The young German man approached the plane holding up a blue-stained US $10 bill. “Can you change this for Congo francs?” he asked in heavily accented English. “The airport tax guys won’t accept this.”
The deteriorating paved airstrip adjacent to a town near the heart of Congo (DRC) provides access for a MEDAIR program in the Ituri rainforest. The humanitarian agency meets the health care needs of vulnerable people.Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) supports MEDAIR with flight services. Without these flights, workers would have no convenient passage into the interior.
The German worker came here for a vacation to visit friends. He had arrived the week before following a three-day bus trip––sleeping on a jam-packed African bus that frequently broke down for hours on the rutted roads. A heavy rain shower soaked his blue hat and stained the US currency he had hidden in his hat band.
The bus trip convinced him to return to his assignment by air. Some travel adventures are best experienced just once.
The other passenger at the airfield was a young Italian woman, also working with MEDAIR. She was taking a few days off to visit “civilization.” After paying their airport taxes to the Congolese official, they boarded the six-seat MAF Cessna 206, already loaded with two other passengers collected en route.Once in the air, thick forest appears through broken clouds below. Under the canopy live countless thousands of indigenous Congolese, including the famed Pygmies. Halfway through the flight, the forest is broken by patches of grass where the soil won’t support the growth of trees. It looks like the world’s largest golf course.
On the ground, the journey took the young German three arduous days and two fitful nights. Today, the flight will take about 90 refreshingly air-cooled minutes to reach the frontier city of Bunia.
The Italian worker had been stationed interior for months with few comforts or diversions. Isolated living in a primitive culture can be surreal. When asked why she was traveling today, she replied, “I am taking this flight for my sanity.”
For more than 60 years MAF has been flying over jungles and desolate terrain carrying all kinds of cargo and passengers on all kinds of missions. But the mission accomplished this day was sanity.