Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Ridealong with a {handsome} MAF Pilot

The propeller slows to a stop and my husband flips open the airplane door. He pulls off his helmet and speaks.

I’ve never heard my husband say those words before. I don’t even know what they mean. But the man standing on the ground of Long Bawan answers him, both their smiles spreading wide as they chat in this dialect of an ancient Borneo tribe.

I’ve joined my husband for a day-long ride-along in his MAF airplane, something I try to do every year or two. The last time I went, I was several months’ pregnant with my now 17-month-old daughter. The kids are back at home in Tarakan today—Evan with a friend, Renea with a sitter.

The MAF strip agent uses the trade language—Indonesian—with me as he reaches his hand out to meet me. He then empties the plane full load of people and supplies. The guy who just finished college in Tarakan—where I live—joined his father to return home to his village, hoping to find work there.

I chat with them, then with a woman on the ground who tells me she’s been waiting a week for a plane to take her boxes of food from Long Bawan—which is near the Malaysian border with good access to some food items—to her smaller, more remote village of Binuang.

We won’t be able to take her today, my husband’s schedule already full of other flights in a place where the needs almost always outnumber the hours in the day before clouds or darkness or fatigue bring the plane back to Tarakan.

We take off as the village disappears into the jungle, the mountains soon becoming ripples underneath wispy white puffs.

And I watch the world grow bigger and shrink smaller from the window of an airplane.

Our next stop is a small jungle city where a friend of ours is supposed to arrive sometime later that day. We’re delivering a guitar and clothes that our MAF team is donating to this pastor’s village—located a boat ride away from Malinau. He’s not there yet, so we drop off this Christmas present from us to them at the airport.

Back in the plane, the floor behind us is covered with more than a ton of aluminum roofing for building a school office in the village of Paupan.

Brad uses the time to try to teach me about the Cessna Caravan—how to use the foot pedals and the yoke and the instruments to stay on course, dodge the terrain and avoid the clouds.

He points out hidden villages, sprinkled in the valleys, hugging dirt airstrips that are lifelines in a place of no paved roads and no hospitals.

I smile my pride in this husband who is living the dream of flying while helping people, remembering his recent words that he “lives in awe of this life.”

We land in a village where I spent five days back in the summer, helping to run a day camp for the kids. I recognize their faces as they run toward the plane, then stop, keeping a safe, shy distance from the white lady (though they surround the pilot).

We visit the home of the pastor and his wife who helped to host our team, back when she was nine months’ pregnant with her now chubby boy.

A neighbor visits while we drink tea, their son calling Brad a derivation of "Pilot"--"Pa-Lot” and me, “Ma-Lot.”

I like my new name, saying it in my head as we take off again, heading toward our home on the edge of Borneo.

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