It was a great week to be back in the air! We worked everything out with the government and the Indonesia Air Force and have begun flight operations in Kalimantan once again. It is a huge relief and a blessing to the people interior. We are starting a little slowly because not everyone knows that we are flying yet. One of our pilots did a few low passes over the airstrips to let the people know that we are flying again. We have seen an increase in activity at the hangar. Not only are there more people and cargo showing up every day, but now we have some things to fix on our airplanes.
One of our Cessna 206’s had low compression readings on the engine cylinders which means the air is escaping some how. It was determined that the exhaust valves were leaking. So, the cylinders were removed (a difficult process) and another mechanic and I removed the old exhaust valve guides, hammer in new ones, and then replaced the old valves with new ones. It was a great project and I was happy I had done it before in A & P school.
Not only are there projects to be completed, but I got to go fly on Thursday as well! It was a great experience. I flew with my coworker Paul out to Long Bawan, which is a common destination as it is a larger village near the Malaysian border with easy access from the surrounding villages. We stopped, unloaded our passengers, and then waited for our next passenger. While we waited, we walked to a wreck from an Indonesian C130. It is right next to the runway at Long Bawan.
Later, we went to a local warung (small cafe/store) and had coffee. After we had sat down, a local policeman came by and greeted us. He said, “I am so glad that MAF is flying again. When I was young, I was really sick with malaria and my only hope was to fly to the hospital in Tarakan. No one would help me and I was stuck here. But an MAF plane came in and took me to the hospital and that is why I am alive today. I am so thankful MAF is still here. I am buying your drinks today.” Wow, it is awesome to see how MAF has been making a difference in the lives of people for years!
After we drank, our passenger showed up and we continued on our way. We stopped at a small village about 12 minutes away called Binuang. (It may be 12 minutes by air but it is a multiple day trek. Check out this video made last year by a couple who traveled by land!) My coworker and friend Paul is from the US, just like me, but he has been “adopted” by a family in Binuang. After landing in Binuang, we spent time visiting with Paul’s family. The patriarch is Pak Daud and he lives with his son, Kalvin, who is about 35 years old. They have lived in Binuang all their lives, but Kalvin has visited Paul in Tarakan on a number of occasions. They showed us typical Indonesian hospitality, which is always above and beyond. They gave us tea to drink. Then, a number of the local people, who had heard that Pak Paul had come to the village, brought by a variety of fruit to bless us. I tried to two fruits that I had never even heard of before. The first was called maritam. There is a picture of it below. It was sweet like a peach but a little chewy. You just pop the white fruit in your mouth and chew off the meat around the hard pit. Then, we ate a fruit called mata kucing, or cat eyes. They have a tan shell that is peeled to reveal an opalescent fruit with a large black pit. There isn’t much fruit in each one, but it is a fun thing to eat while passing the time.
While talking with Kalvin, he mentioned a new house he was building so we took a walk to see it. While we passed by neighbor’s houses and the local school, a number of people greeted Paul and were happy to see that MAF was flying again. After seeing the new house and eating some more mata kucing, we started back to the plane as the rest of our passengers were showing up. On the way, one of the men who greeted us on the way up to the house stopped me and wanted to tell me about how MAF helped save his life. 15 years ago, he had been hiking/hunting and he had fallen on to a broken stump of a tree. It had cut him open in his abdomen and he was close to death from blood loss. The people in the village made a call to MAF and a pilot was able to come in and take him to a hospital. His life was saved and there isn’t a day that goes by where he doesn’t thank God for MAF.
After spending a few hours in the village (mainly because the weather wasn’t very good), we saw that there might be some holes in the clouds so we readied to depart. Just then, Kalvin approached and told us his wife had made us lunch. Paul and I were ready to go but didn’t want to offend this loving family, so we went in for a quick bite with the hope of getting up in the air before the holes filled in. We sat down to a warm meal and I must say that it was one-of-a-kind. Our host said, “This is monkey, this is (some animal that is white and likes to dig holes), and here are some locally caught fish.” This was my first time eating monkey. It was a little chewy and tasted pretty good, mainly because the spices were excellent. The unknown animal was very rubbery but the sauce it was cooked in went well with the rice. The fish head tasted like fish. It had tiny bones but the meat was tender and I ate a few bites. All in all I was simply grateful for their kindness and generosity. One thing I have learned about our work here in Kalimantan is how much the people appreciate what we do. They are always eager to share their goods be it fruit, rice, or meat, because they are so grateful that we would come live with them and serve them.
After finishing our meal, we loaded up with the passengers and departed back to Long Bawan. As we took off, we could see that most of the holes from 10 minutes before were long gone. We didn’t know how we would get out, but we often have to proceed in order to find the holes. This is very common here in Kalimantan. We often have to probe into various places before we can see our route. I could make all sorts of spiritual connections here, however I will only say that it’s some really fun and challenging flying. It is kind of like a puzzle each day. I am presented with a problem and I get to use an airplane and my brain to figure it out each day! The important thing is to always have an out so the exploration can be done as safe as possible.
After making it back to Tarakan, our day complete, we shared the fruit with the MAF staff in Tarakan that we had received in Binuang. We also shared a fruit that is pretty much the most beloved and polarizing fruit in the world, Durian. If you have never seen a durian, I guarantee you would never forget the smell. Just google durian and you will get all sorts of descriptions, many referring to old gym socks. In fact, there are many hotels that have banned durian altogether from their establishment! Anyways, I have tried it once and I really want to like it. Pretty much 1 out of every 1 Indonesian absolutely loves durian. If they had the time, they would probably write love songs to the durian. So, I want to blend in and show them that I like what they like.
After we opened up the big, spiky green peanut (as you can see from the pictures) I ate 3 pieces. The meat is pasty and has a distinct onion/garlic flavor. There is a huge seed so don’t eat that. After eating durian, you will burp it up for the next 6 hours and pretty much everyone you talk to at close range will know that you have recently eaten the king of fruits. I don’t know if I quite like it yet, but I can at least tolerate it and appear to enjoy it! Baby steps!!!
It was a great day of flying and we, along with our Indonesian brothers and sisters, are excited to be back in the air. It has been a blessing to fly and use these gifts to serve others. I am hoping to start flying and starting my check out process so I can hopefully solo and begin flying operationally in a few months! Please be praying for safety and the energy to learn everything well and completely.