Monday, September 16, 2013

September 16th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I was asked 'Where did it all begin?', a question that I have asked myself a thousand times, and never taken the time to answer - for the answer is not simple. So now, perhaps I should, and I invite you to share that moment - well actually plethora, nay myriad of moments!

My mother tells me that I spent too long in her womb (close to 10 months), and arrived in the world ready to eat bacon and eggs. I do not think she was telling the truth, but it is good that I was a large, healthy baby, since I contracted whooping cough in my early months. Apparently, my mother purchased lots of baby rattles and placed them on the cot, so that she could hear me moving in the night -reassuring herself that this fifth born child was going to live despite a negative outlook at the time. It was a close call, but it worked - and I am still here!

My younger years were not healthy ones. I seem to have missed a lot schooling, and rarely did outside things through my asthma and apparent penchant for getting sick. The upside was that I got to spend a lot of time at home, with my best friends. My best friends did not talk, nor did they ever demand anything from me. My best friends would only wait for me to interact with them. When I did, they filled my days with adventure, knowledge and inspiration. My best friends were books - from fiction, biographies, from encyclopaedias to the newspaper! I was able to read from an early age, encouraged by my four older siblings, and embraced the art of reading to be as necessary as the survival instinct of breathing. I have to read. I love to read. Even today I read for at least an hour every day. Put a document down near me, and I will read it. I even read the small print on the breakfast cereal - and love reading upside down and in the mirror - reading is such a wonderful exercise for the mind, as well as a source of new information to feed the grey computer with!

My father was a multi-denominational lay preacher. One Sunday we visited a particular church - it had a bookshop. There was a set of books on the shelf called 'Jungle Doctor' (by Paul White). These processed trees, coated with the authors cipher, with colourful sketches on the cover, called out to me. That calling was strong. Thankfully, I was presented with the books before we left that church - and it possibly prevented me starting a career in 'shop-lifting'! I think that was the very day that something different began inside of me.

I read those books, and the pages flicked over faster and faster, my eyes roving like a laser scanner. I devoured the stories. They had adventure and morals. The stories fed my imagination. Medicine, education, aviation and Africa were all in there - and are all part of my life today.

Later those seeds slipped into the fertile neuron fields of grey matter, hidden from consciousness, but clearly not forgotten, developing a root system that has, today, led to inspirations of my flying and health education outreaches that can be traced back to those simple paperbacks.

My love of reading became an addiction, sitting in the house, self-entertaining - learning.

Later, my parents moved next door to a school in the South of England. I could be the first to school every day - and if I was sick my teachers could send my work home to read! Then the troubles of over-self-learning presented themselves. I got into a heated debate with a teacher, in relation to nuclear energy. I had read all about it, and was well versed in the issues related to fission and fusion. The teacher had not read the same books, and wanted to keep the information 'simple'. To avoid further discourse and delay to the class, I was sent to the headmaster. It was not the first time, nor the last. It was a turning point in my life.

The headmaster had a bottle of whiskey on his desk. His speech slurred, his head unstable. He may have had problems, but taking those problems to the school, was not, in my 9 year old head, appropriate. 'What have you done wrong?', he demanded. 'I told my teacher about fusion and fission.' was my simple response. The poor man was clearly struggling with the conversation before him. My propensity for the truth could not be contained any longer and I proudly advised 'you would be a better headmaster if you didn't drink so much.' I was summarily sent outside his office.

A short while later my parents walked, from the house next door, to the school office. They entered the headmasters room. I sat outside, reading the newspaper. A few minutes later I was informed that 'I had been expelled'. 

Being expelled is not always a good thing - but for me, that was one of the best days of my life. A day when it all began. 

I was enrolled to a school a few miles away. My new teacher was ex-military, stricter than a Sergeant Major. He expected us to stand to attention each morning - and to read lots of things. He was a magnificent older gentleman with a backbone of steel, at least that is what I thought, for he never bent, physically nor metaphorically. Straight as the yard stick, which he actually used on the blackboard! We got on well, and he was always ready to listen to my wild ideas on making things, creating things, adventures and the like. He allowed me to write stories that could be as fan-magically-science-fictionally-bizarre as I could manage. He must have been watering those hidden seeds in my sub-conscious, aware of what can happen if you allow a child's brain freedom and encourage every corner of that mind growth potential.

I can remember my imagination being fuelled by the likes of Asimov, Huxley and Orwell - not the normal reading for a ten year old - but they used such wonderful imagery and wrote with such passion, that I loved these books. My other passion was plants. I loved cacti and all plants that survived against the odds (Xerophytes). My room was filled with the spiny fellows - some even had names - and I read about every aspect of botany that I could. My imagination was fuelled by science fiction, and my hobby was growing bizarre plants! Not a normal ten year old at all!

Perhaps it was here that my future was being made. My beginnings were not normal, not at all. But that is, I believe, where it all began for me.

Today, when I dig around the garden of my mind, I find testimonials to the beginnings of my path to where I am today in those events. This beginning prepared me well for a life in aviation, education and health in the rural parts of West Africa.

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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