Tuesday 17th September
Today was a lay off day for the medical team, resting in Port Vila prior to our departure for home on the 5pm flight. Mike (Clarke) had arranged for us to stay overnight at the Coconut Palms hotel. Thanks Mike. An unlimited shower with hot water and a stable bed that did not pitch and roll was gratefully appreciated by all.
The only hitch was that Graeme and David were booked into a room with a double bed. On hearing this Graeme’s reply to the well manicured and neatly groomed vivacious male concierge, “We are not married!” did not elicit the desired response.
“Ah, um, ….. do you have another room with single beds?”
“Oh, of course, sir.”
We slept well and met downstairs for breakfast and caught up on the election news from ten days ago using Barry’s laptop to search the papers from one week ago. Our impression was a landslide victory to the conservative Liberal-National coalition in the lower house but a senate evenly poised between the two major parties with the balance of power being held by several independents with no policies of substance! Well I suppose encouraging everyone to exercise or play sport should be good for the nation’s health! Having digested these unusual events we parted each to our own preferred tasks, planning to rendezvous at Jill’s Cafe in downtown Vila for lunch, before departing.
Ruth went off to visit the staff at PCV Clinic in search of a new edition of the Vanuatu Aid Post Worker Manual, 2012 edition, as a resource and educational tool for future teams, and her vanilla supplier. Yes, vanilla supply. It is grown here on some islands and Ruth has her own special dealer/supplier. We decided not to ask too many questions.
Nancy relaxed in the hotel lounge, caught up on Skype with her beloved James. The only method of communication these lovebirds have had for the past two weeks has been via the communal sail mail and ‘chaperoned’ by the crew of Chimere. Now they had time to themselves.
Nancy later caught up with two friends she had met on previous VPBP visits to Port Vila. Both are refugees from Iran. How they ended up in Vanuatu is a long story.
Barry talked with Evelyn on Skype then headed down to the PCV Clinic to catch up with Morinda, the recently trained dental health care worker. Morinda and Bob were in Melbourne earlier this year for dental training and is was great to see progress being made in the newly constructed PCV Clinic for eye and dental work.
Doug declared his desire to go in search of a solution to a frequently observed problem: the lack of bibles in rural Vanuatu. Many of the villages we visited had few if any and many villagers were longing for their own copies to read. The absence of bibles is due to a combination of limited supply in the local language the limited income of most rural NiVans whose main occupation is subsistence farming. Even an inexpensive bible difficult is over-priced even at 1600 vatu (about AUD$18)
Doug’s plan was to see if anyone in Port Vila had access to bibles in Bislama that we could send back to these villages. The group decision was to send him to the Presbyterian Church office, which is next door to the PCV Clinic.
There he and Barry met with Pastor Alan who is whole-heartedly supportive, and said he had a box of 95 Bislama bibles the church would willingly donate. Pastor Alan stated: “If God freely gave his Son then we should not charge the people to read about this good news.”
Doug offered to pay the postage and he provide the address of Father Stanley on the island of Loh.
Whilst this discussion was going on another expat couple from Orange, NSW, Graeme – a dentist by trade – and his wife Pam who visit regularly to visit family and assist with rural dental care, turned up to view the new PCV Health dental clinic. They turned out to be long time friends of Doug and Geneve! Dentist Graeme on hearing of Doug’s plans informed us that, “Our son Michael lives here in Port Vila and he has been involved in many projects including printing and distribution of bibles. You need to speak to him. How about we invite him to join us for lunch?”
As Michael explained over our mango slurpees,”We have procured bibles for the Bible Society in Bislama that are ready to send but there is a requirement that they go to a specific ‘area of need’ not just sent anywhere without a distribution strategy. The long term goal is to have one for every family.”
And so over lunch another difficult problem that we had no clear solution for only last night was being solved and plans were being hatched.
Graeme, that is doctor Graeme not dentist Graeme, had plans to visit the Vila Central Hospital in search of previous acquaintances to discuss plans being hatched to assist with teaching and training of staff in the small emergency department and the small intensive care ward. Good nursing staff are difficult to come by. There are several reasons for this: lack of confidence, insufficient teachers, limited medical support and expertise. I think he must have met most of the staff when he rattled of the names: local surgeon Richard Leona, Michael Hodge (AUSAid funded Anaesthetist), Rojer the Surgical charge nurse, Geoff the emergency department nurse, Elodie chief nurse educator, Griffith the cardiologist. He was particularly keen to show Graeme the echocardiogram machine that had been donated by Northern Hospital, Melbourne, last year.
Sadly it had sat for 10-months on the Port Vila dock in a shipping container exposed to the hot tropical sun and some time after being delivered and unpacked it was left uncovered in the centre of a hospital ward being renovated, with plaster and saw dust . The consequent heat and dust had damaged the electronics and there was no one to service it. All common problems in Vanuatu.
Whilst chatting to the staff in the operating theatre tea room, Graeme (the doctor not the dentist) was shocked, surprised, and amazed to see an old colleague and paediatric surgeon from Melbourne (now living in NZ) walk into the tearoom. He is visiting for one week to assist with paediatric surgery. For a long time they reminisced and shared stories and held up the efficient running of the operating Theatres.
Dave (that’s Desal Dave) was the only sensible one amongst us. He took a leisurely stroll to the museum, then went in search of souvenirs and a luxury yacht (with functioning desal unit, of course) that was for sale down at the yacht club, ending up at the appointed rendezvous point, Jill’s Cafe.
Jill’s has become a regular watering hole for the Teams in Vila. A particular favorite are the fruit smoothies, ice coffees, milkshakes (double flavor, double ice cream, double malt), and of course the fresh homemade lemonade. After two weeks of healthy island food and we felt entitled to some Australian “rubis kaekae”.
As I write this final note I have discovered Chimere’s belated success with the fishing rod. Of course this could all be another tall fishing story? Oh well they deserve it and we cannot complain – we did get to eat fresh lobster once and coconut crab twice!
As a final parting word the Medical Team would like to thank the Chimere crew for their efforts in transporting and supporting the medical, dental, and eye programs of PCV Health. Thanks to Rob for his enthusiasm and selfless generosity, leadership, and expert captaincy. Thanks to Matt and Dave for friendship, seamanship, and support. And to Capability Cathy with her culinary delights, ceaseless caring for us all, her patience, and cheerful face each day. Oh yes, and the yummy fresh bread every day! Thanks to the gracious old lady who kept us afloat together and (mostly) dry: Chimere.
Thanks to you all – those who have supported the project in big and little ways, or simply enjoyed following our adventures. Thanks to Don and Meg MacRaild who started it all nearly 15yrs ago and were appropriately acknowledged with their OAMs in this year’s Australia Day awards! And big thanks to Papa God who watched over and cared for us in so many ways by granting us safety, harmony, creativity, and purpose.
Wishing the crew smooth seas, fair breezes, and safe return home.
MSM and PCV Health cub reporter.