The Land Cruiser crashes through the six foot high millet over a windy bumby trail towards the airstrip.
It's a cool Chadian morning just after 6:00 AM.
Rich has picked up Dr. Bond, Sarah and I from the hospital and brought us out here with our pilot, Gary Roberts. We finally burst on to the airstrip with just a tinge of pink lining the wisps of clouds barely clinging to the night before being swept away by the new day.
The plane looks tiny against the backdrop of grassy airstrip hacked from the African bush. Using well placed whacks with long switches a few kids guide some scattered goats across the strip halfway down.
A single prop, four-seater, our plane is about to go international.
Bond is a little nervous and plies Gary with all kinds of questions about flight hours, how many accidents, how much fuel the plane carries, is he going to check if there's water in the fuel, etc. As Gary takes off the tarps and I help him unattach the tie downs Bond is trying to visually inspect the plane from top to bottom. Dressed in his sport coat and sporting wild black hair streaked with gray and the beginnings of a bushy mustache, Bond looks like India's version of Albert Schweitzer.
Finally, luggage weighed and packed, we squeeze ourselves in the fuselage and strap ourselves in.
The engine fires up sending in a burst of "air conditioning" through the open windows. Last minute checks in place, the windows close and Gary turns the plane around away from the sunrise. Gary then reopens a window and yells to the night watchmen to run ahead and pull the stick "goal posts" out of the strip/soccer field so we can take off.
When all is clear, a pull of the throttle lurches us forward and we quickly pick up speed as we bump and bounce across the airstrip and in no time we are airborne as Bere drops out from below us and we take a sharp turn over the trees to buzz the hospital.
It's amazing to see how really small our 20,000 strong village really is. Just a bunch of mudhuts so well camoflouged by the mango trees and millet patches that you can't hardly see anything until the tin roofs of the church, school and finally hospital come into view.
Seeing that tiny clump of trees with a few tin roofs jutting up it's hard to believe that anyone would want to be treated there much less that people would come as far away as Lake Chad and Abeche on the border of Darfur to be operated on in our collection of ragged buildings.
Soon we are crossing a patchwork quilt of rice, millet, peanut and sweet potato fields. The artwork is more of the style of Barcelona's Gaudi with natural lines of trails, islands of trees and a symmetry more geographic than geometric.
We soon pick up the Logone river and follow it's course. Along the banks we see the tiny beehive-shaped, rounded tents of the Arab nomads with herds of cattle and a few horses scattered along the banks. Periodically the glassy surface is broken by the smooth gliding of a wooden log canoe and it's fishermen on their way or already casting their handwoven nets in the shallow, fish-rich waters.
We follow the Logone up and finally see the Tandjile snake it's way up and join it's fast flowing waters right before Koyom and the Pentocostal Hospital. We buzz it's airstrip and notice it's unusable.
Then we pick up altitude, leave the Logone behind and the African plane becomes a distant network of fields, forests and tiny villages.
Finally, we pick up Tchad's other major river, the Chari and follow that all the way to N'Djamena where the Logone and the Chari become one.
One doesn't even notice N'Djamena till one is right on top of it. It's just a large village lost amongst the trees. If it wasn't for the occasional 5-10 story building and the bridge across the Chari and the fact that I knew that's where the Logone joins in I wouldn't have been sure it was N'Djamena. I don't think there is any other capital village in the world like N'Djamena.
The airport is right across the river and has a single runway. There are two other planes pulled up at the airport. We land easily and taxi up the the MAF hangar. Probably the world's smallest international airport (a fact proven later on when we land in Garoua, Cameroun's international airport).
After a few days getting visa's and wasting time trying unsuccessfully to talk to the appropriate authorities to get Gary permission to fly on a permanent basis in Tchad we take off for Cameroun.
Cameroun is unremarkable for about 30 minutes until we hit the national park at Waza where we scare off some herds of antelope and giraffes. I finally feel like I'm really in Africa although some Elephants and Lions would be nice, too.
As we approach Garoua we hit some mountains and Gary flies us between two flat topped plateaus in a valley. The descent combined with an approaching storm and the mountains makes for a bumpy ride that threatens to loosen the tenous hold on my breakfast that I'd been maintaining since N'Djamena.
Sarah had already let up a sickening vomit smell from the back seat. Fortunately, Gary kindly provided us with vomit bags for the flight.
I think it's hypoglycemia as we haven't really eaten well the last few days. We couldn't find any place to stay in N'Djamena until someone finally opened us up a dorm room that hadn't been cleaned in months and didn't have a kitchen. So we were forced to eat off the streets which is slim pickins in N'Djamena (we had to content ourselves with boiled eggs, french rolls and fish soup).
After an uneventful landing and take off for formalities in Garoua, we head into the mountains. The beauty of the rugged cliffs rising from the rich green valleys sprinkeled with fields of corn and millet and wizard hat-like pointed roofed huts is impossible to describe.
Gary calls Maroua Airport to check in and the controller is shocked to hear we're going to Koza since no one has landed there in over 20 years but Gary assures her that the airstrip has been repaired.
One mountain plateau is so broad we dreamed aloud of building a hospital and airstrip on top of it...and it is not exaggerating.
Finally, we climb the last pass and look into Koza's valley. We approach the airstrip. I get the idea Gary is going to land because he goes so low but he's running out of airway. At the last minute he cranks the throttle and whips up over the tree tops before banking hard left and back around. Apparently, he was only looking for cows and holes that kids have dug to find mice to eat.
We circle around again and make a very bouncy jungle strip landing without any problem in time to greet the crowd of kids running up followed by a gang of bikers. By the time we have stopped and started to tie down our two guardians are there with sticks keeping the kids a safe 2-3 feet away. The crowd is so thick it is literally a sea of smiling, laughing and waving faces.
Gary's wife Wendy drives up in Greg and Audrey Shank's pick-up truck and Sarah and my 3 week adventure at the Koza Adventist Hospital (before returning to Bere) is about to begin...