Through The Looking Glass Using Familiar Stones

“When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  ― Lewis CarrollThrough the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There

“I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?  Then said I, Here am I, send me.”  Isaiah 8:8

I recently found myself in Papua Indonesia assisting on a project at a Base for Mission Aviation Fellowship.  I felt a lot like Alice in Wonderland when she stepped through the looking glass.  It was exciting, strange and yet vaguely familiar.
 The aviation aspect was like an old friend, and the excitement of adapting to working in a foreign land was also not new to me.  Yet, I knew nothing about Indonesia, so I dusted off my skills of observing, listening, smiling, nodding my head and endeavoring to avoid being the ugly American abroad as much as possible.

The Project In The Looking Glass

The project was both simple and complex.  It was one of those tasks where the actual work was simple data entry into spreadsheets, but the knowledge needed to ensure the data being input was correct, was rather technical.  Even more important:  when to ask for direction .
Basically the task was to assign new addresses to each aircraft part in the base inventory. Nothing, or very little, actually moved physically.  In fact, the inventory is in amazing order.  However,  the aircraft part designations were in a data base used only in this region and the organization is moving to a centralized web based maintenance system for all aircraft in seventeen or so countries.

An initial conversion had been done at the home office but that work needed to be verified and tweaked part by part.  The local mechanics and admin folks have their days full keeping aircraft in top condition so that medical missions, supply and personnel transport can continue with out interruption.
This kind of data entry is hard to complete when higher priorities constantly interrupt.  It was a classic case of the really urgent tactical stuff trumping important strategic needs.  So I found myself in Sentani Papua in front of my laptop, perched on a counter height stool in new yet familiar surroundings.

Stones From The Past Work Through The Looking Glass

That knowledge used pulled from a variety of life experiences that, at first blush, would not appear interrelated:
The first unlikely place I drew from was hanging out with my Dad at “the shop” as a kid.  The shop was the family business of selling salvaged, reconditioned and new auto parts.  As I got older, the hanging out evolved into helping at the counter, bookkeeping and completing the annual parts inventory.  We used catalogs, paper and clip boards, but parts is parts!  Fram filters, AC spark plugs, Delco batteries were a natural part of my knowledge base.  There is a system to parts numbers, not always obvious, but there if you know what to look for.
Another place I pulled from were my years in the FAA.  This project did not involve air traffic control, but vocabulary and systems cross over.  In the various positions I held, I learned to recognize under lying processes that connected the dots that made things go (or not).

looking glass

Whether mechanical, political, electrical or a weather system, these processes are there.  Once you see the system, you can work the situation accordingly.  In my years in air traffic accident investigations you learn a lot about systems by seeing them break down.  Systems generally work unless:

  • they are not maintained
  • they are acted upon my another force
  • had a weak or failure point built in
Most systems fail for two reasons:  Human error or natural entropy.

Private Pilots Know Stuff

The pilot assisted annuals I participated in for the last 17 years also contributed to this project.  This included an engine overhaul along the way.  You learn stuff hanging out with experts and even though I am not a certified aircraft mechanic,  I have done a lot of the “icky” work restoring and maintaining my Aircoupe over the years.    Concepts, boundaries, vocabulary – stuff, and, systems.

Other Looking Glass Moments

Then there was the international and domestic travel both personal and business.  Even more helpful were the living abroad experiences.  These latter experience provided skills to function in a foreign environment.   They also gave me, what I call a toggle skill:  the ability to step from one culture to another seamlessly.  Indonesia qualified in spades, and even then I had moments of “what on earth have I done?” and “Where am I?”  When those moments appear, once experienced, one can process them with minimal interruption to the mission at hand.

Crucial In the Mundane

In the midst of the unfamiliar and new it is helpful to grab hold of that which is stable.  In this case, the laws of physics and aerodynamics.  They work the same everywhere.  Lift, thrust, drag and gravity do not change.  Metal corrodes, fatigues and fails, parts wear, critters nibble on wires and o-rings wear out.
In order for airplanes to fly safely and be at ready for any contingency, they must be maintained.  This takes supplies and parts.  In the USA if you need a part it can be had within a few hours – a day or two at the most.  Not so on the “other side”.  It takes months to get parts.  Thus a local inventory is needed.
This inventory must be managed wisely and to standards as well.  No dusty damp storage allowed.  Another challenge in a tropical location.  So each day I stepped into and out of the familiar.  The staff, both ex-pats and nationals made me feel at home.  They paved the way so that daily chores were minimal and I could focus on the mission I was sent to do.  I even learned an Indonesian word or phrase each day using google.  That brought a lot of smiles, no doubt due to the google accent!

Stones Reused

This is an example of stones collected in my life journey yet used in a new way, a fresh application.  The stones’s in life journey’s are rarely stagnet or fixed.  Yes, they are solid but many times a stone used in the past in a certain way is dug out and repositioned.  I turned 64 while I was “on the other side”.  I am loving my 60s, but then every decade of life has, even when the going was hard, been a blessing.  So my Stonebridge continues to emerge as, I am sure, does yours.  Here’s to more Alice adventures.
How about you?  What “through” the Looking glass experiences had you had?  Please comment below and don’t forget to subscribe!

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