Monday, April 25, 2011

Houdini Pig

It's 8:00 a.m. and I'm in my second village of the day, the Ketengban community of Okbap, 6,000 feet above sea level. On the way in, Okbap's radio operator asked me to do a shuttle over to the large government center at Oksibil.  I agreed to help out.  I'll take some passengers to Oksibil and there pick up a load of medicine to bring back for the clinic at Okbap.

Because of a 10:00 a.m. wind curfew at Okbap I've got to keep things moving.  A bunch of strong Ketengban guys jump into action to help me load the airplane.  We stick one large and very dead pig in the back, and then throw in the passengers' baggage: an assortment of 10 or 15 nokens (net bags) full of sweet potatoes, fruit, pots and pans...honestly, I was in a hurry and didn't pay too much attention to the content of the nokens--just standard Papuan baggage.

I get the passengers in their seats and their seat belts on.  One passenger will sit beside me up front, and the remaining three in a bench seat directly behind me.

I'm airborne after a short takeoff run down the 20% slope that the Okbap community have carved out of the mountain to serve as their airstrip.  Soon I'm at 9,500 feet  negotiating the Abmisibil Pass.  The wreckage of a Twin Otter passes off my left.  The smooth air is suddenly broken by a shock wave of turbulence...I yank the power back to slow the airplane down and take a glance behind me to make sure my passengers have retained their breakfasts.  To my horror, where there were three passengers, there are now only two.  I'm getting older and stupider, but I could have sworn I took off with three people in that seat...yes, in fact, I remember now, the passenger in the middle was a little old woman.  She's gone.  As I'm beginning to think through how on earth I'm gonna explain this one to the guys, a wizened little head pops up from behind the bench seat and gives me a broad smile.  The incredulity on my face must have translated and one of the guys still in the seat yelled above the noise, "A pig got loose so she went back there to hold on to it."

"Get back in the seat and put your seat belt on!"  She might not be so lucky on the next jolt of turbulence.  She quickly clambered over the seat with a dexterity that I can tell you with great certainty that I won't possess when I'm her age.

So the granny is secured but the pig is still on the loose.  In the five minutes before landing at Oksibil, I cast numerous glances behind me to check on my footloose grandma and make sure that Houdini the pig isn't causing any more mischief.  At this point, I hadn't seen the critter, but I knew he couldn't be too big because the really big one was dead, which meant the oinker in question had to have been in one of the nokens that had been tossed in the back under the cargo net.

After landing, I hopped out to check this guy out...and found this tiny little tike of piglet standing peacefully on the wrong side of the cargo net looking a bit guilty.  I have no idea how he got out of his noken, but once out, it was an easy thing for him to get through the wide webbing of the cargo net.

Houdini.  Much ado about a very small bundle of pork.
All's well that ends well I suppose.  As I got out my all-purpose rag to clean up a mess on the cabin floor, I thought to myself that at least the turbulence hadn't scared my passengers that much.  The pig was the only one who peed in the airplane.


Post a Comment