Flights of Tom Claytor:
Journals of a Bush Pilot
Tom Claytor is currently flying a C180 solo around the
29 Feb 1996 - Mvurwi, Zimbabwe
This will be a bit of a short report. I am in the north of Zimbabwe
wildlife artist friend Larry Norton. We have finished creating a painting of our
trip together in West Africa. It is called "Congo." I am having this
made into prints and postcards, so that I can give these out as "thank
you" gifts along the way. I can also sell them to help with the petrol
fund. It has turned out well, I think. A photograph can sometimes be a little
limiting; it is real, but it is often difficult to capture the light or the
perspective in a photograph that shares the mood of an experience.
This painting, "Congo," tries to convey something that I have felt
a lot on this trip - and that is the fear of the unknown. It is about that empty
place inside of you just before you make a decision - a decision to turn around
or to carry on. The plane is over the Oubangi River in northern Congo. Larry and
I have flown for about four hours between thunderstorms heading for Impfondo.
This is near the perfectly round Lake Telle that isn't on any map; the Pygmies
believe that a dinosaur called "Mokele-mbembe" lives here. It is very
late in the afternoon and another large storm looms ahead. If we leave the
river, we might miss the town. We descend low and follow its course through the
storm and into darkness to the dimming lights of a misty town.
Larry and I are planning a series of paintings on the trip. The next one will
be "Sahara." This will be about wonder and mystery. The Sahara is
three and a half million square miles of desert - the largest in the world. We
see it on a map; it is that large yellow thing. Inside it is a vast and bizarre
collection of images from barchans and tassili to giant ergs; the sand is like
the sea. The painting will be of the approach to Timbuktu.
I recently saw my father for the first time in five years. He came out to
Larry's farm. A lot has happened in my family since I left from Philadelphia. If
a family is strong, anything can seem possible; but if it stumbles a little, it
can leave you feeling very vulnerable and alone. I never would have imagined
this before. To see my dad again, was like looking in a mirror. He said that I
had acquired that thousand yard stare - like a soldier who has been under fire a
little too long. Well, now I know, and I can accept that. I know my most
powerful tool has been to laugh at myself. Now, I will laugh at my thousand yard
stare, and maybe I can turn it into a smile. Another friend told me to be more
human. She said that I was too programmed. These things are like gold - to step
outside of myself, to trust someone, and then to adjust.
I think I suspected from the beginning that this trip would be as much of a
journey inside my head as it would be a physical journey across continents. I
never imagined how powerful a force loneliness could be. Even when I am
surrounded by people, I can feel like a stranger. I smile - I am good at that -
but I am alone. They are friends, but they don't know me. It has been
frightening, because it is something that I have never really experienced
before. It is not on the outside like a thunderstorm or a hostile place; it is
on the inside, and it can't be avoided or ignored.
When I was in the mountains of Lesotho, I was snowed in at a small airstrip
on the edge of a cliff. I was very cold and wet. Several young Basotho children
dressed in rubber boots and blankets brought me back to their "lapeng"
(home). The round mud hut had a roof of thatched grass. Inside, there was a
smoldering fire fueled by dried cow dung. It was so warm. I took out my pen and
wrote to a sailor. He had sailed a small boat around the world by himself when
he was younger. I had met his uncle in Niger. I think I was asking for a friend
- one who had made it back. He did write to me; he didn't quit. He had had some
difficult times; his reply was thoughtful and honest. I received a lot of
letters in Zimbabwe. It has shown me the importance of friends and family. I
have written seven hundred letters and cards since I have been here; I am
grateful to a lot of people.
From here, I go to Zambia.
Continue with Part 2 of Tom
in Africa. Click Here.
Note from the Editor.
A link to Tom's latest reports can be found in the eBush Communications
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