Getting to know Melsisi

Thursday, 15 July 2010 (Melsisi, Pentecost, 15 44.435 S, 168 08.19 E)

Tonight we have a wonderful contribution, below, from Cub Reporter, and onboard Iron Chef, Gerhard Moser.  It’s been a day of working in the village, assisting the medical team and getting to know some of the locals.

There was Emile, a teacher at the school and a very good speaker of English, despite telling me he only really spoke French.  There was Gillan from the other side of the island who was a big help with the mudbrick workshop.  Plus Serge who also helped with the mud bricks and promised to send me a photo of a finished stove in a month’s time.

I noticed tonight as I walked past the neat row of drying mud bricks that several big cracks are starting to form in a few of the bricks; a product of having too much clay in the mix.  Which is a bit of a problem here, because both the black topsoil and the reddish sub-soil both seem to be made of clay.  The ground bakes hard like a turf wicket. I was jokingly suggesting that if they all fall apart we might have to up-anchor and leave the district before sunrise.

We have another mud brick workshop booked in for tomorrow morning.  We invited Emile and Gillan out to the boat this afternoon and as we walked down the very step concrete road to the water we met a few lads who had missed the session this morning.  They are from a different village, so I’ll give them a mould of their own and an instruction manual to take back to their village after the session.

The health seminar and movie night was a big success.  Maybe 100 in attendance and fortunately Matt, Lanie and I got a seat right at the back.  I say fortunately, because whilst Ice Age 1 & 2 are good fun movies, Ice Age 3 wears a bit thin.  Although it would have taken a special kind of movie to have kept me awake.  As it turned out I lay on my back and dozed off, only waking a couple of times when Matt gently shook me to stop the snoring.  He explained later that the kids nearby were giggling as a result.  We enjoyed a cup of tea at the medical clinic before returning to the boat, and soaked in the amazing sight of the bright stars shining down from above and the volcanos of Ambyrm glowing red in the distance.  And there, below in the bay, the anchor light of Chimere shone, casting a warm shimmering glow across the sea while all around was pitch black.

From what Mike was saying, the medical team saw nearly 100 people today and two that stand out include a woman with a very badly burnt arm and another with a bone sticking out of her finger.  Both the product of local “Kustom” medicine gone wrong, resulting in the need for hospitalisation, or what is locally known as “stik merecin” – the stik referring to injections of course.

By cub reporter Gerhard Moser

It was good to wake up in the same spot where we put down anchor last night. We had some doubt earlier as the anchorage did not provide the sort of shelter we would normally like and the cruising guide didn’t help much in that it suggested that if anyone was trying the anchorage, would they please update the guides records with the experience and, if possible, some pictures.

For this reason, we had programmed the anchor alarm with a rather close activation radius, with the inevitable result that it did go off in the middle of the night. Thank God, Lanie and Rob who responded to the alarm not only found that there was nothing to worry about but they were rewarded by the sight of not one but two volcanoes glowing in the distance; the island of Ambrym to the south of us.

I got up shortly after 6am to turn on the oven to bake the two loaves of bread I had left in there to rise overnight. The rising time is a bit longer than ideal but the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the boat is the most positive way, I have found, to wake up a crew.

After breakfast, Lanie, Rob, Matt and I left for the island while Mike decided to stay behind on the boat, doing a great job making it all look spick and span on our return.
On the island, Rob had already arranged for a venue to hold his next Mud Brick molding  seminar. Not unlike Bunnings, 9am Mud Bricks. He quickly found a couple of helpers and before long, there was one area where the mud was mixed up, fibre and water added and stirred to the right consistency before being transferred to the main demonstration site where Rob was surrounded by dozens of onlookers. After showing how the first brick was formed and the mold removed, to great cheering from the crowd, I might add, Rob got the bystanders involved in that a different person was picked to remove the mold from each subsequent brick. Nothing like hands on experience to get the lesson.

I wandered off to have a look at the clinic. Robyn is examining a sick little boy with an ear ache and high temperature, Bob filling a tooth in his little corner while eyes are being checked and glasses prescribed in yet another area. Lots of reading glasses were dispensed to students. It must be a big help in studying if you can actually see what you read!

After that, I went to have a look at the rest of the village and to talk to a few of the locals. Talking in French, I discovered a few interesting facts about the place. It is a bit of an educational hub for the whole area with some 240 student in years 1 to 12, half of them, mainly secondary school kids, coming from other islands and boarding on Melsisi. It must be no coincidence that the minister for education originates from Melsisi.

I saw some labourers assembling reinforcement irons not far from the secondary school. When asked, the supervisor explained that they were building a new administration centre, freeing up the existing building of that purpose for use as grade 13 classrooms.
I asked the supervisor who was going to do the construction and he proudly explained that it was a community effort. He went on to say there were the three labourers I saw at work now, but once construction went underway, the entire community would get together and help in the building. What a great way to make things happen and to have ownership in a project.

This community approach was further illustrated this afternoon when Lanie reported that the kids down by the beach were not playing games or, as we briefly assumed when we arrived yesterday, celebrating Bastille Day. No, they were collecting sand in their bags and carrying it up the hill, presumably to the future building site where it would be used to mix the concrete for the construction. The supervisor was hopeful that the building would be finished in time for the next school year.
One of the teachers shared another interesting fact with me. Many of the huts are not inhabited at the moment and we had noticed earlier that there are padlocks on many of the doors. They are in fact owned by people living up in the mountains, where they have their farms or gardens, growing taro, manioc, kumara etc. during the week. On weekends, they come to town to participate in all the cultural activities, mainly involving the church. No doubt, they will all be there at the end of this month to celebrate the countries 30th birthday. An interesting way to commute.

I would have loved to see where they live during the week and, so, set off up the hill. A concrete road, wide enough for one ute, winds its way up the mountain and I thought it was a good idea to see where it would lead. It gave me the opportunity to take some great pictures of the area as well as some aerial shots of Chimere, but after some 45 minutes, I gave up and returned down to the village without having come close to the mountain top.
I spent the afternoon back on Chimere, enjoying a nice warm shower, thanks to the solar water bag left on deck in the morning. Having gotten rid of that funny smell that had been following me around, I started to cook a nice dinner for the crew. They don’t call me the Iron Chef for nothing……

As I am writing this blog, Lanie, Robb and Matt are back up in the Village, assisting in the presentation of a health seminar followed by movie night. What a treat for the kids!

My concentration only gets interrupted by Mike’s hammering on the computer keyboard where he is updating the day’s medical records interspersed with the odd cursing of the doctors for their hand writing.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and more mud bricks

4 thoughts on “Getting to know Melsisi”

  1. I’ve just been catching up on the last several posts. What an intersting read! Enjoyed the descriptive parts, especially the humour and sense of joy in the team and the local villagers – helps to give a clear perspective of the great work of the MSM team.

  2. Glad to hear all is going well, and none of my repairs have let go lol
    Has lanie used her hair dryer yet ?
    Hope you found some hooks and caught some fish.
    fishing in Vanuatu will stay on as an bad memory for this ex commercial fisherman
    Safe sailing
    Carl Suddaby

  3. Hi Barry,
    many thanks for your note and encouragement. We have had a wonderful time here at Walaha and such a thrill finding Katherine (note: her actual name is Katrina)
    Who knows where the contact might lead. She seems to have always wanted to do dentistry but circumstances have prevented her from continuing with her studies. As we parted tonight she said, “Thank you for finding me” in such a genuine heartfelt way, I do hope and pray that something comes of our encounter.
    Thanks again and great to hear from you. love to all
    Rob L

  4. Hi Carl,
    no trouble slipping back into “normal” life? Lanie’s hair dryer is still in its original wrapping. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Vanuatu fish swim north for the winter. As for your repairs, we have no cause to call in the warranty. Your work on the anchor winch was genius … and following your advice, it would have to be the most lubricated drive chain in the whole country. I suspect the grease we add at every operation is largely what holds everything together.
    Thanks again so much for your tireless work throughout June.

    Rob L

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