I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.
I well remember the day in December 2004 when we pulled our first Pilatus Porter out of the 40-foot container in which it had been shipped. Talk about new car smell. 1.7 million dollars’ worth of new car smell. Pristine, perfect, brand new, even the floor was immaculate. The last people who had cleaned it were Swiss—you could eat off this floor. The next time you’re on an airline flight, when you go to the lavatory and look down at the flooring, it’ll look exactly like the surface of the floor in the Pilatus Porter. I guess they use the same stuff in most airplanes, but because the Swiss haven’t fussed over your airline lavatory floor, I wouldn’t recommend eating off of it. For that matter, the day we took the airplane out of the container would have been the last one you’d have wanted to use that particular Pilatus Porter floor as a plate.
Our floors get messy. Just about anything and everything goes in our airplanes. If it can fit in the door, we’ve probably flown it at one point or another. And because we’re here to serve isolated tribal people, our priorities are on meeting their needs, not keeping our planes clean.
In the highlands, the main cash crop is, um, pigs. They have an incredibly high value both culturally and economically. I just heard of a rather large specimen going for $3,000. That’s a phenomenal pile of cash in these parts. I know zip about animals, but I’ve learned a few things about pigs over the years. I can say with a fair bit of authority born of personal experience that pigs aren’t particularly clean beasts. Another thing I’ve learned is that if you tie them up and pile them into an airplane with a bunch of their friends, they can get excited. And the thing with pigs is, if they get too excited, their bowel control is apparently significantly impaired. So, our floors get dirty.
Don’t eat off them.
I remember one of the early flights with the airplane. I had flown a pile of pigs to the main government center in the highlands to be sold at market. On arrival, one of the goodhearted fellows who was helping me unload the pigs went apoplectic upon discovering the handiwork of a pig who had gotten particularly excited. He started chewing out the villager who had accompanied his pigs on the flight.
“You can’t let your pigs poop in this airplane! Can’t you see it’s brand new?”
I had to calm my friend down—I told him that the whole reason we acquired these airplanes was to have pigs poop in them. Really. The only access most interior Papuans have to markets is via the airplane, and it’s a key part of our ministry to help them develop their communities’ economies. So, the pigs get to poop on the floors.
Our aircraft floors get a lot of other not-so-pleasant stuff on them as well. We fly about one medevac a week. Some are pretty clean—people with malaria, broken bones, that kind of thing. Some get pretty messy. Gunshot wounds, folks with dysentery, women in labor. We’ve had at least one instance of a patient bleeding to death on a flight. He was on the losing end of a machete fight.
But no matter how messy our floors get, I wouldn’t trade this job for anything else, sterile working conditions notwithstanding. One of the most rewarding parts of the ministry out here is the chance to touch some of these people that most of the world has forgotten.
People with dirty feet, climb in! I’ve got a clean floor for you to put them on.
Nate recently published his stories in a book, Airborne at the End of the Earth. Experience one of his stories and check out his book.