And then there were four…

Friday 14 May 2010 At anchor in Port Resolution

[See latest photos courtesy of Ruth – Webmaster]

It was 12 months to the day that we landed at Lenakel last year after an 11 day sail from Sydney.  After starting two weeks earlier this year we have already completed the first leg of the medical transport mission with our tour of the southern islands; Aneityium, Futuna and Aniwa. The first medical team were safely delivered to shore yesterday, complete with all their gear, plus optical and medical supplies.  Two 4wd utes were required and their objective was to make it across the island to Lenakel for a seminar, with a visit to the volcano also booked in at some stage if possible.

With the departure of the medical team things suddenly went quiet onboard.  Not that they were a noisy bunch, probably more that the 5 MSM crew members left aren’t overly talkative.  Now our 5th crew member and pet dentist, Tony has gone, things are even quieter.  Those who’ve seen the film The Castle can probably imagine the conversation .. “How’s the repair to the pump going?”   …  “Good”.     “Did you want to go ashore after?”  …  “yeh”.     “How’s the cup of tea?”  ..  “Good”.   “Do you think the rain will clear?”  … “Maybe”.  “What’d you think of the bananas we got from the bloke in the canoe?”  .. “Good”.

So Scott and Bill took the dinghy ashore for some exploring and after walking over to the surf beach, chatting with a woman about buying a dozen eggs and 5 “donuts”, and then asking a group of ladies on the far beach where to wash clothes – that’s right the absence of clean dry clothes has driven us to extremes – they returned all excited about the amazing onshore laundry facilities.  So we all agreed, it’s time we washed some clothes.

By now it was early afternoon and soon enough Bob, Bill, Scott and I were on the beach with our respective bags of dirty clothes walking towards a group of women bashing clothes on rocks at the edge of the sea with a gaggle of kids ranging in age from probably 6mths up to maybe 10.

“Hello”, I said in a cheerful, upbeat tone, not wishing the sudden presence of 4 scruffy blokes to intimidate or upset this most domestic of scenes.  But this was no ordinary seaside clothes washing location, this was a volcanic vent with bubbling, boiling water in one spot, hot water seeping through the sand in another and warm to hot water gathering in pools amongst the rocks. The day being overcast and relatively cool by local standards, steam wafted skyward from the hotter of the bubbling pools, with several naked toddlers being washed,or sitting contentedly in the luke warm pools nearby.

As we approached closer and indicated that we too would like to wash our clothes – just like them – two of the women inquired … “we wash your clothes?”  We thanked them profusely but insisted, we men could wash our own clothes. Then a younger women with a baby on her hip, who spoke good English, made us feel welcome and explained that the older ladies really would like to wash our clothes.  Maybe they couldn’t bear to see us muddle our way through what is essentially a woman’s job after all (now of course I speak of the local Vanuatu context, not the liberated, Western world which we new-age sensitive guys inhabit – or as Scott say, at least in some areas of the world the natural order is in balance …)[censored by webmaster, Liz]

So we reluctantly handed over our bags of dirty clothes (yeh, right) as Scott rummaged through his bag for some cans of beans and spaghetti which were placed carefully in one of the bubbling pools to heat up for our lunch.  Just amazing.

For some reason Bill must have missed the whole discussion about the two ladies washing our clothes and settled himself down next to another woman at a nearby pool with is back to us and set about scrubbing the first of his considerable pile of dirty clothes.  After 5 minutes of concentrated cleaning Bill looked across at the rest of us and later related the scene that presented itself … there was Scott and Bob clutching a beer in one hand, while relaxing in conversation with the the young lady as their clothes (and mine too as it turned out) were expertly attended to … scrub, scrub, bash bash, scrub scrub etc.  As it turned out the lady washing next to Bill must have taken pity on him because she appropriated a few of his items, washing them expertly.

It was about this time that a young bloke, Jack, wandered up with 2 foot machete in hand and introduced himself.  “My English poor, I from French village” he said.  “Well your English is better than my French”  I said, to which we both laughed and then simultaneously shook hands again.  Scott, being a veteran of our earlier mud brick, low-smoke stove crusades on Futuna and Aneityium, asked Jack if he’d be interested in learning about making a stove using mud bricks.  As it turned out, “yes he would”, so to fuel his interest further  Scott and I raced back to Chimere in the dinghy to get one of the colour “How to make a stove” booklets.  I quickly screwed together a wooden brick mould and Scott gathered some of the donated clothes and hats and the clip-on Koala toys left by Andy, as “payment” for our most generous washer-women friends.

The donated clothes were a big hit and there seemed to be enough for everyone to get something of value.  Jack was very interested in the mud brick stove and women too were gathering around as I flicked through the booklet and the idea of cooking on something more than a smoky open fire was discussed.

So we made a date … tomorrow morning 10:30am on the beach.  Jack will take us to some suitable clay and soil nearby, where we’ll mix up some mud and make some bricks.  Just before we got back in the dinghy for the return to Chimere I took a group photo and explained that I’ll return tomorrow with a copy printed out for them to have – I must confess, it’s a classic shot.

Watch this space for more detail.

Tomorrow we might also catch up with some of the characters we got to know during our stay here last year.  Already there is Stanley, who met us at the landing yesterday and after we shook hands and I inquired about his sister Miriam and the kids he asked, “what about your brother, is he here too?”,  I had to explain that Andrew will be coming over, but not until June and then for the leg from Pt Vila to Malekula.  I have a funny feeling we might catch up with Stanley again tomorrow.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and some sunshine to dry our clothes.

Robert Latimer

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