Wednesday 24 June, 9.55pm (anchored at Ndui Ndui, Ambae)
The Ndui Ndui clinic ends tomorrow. Today we finished testing the primary school kids and trundled off on the back of a truck over what looks like a jeep track through a botanical garden to the technical college at the village up the road. We still can’t get over seeing laden coconut palms everywhere, breadfruit trees, pamplemousse (sweet giant grapefruit), paw-paw, countless fruit we can’t name, and today, pineapple plants.
Another unfamiliar circumstance is the number of suspicious rustlings in the undergrowth as you’re walking along a path. Being Australian, although we know there are no snakes to speak of in Vanuatu, we can’t help starting and switching on to high alert at these sounds. Inevitably, a chook will rush across the path in front of your feet, going hell-for-leather just for the sake of it. All families have them, but none are caged so they wander around all over the place. Eggs aren’t terribly plentiful as the chooks lay them out in the bush where no-one can find them. Something out there is living a fat life off all those eggs scattered around and about.
Apart from this morning’s individual consultations, which for the medicos included delivering a baby, we eye-tested 67 at the primary school and 55 at the technical college, mostly students but some staff as well. In the first two days of the clinic, there were more than a dozen referrals to ophthalmologists, 17 referrals to other medical specialists, 129 prescription spectacles dispensed, and many pairs of sunglasses distributed.
We have a few short hops over the next week. Tomorrow we pick up the team after the morning’s clinic and ferry them north to Lolombaeko. On Saturday morning we move to Walariki which is Seventh-Day Adventist, so there will be no clinic on that day because of the Sabbath and church. On Tuesday we move again, this time to Lolowai. The medical team works from each place as a base, visiting other villages by truck. We make the crossing to return the medical team to Santo on Thursday next week in readiness for their departure to Australia on Friday July 3rd. The boat crew stays on until July 8th to complete handover to team 3.
It is easy to see how useful it is for the medical team to have its own boat. As soon as they have finished in one place they can move to the next, without having to rely on the vagaries of local transport. A three-hour wait yesterday for a lift down to the pier to collect the generator for the evening’s movie was a prime example of transport availability problems.
Martin spent today juggling batteries, trying to create 12 volts for the solar system from a sum of partly-functioning 6-volt batteries, each of which has several non-redeemable cells. As I watched him poring over an ancient set of scales that looked as though they were made in the 1930s in order to repair them, and lent him my eyebrow tweezers in place of narrow pliers to pull tiny springs back into place, he said “Of course, under normal circumstances you wouldn’t dream of trying to fix anything like this.” He managed to get the scales working again, which is an advantage of working with things made before the electronic era.
A lovely interlude this morning was watching the village weaver construct a fan from coconut palm leaves using only a small sharp knife, plaiting and weaving the split strands. She told me it would take about two weeks to learn how to do it, so it’s not going to happen this time around. There are very few canoes in this part of the world because of the inhospitable coastline, so the new skills department this week has been limited to two lessons in Bislama delivered with shrieks of laughter by the Ni-Vans between seeing patients at the clinic, and giving eye-tests. Still waiting for that canoe…