My back made a familiar popping sensation as I tried to pull the 50 kilo sack of sugar from the pod. My first flight back. My very first bit of cargo, and my back dutifully gives out on me. Here in Sudan the land is so tortured and pained itself, it almost seems fitting that I should be in agony as I fly over it.

So I flew today, for seven hours, moving twenty people to and from various locations. At some point I arrived at Juba, the new capitol of Southern Sudan, a surreal port city on the west bank of the river Nile, with its huge runway and odd mixture of air traffic – a UN 707 right out of the seventies, a UN chopper of dubious size, a Russian Antinov A26 with bright blue propellers slowly winding down as the back door falls open to spill out some hundred Sudanese troops. I walked by the windmilling propeller, through a small army of tall, black men in green fatigues. They were singing what seemed like a victorious song of war in their native tongue. As we passed by a slurry of troops arriving mixed with those departing, my passenger overheard a passing comment about what a young-looking “captain” I was. I’m probably twice their age, but they don’t know it. I smiled. How could anyone mistake me as young as I hobble by, slightly hunched over from the morning injury?

On the last leg home that day I agreed to take two freeloading passengers to the Kenya border town of Lokichoggio, and in the gesture made friends with a “security” official at the airport who was probably looking long and hard for a ride for his two friends. I had an empty plane going back, and, well, he asked nicely. After a half dozen handshakes, multiple thanks, and a little uneasy feeling that I had just contributed in some small way to the corruption of the New Sudan, I was of—through a haze of smoke lifting from the burning fields below, over a hundred and eighty miles of bumpy terrain skirting the border of northern Uganda, back “home” to the corner where these two countries meet up with mine.

Two Advil later my back feels better. Maybe the day’s pain was a small reminder at the onset of this term that I am here by the grace of God, and that I live and breathe and fly by His strength. I can’t imagine it has anything to do with my age.