Tuesday 29 August 2017

Abwantuntora, Pentecost

To follow on from some of the words Christer wrote yesterday, I would like to comment from a lay person’s perspective. Yesterday I was acting as a recorder for the dental surveys when Steven emerged from the surgery – picture a barren room, a bare concrete floor with the patient reclined in a portable fold up chair in the corner to make the most of the natural light streaming through the louvred window. One of the biggest teeth I’ve ever seen had just been pulled from the jaw of a girl not much older than ten or twelve and we hadn’t heard a peep from her.

The tooth was wrapped in gauze and he cradled it, almost tenderly. I really didn’t want to look, nevertheless before long I found myself studying it in morbid fascination. Three huge roots came together at the crown of what was once a strong and proud molar that should have served the girl for her whole life but instead it had been significantly eaten away by decay. It was a stark and heart-breaking illustration of the effect that western habits are bringing to many of these islanders. When one surveys a 12-year-old, generally their teeth are in nearly perfect condition but by the time they reach fifteen, it is amazing to see the deterioration over a few short years.
This morning, after an early morning swim with the skipper and yoga class on the foredeck, nurses Deb and Annette, headed ashore for the morning clinic. They were assisted by crew member Mark, who has become known as ‘the ideas man’ for his knack of coming up with solutions to seemingly intractable problems. After completing our morning chores – a sailor’s job is never done – and with Grant ship keeping, Captain Jon and I climber the hundreds of feet up the winding road to see how things were progressing. It was most pleasing to see crowds of patients lining up for the various services that were on offer.
After a local girl, who spoke remarkably good English, took us around to get water samples from various water sources around the village, we returned to Chimere where I took a well-earned swim and Jon took a well-earned?? nap. It was gratifying to see the abundance of live corals that abound following the devastation of cyclone Pam a few years ago, proving just how resilient mother nature can be. There is no shortage of small tropical fish inhabiting the reefs and bommies although there was almost a dearth of larger fish. We suspect the locals, who paddle around in dug-out canoes day and night, have overfished the crystal clear inshore areas.

A steady line of patients to see Annette kept her busy all day. After treating a couple of quite unwell children with anti-biotics, her afternoon was spent mainly with village elders and other adults, including a couple of men with dangerously high blood pressure. Annie Pooh Shoes organized the dentists, Christer and Steven and when they were not doing surveys, they were busy with even more extractions. The eye team alternated between working with eye patients, helping out with the survey questionnaires and scrubbing dental instruments. A total of fifty-four surveys were completed by the time the clinic closed its metaphoric shutters for the day. Anyone who has taken part in such a clinic can attest to just how draining it can be.
The medical team finished work at about 15.00 and the task of packing up and returning the stores to Chimere, commenced. The newly refurbished winch made short work of the lifting, with most loads coming up in top gear with the grinder using one hand, until he ran out of puff. Dick, one of the Ni-vans on the team even pitched in to the sounds of wild cheering and encouragement from his peers watching from the shore.

The team headed back to the clinic at 1800 for a special thanking and closing ceremony before a delicious meal of yet more rice, local vegetables and a hint of some sort of meat tantalized the taste buds. Eventually the boat people, as we have become known, made their way back down the steep and winding track to the shore.
The walk could have been romantic and it could have been by moonlight but as fate would have it, that was not to be. It was a pitch-black night and everyone was doing their best not to slip and fall. Had someone at the rear of the group gone down, it would have been like a bowling alley with ten pins going in all directions as they all tumbled down the hill. Finally, they reached the almost silent waters lapping around the dinghy that would return them to the relative safety and comfort of Chimere. All this amongst the chatter of flying foxes and the noise that other jungle dwellers make during the early nightfall. During this adventure, the remainder of the team retired to their shore based quarters for the night.
Another peaceful night at anchor beckons before we sail for our next exciting adventure to conduct the final clinic of the mission on Maewo Island.
And so, until tomorrow…
Ray Rees