Airports are not quite the same as home and there is no such thing as duty-free. Becky Sedgwick has provided another instalment of the CRESS trip.
After many goodbyes, we set off for the airstrip at 10.45 – MAF had let us know that they were due to land at 11.10. To my surprise there was absolutely nothing there except the landing strip and an empty building with ‘Eagle Air’ painted on the front. Very soon about 30 preschoolers gathered to see the plane arrive. We checked in, and took off. The journey would take us via Arua, where we were due to pick up two passengers, then to another ton and finally to Kajinski. To our great delight, we realised that our pilot was a young South Sudanese – the first from his nation to fly for MAF.
Our take off was delayed by a cow on the runway, but once airborne, the day was gloriously clear and as the leg to Arua took only 25 minutes we didn’t fly very high. Below the plane you could see all of life. Orange ribbon roads snaked across the land, at times following the natural contours of the land and at others conforming to strict geometrical patterns. From the major roads, smaller tracks disappeared, leading to villages and settlements – it was fascinating to see examples of quite large roads ending at a clearing where there was nothing but where someone once must have lived. We flew for the most part over farmland – small checkerboard fields, each delineated by tiny orange threads running around their perimeters. Different colours and textures indicated different crops, and in some you could see crops laid down to dry. From the plane you could see compounds and villages most clearly, mainly tukuls but some brick buildings, their tin roofs shining sharply in the sunshine. Many of the communities were very remote, a long way from the nearest road. Vivid green fields winding through the countryside indicated the path of rivers and where the lie of the land allowed, irrigation channels had been dug that extended the spread of water to quite wide areas either side of the banks.
Approaching Arua, we flew over the town: red and blue ant-like figures on a bone dry football pitch; umbrellas of every colour shading the stalls in the central market; new, prestigious houses being erected on the outskirts; the commercial centre with red and blue and yellow hoardings; motorbikes buzzing along the roads; lorries kicking up the dust as they travelled, often laden with people as well as with cargo; the grid of residential roads; a quarry eating into the land; and finally, the airstrip, where we were able to stretch our legs and admire a marvellously coloured gecko family decorating the walls of the very acceptable facilities while the plane refuelled and our new passengers embarked. Another leg to a really remote settlement to pick up a passenger and then back to Kajinski.