Sunday 25 July 2010 Lolawai, Ambae

Our stop at Loltong yesterday afternoon to drop off dentist/nurse Philip could hardly be called a stop –   more a slow-down, drive-by, ready-set-go, kind of maneuver.
As nice as the anchorage at Loltong  is to spend the night, our next task after returning Philip to his usual stomping ground was to head back up the coast to a small village / anchorage called Laone where we intended to begin our search for a man called Richard; the principal of the Sir Walter Lini Memorial College.  Richard had met the eye team at their clinic at the nearby village of Nazareth a few days ago and had expressed interest in the mudbrick stoves.  Graeme Duke had related this information to us and we promised to get an instruction manual and mould to Richard if at all possible.

But we needed to get back to Laone and anchor before dark, so to save time we radioed ahead to a man called Walter on a yacht called Sea Fever, whom we thought was one of the four yachts we could see in the distance anchored in the small sheltered bay.  Sure enough, after a couple of tries on VHF channel  16 Walter came on the line and kindly agreed to my request to come alongside in his dinghy and ferry Philip and his bags ashore once we’d entered the harbour.  This saved us a considerable amount of time in not having to go through the usual process of dropping the anchor, lifting the dinghy over the side, running Philip ashore and then reversing  the procedure before heading out again.

In the end, our farewell and drop-off took less than 5 minutes, as we slowed to a stop, re-acquainted ourselves with Walter (a recently made friend from an earlier shared anchorage) and said our sad good-byes to Philip; a committed Ni-van healthcare worker who had briefly entered our world aboard ship and whom we had we had got to know quite well.  We hope to catch up with Philip again at some stage and wish him well in his work and further learning.  As a parting, very kind gesture, Lanie gave Philip her back pack, especially bought for her trip to Vanuatu, for Philip to store and transport all his dental tools and equipment.  Philip was very happy and I suspect would have stayed aboard without any encouragement if at all possible.

As Matt described in last night’s Ships Log, we did make it back to Laone before the sun set, with a brief encounter on the beach with a few the locals setting us up for an early start today in our quest to find Richard.
Before we even arrived at our wake up time of 6:00am, (in order to be on the beach at 7:00am for a walk up the hill for an 8:00am Worship Service), however, we were all brought out on deck (eventually for Matt, that boy cal sleep like a Ni-van) around 4:30am by the arrival of a massive landing barge type of ship about 200 metres off our bow, complete with belching, loud diesel motors, very bright deck lights, whistling, yelling, whooping Ni-van crew, plus the ubiquitous beaten up aluminum dinghy ferrying passengers and cargo to and from shore with almost no freeboard – all in complete darkness.

All I can say is, I’m really pleased we had the anchor light on.  Being such a lonely, remote little anchorage the last thing we expected was to be joined in the darkness by another vessel, but just when you least expect it!!
By the time all the excitement had subsided and the trading vessel  had departed in a blue haze of diesel smoke it was wake up time with nothing left for us to do but make up a couple more brick moulds and have breakfast.

Lanie stayed aboard as Matt, Mike and I went ashore to be greeted by our promised guide from yesterday, Tony, plus another man who introduced himself as, well I thought, Matthew.  “Ah, another Matthew , I declared” …  “Yes”, was his response.  It was several hours later that we discovered that his name wasn’t Matthew at all, but Melchior.   Anyway, this Melchior was a great bloke.  A chief of the lower rank, as he described it.  “I kill just 10 pigs in big ceremony, so I must serve the people”.
Melchior took us to the top of the nearby hill, a serious climb out of the village, to the local soccer ground where all the day’s, and the week’s action will take place.  This morning’s church service was in the newly constructed sports shelter and “grand stand”.  It was a kind of dedication of the building which included a communion service and a lot of Anglican priest in attendance, plus I think a Bishop I think, and the local choir (mostly men) who sang something unbelievable.  You not so much heard them sing, but “felt” them sing as the volume and energy of their  efforts filled the small space of pavilion and the surrounding area.

But what time would you expect an 8:00am Communion Worship Service to start?   Well, we should have read the warning signs early on.  Yesterday in fact.  Because it was last night on the beach that it was agreed that Tony would meet us at 8:00am to guide us up the hill.  Trying to clarify things a bit more I asked … “what time does the service start?” .  “8:00am”  they said.  “how long e take to walk up hill?” I asked.  “about 30 minutes” they said.  “Won’t we be late if we leave at 8:00am?  What time does everyone else go up the hill?”   “7:00am” came the response.  “Maybe we meet you at 7:00am”  I politely ventured.
So here we were, 7:30am, having walked up the hill.  It’s sunny, a bit of a breeze and there’s a lot of activity around the soccer ground and in the small pavilion as food stalls are constructed and preparations made for the upcoming service.  “What time does the service start?”  I asked Melchior.  “About 8:30am” came the reply.

Around 9:00am, as Melchior, Mike, Matt and I sat in a small hut across the track from the soccer field,  I asked, “they start soon?”.  Melchior gave a smile and explained that when the priests put on their white robes it would be time to make a move.  He then proceeded to tear up a piece of paper taken earlier from an old exercise book and rolled a cigarette using some homegrown leaf which he explained they grown on the hill and dry in their huts.
Melchior  Ihu was a wealth of information.  (We had a lot of time to sit and chat).  He explained that the founding father of Vanuatu, Walter Lini was from this region, the village of Laone in fact, the very place we were anchored at the bottom of the hill.  Being the 30th anniversary, this was going to be a big event, with a weeklong soccer tournament involving 11 local teams – all hosted in the surrounding village huts  and vying for prize money of 100,000 vatu  (about $12,000AUS).  In fact, in the course of the conversation I asked whether Melchior played soccer.  He said no, but he was the president of the club … as well as being the Chairman of the Laone community.
Melchior explained that his family was from Asanvari, just a bit further north on Maewo.  His father, was chief Joseph, a contemporary and relative, (although I couldn’t quite understand the relationship even though it was explained a couple of times), of Chief Nelson.  Melchior also explained that his brother and sister-in-law, Erica has a bungalow and giftshop at Asanvari.

We then explained to Melchior that we’d been at Asanvari three times in the past couple of weeks and were due to go there on Wednesday to pick up a young boy with a very bad knee, plus his mother … as it turned out, a woman called Erica.  And yes, it was the same Erica!!
Then, about 10 minutes after the conch shell was blown, and his cigarette was finished, Melchior declared it was time for us to walk the 50 metres across the road to join proceedings which were clearly about to start.
We sat at the back, (as is OUR custom) but nearly got ushered to the front.  As it was three chairs were summoned from somewhere to ease our burden and to also demonstrate their respect and appreciation for our presence.  Melchior had obviously worded up the main priest, because he made special mention of the “Australian guests” in his presentation and at the very end asked us to introduce ourselves and say a few words.
The service was all over around 11:00am and as it turned out, Richard, wasn’t at the service, but he was apparently at the college, in Nazareth, a short walk further along the track.  20 minutes later we found Richard, in his Wallaby jumper, with his wife Nicola and we had a good chat about the stoves, the bricks and the idea of teaching the making of the stoves to his students.  Doing a session this afternoon was really out of the question, giving all the other celebrations, so we left a mould and manual with Richard and made our farewells.

Melchior all the while just sat in the background and then afterwards escorted us back to the soccer pitch where lunch and stall activity was starting to pick up.  We thanked Melchior profusely for his help and while he remained to participate in the celebrations we walked back down the hill to the yacht, guided by a gaggle of young boys, (many of whom we’d met the night before on the beach) one of whom was Melchior’s son.    Before leaving we left a parcel for Melchior including a brick mould and manual for his village, plus a wind up torch and a donated soccer ball for his club.  There was also a new shirt and a pair of thongs.  The reason we left the thongs was that Melchior did all his walking in bare feet, and whilst this isn’t uncommon, the ground in parts was over sharp stones and he seemed to take particular care where he placed his feet.  When I asked about his footware he said he didn’t have any shoes.
As we got to the last section of road before reaching the beach we passed a large crowd from the village, all heading up the hill.  Some had sleeping mats on their shoulders, some carried food, others with soccer boots around their necks and still others with Kustom costumes, sticks and equipment for doing dances – all part of the afternoon’s and the week ahead’s, entertainment.

We said the customary “hellos” to each passing person or group, then one chap engaged us in conversation and after discovering that  we had been up seeing Richard the principal about low smoke stoves and mud bricks, he exclaimed … “that’s what we need.  Can you do demonstration at our village!”
We then explained that we needed to head off to Lolowai this afternoon so we could anchor before dark.  But Gilbert was very insistent.  “I am involved with landcare, planting trees, reducing smoke and changing behavior, we need you at our village” he explained.
“Where is your village?” I asked.  “Loltong”, said Gilbert.  “Well we did a demonstration in your village two days ago, the bricks are just next to the church, drying in the sun, they’ll be ready to use in about 12 days time.  Do you know Willy , the builder, and Reginald, the school principal on the hill, they have the moulds and the instructions, you must see them”   Gilbert  seemed very happy with this and agreed that he would see Willy and check out the bricks.
“You’d also know Solomon?  He’s from Loltong”  I ventured, dropping every name I could with this man of environmental passion.  “Yes, he’s my brother”  said Gilbert.   “And Silas is your father?” I went on, hoping to confirm that when he said brother, he really meant “brother” and not just brother – if you know what I mean.  “yes, Silas my father” exclaimed Gilbert.  “Well, we did a house call to him, with the doctor and optometrist, as well they saw your mother, your uncle and Soloman’s wife.  Your father and mother are wonderful.  Silas is a great man” I said.  Gilbert and I embraced as he thanked me and the medical people who had made a special effort to get up to his father’s village.

Gilbert then went onto explain that his other brother, Russell, was the Vanuatu Director General of Justice, but before that was Director General for Lands and Environment, hence the acute interest in low smoke stoves and mud bricks.  I explained that when I get to Vila I will get in touch with his brother and give him photos of his father.  Gilbert pulled out his mobile phone and gave me his brother’s number.
As we parted, Gilbert said, “It was a shame I missed the demonstration in my village”  to which I pointed out that it was good that we had met just now!  To which he agreed.
Back on the boat, Lanie had lunch ready and by 1:15 we were heading out of the anchorage bound for Lolowai on the eastern tip of Ambae – one of the most beautiful, protected anchorages in the whole of Vanuatu.  Our mission here was to meet the eyecare nurse, Mary Tabi – the lady who had been with the eyecare team on Pentecost for the past 10 days.  We’d promised Mary that we’d drop in to say hello and do a mudbrick demonstration.
With a strong SE wind from astern, a tidal flow going our way, the motor ticking away and just the jib hoisted we made 7.5 to 8.5 knots all the way – doesn’t sound much, but when 6.5 knots is seen as very good, over 8.00 is exceptional.

The thing about Lolowai, however, is that there is this bar.  Not the Tusker, VB kind of bar, but a coral bar.  There are lead markers onshore to make the approach and entry easier, but the guide suggests it’s only 2 metres deep at low tide.  Fortunately it was nearly high tide upon our approach but unfortunately there was a trading vessel anchored right in the middle of the approach channel.  The trading vessel was a big one and drawing too much water got as far in as they dared, then promptly dropped its anchor.  Only trouble was, you couldn’t see the lead markers with this great chunk of a steel ship in the way, and we had no idea whether there was enough water either side to pass.
We could see they were in the process of transferring cargo and people to and from shore with a couple of beaten up looking barges, so I did the usual thing and tried to raise them on the radio … several times, but this looked like a no-frills kind of vessel, the kind where a radio is a bit of an extra.

So we inched our way closer, with Matt and Lanie on the bow waving in their direction in an effort to get some clear instructions and guidance.  Closer, closer, closer we got, then Lanie yelled back to me … “they say to pass to port (the left)”  only trouble was, that was the upwind side and my preference was to pass on the downwind side.  Then there was a lot of arm waving on the back of the ship, accompanied by the usual yelling, laughing and whistling, then Lanie called back,  “They now say the starboard, go right!!”
So we inched closer, so close in fact that you could have done a leisurely underarm toss of a pamplemousse  from our deck and landed it up on theirs.  And as we came abeam of the ship, there were the lead markers in front of us on the hill, with a few small adjustments to our course enabling us to complete the crossing of the bar with a minimum of fuss.  We replied to the excitement on board the ship with our own waves and yells of greeting as we passed into the harbour and then passed one of their tender boats doing a relay ashore.

Once anchored, there was just enough time for a quick trip ashore in search of Mary Tabi, but that will have to wait till tomorrow.  I’ve already exceeded my word limit for tonight.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and lovely Lolowai

Robert Latimer

Saturday, 24th July. MSM Cub Reporter Dr Graeme Duke, @ Port Vila.

Here’s an epi-blogue.

Woke up to fine sunny day. Leo kindly went down to the bakery to purchase fresh bread for breakfast. Then some “power” shopping was in order. Well at least as far as some of the women-folk were concerned.

We split up and each went in search of duty free bargains. Few were found because a cruise ship was in, the city was packed with tourists, and they were getting preferential service.

Maybe Sue’s favourite perfume will need to wait until next year? I did get some T-shirts for the boys with “I Stret Nomo” (I’m not stressed).

We met at Jills Cafe for lunch (plus double-flavour, double-ice cream caramel milkshake), shared our shopping purchase successes or otherwise, then set off in different directions: the women for more shopping, Gerhard to see a yachting and business colleague, Leo for a siesta, and Don and I to find Dr Willy Tokon, medical director of Central Vila Hospital.
His house turned out to be only 1 block away from where we are staying. We discussed management plans for baby Rowena, Rexlyn, and Judith. Don and Willy discussed several other matters regarding healthcare delivery in Vanuatu and I found out some useful background on the intensive care services in Vila and a contact person, in case I can be of further assistance.
We planned to go to the hospital to find Theresina (our patient from Melsisi) but Alastair Whyte (ceramic artist from Warburton, Victoria) and his wife arrived from Australia unexpectedly. They were hoping for accommodation at Sutherland House but we have taken all the rooms. So they stayed and chatted for some time until Taxi Tony could pick them up and find an alternative at Hibiscus Lodge.
Alastair is an expert on Vanuatu ceramics and sand drawings and their history. Apparently Ni-Vans have the tradition of passing on legends and stories illustrating them with the beautiful patterns they draw whilst telling the story. Each island has their own unique sand patterns (cf. note in yesterday’s post regarding basket weaving.)
Don and Alastair started thinking of the possibility of using one of these pattern drawings to be an insignia to represent the story of the Prevention of Blindness Project (as long as this does not offend any tradition or cultural sensitivities!)
Whilst they talked I wrote out 3 referral letters to specialists regarding Rowena, Rexlyn, and Judith, providing them with the necessary medical information to proceed to the next step relevant to each. And the medical form for ROMAC had to be completed. So much for a “work free” day!  🙂  But all in good causes!

Tomorrow we plan to visit the hospital to see if we can find Theresina.

Tonight we ate our final dinner together with Richard Tatwin and swapped stories and reflections. We planned to meet Gerhard at the restaurant. As we had not seen him for some hours and didn’t have his mobile number I rang Rob (on Chimere way up north at Pentecost Is) to see if he could contact Gerhard. No luck. Unbeknown to any of us Gerhard had gone to one of the three available restaurants at the chosen resort, but just as we walked in to check the menu the power went out and we didn’t notice Gerhard sitting there waiting for us. Nor did he see us. So he ate on his own and chatted to the matre’d, whilst we went to the another restaurant thinking that Gerhard must have got a better offer for dinner! He has just returned and, yes, we are still friends. And his phone is beeping in his bag that he left in the room, presumably with a message from Rob to meet us for dinner.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and guess whose coming to dinner?

Addendum: Sunday, 25th July

Foghorn Leghorn has plenty of relatives in Vila. At 11pm last night they were practicing. The only competition is the snoring from other rooms. Gerhard has an effective solution for both – earplugs!

Don & I walked down to the hospital but no one had heard of Theresina from Melsisi. We suspect she went to Luganville instead. Don will find out tomorrow.
We went to Richard’s church where there was a special event for the 30th anniversary of independence later this week. Once again we were made to stand at the door and shake everyone’s hands (or high-5s for the kids). Two choirs sang and we all sang the national anthem “Tumi, tumi…” . The senior pastor also explained the significance of the national flag – black to represent the colour of the soil and the Melanesian-origins of the people; green to represent the flora and resources of the islands; red to signify blood and life common to all humans; gold to represent the heritage and culture including the influence of the christian churches; the “Y” shape to represent the shape of the islands that make up Vanuatu; pig’s tusk a symbol of power and authority and thus sovereignty; and palm leaves to represent peace and unity.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and happy anniversary!