When the plane arrives, the children of Lankien flock to the airstrip. They come running from all directions, alerted by the sound of the overhead engines. The children from the TB village, which is right beside to the airstrip, are the first to arrive. Adults, young and old, follow. When the MSF staff arrive, the children run towards us with outstretched hands shouting "Male, male." (Pronounced 'malae' and meaning Greetings in the Nuer language.) They all want to shake the Kwai's (foreigner's) hands.
The plane is important, both symbolically and practically, in the life of an MSF volunteer. In addition to bringing all of our food and supplies, it is the plane that takes us on our much-cherished R and R and it is from the plane, that we get our first and last glimpses of Lankien.
The pilot does a quick "fly by" to make sure the runway is clear of people and livestock. He comes around a second time and lines the plane up for the runway. People yell at the children to move back. A goat meanders onto the airstrip at the last moment. Someone runs out, shouting and waving his arms around; the goat shuffles off. The plane lands nicely and taxis to a stop.
Today, I am leaving for my first R and R. I am going to the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. I found a dusty old guidebook here at the compound. It was buried under an eclectic mix of old magazines, steamy paperbacks and newspapers from Kenya. I imagine myself exploring the "architectural treasures" of Zanzibar Stone Town, getting lost in the "narrow streets of beautiful buildings" and relaxing on Zanzibar's "stunning white beaches". Today I fly Lokichoggio, tomorrow to Nairobi, and then Zanzibar tomorrow night.
The plane is late, crowded and full of cargo. The heat and humidity is unbearable. Sweat drips down the back of the pilot's neck. I say a little prayer as we roar down the runway. And then finally we are airborne and flying away from Lankien. I look out the window as the people and tukuls grow smaller and smaller, and I wonder what it will be like to leave this place for the last time. An unexpected lump rises in my throat. Now what is that all about?