Flight across the desert

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I don’t know about you but in recent years I have become more and more nervous about flying, taking a sharp intake of breath when there is some slight turbulence. I never used to be like this, i would sleep comfortably on planes and barely bristle at the slightest movement of the plane.

So, bouncing along the windswept desert today in a small propeller plane was a little stressful.

I have so much respect for these pilots who fly into some of the most impossible areas. The Chadian desert is vast and sparsely populated, and does not present the challenge of the Congolese jungle, but being able to land a plane, whatever the size, on the equivalent of a football field is skill I much admire.

I left before first light and stood in the queue at the airport. There were a few bags in front of me, as you don’t queue, your bag does. After a while, check-in opened, and still bleary-eyed, I got to the front of the queue and was told I was in the wrong line. I dutifully moved to the next queue and sent off my bag, not knowing if I would see it again.

The first flight was full and seeing my badge a former employee of my organisation came and sat next to me, explaining about the project he had worked on. It distracted me from a bumpy takeoff, and once in the air, he slept and left me to stare out at the vast swathes of desert below.

In transit at the next airport I found shelter in the shade under one of the two trees in the compound, and awaited my next flight. The first flight had gone smoothly, and yet I still felt nervous about the next (even smaller) plane I was to board.

Eventually my flight was called, a man appearing at the door of a tiny white waiting room with one fan called out our destination. Six of us boarded the plane, and the pilot made an ungainly effort to climb into his seat, there being very little space to allow for any kind of elegant movement.

Up in the air again I found myself holding my breath as we bounced along the thermals rising up from the desert. Buffeted by the wind, the pilot announced our descent to the first stop on our flight. I looked out for the airstrip. Nothing. Suddenly we bumped our way to a dusty halt in front of a tin shack that was the official terminal for this absurdly tiny airport.

Next stop was my destination and we barely cleared some trees before screeching to a halt in a huge dust cloud in front of a thorn tree with a Landcruiser parked underneath. There was some confusion as the Landcruiser drove off with the pilot to point out a tree that needed cutting down near this airstrip. Concerns were muttered about getting permission from the landowner for this, coupled with urgent pleas from the pilot. Eventually we bounced our way over scrubland and through dusty rivers to the office, where, glad to finally arrive, I was served with a feast of food!

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