We have a small resource team in Africa for the next few weeks, gathering videos and photos for our upcoming Africa campaign this summer. Videographer Ron Wormser describes a tense and yet somewhat “typical” flight in east DRC.
We were minutes away from landing when we received the radio call from the NGO (non-governmental organization) group we were to transport: NO interviews; NO cameras coming off the airplane; NO filming on the airstrip.
We’d come to the DRC to video and photograph the work being done by MAF in a troubled, war-torn region. The flight program in the eastern part of the country needs replacement planes. The Cessna Caravan flown by the MAF team here is #10 from the factory; it’s been serving Congo for 27 years! Requests by mission and humanitarian workers could keep two 10-passenger Caravans busy.
I had mounted a small camera to the wing tie down outside of the plane before take-off from Bunia. Veteran MAF pilot Jon Cadd flew low over national parks where we saw hundreds of buffalo and hippos. Groups of elephants swam near the shore of a large lake.
The “no photography” radio message surprised and disappointed me. I quickly stowed all my camera gear into a backpack and we landed on the grass airstrip surrounded by jungle.
A group from the NGO waited at the end of the strip to board the flight to another destination. From the perimeter of the airstrip, about 40 feet away, I could see soldiers peering from the bushes. I needed to remove the camera from the wing, because having a camera at the next destination was even dicier.
Congolese militia controlled this village, but several rebel groups were encamped only a few kilometers away. The NGO group working here often crossed from one line to the other to serve the people caught in the crossfire. Journalists with large cameras would only raise suspicions and endanger the NGO staff.
Jon pulled a small step ladder from the pod and handed it to me. “Go ahead and take it down,” he said.
I climbed the ladder and used a pocket tool to remove the camera from the wing mount. No one asked what I was doing and the military just stayed out of sight; only their heads poked above the tall grass.
Because the flight was full to the next destination, I waited in the village. Two hours later Jon returned with the Caravan loaded with stacks of cartons for the NGO. His load filled two four wheel drive trucks with provisions, which the group could not have received without the airplane––everything from motorcycle tires to medicines.
The partner agencies I have spoken to throughout this region have said again and again––”Without MAF, we couldn’t be here.” And if these frontline workers couldn’t provide their services, many more Congolese would suffer. Many more would die.
As we lifted off the strip and circled to gain altitude from the valley below, I watched the loaded trucks lumbering on the muddy roads. Soon, the people in this village and throughout the troubled valley would receive the help they needed.
Jon leaned back in his captain’s seat, looked across the savanna and sighed, “Isn’t Africa beautiful? Yup, another day at the office.”