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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At Entebbe Airport, pictured below, we went through customs and bought food from the duty free store, then continued on to Bunia, DR Congo.
Heading out of Entebbe, and over Lake Victoria:
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.
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:
Having landed in Faradje, we went straight to work organising a measles vaccination campaign for the town. More on that in the next post.