The pilot walked immediately off, and everyone took that as their cue to offload the bags and march behind him up to the plane on the hard. The pilot went straight into the business of preparing the plane. He took off the guards on the propellers and gave them a gentle twist. Then he lifted and dropped the flaps on both wings and the tail. He gently kicked the tyre.
While this was going on, the ground staff were sorting out the baggage. One guy was going round with an old fashioned spring balance and read out weights to the stripy shirted man, who wrote it down on his list. He took all our tickets, and just like the best stewardess, ripped the appropriate portion off and told us to enjoy our flight. He then asked who the large grey heavy suitcase was. I said it was mine. He went back to his clipboard. “Mr. Mills, you are overweight”. OK, so I was a bit podgy round the midriff but it wasn’t the time to bring this up. I suddenly realized he wasn’t necessarily insulting me, just drawing attention to the fact that my bags were over the 15kg limit. This was to be expected as I was supposed to be allowed 20 kg on other flights.
Lots of nasty thoughts started passing through my mind,. That I would have to unpack my bag and leave it for the driver to organise a DHL to Dar es Salaam of all my dirty shirts and underwear. The man tut-tutted for a few moments, and then said “We’ll have to get Basuti to pay the excess”. Basuti was the administration assistant for my project in Kigoma and another fantastic fixer that oiled the machinery of international projects. The bags were duly loaded with a few bunches of mangoes, a lot of paper and several envelopes. The purpose of these flights is not to give hitchhikers like me a way across the interior, but to ensure fast communication between the different UNHCR encampments in western Tanzania. Most of the important post and paperwork is carried this way, as well as relief officers and essential equipment that cannot travel by road. The priority goes to UNHCR business, but if there are other passengers out there who are willing to pay passage, then they are welcome revenue. I was lucky, the busy season for the UNHCR is the deep dry season, which was about to get under way soon. I was probably the last of the non-UNHCR workers to get a lift for quite a while.
The bags were still being wedged in. Most of the small bags went in the separate hold at the back ,but the larger ones would not fit and had to be squashed in at the back of the main space of the craft. While the ground staff struggled to work the entire luggage in, the pilot was doing a subtle job. He eyed us all up and down very carefully, and then decided on where to place us in the aircraft. He placed a large gentleman on the left hand side and balanced him out with the two women. A UNHCR lady who had just turned up at the last minute (also overweight so I didn’t feel too bad now if we came down in the bush because we didn’t have enough fuel. At least now I knew it would not be entirely my fault.) was also placed on the far side.
I was left on the tarmac. The pilot, who was a really cool dude, looked me up and down for a few seconds (long enough for me to think that I was going to be left behind all together) and said “Have you ever been a co-pilot?”
“No” I said, trying not to sound too eager,.
“Do you want to be a co-pilot”
“Yes”, not entirely sure exactly what he meant.
“OK, go round the other side and hop in and I’ll be in in a moment”