The proud parent of the pilot

I’m drinking my freshly-stewed (sorry, brewed) coffee, well at least it’s less stewed than it will be for the other passengers, because I’ve been served first. Feeling privileged!

I’m on the first flight of the morning from Newcastle to Melbourne and at the wheel, (ok, it’s not actually a wheel, but let’s not get too technical) is my first-born son.

Yes, I’m putting my life in his hands at 35,000 feet above terra firma. It’s an odd, but good feeling. Of course this isn’t the first time that he’s flown me. I’ve done several short flights in Cessnas and the like, but during those flights I didn’t take the time to reflect and ponder, I was too busy praying and wetting myself simultaneously!

I know my son does this piloting thing all the time now and to him it’s second nature to be in charge of a speeding metal can hurtling through the clouds, but to unscientific me, who fails to grasp even the basic laws of physics, I am just amazed that he knows how to fly this thing, and land it safely.

As we make our descent into Melbourne, I hear his familiar voice announcing our ETA, weather conditions etc. He even thanks us for choosing to fly his airline – what a well-brought up boy! Believe it or not I find my eyes filling with tears. The man on the aisle gives me a strange look, but these are tears of joy and pride. If it wasn’t that I’d definitely embarrass one of the pilots, I just manage to stop myself from shouting out to the entire cabin that it’s my boy who’s landing the plane!

A meadow in Oxford

Summer blue sky
 
Wispy clouds chased by gentle cooling breezes
 
Verdant riverbanks, dense and luscious
 
Geese feasting greedily on lunchtime leftovers
 
Murky waters gently flowing downstream, swirled up by passing punts and barges
 
A mother duck leading her ducklings in a row
 
Crowded tourist boats
 
Cameras frantically snapping the city of history behind me – freezing the moment for posterity
 
Children playing
 
Lovers embracing
 
The sound of birds, boats, laughter and diverse tongues
 
A moment to relax, refresh, reflect, renew …
 
Seated under the shade of a horse chestnut tree that has overlooked this scene for thousands of days, I reflect on how it would be if I actually took the time to notice and enjoy the simple things in every day.Image

Where on earth?

Burkina Faso is ranked 9th lowest in the Human Development Index. With a population of just over 15.8 million, the average age of its citizens is 17.

Unlike neighbouring Ghana, there are no cocoa or oil exports. Recent deposits of gold have been found, but they are unlikely to change daily life for the vast majority of Burkinabés.

Here the landscape is dry and harsh. During the rainy season it’s possible for subsistence farmers to grow crops and raise livestock, but when the dry season hits, there is no water to irrigate the crops and the average person living in the country is too poor to afford the costs involved of obtaining water from deep beneath the ground.

Flying in to Ouagadougou airport, all you can see for miles around is scrub and very red earth. Everything you touch has a fine coating of red soil. It begins to coat your throat after a few days. Life here is tough. You get the impression that for the vast majority every day is a struggle to survive.

On exiting the airport, hawkers try to sell you SIM cards and cheap souvenirs as well as offer to exchange US dollars. I feel embarrassed as we are whisked away through the chaos into the hotel van. We are afforded a 5 minute glimpse of the real Ouagadougou before pulling into the sanctuary of the Hotel Azalai Indépendance. This is the place where expats, mainly French & Belgian, gather by the pool on a hot Sunday afternoon, enjoying the benefits of a cooling swim and a few beers. If it wasn’t for the anachronism of cell phones and free wifi, I could easily believe I was back in the days of Colonialism. I am, however, very grateful for the French influence on the bakeries. The bread and croissants are as good as in Parisian restaurants. The poor Ghanaians have been left a legacy of British cuisine at its worst!

As soon as we leave the tranquility of our little oasis, we enter the chaos of cars, trucks, scooters, bikes and the occasional donkey and cart. Exhaust fumes, heat, dust and sweat can be overpowering as we try to navigate along the side of the road without being hit, in search of Burkinabé fabric.

Outside of the city, it seems to get even hotter and we follow the sealed road, which eventually leads to the Ghanian border, for about an hour. As soon as we pull off the main road we hit the dirt and create plumes of red dust which swirl behind our comfortable, air conditioned landcruiser.

Waiting to meet us at the village are men, women and children from not just this village, but from neighbouring ones too. Some have walked for many kilometres. A few of the children smile and wave, while others cower in fear as this is their first encounter with a white face.

We sit in the small village church, the men on one side, the women and children on the other. What is unusual about this meeting is that the church is filled not just with Christians, but there are Muslims, including the village chief, along with Animists and others. They are coming together in unity as part of a pilot community development program facilitated by the church. It seems to be having an amazing impact on this village and beyond. Many of the men and women testify that their lives are beginning to change as a result of working together and sharing ideas and resources to create food security and income generation. They are dreaming big and hopefully these gorgeous kids, many of whom are tied to their mothers’ backs, will grow up to complete their schooling; to become business owners; to be self sufficient.

Small steps of progress are being made, but life is still tough. I need to remember this place when I get back home. I need to be more grateful for what I have and be willing to share more.