Sunday, October 29, 2006

 

van onze CAR correspondent ...

Hi Hans

Berberati is still rare as a destination but I met the bishop and his accountant and they will probably ask for some flights in the future since the roads in this area are very bad at the moment and not always safe (Berberati is weer een bisdom).
Olivier from the Red Cross has left about 2 months ago and Marie-Claire is his replacement. She is coming along to Bangassou on a regular basis. There is nothing happening with MSF or WWF. I think that WWF is flying with the ASF C182. The CICR is also using ASF to go to Paoua. Their price is less than half of our plane. I guess that they do not have to pay for maintenance. There are mechanics coming in every couple of weeks from France to do the work on the Caravan (which is coming in from Mbandaka for that) and the 182. So that will save them lots of money. I calculated the maintenance costs for every 200 hrs to be more than 4 million FCFA (2000 CFA = 3 euro). On top of that I had an extra 600.000,- to pay to fix our electrical problem. Plus there is about 50.000,- to be paid as landing fees to ASECNA every month. Then you have the salary for the two guardians every month and the odd guardian at other airfields that need to be paid when I stay overnight. All this comes to quite a bit of money. On top of that, we have to change the licence plates of our vehicles as well. That has cost me 65.000,- so far for the Landcruiser and will be more for the Corolla since there is still the tax to be paid as well. I am still managing although I am starting to run low on our account. The upcoming propeller change will not be for free either, not to mention the cost of the propeller. The propeller itself is being paid in The Netherlands though. Unfortunately Ben is still in The Netherlands and he will be back on the 18th of November. But I am sure I will manage the financial situation. I have still got a nice account in St. Charles if I have any need.
In general there are not a lot of outside clients at the moment. So I am trying to do no empty flights. But I think that the number of flights will rise with the lack of security on the roads. There will be a bigger demand for flights within the Mission itself.
The other 206 is flown by two pilots. I am not sure though whether they are locals or from DRC. They seem to be flying with 2 crew all the time. The other day I heard them on the radio stating 2 crew and 4 pax. I was a bit surprised because that means a very heavy aeroplane. But then I was told that another pilot had seen them take off in Bria (I think). He said that the plane hit the runway twice after take off before it finally got really airborne. Either they were really overloaded or they did not know that rotation speeds are different with different weight. One of the pilots also asked me once what the best landing speed would be for the 206. I am not sure if I would want to be a passenger on that plane.
As I mentioned, Ben is still at home and will come back on the 18th of November with two of his family. We will go straight to Mobaye the same day. There will be some celebration because of his 40th (I think) anniversary of his ordonation.
Helmut has had a very bad case of malaria. He told me on the radio that it has been the worst he has ever had. Piet has been very busy because he had arranged some huge gathering of people in Mobaye. I think there were about 6000.
Theo is doing fine in Bangassou although the Maison Maanicus is getting empty. There is only him and Antonio left. Astianax went to Nigeria for further studies and Christoph is now in Pissa. I am always welcome at Maison Maanicus and there is always a cool beer there for me in the evening when I stay in Bangassou. Fidel is slowly taking over the part of accountant from Theo and is also always helpful when I arrive. But you know what it is like to be the pilot here. Wherever you go you are being welcomed as if they had known you for years.
I have been invited by Manolo, Regine and Jacky to spend a few days in M'Baiki before I leave. I hope that I will have time. Annick and Thomas have left last week. We had a nice farewell lunch at Ali Babas. Yvonne has been in St. Charles for a few days two weeks ago. I always get along well with her. On her last day we had pizza in town. We were joined by Achmed who then invited us. Achmed and his brother Mohammed are Lebanese who also fly with me regularly to Bangassou. They have got a store in Bangassou. I had been invited to their house a few weeks ago for dinner along with Blandine (the new co-operant = vrijwilliger), Marie-Claire (from the Red Cross) and Fidel.
André from Minair has now been in France for two months. I have no idea when he will be back. The story is that his passport had been stolen in France. At the moment Nicola is running the shop.
The mechanic you are talking about is still around asking me for money every now and again. Unfortunately my wallet is always empty. Yesterday he told me that he needs to see Alex at the Ministry of Transport for his mechanics licence. I have no idea what he would need a Central African licence for when the plane is registered in DRC unless they are planning to reregister it here. But you know that he is always very important and talks a lot.
The fuel supply has not been a problem since I have arrived. A few days after my arrival they got stocked up again and since then there has been no shortage. I hope it will stay like that. But I think that also the military has put some pressure on them because they are flying quite a lot with the 2 Islanders and they have also got a C172 or 182. There is a Hercules based here now as well along with an MI8 helicopter. As far as I know they are both owned by the military. The Herc and the MI8 are not flying a lot. I guess that they are expensive to run. But at least that gives them some transport capability if they have to deploy troops somewhere quickly. At the moment this is exactly what they need.
So you see life here is never boring. If there is absolutely nothing to do for me I take the time to read or write emails to you. So far I have always found something to do to pass the time. But then I am not a person who needs to be occupied all the time or go crazy.
I am still looking forward to Bas’s arrival. Not because I am ready to leave but it will be fun to fly with him and show him around in town and have a cool draught beer once in a while. I am having a drink with the other pilots in town from time to time. But apart from the ASF pilots they tend to have a rather big quantity of drinks and I end up having to take them home. I do not like that a lot because driving around in town at night is not something I like a lot. There are always people walking on the streets and the streets are not well lit. The oncoming cars are usually blinding you because the headlights are not adjusted properly. So it is very easy to run someone over. And then of course there is the military that stops the cars at night regularly. Not that I ever got in trouble, I just do not like talking to people armed with an AK47 stinking of booze asking for money for "coffee". The big advantage of being a pilot here is that you get to know lots of people that are in some or other way superior to the guys that stop you on the road. That means that you usually get away without problems. It is still a hassle though.
During daytime it is the police that are stopping the vehicles. But they know me quite well now and I just greet them whenever I pass them. They return the greeting very friendly and I have not been stopped during the day for about 3 months. After I had changed the licence plate I passed them at the traffic lights where the old runway starts when you come from the airport. I greeted them and first they did not recognize the car with the different plate. All of a sudden I heard one of them shouting:"C’est lui!" through the open side window. Theo was in the car with me (I had just arrived with him from Bangassou) and he looked at me very surprised.
The last I heard from Bas was his email from Tanzania. I have no idea whether he is still there or already back in The Netherlands. I think the plan was to stay there about 3 weeks and then return to Amsterdam. I think he said he would stay in the Netherlands another 2 weeks or so before starting his journey to Afrique noir. Last week I got an email from Albertine asking if it was possible for me to stay a little longer so that I can show him around a bit and get the necessary paperwork done. It is a lot easier and saves time if you do not have to go and find offices and people (they are not always in the offices either) all by yourself.
So at the moment I have no schedule, neither for Bas’s arrival nor for when I am supposed to leave. We will see what happens.
That’s enough for now. I have had three power cuts while writing this. You know, my laptop is already 5 years old and therefore the battery is U/S. So whenever the power cuts out I am sitting in front of a black screen. Luckily the auto save is enabled; otherwise I would have gone mad.
Regards
Mario
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