Sunday 11 June 2017
Paunangisu village, North Efate

With three crewmembers flying home to Australia this morning (Cam, Rob Lott & Josh) and Martin on a “relaxation break” up on Pele Island it was only natural that Peter and I would head to Paunangisu in North Efate to attend church and be reacquainted with longstanding friends in the village.

Elder Kalmaire organised the transport and by 9 o’clock Peter and I were on the road for the 1 hour journey north, ably driven by Melvyn

The weather was glorious and the sun glistened on the sea all the way to the horizon as we passed Havana harbour, providing first-time visitor Peter with the perfect introduction to the region.

The congregation was in full voice when we arrived but of course there’s no sneaking in the back here; especially for two white-folk like us.  Young Johnston (a very helpful year 10 student we’d got to know the last time we were here) was allocated to look after us and whilst we did initially sit in the back row of the church pretty quickly Johnston moved us closer to the front under direction from the elders.

 

The service was conducted largely in the local Bislama, with several hymns sung in what is called “language”.  That is their village or regional language known as Ngunanese; one of more than 100 such languages throughout the country.  Whilst we could gain a reasonable understanding of what was being said, fortunately a generous amount of English was also spoken; partly for our benefit.  The welcome was very warm and there was even a song written and performed to mark our “return”.

I was invited at one point to say a few words and it gave us an opportunity to share greetings from our church in North Ringwood and speak of the warm connection both communities share, despite our obvious differences.

After the service there was the obligatory handshake congo-line from the exit door, giving us a chance to reacquaint ourselves, if ever so briefly, with the many people we’ve got to know over the years.  It really was an emotional time with lots of hugs, handshakes and kisses all round.

The new secretary of the congregation Margaret remained with us for lunch after which we met Asel, the amazing lady who has taken on the job of regularly cleaning the toilet; not just any toilet, but of course the Best Public Toilet in the South Pacific.

The facility really looked great and truly lived up to its name!!

Whilst Asel receives a small payment for her services we nonetheless gave her a portable solar light as a special gift in recognition of her dedication and the importance of her role

Along with the construction of the toilet 18 months ago there was also the installation of the 20,000 L water tank donated by South Australian company Aquamate; plus of course gutters and downpipes both sides of the 30 metre long church building.

It was great to hear stories of how the watertank never ran out during the last extended dry period and was the last port of call for the local village residents when it came to obtaining freshwater for cooking and drinking. As we sat there under the mango tree chatting and eating, many people came to fill up buckets, which only confirmed the importance of this facility, open to everyone, in the life of the community.

A massive thank-you goes out to Aquamate in South Australia for their generosity!!

We were both tired by the time we made it back to Chimere, still bobbing at her morning lines on the seawall on the Waterfront.

It was then a local dinner of fish and chips and pretty soon it was time for sleep; particularly after getting up at 4:30 this morning to help in getting our crewmembers away.

In reflecting on the day, my lasting memory is of the “welcome song” in this morning’s church service and the explanation from Elder Roger that … “we welcome many visitors to our village but today Robert, we welcome you home”

Smooth seas, fair breeze and home in the village.

Rob Latimer