Saturday, 17 July, Anchored off Ndui Ndui, Ambae 15 22.59 S, 167 43.59 E
The day’s quest to find the young Ni-van woman who had done some overseas dental training began in earnest around 7:00am as we up-anchored from Melsisi on Pentecost and set a course for the island of Ambae. The wind was from behind and the seas flat, enabling us to make good time, covering the 40 or so miles in about 6-7 hours.
The idea of the search began a couple of weeks ago during a chance meeting and discussion in Santo with a US peace Corp volunteer named Billy. Now Billy was based on Ambae and spoke of once meeting someone who had studied dentistry overseas but upon her return to Vanuatu found no work opportunities and is now teaching. Knowing that the Presbyterian Church is about to embarked on a program of health and dental training and will be looking for suitably qualified people, we thought it would be good to find this person if we could, make them aware of the fact and see if they might be interested in talking further.
We had learned that the place to aim for was Walaha, on the north west coast of Ambae, but because it was close to the village of Ndui Ndui where there is a better anchorage it was here that we started our search, going ashore in the dinghy just as a local trading boat had finished unloading its cargo of cement, roofing iron, food and miscellaneous boxes.
The conversation started badly. Here was a bunch of guys loading their 4wd with stuff, and here we were asking about a woman we were looking for, who we thought was teacher in the nearby village of Walaha. Maybe it was the language difference, maybe they were too busy, maybe it was the way I was explaining it … whatever it was, the conversation was sinking fast, until a young man came to our aid. I’d got to the end of my “useful” questions, one of which was whether they knew Jessy who worked in Port Vila with the eye team and who we knew was from this region. Seeing I was getting nowhere I then asked whether I might be able to talk with the village chief. The young man, Steven, quietly said, “you no need chief … Jessy here”.
“You mean Jessy is here in the village? She’s back from Pt Vila?” I inquired. “Yes, here he is now. Boy went and got him from village” replied Steven. Just then a young man, “Jesy” (certainly not the female Jessy I was referring to earlier) introduced himself and asked if he could help. We told our story again and he explained that he could take us to Walaha, down the road, and that he was just playing soccer up in the village – Walaha Vs Ndui Ndui. “I play for Walaha” Jesy explained, “we win 2-0” We congratulated him and when he realised we had the dinghy and were off the yacht, he said, “best take boat”.
So before we knew it we were racing down the coast in the direction from which we had earlier sailed … to Walaha. “You have lots fuel?” Jesy asked as we raced along. “Yes, how far is it?” I yelled. “Not far” called Jesy smiling from ear to ear from the front of the bouncing dinghy. We arrived after around 20 minutes and were guided in through the rocky landing to the shallows where we pulled the dinghy up above the tide make. It was then a brief walk up the hill to the village of Walaha where we met the school Head Master, Graham.
At this point things began to move a pace. We explained our story again … that the woman we were searching for was a teacher … maybe she taught here … how she’d gone overseas … how we’d heard the story from a man called Billy in Santo … etc etc. Then, after some consideration Graham said, “there is a woman at teacher’s college in Pt Vila. She is home in her village for 3 weeks at the moment, but normally she is in Pt Vila. She went to Fiji for dental training some time back, her name is Katrina”
“Do you think we might be able to meet her?” we asked. “She has a boyfriend in Ndui Ndui and will be there till later today, then she come back here to Walaha tonight”. With a couple of hours of daylight up our sleeves it was decided we’d race back to our anchorage at Ndui Ndui and see if we could find this woman … who now had a name … Katrina.
“What about tomorrow, Sunday? If we miss Katrina back at Ndui Ndui, will she be here at church tomorrow?” we asked. “Yes”, exclaimed Head Master Graham. “Will you come to church?” “We’d love to come”, I said, on behalf of the ship’s crew. So it was agreed, we’d return to find Katherine, but either way we’d see her at church tomorrow.
It was about now that I saw the mud brick making instruction manual in my bag and couldn’t resist the opportunity to pull it out and flick through the pages. Graham and Jesy seemed interested and then Graham asked whether their soil would be suitable. A quick search of the surrounding gardens, embankments and paths followed with a bucket of water and spade being summoned. Mike then reminded me that we’d better get back up the coast if we wanted any chance of finding Katherine today. “Maybe we could do a brick making demonstration after church tomorrow?” I inquired. Being a “day of rest” and seeing the impressive size of the Apostolic Church nearby I wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t be upsetting local sensitivities by embarking on something that might look like work.
“That would be good” said Graham, “we have church at 9:30, followed by lunch and fund raising for the church, then you can do brick making demonstration” he continued.
So off we went for the dash back up the coast, bouncing over the waves with the wind in our hair … or in the case of some, where our hair once was. But first a quick stop off at the yacht, where Mike rummaged below for a Liverpool soccer shirt for Jesy. This was received with much appreciation and off we went the short distance to shore.
Up in the village another game of soccer was in full swing and Jesy suggested we wait here on the grass, while he went off to find Katrina, who he would bring to us. It didn’t take long and there she was, introducing herself, “Hello, my name is Katrina”
We explained the nature of our visit and yes, she had met Billy and she even knew the other Jessy because she had obtained her spectacles from the Freswater clinic in Pt Vila where Jessy worked. She went on to explain that she had done three and a half years at the health university in Fiji, finishing in 2006, completing a Dental Hygienist course. She was told to return to Pt Vila for two years after which she could apply to return to do a further two years to complete a Dental Surgery course. The trouble seemed to be that she was never able to get the approval or sponsorship to go back to Fiji so she’d started a teacher training course instead. Katrina was very familiar with the ART dental program, had been doing extractions and dearly wanted to be in health care, rather than teaching. Whilst we made no guarantees, we explained that there might be opportunities after all in dentistry and that she might like to talk with Richard Tatwin when she returns to Pt Vila in a few weeks. It was a great meeting and we parted with handshakes and smiles all round, oh, and a photo. “We’ll see you at church tomorrow” we said as we made our way back to the dinghy. Jesy said he’d arranged for a truck to pick us up at 8:30am and take us down the road to church. It seemed a bargain at 1000 vatu ($12 Aus) each way
Back on board things had a different kind of “clean” look about them. Lanie had not only swum all around the boat scrubbing the fast growing slime off the waterline she had also scrubbed the decks and tidied up down below. Gerhard had dinner under control and as we de-briefed from our time ashore it was explained that another bucket had been lost. Well, not exactly “lost”, explained Gerhard, because he knew exactly where it was. Just that it was 11 metres down on the sea floor about 25 metres off the stern. But hey, we have a couple more still on deck.
There was just enough time for a swim, so Mike, mat and I jumped in. Sure enough, there was the heavy rubber bucket, way below on the sea floor. Maybe I could hook it with the fishing lure? So with nothing to loose, a big heavy weight attached to a fishing lure, was lowered down from the deck above and I swam out to attempt the retrieval. second try and hey presto!! A bucket was caught!! So don’t say we haven’t caught anything with our fishing gear.
Gerhard came through with a wonderful Pizza, but not before serving up last night’s rissoto as an entree – this guy’s good! Then to top it all off, as I was having a quick shower on deck two whales broke the surface with a “whoosh” just 50 metres off the stern of the boat. As we all looked seaward they broke the water again with one showing its tail before continuing in their merry way. No amount of clapping, hull tapping or Dory whale-voice impersonating could bring them back.
With another big day ahead, it’s an early night tonight.
Smooth seas, fair breeze and Katrina found
oO0 – – – 0Oo
I received this SMS from Graeme Duke back in the hills of Pentecost…
MSM Cub reporter inland @ Lendungsivi, Central Pentecost. Saturday.
Yesterday the eye & medical team departed Melsisi, separating from MSM crew to head inland. The whole team was due to travel a rugged inland route on two 4WD utes but one was a 4WD-B (=minus brakes!) so half the team travelled part way by local boat 1hr along the coast to where the road headed up & inland (ie brakes not required)! The coastal trip was fantastic: calm india ink water, tropical coastline with Derek our capt pointing out sandy beaches & rock caves, & escorted by a pod of dolphins. Then into the 4WD-B for a 1hr drive up rough track meant for 4WD+B! Arrived at village of Lendungsivi & met by Nurse Jennita, our host, then shower (= bucket of cold water) and local tucker. The village is only about 5km inland but approx 1km ASL. The sky has provided great entertainment. We’ve seen great views of the sunset over the neighbouring Is of Ambae. Star-gazing occupied us post- dinner: Graeme’s iPhone app “Planets 2.0” (free!) helped us to find Mercury, Mars, Venus, Saturn, Scorpio, Virgo, Leo, etc.
Sat. was busy until 2pm with 60+ patients, many requiring referral – several cataracts, & a 40yo lady with severe rheumatic heart disease needing assessment for heart surgery. Bob our dentist was also kept busy. Late afternoon some of us went for 1/2 hr stroll along the road to take in the local flora & scenery & chat to the locals. Sadly we had no mud-brick manuals or moulds to demonstrate. We did discover the nearest church we will visit tomorrow. Robyn has arranged a fishing trip back on the coast for Sun afternoon. Maybe the yacht crew would like some fresh fish?
Today is Bob’s 23rd birthday so we sang Happy Birthday as soon as he finished saying Grace tonight. Then out to see the stars & through a gap in the clouds, named the hitherto unknown Constellation Bob – it looks like a molar tooth with cavity & an ART filling. You can’t miss it.
Smooth seas, cool breeze, & Happy Birthday Bob!