“Each Flight Diminishes the Suffering”

Posted on 2 April 2007

Categories: Avions Sans Frontières, Community development

Back from a one-year stay as chief pilot for Avions Sans Frontières (ASF) in Dungu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, David Dancause is still elated when he talks about his experience there with this partner Caroline Jean.

“As a pilot, I mostly wanted to experience something I wasn’t familiar with. I started the flights there during the dry season, so very little wind, rain or storms, which allowed me to get acclimatized. In Quebec, we can get weather reports no matter where we are, but over there you get them when you’re in the middle of it”, says David Dancause, while recalling his first flight at low altitude over Garamba Park. “There were hippopotamuses, buffalos, giraffes, elephants, acacias. It was one of the most beautiful moments.” David does recognize that adapting to Dungu was not easy for Caroline or himself. “It requires effort and determination. Luckily, we arrived during the Christmas period, so we could take full advantage of all the social activities. It took three months to get adjusted”, tells David. Caroline, who was called “Maman pilote”, agrees saying that she experienced an adaptation period, especially in terms of the distance. For her part, she found motivation by providing computer training to the staff of Médecins Sans Frontières and by working at the Internet Café in Dungu. For David, he has no doubt of the importance of the Cessna 206 of Avions Sans Frontières. “You know why you are there. When they come to get you at home at 3 p.m. for an unexpected trip to transport an emergency patient, your role takes on meaning. Each flight diminishes the suffering”, insists David, while emphasizing his amazement at the people of Dungu and their restraint when confronted with sadness and suffering. “We are constantly facing all sorts of situations and the subsequent reactions are not necessarily those you would expect”, explains the pilot. According to David, the omnipresence of the army represents a major source of stress at work. “Dealings with the army are difficult. We hear all sorts of stories about them.” However, the hardships are not what David remembers. He will miss Dungu, especially his home. “At night, you lay down and you put your hand to your nose and you don’t see it. And there are all the noises of insects and birds, the forest, the monkeys… the exotic”, describes David. The African adventure is not yet over for the pilot of Saint-Rémi. Last January, he returned to Dungu to train his successor, Stephan Bihan (see opposite text). Then, he took over in Dar Es-Salaam, in Tanzania, where he is training on a Cessna Caravan. Another unfulfilled dream… Stephan Bihan, the new pilot who has just taken over for one year the controls of the Cessna 206 of Avions Sans Frontières, is no stranger to his predecessor, David Dancause (see opposite text). They both did their pilot training course at the Centre québécois de formation aéronautique at the Cegep in Chicoutimi. “David and I were roommates during our studies. I finished my course at the same time he did, and I worked with his brother”, explains Stephan, while stating that he knew of Avions Sans Frontières when he started his studies. “I was already interested by the experience such a project could offer”, states Stephan. Stephan Bihan is not a total stranger to the African experience since he was born in Madagascar, to a Breton father and a Quebecer mother. He stayed there until the age of 5, at which time he moved to Quebec. “I don’t have many memories of Madagascar, but I’ve always been obsessed by it”, mentions Stephan. “My mother told me that the school I attended was a like a small UN, with kids from all over the world. So, naturally, I always had an interest and an openness for other cultures.” After his studies, Stephan Bihan was a pilot in North Ontario for two years before moving near Schefferville. “In the north, the plane is the most important means of transportation. It holds all its spurs. But, we mainly serve hunters and fishermen, which is much less rewarding than the work that can be done in Dungu”, states the 34 year old pilot, who sees this international solidarity experience as an opportunity to live a daily life full of humanity, with his partner Julie Roussel. “Julie and I, we are not mere observers, we like to share”, mentions Stephan. Obviously, the opportunity to work in a different context motivates him just as much. “Over there, it’s all about discovery. Over there, you are the one who decides, you are autonomous”, he says delightfully, while admitting that he is not as comfortable with the presence of guns and the army. “I don’t like that as much, but I know it will be there”, he says, while specifying not having any expectations. “I know it won’t necessarily be easy. We have a lot of unanswered questions. But when I saw there was an opening with Avions Sans Frontières, I was immediately tempted to go”, states Stephan, while admitting that Julie really encouraged him to apply. “Julie is a nurse who has travelled quite a bit and who worked in Cri and Inuit health centres”, asserts Stephan. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, she will also have the opportunity to fully experience international cooperation as she will get involved with the health centre in Dungu.