Come fly with me

By Tohru Inoue | Sudan and South Sudan in East Africa

Photo by SIM Stories East Africa.

Ever wonder what it’s like to travel into rural South Sudan?

What do your eyes see on the way? What does your skin feel when the aircraft wheels lift off the ground and when they rumble on the dirt airstrip? What do you first smell when the cabin doors open?

I’ll tell you what it’s like.

Let me take you to South Sudan. We’ll start here in Kenya where most of our team flies in and out on small charter flights.

Plane in front of gentle blue sunrise in Kenya.

Early morning departure. Photo credits: SIM Stories East Africa.

Wispy clouds over green hills in East Africa.

Scenes below. Photo credits: SIM Stories East Africa.

Roads on the largely brown earth look like veins.

Photo credits: AIM Air.

When you buckle up, settle into your seat, and first look out the window, you may feel a sense of anxiety. Sure, the first time it seems fun. Yes, there are those who are excited about travelling from one place to another. For some, there’s still the childlike wonder of going into a small plane. You can see the pilot flying the plane right in front of you; you can watch buttons being pushed, the throttle being moved back and forth, the steering turned from left to right and the plane following suit. You can see out both sides of the airplane in a near panoramic view of all the breathtaking scenery below. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of migrating animals.

But when it’s the umpteenth time you’ve done it… You worry about headaches in flight. There’s the thinner air at 13,000 feet, the last-minute fretting of, “Did I pack everything I need?” You start to wonder how much the spiderwebs have reclaimed your formerly clean house. Some think of the long flight without a bathroom. Others worry about what immigration at the border will say; the required paperwork changes so often.

But once you’re stamped in and on your last leg to Doro after a long day of flying, you’ll inevitably experience the exhilaration of seeing friends again.

Little buildings dot the landscape between trees. An airplane runway lies ahead.

Final approach. Photo credits: SIM Stories East Africa.

When you land, you smell the dust in the air. When it’s the rainy season, the sweet smell of the grass and earth are in the air. Nowhere else, it seems, do you see the stark contrast the rains can bring. Its presence is life; its absence is death. The season brings a sense of anticipation. When the dust is high, so too is the payoff of that refreshing feeling when the rains sweep through. The excitement of rains long withheld falling with abandon on the ground, pounding it back to life. Some colleagues have even spoken of how giddy they feel. Do you feel it in your tummy as well?

The rains help to slow down the day, to make visits with people over tea and coffee last much longer as you wait for the weather to clear. The rainy season is a way of life.

When you leave the plane and get “home” you feel the squishy mud between your toes. It reminds you of what it was like when, as a young child, you handled playdough for the first time. But here, no one’s watching. Your parents are not here to tell you to get out of the mud. It’s okay; you can enjoy it.

Refugee camps set up around palm trees in bright daylight.

The refugee camps. Photo credits: SIM Stories East Africa.

Once you’re settled and go walking in the village and the refugee camps, you’ll start to smell the aroma of roasting coffee. It reminds our folks of friendship. It’s the smell of guests coming. It reminds you of your mother starting the kettle and opening a pack of cookies when the neighbours came to call. The smell of coffee makes some of our colleagues think of long conversations that are not on the “clock,” that have no natural deadline. Out here, coffee creates time.

Still, every time our folks climb on the plane to head into South Sudan, there’s the occasional thought of whether old friends will still be there. Many live in refugee camps. It’s not uncommon for people to relocate to other refugee camps or to move back north across the border.

That’s the life they live — those who make that trip into this little corner of God’s world where He’s making himself known. Getting on that plane is an adventure. A friend wrote of it, “It’s the meeting of faith and foolishness.” When the engine fires up and you start taxiing to the runway, you’ll hear others around you whisper under their breath, “Here we go…”

If you’re interested in coming, hop on. I’d love to show you around. Because as much as I can try to explain it all to you, you just have to experience it for yourself.

The pilot and copilot are ready to take off.

Hop on. Photo credits: SIM Stories East Africa.

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