Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

One of the great compliments that comes with my day-to-day interactions with folks is the comment ‘Wow, you have a great job!’ Most people are subsequently shocked when I reply ‘But I don’t have a job!’ The quizzical look finds some relief in the subsequent sentence of ‘Actually, I have a way of life.’ And that is the truth.

A job is something you do between eating, sleeping and leisure time, usually for about eight hours per day, five days per week, forty-eight weeks of the year. A way of life is all consuming. Twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week, fifty two weeks of the year. What is more, a way of life is a choice you make, and then you live it.

I really don’t ever want a job again. A job simply does not fulfil me. It does not satisfy my mind and being. This way of life is special, and I am not alone.

Take the livestock farmer. It is not a job, it is a way of life. You cannot say to your cows, pigs and chickens ‘I will only look after you Monday to Friday from 0900 to 1700’. You cannot say to a cow with a challenging labour ‘Ok, that is enough for today, we will pick that back up at 0900 tomorrow morning – and make a note of where got to’. The farmer cannot say to his chickens ‘I want to rest more today, so, please, collect your own eggs and fetch your own water’. Well, the farmer could, but then, I am sure you would agree, he would no longer be a farmer, but a farm-hand.

I used to have a job. I did it well. It paid well. It came with perks of the financial and motor-vehicle kind. It never satisfied me. Honestly, it never came close to the completeness I find in my way of life.

In an interview recently I was asked to describe my ‘normal day’. Here it is – and never think for a moment it is without tears, frustration, anger and despair – they are all in there, as part of the charm!

0530 Wake up to the sound of birds chirping and another crow landing on the metal sheet roofing above my head.

0531 Look out of the window and up at the sky, visual weather observation and forecast for the morning. Scan the buildings, vehicles and facilities for any challenges lurking in the grass.

0540 Check the satellite image for any impending weather systems heading our way.

0545 Respond to the e-mails from other time zones.

0600 Bucket bath – the best that Ghana has to offer – you know, one big bucket with water in (warm if a kind fairy has heated some on the stove), and a little bucket to scoop and pour. Once you discover a bucket bath you are hooked!

0630 Ready for the day. Walking out onto the airfield – watching the pin-tailed whydah dance his merry dance with a tail four times longer than his own body. The Senegalese Coucal on the fence looks at me and hops down as if to say ‘oops, should not have been there’, and flaps into a short low-level glide to put another ten metres between us.

Agama lizards pop up their heads and do the press-up dance; dogs run up and try to spoil your clothes, all greeting you to another new day of opportunities – and more!

0730 Staff and students arrive at the briefing room and the day’s duties are either taken silently or discussed, more often a silent distribution of the tasks of running an airfield are absorbed by the growing understanding of the needs by the capable team that also make this their way of life.

0800 Under a plane, looking at a gascolator installation, draining fuel, changing wire-locks, fuelling-up, checking nuts, bolts and clevis pins and preparing aircraft for their next leap into the air of the ‘Territory of the Republic of Ghana’. Building a wing, fuselage or tail section is done as a lesson to the students who bring their eager willingness to the bench. Flights, of course, take place, and when they do, I am designated my students to teach or mission to fly by one of my own staff – yes, they choose the rota, not me, for they must sustain it! This routine gets interrupted (all too often) by phone calls and occasional visitors who wish to learn more about how aircraft are built and fly.

1200 Lunch – a welcome opportunity to drink a litre or more of cool water, and to absorb some of the best of West African cuisine that exists on the planet. Omo Tuo is a favourite – the rice ball being a delicacy, especially once dipped in the peanut soup that cries out to be ingested. West African cuisine is so, so special!

1300 Back to the workshop, or back to the skies. Perhaps an agricultural survey, a photo-video mission, training flight, or some flight trials, perhaps some gift flights for rural children – and of course, my favourite flights – health education runs – taking something special to those who are infrastructurally isolated, yet generally living a way of life that is called ‘survival’.

1800 As the sun seeks refuge behind the Akwapim-Togo range, we all lock up the tools, tie down the planes, arm the alarm systems and head to the accommodation units. Here the e-mails of the day need to be responded to, one by one. Requests for information, visit requests, official mails, and of course ordering of parts to keep the metal birds in the sky. The evening is occasionally punctuated by the odd bat flying around the room, a welcome opportunity for some sportive running, jumping and catching! Charm filled, if you ask me!

2000 As my eyes get heavy, the bed calls and peaceful sleep engulfs me, but not before one last peek out of the window to check the place I call home, counting off the aircraft tails glimmering in the sunlight, and watching the owl fly a few feet from the window, seemingly glancing at me as he passes.

The carpet of my office is green most of the year, it goes brown in the Harmattan and black after a bush fire, but always returns to green by early April, without any painting! My ceiling is blue, with moving white puffy clouds making white patterns, and the occasional grey slab of the automatic washing/watering system that sustains the green of the carpet. My office chair is a rise and fall one. It seats two people. With correct coaxing it will rise many thousands of feet into the air, and glide across the skies providing more eye-candy than you can dream of – and then gracefully descend to kiss the green carpet.

To some this would be a job. To me it is a way of life. Thankfully, for many of my team it is a way of life too – and that makes it even more special.

Perhaps you should look for your ‘way of life’ over ‘a job’ – but beware, there is no reward without a sacrifice!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

1 comment:

  1. Found this captivating and inspiring! Thank you.
    ~ Liz.