As the technical logistician is on vacation, I am replacing him to coordinate the landing of the planes in Bossangoa.
Every week the MSF plane comes to us to deliver cargo; pick up patients who, for surgical reasons, need an urgent transfer to Bangui; and transport the staff coming to and leaving the project.
My role is first to ensure that the UN is aware of the flight, as they are responsible for the security of the airstrip.
Then, early in the morning, I go to the airstrip to check that everything is safe: that the rain has not caused too much damage; that there aren't too many cows using if for grazing; or that nobody has decided to dig a hole in the middle of the airstrip (this has already happened at least once).
Once everything is cleared, I can give the green light to the MSF flight coordinator based in Bangui.
Around one hour before the flight, I gather a team of around three cars and 10 people to go to the "airport".
Once there, we position one person every 100 m along the airstrip. Their job is to stop people from walking across the strip once the plane is nearby. We park a car at each road access, to stop road vehicles crossing.
With cars and people taken care of, we then start on the most difficult thing to clear from the airstrip: the cattle.
At this point, the kids and family who live nearby usually come to watch the show...
Shortly before the planned time of arrival, the pilot contacts me with a special air band radio:
“Bossangoa-MSF, Bossangoa-MSF for Mercy-Eight."
“Mercy-Eight, I copy you loud and clear.”
“Bossangoa-MSF, how is the situation?
"The situation here is good: three green lights; weather is good and no wind, what is your estimated time of arrival?"
"Copy, we are landing in 11 minutes."
Then I inform the team via that the plane is landing in 11 minutes and that we should start blocking the access to the airstrip. The women coming back from the fields start to run to finish crossing the strip. It always looks quite messy for a couple of minutes, but eventually we manage to have it secure on time so the plane can land.
When the airplane has landed, I greet the pilots, help unloading and loading the plane and then go back to my position for the plane to take off safely.
Finally, we go back to the base with the new arrivals after a quite stressful morning!