11 May 2011

Par Avion

Friday 6 May 2011
In order to get my permis de séjour (a residency permit) so I can stay in Niger as long as planned, I needed to go back to Niamey to have my fingerprints taken.  That will happen (hopefully) tomorrow, and I’m sure will be a story of it’s own.
But, as those of you who have been reading this blog for any continued period of time would be able to attest, my life is never without event.  And I would first have to GET to Niamey.

Since my neighbor L. was leaving this side of the Atlantic for many months, we took a SIMAir flight.  My first experience with SIMAir was great . . . quick trip . . . my first flying lesson (that cost a promise batch of brownies . . . which I still owe) . . . and an amazing view.
But that was in rainy season.  This is hot season.  And since hot air rises, it was a pretty bumpy ride.  Captain E. let me take the helm for a little bit, but despite presets, the hot air pockets gave me quite a fight . . . and before too long el Capitan took back over.
The view was still pretty amazing.  Much drier and browner than August 2008, but still amazing!  Dirt and sand speckled with mud huts . . . dried up winding riverbeds . . . come to think of it, it reminded me a bit of the face of the moon.
Apart from the bumps and jolts, it was an uneventful flight.  
We circled the airport and came in from the west side to land.  Captain E. lined up the plane and brought us down to street level.  As we touched down and began to decelerate, something seemed a bit more rough than usual.  As we turned off the tar runway onto the gravel road that would take us to the SIMAir hangar, we suddenly found ourselves in the grass, about 45degrees further into the turn than anticipated. 
The passenger-side tire was blown!
After a silent merci seigneur, mungodi ubangiji, THANK YOU LORD! that we had landed without a problem, we were climbing out of the plane waiting for instructions on Plan B.
Within no time, Captain E. hailed down an airport firetruck and swapped it’s passenger for us.  The fireman would stay and help E. move the plane off the runway, and the driver would take me and L. to our hangar to pick up the van.
I’ve never been in an airport firetruck before.  They are big.  REALLY BIG.  I pretty sure even bigger than your average red-fire-engine-hook-and-ladder trucks.  We had to climb in . . . ladder style . . . in zuni’s!  I now know I can do anything in a wrap-around skirt!
Our chauffeur pulled up to the hangar and dropped us off.   But there was no van waiting outside.  And the hangar doors were locked.
L. tried to call Captain E.’s cell.  No answer.

We were ready to dial one of the other pilots when a little Nigerien boy who was hovering around handed me a red cell phone.  ‘Hello?’ I said into the phone ‘Attendez.’ (wait.)  So I did . . . not sure who exactly was on the other end.  ‘Hello??’ I heard after a felt-longer-than-it-really-was pause.  It was the Captain.  He gave us the combination, and before we knew it, we were on our way back to the plane.  (Turns out the guard at our hangar saw the plane approach, but when we never made it he figured something went wrong and came running.  He arrived as we were leaving . . . the quick thinking little boy with the phone was his younger brother.)
We backtracked the way the firetruck had come (minus the offroading around another mammoth engine) . . . take the tar road to the roundabout-where-the-guy-is-washing-his-car and make a left . . . weave around the parked-in-the-middle-of-the-road fire engine . . . continue on the tar road until it ‘T’s with the runway . . . take the shoulder until you reach the Cessna.  (L. wanted to drive on the runway, but I assured her it would be a bad idea!  No, really!  I did!!)
When we got to the little plane, there was a troupe of firemen standing around shooting the breeze.  They had pushed the plane completely off the runway and out of the grass.  Their work was done, they could now return to their rousing game of volleyball.  It’s fascinating what airport firemen do at an airport that is closed more often than it is open.
Captain E. then drove us back to the hangar where we were to wait while he changed the tire.  It was nice in the hangar . . . until the power went out.  So we found some shade outside and waited.  The hangar guard has a shed and a hammock and a chicken coup.  Have to say that this was the first time I’ve ever seen chickens wandering around an international airport.  
After about an hour E. was back . . . the nozzle for the tire’s tube had snapped completely off during the blow-out.  He would need to replace it in order to fix the tire.  But within another half hour or so, the tire was repaired and I was driving the van down a gravel taxi-way leading the parade as the bush plane made it’s way back to the hangar.
And to think how boring this blog would be if my life was just a little more normal.  Hmm.  Some days I think I could do with a little bit of boring!  (But that firetruck was pretty awesome!)

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