Tuesday 23 June, 9.59pm (anchored at Ndui Ndui, Ambae)
What a day! The medical team was working at Ndui Ndui today. Donald (extremely tall pharmacist/optometrist, experienced overseas aid worker) tested the eyes of 48 people this morning and wrote prescriptions for glasses, while Mary (teacher, farmer, general factotum), Jessie (Ambae Ni-Van trainee nurse)and Leo (Rotarian, eye clinic staff regular, experienced overseas aid worker) filled prescriptions and handed out sunglasses. Tony Richards, (“Bones,” GP, academic), Rena (Ambae Ni-Van eye clinic staff), Shirley (nurse, Leo’s wife, experienced overseas aid worker) and Isabel (nurse, child of early Australian missionaries to Malekula) ran a diabetes testing and general clinic at the same time. Mary Tabi, an experienced local nurse, and Marie Leah (Malekula Ni-Van eye-care nurse specialist) floated where they were needed. Martin (boat crew, farmer, businessman, Isabel’s husband, general repairer extraordinaire) checked the solar panels to make sure they’re working and chased down the second of the 6-volt batteries for testing.
Yesterday the medical mob went to the village of Walaha to work from the (unfinished) medical clinic. They timed it to coincide with an enormous jubilee celebration re-enactment of the landing of the first missionaries from Australia there, with people from many villages around gathering for the day. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best, some men even wearing suits and the women in their beautiful coloured dresses. The medicos heard gales of laughter as the missionary’s wife being carried off the boat was re-enacted. There was an old man in attendance who was present on that day 60 years ago, and his role is these days played by a small child. Although the locals were engaged with the celebrations, 78 people had their eyes screened.
After this morning’s clinic at Ndui Ndui, Donald, Isabel, Jessie, Martin, Tony Owens (boat crew, in charge of video footage, ex-mining engineer, also repairer extraordinaire and first-rate galley hand), Jen Thomson (boat crew, co-cook, corporate admin veteran) and I headed across to the school to run a first-level screening for the children. One of the classrooms was rapidly converted to a testing centre and the kids crowded in a class at a time. Boat crew became clinical assistants, as Donald, Jen and Jessie did basic eye tests to weed out the kids who need to come to the clinic in the morning for a thorough screening. I took numbers at the door, Martin was stills photographer and Tony took video footage. We saw 84 children, 4 of whom will go on to tomorrow’s clinic, and tomorrow we will see the rest of the students from the school.
Both kids and adults commonly carry machetes around with them because they need them to cut through thick undergrowth, or cut down fruit once they’ve shinned up trees to find it. They’re also needed to break open coconuts. Way back on Efate, we saw a tiny child on the roadside one day, perhaps about four years old, arms crossed, holding a machete in either hand with the sharp edges of the blade resting gently against either side of his neck as he watched our bus pass. Imagine what reaction that would cause in Australia! Today, one of the year 8 boys swaggered in to have his eyes tested , machete in hand. I smiled when he nonchalantly transferred his machete to the other hand to cover his first eye for the second one to be tested. No-one turned a hair.
The day ended with an excellent meal served by the Ndui Ndui hostesses, and a village viewing of the movie “Chicken Run,” courtesy of a laptop, a small speaker, a sheet for a screen, and Chimere’s Honda generator. The kids shrieked with laughter as the chickens danced rock ‘n roll, and at all the slapstick.
No lights were visible anywhere as we walked down to the pier in the pitch dark. As our torches bobbed down the hill, a brilliant light appeared just offshore, and Bob and Jim arrived in the dinghy at the rocky steps just as we reached them. It felt for all the world like something out of a smuggler’s tale, especially as the swell was making the dinghy rise and fall in spectacular fashion as we jumped in. Once back at the yacht, we just pulled up alongside rather than risk bashing the dinghy against the boarding steps. At the exact moment the swell takes the dinghy up, you step up off the side straight on to the gunwhale of Chimere and swing a leg over the rail. It looks a bit scary from underneath, but is surprisingly easy.
These dark moonless nights with no electric lights anywhere are offering us magical starry displays. The Milky Way stretches a misty band from horizon to horizon with an unbelievable number of stars sparkling individually and in clusters and threads throughout the sky. Venus is so bright that she casts a path of light on the sea as though she thinks she is our second moon.