At the Airport at High Noon


At noon today, take a pause in what you’re doing or thinking about. Make a note of it, and write a post about it later.


I wrote this post on Sunday for the Daily Post Postaday Prompt: High Noon. As is the norm in these parts, when it rains electricity supply and the internet become unreliable, so it has taken me many frustrating attempts to get it published.

In fact, if our house had windows, there would be a computer-shaped hole in one of them by now!


 

Our nearest airport is not very busy. Only three international and two local flights arrive a day – most of the passengers are Bucket List People coming to visit Victoria Falls, adrenalin junkies seeking their next thrill and sometimes a handful of businessmen and investors.

Joe was supposed to have flown in yesterday from Johannesburg, but our  late rains put paid to that.

Piet got to the airport at mid-day to collect him and within minutes the plane could be heard circling above, hidden behind a heavy bank of clouds. It kept on circling for quite some time, round and round and round, once appearing for a brief moment before being sucked up again into the dull greyness. Then silence. No more circling plane and no announcements over the public address system. People started to get restless and then panicky, the low mumblings getting louder with each question.

“What’s going on?”,

“WHERE HAS IT GONE?”,

WHY AREN’T THEY TELLING US ANYTHING?

One of our friends who owns a helicopter touring company was also at the airport to collect his wife. Being in the business, he has all the passes necessary to get in to those areas the rest of us never see at an airport. So after about half an hour had passed and there had still been no announcement, he decided to nip up to the control tower to see if he could find out what had happened to the plane.

It turns out that when the plane made that brief appearance below the clouds it had been coming in for final approach to land. However, the constant driving rain and electrical storms had interfered with the navigation instruments on the ground and had the pilot continued with his downward trend the plane would have landed directly on top of the airport building! After hastily pulling back up above the clouds he continued circling while trying to establish a better connection with the people in the tower and continued doing this until an impromptu diversion to Lusaka Airport – an hour and a half away – was necessary for refuelling.

Refuelling took an hour, and by this time Joe, tired of being cooped up in such a small space – he is a large man and needed to stretch his legs – asked if he could disembark. Being told “if you get off you can’t get back on again” slightly annoyed him, so he asked if he could be served a drink instead. “It is against the airline’s policy to serve alcohol while on the ground” was the curt reply. There is a bus service which runs between Lusaka and Livingstone (it’s a six-hour journey) and Joe had started to seriously consider getting off the plane and catching that bus when the pilot announced that the tanks were full and they were going to head back to try to land again.

A bit more circling over the airport and three hours later they had landed. Back in Johannesburg.

Eight hours of flying later they were right where they had started!

Being Easter Weekend all the flights were fully booked, an extra plane was laid on and so today Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula Airport received four international flights. Joe arrived safely on one of them.

And that’s why today at noon I was at the airport.

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Cruel April Fool


This year has been a very dry one for us. Our records show we have only received 245mm of rainfall. Compared to last year’s 1,500mm that’s abysmal, and it would have been a disaster farming-wise if we weren’t able to draw water from the Zambezi River for irrigation.

But dry weather makes ideal harvesting weather and we started lifting soya beans by hand last week in anticipation of the combine arriving on Monday to finish the job.

Our peanut crop was also ready for harvest  and so last week it was all systems go! The ‘new’ second-hand peanut harvester we bought earlier this year and the tractors had been serviced, 50 extra hands had been hired and Piet was up before light, doing last-minute checks and reminding everyone of their duties.

Within minutes Piet realised something was amiss with the peanut harvester. It was blocking up with nuts and debris and just not doing the job properly. And so the frustrations began, and continued throughout the week and over the weekend.

Piet and the farm mechanic tinkered and tapped, removed parts, cleaned and then replaced them. They swore (a little), paced and scratched their heads. And they sweated! Temperatures (and tempers) were rising and clouds started forming on the horizon.

Eventually, on Monday, Piet conceded defeat, phoned around a bit and with a lot of perseverance and a little luck found a mechanic who specialises in fixing peanut harvesters – we are expecting him to fly in from Johannesburg today.

On Tuesday morning Piet realised that rain was inevitable, so he arranged to have some of the harvested nuts moved into our old managers house (our sheds are too full with next season’s fertilizer) where they would stay dry – the mechanic will need some dry material to test the machine with. Normally the harvested nuts are windrowed and left to dry in the fields – because it is normally dry at this time of year.

Then on Tuesday afternoon those clouds rolled in and it started raining. And it rained. And rained. And rained. It rained all through the night and only stopped at around 10 o’clock this morning, April 1st.

The offending peanut harvester hiding in shame

The offending peanut harvester hiding in shame

A new use for the manager's house!

Come on in – grab yourself some peanuts

A pile of peanuts. (At least these ones are dry)

A pile of (dry) peanuts.

These are not so dry

These are not so dry

Soggy windrows - and it's threatening to rain again!

Soggy windrows – and it’s threatening to rain again …

The soya-bean combine waiting for a sunnier day

Waiting for a sunnier day

Certainly an April Fools Day for us, although not a particularly funny one.

A Muddy Road


It’s been almost unbearably hot this last week. I think the rains have gone, so there’s no promise of relief until winter comes. Even that doesn’t mean much around here – winter is pretty hot too.

It’s been a relatively dry season this year but we’ve had a few spectacular storms which wreaked havoc on the farm roads, making access somewhat tricky at times.

I took this picture last winter, the quagmire caused by runoff water from the centre pivot. Imagine what a 60mm thunderstorm can do to this road!

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2015 #5

2015 #8