Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Unforgettable

I don't know how old I would have been at the time, but my earliest memory is a fairly traumatic one.  I was in my walker, the ones that no longer exist because of various safety concerns offered up by lawyers and other people in suits.  I sometimes wonder if those ancient, unsafe kids toys and apparatus didn't actually help us poor youngsters to begin to develop an awareness of our own limitations and mortality at an early age.  But back to the story.  My earliest memory is one of me taking a header down the stairs in my walker.  It was only 3 stairs (maybe 4), and Mom was there almost instantly to rescue her poor, disobedient son.  I'm sure that even at that age I had been told many times to stay away from the top of the stairs, and my tumble had a certain amount of rebelliousness attached to it even at that young age.  Firsts.  Interesting things, firsts are.  Many of life's firsts are unforgettable.

Other firsts that come to mind?  The first time that I can remember being really hurt.  More than just a bloody knee, a bruised shin, or other random injury caused by playing hard.  On this particular day I was out in front of our house playing at the small grassy park area there.  My good friend Cam and I had decided that we would join some of the other neighborhood boys who were out there playing street hockey.  We grabbed our sticks and joined in the melee.  There's nothing like a good melee in the morning to set the tone for the day.  Of course, being young boys and close friends, Cam and I stayed close to each other throughout the game so that even amongst a writhing knot of sweaty, yelling, stick swinging boys we were still sharing the same experiences.  What follows has become a little faded in my memory after almost thir... ummm, after "some time" has passed.  But I digress.  As we ran around yelling and playing, the unthinkable happened.  The ball made it's way to us.  "Booh-Yeah!!!"  Cam stepped up, and I can still see it happening as if in slow motion.  His hockey stick rising towards my face, even as his face lit up with the expectation of showcasing his own mad hockey skills in front of all of these boys.  Right at the top of his back-swing, the tip of his hockey stick contacted my eye.  PAIN!  Unaware of the disastrous events unfolding behind him, Cam took off after the ball, his own face showing his own determination to showcase even more of his hockey skill set.  Dropping my stick, my hands went to my face and with a cry of pain I ran across the street and into my house.  It's the first time that I can remember an unplanned trip to the hospital and although there was no serious damage done and I was fine, that event is permanently emblazoned in my brain.

As I think of other firsts, there are many things that come to mind.  The first time that I drove a vehicle.  The first time that I drove a vehicle with a manual transmission.  The first time I shot a high powered hunting rifle.  My first deer.  My first hole-in-one.  My first car.  My first solo flight.  My wedding.  The days when my children were born.  It would seem that many of life's firsts become permanently etched on our minds and can be called up with startling clarity even years after the event.  The reason that this has been on my mind lately is because of the testing procedure that I have gone through in the past few months as I have been working on receiving my Ugandan pilots license.  The connection between those two things may be a bit vague, but allow me to continue.  The testing procedure that I have gone through caused me to take a step back and think about other tests that I have been forced to endure over the years.  As I thought about that, I began to wonder how far back I could recall a test that I had taken.  Other than the dreaded spelling tests and "Mad Minute" math quizzes in school, I think that the first test that I can recall with any sort of clarity is the written test that I was forced to endure to qualify for my learners driving permit when I was 14 years old.  Much to the chagrin of my parents, I passed that one. 

After completion of high school, the only tests that really stand out to me have to do with flying.  My first flight test is one in particular that stands out in my mind.  After weeks of training and preparation I was deemed ready for the test and was recommended by my instructor.  I wish that I could say that I slept like a baby the night before the test, but such was not the case. Waking up that morning, the stress of the test manifested itself in the pit of my stomach.  I knew that if I didn't have anything to eat I would not be able to perform as I was capable of, so I forced down a banana.  I know it's not a lot, but I could barely even keep that down at the time.  For me the most dreaded part of the flight test happens before I even take off.  It's the ground portion.  The reason that I have always dreaded this part of the test is because as the "examinee" you never really know what the examiner is going to ask you.  They can ask any question that falls within the purview of the license that you are being tested for (rightly so), and there's that inner dread that rises to the back of your mind that they are going to ask you a question that you have never heard of before.  Answering the questions and hearing the examiner say, "All right, you can use the bathroom if you need to and then we'll head out to the airplane."  is a weight off of the shoulders indeed.  You can't go flying if you fail the ground portion of the exam.  Heading out to fly means that the ground portion has been passed.  Flying the exercises required for the exam has never caused me too much trouble.  There has been a few close calls, but never any time where I thought to myself, "Oh man, you really blew that one!"

This brings me to my most recent encounter with a test.  This time, I was writing an aviation conversion exam.  Uganda recognises that I have a Canadian license, and because of this I don't need to go through all of the licensing process as though I was starting from nothing.  What I do need to do is to go through a check ride which proves that I do indeed possess the skills required to fly an airplane, and then sit through a written exam which deals with the various aspects of flying here.  Here in Uganda, they only offer the exams once per month.  This means that if you are unsuccessful in your first attempt, you need to wait one month before re-taking the test.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, not so simple as you might think.  Studying the notes that I had been provided with, there were many questions with comments written beside them saying something like, "There is no correct answer to this question." or "The information included in the question is not enough to come up with an answer, we think that the answer they are looking for is 'D'."  Things like this did not inspire confidence as I entered the room to write the exam.  Coming out of the exam several hours later I thought that I may have actually done it on the first attempt.  I wasn't sure, but I thought that there was a chance.  Two and a half weeks later I received word that no, I had not passed the test, but had failed.  I received this word on the last day that they were receiving applications for the next round of testing.  Thankfully, I was down at the aviation offices that day and was able to submit an application that same afternoon.  If I had not, I would have been waiting to write for a month and a half.

Sitting through the exam the second time was much better.  It was almost identical to the one that I had originally written, and because I now had a much better idea of the "flavor" of the questions, I felt quite confident as I left the exam room for the second time that I had nailed it, and would be applying for my license in a few more days.  Well, a few days later I received word that, once again, I had failed to be awarded a passing grade on the test.  Big let-down.  Deflated is the best word that I can come up with to describe how I was feeling at that time.  The other pilots were very encouraging though, as many of them experienced the same thing when they arrived, and many of them also sat through the exam 3 times.  Well, once again I found myself down at the CAA offices applying to write the conversion exam.  Once again I pulled out my notes and went through them, wondering all of the time what in the world I needed to change on my answers to pass.

When I walked into the licensing office on the morning of the exam, the lady at the desk welcomed me with, "Good morning, Dallas!  You're here to write your test for the last time!"  It was more a statement of fact than anything else, and it made me smile.  For the third time I walked into the exam room, set down my things and went through the test.  I did actually find a couple of questions that I had answered wrongly on the previous tests, but nothing that was too different.  This time I walked out hoping against hope that it would be my last time in there to write the test.  Two weeks later, the results.  On a test that requires a 70% grade to pass, I got 70%.  No more, no less.  Is this the grade that I actually earned, or is merely the grade that I was given?  Well, this is Africa, and to be honest I really don't care.  All that matters now is that the test is over and done with, my application for a license has been handed in, and within a few more days I should be back in the air!  I'm really looking forward to getting back in the pilots seat and continuing to do what we do.  It's already been quite an adventure, and I look forward to whatever comes next!

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