Monday, June 13, 2011

June 13th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
This week I visited some magnificent northern portions of the Lake Volta.  Namely, Dambai, Kete Krachi and Yeji, gaining access by a combination of road and Volta Lake Transport Company ferries.  Magnificent is actually an understatement, for there are no words to describe the beauty of the landscape and the people on this journey.
The journey had many purposes, one was to see the condition of the waters along the Oti, the Sene confluence and up towards where the Black Volta mixes with the White Volta currents near the Yeji port. I have flown extensively over the lower parts of the lake, from Worawora southwards to Ada, and all along the Afram leg – more times than I can remember.  Those waters I know like the back of my hand, I have flown them for pleasure, for survey, for health education projects, for agricultural projects and in relation to flood issues, and so the southern lake is my home ground.  However, as we head north the waters are different.  I remember, on my two recent flights to the Kete Krachi peninsula, noting the waters and the edges of the water had a different ‘feel’ to them in the north. It was only natural to want to take a closer look from the surface, before we start the amphibian aircraft operations and aerial survey work on that part of the lake later this year.  The weather in that part of the lake is different too, and weather is a big influencing factor of both aviation and maritime activities. 
Driving from Kpong Airfield to the Dambai port is a fascinating drive, you get to look onto the lake around the Anfoega leg, and realise that the water level, although receding, is still creating on-going challenges and hardships for many of the lake-edge agro-sustenance communities.  Branching at Jasikan in the Volta region, one is devoid of fuel supply stops until reaching Dambai itself.  A point to note if you are taking this trip!  Once in Dambai the absence of the ‘big names’ for fuel stations is surprising, and makes an influence on our decisions as to whether to establish a seaplane base in the area, for without good quality, well maintained fuel storage facilities it is far from prudent to establish an aviation centre.  Sadly, the fuel station there, happy to make a sale for the day, informed me that ‘fuel is sold to the nearest cedi’ and having stopped filling my tank at a fifty pesewa point, I would need to pay the extra half a cedi to make him smile.  This is another negative point for the development of this part of Ghana – negative business practices dissuade positive growth.  
Once aboard the Ferry, and ready to make the crossing to the laterite road to Kete Krachi, it is smooth sailing for the ‘less-than-two-kilometre’ crossing.  The crew were welcoming and we looked at the sky together, and the waters.  The Oti is a very pleasant piece of water, and the proximity to the ridges at the tail end of the Akwapim-Togo range adds to that beauty. 
The sky in this part of Ghana looks so different to the south.  It is fashioned by different factors.  Sufficiently far away from the sea to be devoid of the influence of the Atlantic, and yet surrounded by a large bubbling water body that creates a temperature gradient day and night.  The road to Kete Krachi is not too bad, for an un-tarred rural road.  It is corrugated and does restrict speed of travel, if you value your vehicle and your health! 
Returning to Kete Krachi, which we visited in February to look at their airstrip, was wonderful.  Seeing the school children walking along the side of the edge-nibbled roads, observing the lake in the distance as you round over the last high point before descending to the township; the feelings of ‘warmth and welcome’ washed over us.
The DCE’s office was full of welcome, as was the Education office.  Thanks were given for flying their young people on our ‘fly me day’ in March, when we flew one hundred children from around the country; and then the clear and unstoppable declaration of desire to reactivate their airfield.  In the ‘less-than-twenty-four hours’ we were in Kete Krachi, the airfield was cleared and made readily useable by a willing community working party, led by the DCE and overseen by the students from the AvTech Academy!  Now that is a community worth investing in!
Setting sail in the late morning aboard the Yapei Queen, we encountered a heavy storm.  Yam crates on the deck of the vessel rocked precariously, and between the darked sky and reduced visibility through torrential rain, the banks of the river segment could no longer be seen.  The skill of Captain Nat came to the forefront, and as a pilot with experience of heavy weather navigation, I stood on the bridge next to the ‘man-in-command’ and watched as he carefully adjusted his headings to compensate for the swell, the currents and the wind until the tempest subsided. 
Docking at the smaller communities along the way to Yeji gave me a chance to study the changes in surface and banks below, as well as the mottled skies above.  A very different place to the south.  Different dangers were present that needed taken into consideration before operating a float plane in these waters – and the purpose of the trip from the aviation, and associated humanitarian activities, perspective was coming together.
Late that night we finally docked at Yeji.  If Yeji needs a nickname, it has to be ‘town of the flies’.  As I walked out onto the deck the sky was filled with millions upon millions of flies. 
Early the next morning the sky was clear on one side, and as black as the night on the other.  A horseshoe of cumulonimbus grasped the surroundings of Yeji.  I drove to the port ready to observe the waters for amphibian landings.  As I stepped from my vehicle a wonderful, feature filled lady of no small age, rushed up to me forcing me away from the water’s edge saying emphatically ‘DANGER-DANGER’.  Her concern was that the strangers to her town may not understand the danger of sailing under the heavy sky, laden with wind and driving rain. 
She need not have feared, for safety is key to all of our operations.  In aviation we say ‘it is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground’.  Similarly, our maritime friends know all too well that ‘it is better to be ashore wishing you were sailing, than to be sailing wishing you were ashore!’
The climate is different in those parts.  Not only the atmospheric climate, but also the economic climate and the ‘way-of-doing-business’ climate.  Although we cannot change the weather, prudent policies and investments can change the economic climate for those in such places.  Perhaps you should make a visit to see what you can do to bring about positive change!
 Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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