Feasting and E-Finger Testing

Tuesday 30 June 11:12 PM (anchored at Asamvari, Maewo Island)

Yesterday we upped anchor at 8.30am and headed back down the coast from
Lolowai for a bit under two hours to Waloriki, where we had dropped the
medical team on Friday. We hadn’t managed to contact them in the interim, so
we moved cheerfully along under “island time,” meaning move when it seems
like a good idea to go. We buzzed them with the walkie-talkie when we
reached the drop-off point. They were in a village up the hill looking
directly out at us, they said, and they’d be ready to leave after lunch. Bob
ferried Martin, Jen and me in in the dinghy , dodging rocks and timing the
last burst to reach land between the sizeable breakers. Immediately we
reached the beach, there were people to greet us, although the village was a
walk away along the beach and up the hill. How do they do that?

We trudged along the hot black sand sloping steeply to the waves, and up a
narrow path to the village. While two or three of the medicos were
completing the morning clinic and we waited for another lot to return from
testing at the school a fifteen-minute walk away, a few of us sat in the
latticed gloom of the kitchen hut chatting with the woman who had been
cooking for the team and her husband, while traditional lap-lap cooked over
the hot stones and fish simmered in a pot over the fire. It turns out that
300-odd people live in that area. Sitting on a steep hillside with perhaps
six huts in view,  it would seem that maybe 30 people might be able to be
accommodated in the area. It is amazing how many people live there. No huts
are visible from the sea along that coast; only the occasional column of
smoke from a cooking fire.

Rooms and huts have large spaces rather than windows, to allow a free-flow
of air in the tropical heat. When someone’s eyes are being tested, there is
inevitably a sizeable enthusiastic audience hanging over the ledges. The eye
charts used depend on a person’s reading and language skills. Some use
letter recognition; for pre-readers, there is a shape identification
version. There is another that looks like a capital E in different
positions, and the subject holds up three fingers indicating the direction
of the E. Yesterday a man for whom this whole exercise was an entirely new
concept,was learning how the E-finger thing worked. As he was learning,
there were yelled instructions from the sidelines, and once he grasped the
idea and proceeded with the test, there were great gales of laughter every
time he got one wrong, and cheers and applause every time he got one right.

We feasted on fish, rice, pamplemousse (giant sweet grapefruit), paw-paw,
island cabbage, taro, and manioc and banana lap-lap for lunch. Joelene, the
cook, had been aghast to hear that when we buy our fruit and vegetables from
the shop they are already at least several days old, and we sometimes eat
produce that is transported thousands of kilometres.  They pick and eat the
same day. Fruit is generally picked ripe and eaten quickly. While this a
necessity with no refrigeration, it also means that the quality of produce
in terms of both flavour and nutrition is marvellous. And everything growing
is free, as Joelene pointed out.

It seemed that the entire village turned out to carry equipment down the
hill and see us off. There was great hilarity when the breakers threw the
dinghy about, requiring a large number of people to hold it while we formed
a chain to pass the gear in. Staying dry was not an option. A whaling boat
used by the clinic appeared and took the balance of bags and people, which
made things much easier. The medicos are becoming positively blase about
negotiating the transfer between dinghy and yacht in rolling seas.

The trip to Lolowai which would be several uncomfortable hours by truck on
land, was managed easily in a couple of hours motor-sailing. While Jim took
Mary Tabi, a team member who lives locally, to check on the accommodation
arrangements, the rest of us fell off the boat into the sea to cool off.
When Jim returned, he informed us that we were all invited to Mary’s for
dinner. The medicos departed to settle into their digs, and we reconvened on
the shore after dark, climbed into the back of a truck, and bounced our way
to Mary’s charming, hospitable traditional home of woven and thatched palm
to enjoy the meal together.

The eye clinic is moving to various villages by truck for the next day or
two. Rather than sitting about at Lolowai waiting, we headed for Asamvari on
the southern tip of Maewo to take up local nurse Olivette’s invitation to
visit her at the clinic there. We passed steep hillsides with waterfalls
cascading down, and sailed into a tranquil bay with a golden beach backing
on to a village. After anchoring, we went to look at a beautiful waterfall
just 100m away, and bathed in the freshwater pool at its foot just before it
ran into the sea. Just when we thought we’d been in the most beautiful place
possible, another three hours’ sail has brought us to a different,  equally
delicious corner of paradise.

Olivette was delighted that we came to visit. Like every village clinic I’ve
seen here, the buildings are very old, reminiscent of Australian farm sheds.
The environment, while providing a place for people to come for consultation
and care, is far from what we would consider to be clean in a clinical
sense, and the equipment is rudimentary and ancient. Olivette can’t use her
office or keep anything there because the roof leaks. She invited me to
accompany her home while the others were chatting to other of the locals,
and showed me the space at home they use for fund-raising functions for the
school and the clinic, their little shop selling baskets, and their
kava-house where friends gather to share kava. In effect, her home is a
series of small purpose-built huts. As we walked and talked, she picked a
paw-paw and pulled up baby eggplant and spring onions from her garden to
give to me. She also presented me with cooking bananas, which will be a new
culinary experiment, and one of the beautifully woven baskets made by the
local women.  Tonight we ate the food she gave, together with island cabbage
some kids had given us yesterday, beautifully wrapped in a banana leaf.

Jen and I made dozens of Anzacs because we’ve been invited to a priest’s
ordination tomorrow morning, followed by Kustom dancing and a feast. The
whole village will be there, and this time we would like to offer something
to share as well. It will be back to Lolowai afterward, ready to return the
team to Santo on Thursday.


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