Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

If you had to be a PART of an aircraft, which part would you be? I would be a wing. Just one. Probably the left one.

Where does this bizarre statement come from? Well, it comes from many years of trying to be all the parts of an aircraft, only to realize that being a left wing is more fun, more beneficial and, frankly, more practical for me. It is even a part of the Millennium Development Goals - Millennium Development Goal 8, “Develop a global partnership for development”, which encourages wide participation and close collaboration between all development actors. Confused? Please, stay with me on this… it gets more complicated!

Consider the following concept:

  • A path-beater is somebody who beats the bush down in orderto create path. What use is that path     unless others follow and use it – ensuring that it remains clear and operational? If the path beater clears the path and moves on, the path is soon overgrown and impassable by others. It is important to clear a path, establish a safe route, AND that others will, and do, follow. 

Now, take that concept and add the spice of a slightly objectionable, in your face and direct person who seeks progress for all, but is strong minded, independent and thinks out of the box – not always easy to work with, unless you are of a similar nature.

I accept that I am a bit like a single rail of a railway line – punching out – working to find the best route for a single rail, hoping that another rail will find a route alongside. Why? Because it takes TWO rails to run a train on…and sleepers, and fish-plates and so much more…

In order for the masses to get anywhere, it takes BOTH rails, and all their associated parts, to be in place. I once tried to be both rails, but it is not possible – they are laid parallel at an 1 in 20 slope to each other – and I can only lean one way!

Recently I have found the concept of finding ‘rails that run parallel to me with a tilt of 1 in 20 in my direction’ are good partners. Those other rails (organisations and individuals) who do not want to be in the exact position as me, but to be at a certain distance and with a leaning towards me and my rail, are great assets – and, if worked together with, can result in the movement of some heavy goods! The two rails must never converge nor diverge – that would be a disaster – they must remain perfectly parallel with a little leaning towards each other.

How many people do we know that we ‘could never work with’, or have tried to work with and found it to be a ‘minefield of unexpected explosions and casualties’! If we are honest, a lot! Yet, how many of those people have corresponding targets and goals, but are simply not ‘made’ to be in the same space – but rather to run parallel – leaning towards you, as you lean towards them, both heading at the same forwards, towards the same end goal, station and buffer stops!?

It is great when there are others with similar minds and ways of doing things that join your (in my case left) rail. Yet we often miss the fact that the parallel rail is as important as our own – and we must lean towards, but not cross, converge or diverge from it, for fear of endangering the many who wish to travel on the tracks of our development!

Back to wings and planes: Aircraft have (at least) two wings. They appear identical, but are far from it – they are mirror images of each other – everything laid out in opposition – yet serving the very same function. In flying, when the left aileron goes up, the right one goes down and vice-versa! They are attached to the aircraft at a slight (mirrored) angle, leaning in towards each other – either up (dihedral) or down (anhedral). More structural work goes into fixing these wings on opposite sides of the fuselage, where those going somewhere will travel, than goes into the wings themselves – something has to absorb the resultant stress!

Separation of supposedly similar entities, working together, enabling another process to happen, each ‘left has a right, and each right a left’ – and they must never meet – only lean towards each other, with suitable (mechanical) stress absorption in the middle!

Imaging trying to fly with just a left wing or run a railway line with just one rail... both would result in mishaps and challenges that would result in zero positive advancement towards the goal or destination.

In our daily activities we may demonstrate many skills, but we are all better at some than others. Others will excel at our weak points and be weak in our strongpoints. The trick is to ‘pair up’ with the necessary other rail or wing and to make faster more efficient movements in the positive direction of travel – enabling others, many of whom may be passive passengers, to move with you as well!

Meeting this week with a great Ghanaian thinker, humanitarian and research guru, we chatted about our differences. My strength lies in oil, grease, fuel and getting cuts on my hands. Ask me to solve a problem, build a solution, make it work and make it repeatable, reliable as well as cost- and outcome-efficient and that is where my personal strength lies. Add an element of adventure, technical challenges, working to a deadline and a humanitarian benefit, and I am in my element!

My learned friend has a different approach. He excels at people, office work, letters, meetings, discussions, forums, workshops and political correctness. None of which is in my bones – not at all! Yet, our end goals are identical – we both lean heavily towards certain humanitarian end game concepts for rural Ghanaians.

Both of us are ‘cartoons’ – that is we are incredibly animated. We both tend to be loud. We are both ready to go to extraordinary lengths to push our objectives forwards. We both respect the position of the other – but would not want to be the other – we celebrate our differences.

Much as we can sit in a meeting together and work on a project together, we could never work in the same place – nor on the same ASPECT of a project. However, joining hands we can make any project in our joint-field-of-vision more effective, productive, efficient, dynamic and long-lasting. We both wear our staff out. We are both considered a little ‘eccentric’.

We are each an opposing wing. We cannot be in the others place…. It is not natural for us. We work actively together, finding the common goals that enable us to ‘Develop a partnership for development’ with a positive, yet otherwise unachievable, end point.

Each of us has travelled alone and got a certain distance remarkably quickly, but we realise and accept that one rail or one wing is not enough if we are to maximise outcomes.

From now on we will metaphorically fly with BOTH wings firmly attached. Each being equally strong and structurally sound, yet a mirror image of each other - taking to the skies with confidence on a journey that will carry others along on a ride that will change their lives.

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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