It’s summer in America. And for us, one notable feature of these fleeting months is a surge in our flying. We get an additional burst of flight requests from all the summer mission teams heading out to various, distant corners of Africa. It is a fun time, albeit exhausting, for the pilots and mechanics on our team.
I arrived overhead Mariel Bai airstrip last Saturday, the culmination of a 569 mile trip. It is truly impossible to get there any other way but by airplane – especially now at the lively start of rainy season in Sudan. I flew there to collect a team of thirteen people from Florida who had spent a week on the ground conducting medical clinics among other things. I also had the roof for a nearby church in my airplane – two thousand pounds of wood planks and steel sheets. Given that the roofing supplies had to come out before the passengers could get in, I had some all-to-willing helpers with the load.
Some of the folks recognized me from flying them around the year before. Sunburned, unshaven faces gleamed with joy once again, first at the sight of the airplane, and then at the recognition of the tired guy flying it. In lands so foreign and strange, it can be nice just to recognize something. I started the engine to cheers and shut it down four hours later to gracious applause. It’s not because these volunteers were jaded by their mission experience. Quite the opposite, they were filled with joy at having been there. The cheers and smiles could be attributed to something more subtle. As my passenger so gently put it on the flight out and back home, “You can only eat so much goat.”
I laughed. And then we got in a conversation about the degrees of toughness that goats come in – from mildly chewy to impenetrable. These short-term missionaries, if they are flying with us, are generally going to some very hard places. It’s not easy. Part of me, for better or worse, is glad about that. For the folks who venture this far out, it makes the trip more worthwhile in a un-tourist kind of way. And because of the goat stew and the cold showers, and rough beds and stinging, biting, crawling things, it makes the airplane all the more a “sight for sore eyes.” The pilot, a hero of sorts. It’s kind of fun to be mistaken as a hero sometimes. After all, it only lasts for a season.