I’m back in Congo for about a month to do a story on Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) here in Bunia. Lucky for me, my brother and sister-in-law (Jon and Cher) live here, so I feel very fortunate right now. (Click on thumbnails to see larger)
Mulita – evacuating a missionary
Yesterday I took my first MAF flight with my brother as the pilot. The main purpose was to evacuate a 70+ year-old woman named Maud Kells from her mission station of Mulita in the middle of the jungle. Rebels had taken the nearest town over the weekend, and although she was safe, her mission group wanted her to get out. It all went smoothly (no ducking and running with bullets flying, although they had about 5 newly-arrived patients with bullet wounds at the hospital), and we flew her to Nebobongo (Nebo, for short), another remote mission hospital about an hour and a half away in the Ituri Forest.
Nebobongo – remote mission hospital station
We stayed overnight in Nebo with a lovely German nurse (Sabine) and two French nurses who were incredibly hospitable and so happy to have guests. Sabine gave us a tour of the hospital grounds and village. It was bigger and nicer than I imagined, but still far from western standards. This beautiful little place, established in the 1950s, has probably saved thousands of lives.
Buta – the ghost airport
The next morning we flew for two hours to another airstrip in the middle of the jungle called Buta. It was a bit surreal, like a ghost airport – a long paved airstrip, terminal, and tower, but no planes and few people, all surrounded by forest. Our two passengers and a few airport staff came out to greet us. The place looked moldy and a bit run-down with large spotlights on a tall pole that didn’t work as there had been no electricity since the war. The town of Buta has a population of only 50,000 (as compared to Isiro with 183,000, or Bunia with 366,000 – both with similar paved airstrips). The lone man in the tower sat in his large empty room with a mobile phone playing the Carpenters and Michael Jackson music on full volume from the open window. A weathered, crumbling place with past dreams of grandeur. This is what much of Congo feels like. Good things seem to eventually end in ruin, devoured by the greedy jungle or destroyed by war.