Black Cotton Soil

black-cotton-soil-250x250Fuel Selectors…………………………………..2 On

Firewall Shutoffs………………………………..2 In

Trims…………………………………………….3 Set

Out of the corner of my eye, I see women and children running toward the runway and my thoughts break away from the Engine Start Checklist. “That is strange,” I think to myself, “Why would they be running toward the runway, when I am just about to start for taxi? That doesn’t make any sense,” but I return to my checklist just the same. I landed at this black cotton soil strip early in the morning and had offloaded the supplies quickly, with plans to make a swift departure. Recent fighting in the area had made this an airstrip in which we could not land unless our contact on the ground reported it was immediately safe to do so. And now I did not desire to delay on the ground to see if his security assessment was wrong.

Bleeds…………………………………………..Off

Condition Lever……..…………………………Cutoff

“Pilot,” came the voice from under my left wing. The voice was a familiar one. The normally smiling South Sudanese man was our contact person who had given the ‘all clear’ call moments before my landing, but now he was no longer smiling. “I have to go and clear the runway,” he continued on with an unsettled voice. “There is a mad dog biting people on the runway. Give me a moment to get rid of him.”

Now what I had been seeing began to make sense. The people were running toward the runway in hopes to help the one who was being bitten. With my mind slowly trying to find the words, I inadequately stammer out a simple, “Sorry,” and nod my head in understanding. I return to the checklist, and as I do, I hear his last, chilling statement, “The dogs run and have been chewing on the dead bodies.”

Prop……………………………………………Feather

Power Lever…………………………………..Idle

I try to return to my checklist, but I stumble on the required response. The caretaker is gone, but his words linger like the air in a stale, damp inner room. I try to ponder the meaning of his words, “The dogs run and have been chewing on the dead bodies.” These are words that I do not fully understand, since their meaning is distant to me. If I had been in this region and witnessed all of the fighting that had taken place, perhaps then I could understand his words. For now, their comprehension is forbidden; I can only imagine that these people have been unable to bury the dead. The carnage from the civil war has not yet been hidden by six feet of black cotton soil. The evil deeds of men remain exposed on the surface of the ground.

I return to my checklist, forcing myself to compartmentalize this ugly truth and leave it for another time. I complete the checklist and taxi for takeoff, double checking everything to make sure it is just right. There will be a time to process what I have just heard, but this is not the time. The airplane rolls atop the black cotton soil and the takeoff remains like any other as the South Sudanese huts get smaller and smaller below me. I climb high into the sky and set course for Kenya just two hours away by plane, where security and comfort await me. Security and comfort for me, hardship and pain for those I leave behind. The dichotomy is unbearable to consider, yet it will not go away until the Good News of Jesus Christ penetrates the hearts of this war torn country. I land in Kenya changed. Changed by the hardships I have seen and heard. Changed by the pain of those just two hours away.

~Dan