September 07, 2005

August 29th 2005

Day One
Kinshasa, Tshumbe, Lodja, Kananga

The day starts off early with a departure on a small 9-seater plane. The pilot is cheerfully loading our medicines, chainsaws, microscopes, laptops and luggage in the cargo space.

We are to flight to Tshumbe to leave off three of our colleagues, then my fourth colleague and I are meant to take a 2-seater plane to Kole. The trip is pretty uneventful until we spot the tiny Tshumbe airstrip 3 hours later and wispy clouds indicating strong winds. The pilot attempts to get closer to the strip when the plane is jostled and almost sucked into a storm. We can’t seem to establish radio contact (the only radio in Tshumbe was closed due to the lightning) and we set off for Lodja where we hope the weather is better. By now, the bad weather has spread pretty much everywhere and the jostlings of the airplane are like being on a rollercoaster—that sensation of momentary weightlessness when your heart feels like its going in your throat. Expect roller coasters are designed to do that…and planes aren’t. We can’t establish radio contact with Lodja either and are forced to land in Kananga.

After the customary trouble with immigration –who wants us to pay $20 for each new arriving white person and $30 for each pilot—we go to the only restaurant there and finally eat our lunch at 4:00PM. It looks like we are going to be staying the night there. That evening, the pilot lends me his GPS so I can figure it out: he wants me to map out the Tshumbe and Kole airstrip. At the moment, the two tiny landing strips are not marked on the GPS maps and they do not feel comfortable landing there on a regular basis without some basic information. His handwritten notes sort of look like this:

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