Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I fly overhead a particular little farmyard tens of times each week. There are six small mud built homes planted haphazardly around the dust swept yard. The agro-hamlet is located right under the turning point onto base leg, for an approach to runway one-niner, at Kpong Airfield, and since that is a right hand circuit, and I sit on the right hand side whilst instructing, I get a perfect vertical view on that turn. An average ‘circuits lesson’ covers about eight of the turns – and since circuits are the ‘bread and butter’ of learning to fly, I get to see that little farmyard a lot – an awful lot.

However, last week there was increased activity in that small place, located at the end of a twenty minute trek into the bush down a narrow footpath. I did not know that the families there kept guinea fowl; those grey birds that look like a short, arthritic old lady from the late 1800’s, wearing a Victorian bustle gown! The common pearl-grey guinea fowl is incredibly bountiful, in the wild and in the farmyards, but there are also the white ones – possibly albino, probably just ‘different’. 

Guinea fowl tend to move in a crowd, and to make a lot of noise. From my observation post at five hundred feet above, and with an eighty horsepower engine drumming its tunes ahead, I could not hear the commotion on the ground, but I was certain that the ‘noise was plenty’. Starting in one corner it seems that a pearl-grey had caught some tasty morsel of invertebrate, and was making a dash to get away from the crowd for a more ‘private snack’. The accompanying pearl-greys put up a pursuit in hope of a morsel of the mouthful of such a gastronomic bug. Meanwhile, the commotion attracted the attention of the white guinea fowl on the other side of the rough swept dirt pitch; and a large, somewhat intimidating, group of white guinea fowl dropped their heads and charged at the bug-bearing champion. Bear in mind, I was watching this during a turn, a time span of around twenty seconds, but, as I twisted my head out of the window, round and down, I could see that the commotion was continuing and the entire cosmopolitan flock of pearl-grey and white birds were pursuing their so called ‘friend’ in a hope of snatching a leg off of the small nutritional discovery in the bush. The combined energies were massive and the dust lifted off of the feet of the flock as if they were playing a very aggressive game of rugby!

Nobody was home in the agro-hamlet, nobody but the fowls and the other livestock. My student could not see the event, but simply wondered what had caught my attention. Therefore, I am probably the only witness to this particular event, and certainly the only one to see it from above – the best place to watch such a spectacle. It still makes me smile when I replay the images in my built in visual-memory player!

Of course, being who I am, I relate such events to the world around me. I see all too often a community of happy folks, all living alongside one another, scratching for their livings, making ends meet and moving as one flock. Then, an individual strikes it lucky, they find the nugget of gold and knowing that the others want it, try to make a run for it, hoping that nobody else will see them. The crowd then spends more energy chasing the lucky one than it would take to find their own nugget, and, eventually, the one with the nugget is so tired from running that the nugget gets split into many pieces resulting in nobody feeling satisfied. Does that sound familiar?

Far too often in all societies, and all families, jealousy destroys development and growth. I was once told that the only difference between two people with the same backgrounds and abilities and their subsequent success is ‘hard-work’. ‘What about luck?’, I hear you ask, ‘Some people are just lucky’. But of course, we all make our own ‘luck’ through our hard work… So, if we work doubly-hard we are twice as likely to find some ‘luck’, and with it achievement.

As per the guinea fowl, we can see that those who have scratched hard, and in the right place, will find some morsel that will create jealousy. It is impossible to avoid it. So, if you don’t want people to be jealous of you, don’t make the effort to succeed. Of course, then the same folks will accuse you of being lazy! If you do succeed, it is amazing how much destructive energy can come from those who feel ‘affronted’ that you have ‘won the prize’, and even more surprising is the number of couch potatoes that can suddenly find the energy to pursue what they perceive as easy pickings – but spend more energy on scheming than they would on ‘making it straight’ through personal efforts.

Seeing it from the air is most amazing. The white fowls ran a greater distance in twenty seconds than they had probably moved all day. IF they had spent as much energy scratching at the edges of the dirt to shrub-land they would have found more than what they were chasing! There is no substitute for personal effort for personal achievement; there is no glory in chasing down a fellow flock member and stealing their gains – none whatsoever.

I was heartened this week to fly a young man who is working on a housing project. He a member of land-owning family who have traditionally sold their land for ‘cash-now’. ‘Cash-now’ is not good. Well, it is good NOW, but it is not good TOMORROW. The traditional land sale system results in a pot of cash and a family-fowl-dash to see who can grab the most and run into the bush with it. This is a scenario I, and I am sure you, have seen far too often. This young man stated that he would not be taking any cash from the sale of the land to the developers. He wanted a share in the company. He wanted to use the collateral of his portion of land to create a long term asset that would provide a trickle of income. Smart, but it creates all sorts of other ‘issues’ – such as ‘you should have taken the cash – you are putting yourself at risk in case it does not work out’. Personally, I think that the young man would have been more at risk of all sorts of family members chasing him across the country wanting their ‘titbit’ NOW, and is more likely to be able to ‘calm the flock’ by having a steady supply of nutrition from judicious decision making and appropriate use of resources.

So, next time you feel pursued for your success, imagine the view from an aircraft of the mayhem on the ground, and then try telling the rest of the flock to ‘go dig up your own invertebrates’!

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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