Dr. Geelhoed journal entry 7 Feb 2011

Series: 11-FEB-B-4


February 7, 2011

We have arrived!  We are settled in at Werkok after making it from Nairobi at Wilson Field through smooth flights by the Cessna 208 named after the founder of AIM as its call letters are WP-PCS—Peter Cameron Scott, 1895 AIM founder.

We awakened in Mayfield after the rest of the team had arrived in mid-afternoon on Sunday from an overnight flight on Air Ethiopia to get to us here and re-pack some bags leaving some of the clothing we may have had for colder climes behind.  We had dinner and associated with a number of the people who are transients passing through the Mayfield: a young couple with a new baby who are working in the Comoros, a woman who is Australian working in the far north of Mozambique’s Nyasa Province establishing an orphanage, and a number of folk who are dealing with Bible Schools or a Nairobi Theologic Seminary.  There is a conference on Missionary Training that will be held at the Brackenhurst amid the tea plantations of Tigoni but I noted that it does not begin for another week, so most of those waiting are taking in some R & R in Nairobi.  Everyone seems to be aware of what I am doing and is very interested in the peace initiative and the efforts in South Sudan.  They are intrigued by my mixed team of special forces paramedics and firemen and the one young woman who is our photographer,  They are even more interested to hear that we have a container headed into Werkok and the efforts we will make in using the health care supplies to help the peace initiatives.


JOMO= Nairobi International Airport= 01* 17.19 S and 036* 85.48 E at 1879 meters altitude= cool in temperate climate which is dry

LOKI=04* 12.14 N and 034* 21.04 E at 712 meters= warm with dazzling sunshine, 20 *F warmer than Nairobi which we left four hours earlier

WERKOK= 06* 20.02 N and  031* 39.09 E at 534 meters elevation and HOT and dry

We signed out of Mayfield and I left a check for all of us as well as a thousand Kenya Schillings (85 KS= $1.00 US) for a few postcards I had written so that they might be sent out as we leave and might even reach the addressees before we do.  I had hoped to buy a few more stamps than I had cards and that would cover my cards written at S Sudan and CAR destinations upon our brief return to pick up the left luggage.

We took the AIM Serve van to Wilson Field from which half of us took off to the pharmacy to pick up supplies and the other half tried to hold down the plane and meet Jon Hildebrandt who was flying in from Loki to pick us up.  I talked with Jon while we awaited the delivery form the fourteen hundred dollars of pharmacy supplies and he is quite interested in the S Sudan story, but especially intrigued with the CAR/Congo later trip which he is taking a week leave form home to complete to meet with Scott, who was an RVA classmate.  He had looked up alternative sources of Lipiodal when he had heard we were having trouble securing any of it, and I will leave him with a copy of the hypothyroidism papers I have carried as he is genuinely interested in the Assa history from the single time he had visited and gone hunting with Scott about the time I was there.

As we were waiting at Wilson Field, Kathryn Thomas and Aaron Bopp also appeared to drop off the luggage that would otherwise be overweight for their commercial flight to Juba from which Jacob Gai would be picking them up by road.  They had hoped to jump on our charter since they had been told that there were three cancellations, but they did not know that was a SECOND air charter with the 206 that would have carried in the LA Times writer and photographer and Will McNulty and that we were full up at 1150 kg from the 1200 kg takeoff limit on the Caravan.

When the gang re-gathered we boarded after a brief photo flurry and settled in with me in the right seat as co-pilot with Jon connected by our earphones and microphones. I had given the group a briefing on what they might be expected to see as we flew out of Wilson Field and the sights to be seen as we crossed the biggest tectonic feature on the planet –the Great Rift Valley.  On takeoff roll at 10:30 AM we flew up and over Nairobi National Park and cold look down and see Kongoni (hartebeest) and zebras near the watercourse with a few ostriches.  On the other side of the plane off our right was Kiberra that massive slum of Nairobi.

We flew toward the Ngong Hills and then the Eastern Scarp of the Great Rift dropped off a thousand meters into the tectonic plate division.  In the distance we could see the Aberdare Hills, which is where I had once gone trout fishing and seen the forest elephants.

As a special flightseeing treat Jon dropped a wing and we made a complete turn around Longenot the volcanic Crater in the center of the Rift.  We could peer down into the caldera and see the green grass in contrast to the dry Rift Valley around it with a few natron lakes.  We saw a pretty cul de sac valley a perfect place for a cattle ranch with wind turbines which might be put up along the ridges on each side of eh contained valley.  I could look around Lake Nakuru and see the salt crusts along the margins at this low water time of year and also see the clouds of pink flamingoes and pelicans of an off-white color as they are there for the brine shrimp that thrive in the salt lakes which have no egress.

We could also see Maringo Lake famous for the bird watching that occurs there with ornithologists logging over 450 bird species as it is an intersection of the dry plains and the Rift and along the flyways to Europe and Middle East Asia.  There is an island in the lake with an observatory for those who wish to see several migratory species coming through at certain times of year, and a combination of wetlands and natron lake species mix in flights through the area.

We flew over the Kerio Valley, a side branch of the Great Rift from a fracture in the plate edge of the Western Scarp.  There is a road from Eldoret which makes it possible to reach this site.  It is along this ridge between the valleys that “Combaunt” (Sp?) region lies the home of the former president Daniel Arap Moi. He was formerly the house boy of the AIM Missionaries Barnett, and for that reason he was always accessible to AIM and their interests. I remember that Arap Moi himself came to dedicate the hydroelectric dam at Kijabe Hospital and he sent his kids to the Rift Valley Academy from which both Jon Hildebrandt and Scott Downing, both MK’s had graduated, one of the reasons that makes this trip special in the reunion the two will have as we go on into CAR/Congo with Jon with us all of that week and holding the Cessna 208 that he will go up to Entebbe to get from the Uganda branch of AIM.  He will fly commercially to Entebbe and pick up Scott who is flying Air Ethiopia form Ndjamena to Entebbe into which Tim Williams will be flying form Grand Rapids at the front end of the fight into Werkok PiBor form which we take off on our CAR/Congo next phase of the African missions.

The ground proximity alarm sounded as we were on course for the Chermiyun Hills which rise to 11,500 feet ahead of us as we are cruising at 12,500 feet.  We have had a remarkable smooth flight despite the mid-day heat pockets below us, but we have had the advantage of being far above it all after the takeoff from the 1789 meter altitude of Wilson Field to have the ground fall away over a thousand meters into the Great Rift beyond the Ngong (“Knuckles” in Ki-Swahili from the legend of the giant buried there with his hand exposed,)

Part of the Chermiyun Hills is an impoundment called Tuckwall Gorge, a very narrow canyon out of a high valley now dammed by a small but sharply arced dam.  The circumstances here are nearly ideal for hydro which has a very steep drop in a narrow gorge for a wide gauge penstock on the top choked down to a narrower outlet for an enormous pressure head to generate pressure for the hydro power in the turbines.

Jon and I talked at length about the aircraft and missions of AIM Air and my being beholden to them for making possible something like the S Sudan peace initiative which he considers quite remarkable.  The Caravan in which we are riding is a two million dollar retail aircraft.  But the planes bought by AIM Air are reconditioned and retrofitted for the rugged use they get in the bush (think “Checker Cab” more than “Executive Aircraft Amenities”) and the reconditioned parts supplied by Precision Aircraft Parts are assembled by mission-minded PAP an Ohio-based firm that makes its money in the high priced aircraft maintenance and gives the AIM a cost break in the Cessna 208’s it uses.  The 208 has a payload of 1200 kgs (unfueled) and a VR (rotation Velocity –length of airstrip needed for average load and elevation takeoff ) of 600—700 meters.  It burns a barrel of Jet A fuel (that is, 350 pounds, fifty five gallons or 220 liters) per hour of jet fuel at $1.00 per liter in its single turbine engine which can go many hours without overhaul.  This one, as I had said at the start of this chapter is WP- (the Kenyan registration pre-fix) PCS for Peter Cameron Scott, 1895 founder of AIM of which John Hildebrandt (Jon’s father) was director before his retirement.  I had flown the WP-SP before—named for Samaritan’s Purse, the donor, but that is the one that pilot Andy flipped on takeoff at Akobo totaling the aircraft.  Our next Cessna 208 will be the Uganda based 208 Caravan that Jon will fly up commercially to retrieve along with Scott and Tim Williams to begin our CAR/Congo phase.

The much smaller, and far cheaper, Cessna 206 is a single engine light plane that burns Av Gas, which costs almost three times as much as the Jet A and is far less available, which is why such institutions as JARS (the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service of SIL –Wycliffe Bible Translators) have to cart in huge volumes of the Av Gas to supply their aircraft. It is likely that Av Gas will be regulated out of existence since it contains lead in order to increase its octane for piston engines.  A conversion kit is possible but costs a half million for the 206 to burn Jet A, which might be necessary at some point in the future.  I am glad we are flying Caravan 208’s the whole way since it can go higher and faster, with a ceiling at 25,000 feet (bottled Oxygen is required at altitudes above 14,000 feet) and can go 165 knots—all of which means it is above a lot of rough air, which is why our four hours to Loki and hour and a half to Werkok are not altogether unpleasant as well they might be at the lower and slower altitudes of the 206.  We will be flying much longer and further in the weeks to come as we cross Central Africa on long hauls all the way back to Nairobi.

As we were on the glide slope into the Bor/Werkok area, I yelled to those still awake in the back that they could see the Nile River at Bor fifteen miles from Werkok up ahead, as none of them had seen it before.  We will be running alongside it on Saturday.  At ten thousand feet I spotted several raptors riding thermals around us.  Even at this altitude one must keep a lookout since a big soaring bird like that can do some serious damage to the composite flight control surfaces at 165 knots.  We bobbed and weaved down through some bird traffic and bounced over the hard dry air strip of Werkok—destination travel.

Jacob Gai was the first to make it to the air strip apart for a few naked kids who were all eager to pose with us and to try to porter our supplies which outweigh each of them.  I will need to transfer a number of our supplies to the longer landing strip of Bor which has a 1500 meter strip that will allow a full load to takeoff when we are ready to go to PiBor with all our personnel and gear, since we will not have “VR” enough here at full load to clear the airstrip.  We were trying to shade ourselves under the aircraft wing as we unloaded when I spotted tall Ajak coming and we ran to each other.  Everyone is very excited about our being here in response to the promise last time, but Ajak reports that the excitement here is small time compared to what can be expected at PiBor where the reports are “they are more excited about your return than they had been about the referendum vote!”

The NGO’s and mission ex-patriot staff were all evacuate for the potential for unrest around the referendum but now they are filtering back in as it appears to be more peaceful than at the usual baseline before the elections.  It seems that since Bashir will be willing to let the announced election results which are due on Friday as we are here be determinative as to secession, then there might be reconsideration of his International Criminal Court indictment (ICC) for war crimes against Darfur.

In a long file of head-carried loads preceding us to the MCH compound we arrived in the shade to have a drink of water and a brief introduction ceremony led by Jacob Gai general manager (graduate of Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids Michigan!) and Ajak (“Sudanese by birth, Cuban by adoption, Canadian by citizenship, and back by choice!”)

We settled into our accommodations and then toured the facilities, including the patient whom John Ajok had delivered this morning and repaired a complicated vaginal tear—all this from a fellow who had tied his first knots when we went through the intensive drills when I was here last year and the documentary film crew was here watching this teaching session of surgical instruments and technique—now in use without a white hand guiding it!

We had a sparse dinner with one native touch—a wild honey comb, and then I used the laptop to show Julie Cavallo’s DVD of the missions of the past year she has got from my pictures posted to the online sites.  We then watched the Rwanda Video and I distributed some special goodies such as my Surgery text dedicated to MCH and the continuing education effort here.  Juma (Samuel Malual) from Duk Payuel and John Mchol are here from eastern Jonglei to get a par to the continuing education and arrived by road for the educational week and we may be able to carry them further to PiBor.  Several Bor physicians will be over as time allows, so we have the network already set up for the “Sudanese teaching Sudanese” model of continuing education I had proposed last item with us supplying some support and supplies.  The container arrived at the Ugandan border and would be crossing into Juba in the morning so it should be here within two more days, equipped with exemption papers that Jacob Gai had got by fortuitously appearing a few minutes before the offices in Juba would have closed for the weeks around the holidays.  I will now try to go to sleep despite a hacking cough from my high altitude Philippine URI and plan to make it out at dawn to try a run through the bush to prepare for the first ever Jonglei Marathon on Saturday—former rivals now competing in a sporting event and collaborating in a continuing medical education event in contrast to a hot shooting war on the opening salvos of my last visit—all within the short—but eventful—six months of the past year!

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