaken, it is hard. I have started to think that I don't know how to say what I mean out loud or through written words. I have been wondering if I have lost my voice. 

We love getting responses to our blogs, but some of the feedback I have received about the ones I have written has made me question myself because I have inadvertently implied things I didn't mean to. I have gone back and read over what I wrote to see how I could have given the impressions I have and am left confused. I can't hear my voice through all the different ears and make it say what I want it to, to them all. And so I have been silent. It's not as if what I am writing is particularly earth shatteringly exciting anyway - I seem to have been mostly concerned with laundry, washing-up liquid and cooking after all. So I have been wondering if it is better to stick to putting up photos of Reuben and the helicopter..

In the end it seems I can't resist having a go anyway and hoping it will be all right. I can't completely control how you will read me - how your experiences,  impressions, cultural context or emotions will influence, but I think I still want to risk the attempt to communicate and let the chips fall where they may. I can't deny that it is frustrating to feel misunderstood, but it is also enriching and refining. 

I suppose the truth is that this blog really isn't about whether you hear my voice as I want it to be heard, or Duncan 's. It's meant to be a glimpse into why we are here. It's God's voice that transforms everything and everyone deserves the chance to hear it in their own language. Perhaps you really don't know what I mean when I say that, but I hope you will keep reading, as I hope to keep writing.