Saturday, June 7, 2008

How did you end up in Uganda?

“How did you end up in Uganda?”

I hear that a lot, as small airplane pilot flying people around our little part of Africa. Visitors are often fascinated that some people just pack up and move here. It is a good story, but to answer the “how did you get here” question requires asking just one more question: “How did you become a pilot?” Because they were similar events and are inextricably linked. The answer to both accidental events is simple: “I just got lucky!”

The pilot part first, because that, in a circuitous manner, led me to Africa. I had always wanted to be a pilot. Like most small kids, I was fascinated by airplanes and said I’d be a pilot when I grew up. When I reached my teens I was already quite directionless, and my parents reminded me of that childhood dream: “If you want to be a pilot, quit listening to that loud rock and roll, quit drinking and smoking, cut that hair, and join the air force.” Damn, I thought, another door closed to me!

I somehow got through college, although I never did grow up. I then wandered quite aimlessly and restlessly through life for several years. I was still aimless when a random, lucky temporary job came up in Alaska that exposed me to aviation and left me with a small bit of money in the bank. In a fit of irresponsibility, I thought “hey man, I can get my pilot’s license now!”

So I did. I had no goals beyond just taking friends flying on local, scenic flights. I had no idea about the process of becoming a “real” pilot, I was just happy buzzing around in a small Cessna for fun. I did have several friends who were flight instructors, and they were my idols. They could fly many aircraft, seemed to know everything about airplanes, and would tell me about places they’d flown and things they had done. It made an impression on me.

One day my aimless life had come to a crossroads. I had no ideas, no plans, no clue. I got very lucky when I asked myself: “If I didn’t have to work, what would I do?” I was at the airport when I had these thoughts, which might have influenced my answer: “I could be a flight instructor! Even if I didn’t need money, I’d still enjoy flying small planes and hanging out at the airport.” So I went on to get the pilot certificates needed to work as an instructor, and have been very lucky that I’ve been flying and instructing for most of the time since then.

The Uganda part: I instructed for several years, and finally I was becoming an experienced, career instructor. I had become the instructor who I idolized. But, other things in my life made me think one day: “maybe I should see what else is out there.” So I got on the internet right then, and within a half hour I came across a job posting describing “flying small aircraft on charter into dirt and grass strips in Uganda, in sometimes challenging conditions. Sense of humor essential.” Wow, I thought, that sounds like my dream job! Uganda! Where the hell is that? I consulted the map, which verified my suspicion- Uganda is in Africa! I hastily threw together a resume and sent it off. To my surprise, I was offered the job, and three weeks later I was getting off a plane in Uganda. A year and a half later, I’m still here. Despite some dire predictions, I have not been eaten by wildlife, killed by rebels, or died due to tropical disease. Not yet, anyway!

So, “just got lucky” is the answer to two major events that have shaped my life in an indescribably huge way. I wish I could say that I had some plan, or that somehow it was my doing. Not at all. “Shit happens!” is a common way of summing up the randomness of life. It is often used in a negative sense like when your new car gets in a wreck. But I like to now apply it to the positive randomness in life as well. I also like it because it requires absolutely no planning on my part. As lazy as I am, that is a good thing.

Most people’s lives are probably shaped in the same manner. I just got lucky that mine ended me up in Uganda. Why is Uganda so good? That’s another story!