Tag Archives: Flights

Bunia, DRC and a visit with my aunt in Kampala, Uganda

After finishing up in Dungu, we landed in Bunia on February 24th for a nice weekend off. The next week was spent doing an inventory of the emergency preparedness stock, including things like jerrycans and tent poles…

Jerrycans stacked against a wall. Bunia, DR Congo
Tent poles. Bunia, DR Congo

On March 2nd, I flew to Kampala, Uganda. First, the plane took us to Entebbe International Airport to clear customs, then a very short seven minute flight from Entebbe to Kajjansi Airfield.

Leaving Bunia:

Bunia from above

The mountains just outside Bunia:

Mountains just outside Bunia, DR Congo

A mountain-top village just outside Bunia:

Mountain village just outside Bunia, DR Congo

Landing at Entebbe International Airport, Uganda:

Landing at Entebbe International Airport, Uganda

Looking back toward Entebbe as we flew to Kajjansi:

Flying from Entebbe to Kajjansi, Uganda

One of many opulent homes seen from above when flying from Entebbe to Kajjansi:

Rich person

Kajjansi Airfield from above:

Kajjansi Airfield, Uganda

Aside from the one night spent in transit in early January, I hadn’t been to Uganda since my three week visit over Christmas at the end of 2002. This time around I only had four days, but it was a welcome chance to spend a lot of time with my Aunty Jo and some of the other wonderful Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Kampala. We had a great time catching up and chatting about a million different topics, and they fed me really, really well!

Me and my aunt:

Me and Aunty Jo, Kampala, Uganda

Aunty Jo with sisters Ursula and Lynette, beside Lake Victoria:

Aunty Jo, Ursula, and Lynette in Kampala, Uganda

Despite being a huge city, Kampala still has a fair few animals, both domestic and wild, such as these Ankole-Watusi cattle (long-horned zebu):

Ankole-Watusi cattle in Kampala, Uganda

I also spotted a chipmunk eating a peanut, just like in a cartoon:

Chipmunk eating a peanut in Kampala, Uganda

In a tree, about six feet from the ground, I spotted a tiny little tree frog:

Tree frog in Kampala, Uganda
Tree frog in Kampala, Uganda

When I returned to the house on foot after having lunch with a friend in another part of the city, I found about fifteen or twenty banded mongooses running through the area and managed to catch a pair of the slower ones as they ran away:

Banded mongooses in Kampala, Uganda

Pretty soon my time in Uganda was up, and I was off to the airport once more…

Dungu, Province Orientale, DR Congo

After the first two weeks spent in Faradje, the next month of my recent contract in the Democratic Republic of Congo was spent based out of Dungu. The iconic landmark of the town is Dungu Castle:

Dungu Castle

Among expat aid workers, the weekly MSF “soirée pizza” is an important event, during which many pizzas are created, cooked, and consumed. The brick pizza oven has to be heated for some time before the first pizza can be put in to cook:

MSF Dungu pizza oven

Guests take turns preparing pizzas of all imaginable varieties. Once each pizza is ready to be eaten, someone cuts it into pieces and within seconds a dozen or more hands thrust forward, trying to grab a magical slice. A cooked pizza rarely lasts more than one minute on the cutting board.

Eating pizza

One night, a bunch of us were invited to the house of Invisible Children, where we had a “soirée québécoise” complete with poutine, pineapple covered in maple syrup, and a campfire to roast marshmallows! While I may have issues with the organisation, I can definitely vouch for the warm welcome and cooking abilities of their staff in Dungu.

Marshmallows over the campfire with Invisible Children in Dungu, DR Congo

Of course, it’s not all fun and games… I was in the DR Congo for emergency measles vaccinations after all! In Dungu, we often had crowds of children waiting for their turn at vaccination sites:

Rachel at a vaccination site in Dungu, DR Congo

These are the sharps boxes we use to collect the needles used in the vaccination campaign. They were taped up and then burned in an incinerator.

Sharps boxes ready for burning in Dungu, DR Congo

After the vaccination campaign ended, we on the emergency team had to load up all the stuff we’d brought with us and send it to Bunia. Among many, many other things, we had to wash and dry the big blue cold boxes we’d used to keep the vaccines cold:

Drying out the RCW25 cold boxes after washing

The first truck that the transport company brought us wasn’t very big. We loaded this MF314 freezer first, then a bunch of other stuff, and eventually the transporter agreed that the truck was too small.

Loading an MF314 freezer onto a truck in Dungu, DR Congo

The next morning, February 24th, he brought a much bigger truck. I then organised the loading of the bigger truck, and after a few hours the tarps were on and the truck was ready to head to Bunia:

Tying down the tarps on a truck in Dungu, DR Congo

To make Alan jealous, I also got to drive the truck:

Driving the truck to make Alan jealous

Later that afternoon, just before most of us boarded a plane for Bunia, we took a team photo at Dungu Wando Airstrip:

Emergency measles vaccination team photo, Dungu Wando Airstrip, DR Congo

I got to sit up front and spend the entire time chatting with Dave, our pilot, through the headsets we both wore. I asked him tonnes of questions about the plane, about the instruments and gauges on the dash, about his flying experience and personal life, and a bunch of other topics. It was really neat!

Dave, our friendly and skilled pilot from Dungu to Bunia, DR Congo
First class on a Cessna 208 Caravan I

The scenery was pretty cool, especially as we got closer to Bunia, flying over mountains that reminded me of the flights I took between Goma and Beni in 2010.

Mountains just outside Bunia, DR Congo

The outskirts of Bunia, from the air:

River in the outskirts of Bunia, DR Congo

Coming in for landing at Bunia Murongo National Airport:

Landing at Bunia Murongo National Airport, DR Congo

Once we landed, we had to clear customs (even though we didn’t leave the country, we had to have our documents checked and stamped each time we arrived in a town). I was at the back of the line with a Danish guy who speaks Swedish too, so we spent about twenty minutes chatting in Swedish as the line moved very slowly along. All in all, a great day!

Disclaimer: The postings and views expressed on this site are mine alone, and do not represent the position or values of Médecins Sans Frontières.

Le Parc National de la Garamba, Province Orientale, République Démocratique du Congo

Once we finished our measles vaccination campaign in Faradje, we were asked to fly west to Dungu to do the same. If you draw a line from Faradje to Dungu on the map (and there is indeed a road joining the two, though our security rules prevent us from driving along it), what you see above that line is Garamba National Park, once home to an incredible number and variety of wild animals. Unfortunately, it has for several years now been frequented by Joseph Kony’s famed Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which, some may recall, was active in Northern Uganda for many years, but eventually began to frequent areas of South Sudan, then DR Congo and Central African Republic once a number of militaries started putting more energy into pursuing them. The LRA not only terrorised and thereby displaced local populations all across the area, but they also seem to be part of the reason for a decrease in the number of wild animals in the park. Nevertheless, during the half hour flight from Faradje to Dungu in a Cessna 208 Caravan I, during which I was lucky enough to get the co-pilot seat again, we managed to see quite a few animals. Our pilot, John, could see the animals from far away, and banked the plane hard several times to get us closer for a better look.

John, pilot extraordinaire, banking left to see some elephants

I only had a wide-angle lens with me, so I took very few photos and focused on watching the animals with my own eyes, but I’ll post a couple pics anyways. In this photo, there are at least seven elephants, two of which have white birds on their backs. Can you see them all?

Seven elephants in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

If not, here are zoomed views of two different parts of the photo:

Three elephants in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo
Four elephants in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

In total, I saw about twenty elephants during the flight. We also saw well over 200 hippos by my estimate, as we flew over at least ten groups of hippos lounging along the banks of the Dungu River, which runs through Garamba National Park, and each group had at least twenty individuals. For instance, I count at least 38 hippopotamuses in this photo:

At least thirty-eight hippos in Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

I didn’t get to fly the plane, but being in the co-pilot seat has its advantages regardless, mostly the chance to wear a headset and spend the entire flight chatting with the pilot and listening in on radio conversations between pilots and airport control towers.

Chris the co-pilot

As we flew over the town of Dungu to prepare for our final approach to Dungu Wando Airstrip, we got a clear view of the famed Dungu Castle. The story told about the castle’s construction is that the Belgian administrator at the time chose to build a single bridge across the river instead of two, using the bricks instead to build this medieval-style castle:

Dungu Castle from above

Vancouver to Frankfurt to Geneva to Brussels to Kigali to Kampala to Bunia to Faradje in 5 days

Back on January 5th, I got a call from MSF Canada asking me to leave on the 7th for a short contract in DR Congo with the emergency team. I quickly finished typing up my annual update, then proceeded to cancel all the plans I’d made to meet up with friends. Having spent only two weeks in Vancouver after six months abroad, I first flew to Geneva, Switzerland for a briefing and to get my Congolese visa.

Sunset over the clouds en route to Frankfurt, Germany

Of course, what would a flight to Geneva be without a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany? With about five hours to spare before the second leg of my flight, I was through customs and in the airport train station within minutes of landing. I’d never been to Frankfurt before, only the airport (the only time in my entire life that I missed a flight, in March 2008, due to a late connection, I spent many hours in the Frankfurt airport) and train station, so this was a great chance to have a quick look. As luck would have it, while I looked for the right train to take me into town, I got a phone call from a random German number. It turned out to be none other than my good friend Darren Peets, who was already in the airport waiting to surprise me!

Darren and me in Frankfurt

This was a terrific surprise, and really made my day! Not only was it great to see an old friend in an unfamiliar place, but it also meant I had to put zero effort into figuring out the trains and various signs in German, as Darren handled all that with ease. Together, we visited an old church, strolled around the old town centre admiring neat old buildings, walked over and quite a ways along the river, ate German food outside while the restaurant staff looked at us as if we were a pair of crazy Canadians, and caught up on each others’ lives over the course of about three hours hanging out.

Frankfurt old town centre, with massive Christmas tree
Frankfurt old town centre
Neat tower in Frankfurt, Germany

This bridge over the river is decorated with thousands of padlocks, each symbolic of a couple’s love. Every once in a while, they’re all removed by the city.

Pedestrian bridge with love locks in Frankfurt, Germany

After Darren and I returned to the airport and said our goodbyes, I caught a quick flight to Geneva and headed to my hotel to sleep. I spent the next day at the MSF Switzerland office meeting a few people for briefings, getting my documents in order, and generally appearing out of place. Early the next morning, before the sun had shown his face to the snow-covered Swiss Alps, I caught a taxi to the airport with two colleagues. After downing a much-needed coffee, we were soon up in the air over Geneva.

Taking off from Geneva, Switzerland
Flying out of Switzerland

That first flight took us only a short distance, to Brussels, Belgium where we rushed from one side of the airport to the other, with the typical Brussels Airport ridiculously long queue to get through security. We then flew to Kampala, Uganda with a one hour stopover in Kigali, Rwanda. After a night’s sleep in Kampala, we headed to Kajjansi Airfield and boarded a tiny little Cessna 206 to head to DR Congo.

Preparing to board a Cessna 206 at Kajjansi Airfield, Uganda

From Kajjansi Airfield we first flew seven minutes to Entebbe International Airport to clear customs, during which time I was in the co-pilot seat for the first time in my life.

Cessna 206 interior design

At Entebbe Airport, pictured below, we went through customs and bought food from the duty free store, then continued on to Bunia, DR Congo.

Entebbe International Airport, Uganda

Heading out of Entebbe, and over Lake Victoria:

Fishing boats line the shore of Lake Victoria

Winding road just outside Bunia, Province Orientale, Democratic Republic of Congo:

Winding road just outside Bunia, Province Orientale, Democratic Republic of Congo

We landed happily in Bunia on January 10th and by the 12th were back at the airport, this time to board a slightly larger Cessna 208 Caravan I, which would take us from Bunia to Faradje, in the northeast corner of DR Congo, not far from South Sudan and Uganda.

Loading cargo on a Cessna 208 Caravan I at Bunia Murongo Airport

For this final flight, I was seated the farthest back, just in front of the rear door. This turned out to be an excellent seat choice: as the plane began to pick up speed, there was a loud click, and a warning light on the pilot’s dashboard lit up red. The pilot looked back toward me, with the unhappy grimace of a father trying to manage some semblance of control over his difficult children on the drive to school in the morning. “OK, who left the door open?” he says. Of course, the answer was obviously his ground crew, but I figured out how to close and latch the door pretty quickly, the red light turned off, and within seconds we were climbing high into the sky.

The flight from Bunia to Faradje took exactly 60 minutes. The large Catholic church is visible near the top of this photo of Faradje from above, as we did a quick pass over the town before landing. Just below and to the left of the church is the parish centre where the priests live, and where we slept during our time in Faradje:

Faradje from above

Having landed in Faradje, we went straight to work organising a measles vaccination campaign for the town. More on that in the next post.