As I completed the final items on the before takeoff checklist and prepared to call the flight follower in Vanga, I heard Ndolo Tower come on the radio with a very strong accent. Her voice gave almost no distinction from one word to the next.
"Nine Mike Echo, taxi back runway eight, ATC clearance as follows, clear to Vanga via Ulvas, after departure maintain runway heading, climb two-zero-zero-zero, right turn, pass over Kilo Sierra Alpha three-five-zero-zero minimum, climbing zero-five-zero, intercept zero-four-six degree radial, report passing two-zero-zero-zero right turn, next call ready for departure"
I heard my call sign "Nine Mike Echo," and fortunately I had written down the basic pattern they use and made out enough numbers that I could fill in the blanks.
I repeated the clearance, "Nine Mike Echo, back taxi runway eight, cleared to Vanga via Ulvas, runway heading after departure, climb two thousand feet right turn, pass over Kilo Sierra Alpha three thousand five hundred feet, intercept zero-four-six degree radial, climb to and maintain five thousand feet. Will report passing through two thousand feet right turn, next call ready for departure."
Hey, that sounded good! Then, there was a long pause...I could almost hear her thoughts, almost word for word: Huh? (Except in French, "l'huh.")
She came back on, and repeated her clearance, inferring she did not understand me. This time her transmission was broken, but I was still able to pick out the pieces. The rule of primacy was becoming a problem from all of my time spent in the American Air Traffic Control System. All of the flows, speech patterns and phraseology that I would use stateside, I must forget...or at least shove in the back corner of the hangar in my brain.
I wondered, what could I do differently to help her understand, that I understand the instructions. Oh Yeah! I have to repeat it exactly. I can't say two thousand, or three thousand five hundred. I can't say things in the order I'm used to, I have to repeat it back exactly as I heard it.
Quite frequently, the actual flying-the climbing, turning, descending, and landing- this is the easy part of what we do. It's all the other stuff to get us in the air that proves to be the challenge.
Finally, we were on the same page. A quick check of the time, passengers, hand brake and wind, add the power, a touch of right rudder, and we are airborne, on the way to Vanga to deliver 120 kilos of cargo and two of our national Internet Tech staff to install a new VSAT internet satellite system for a ministry in the middle of the African bush. I love my job.