Pt Vila, Vanuatu Tuesday 1 June 2010

Whilst the work of MSM is principally about transporting medical teams amoungst the islands and it is this which dominates the regular Ships Log,  it’s great to sometimes hear a different perspective … from the medical side.

The following is a contribution from doctors Ann and Iain Miller who participated in the May medical team which travelled to Aneityium, Futuna and Aniwa and then worked on land at Tanna before joining Chimere to run clinics in two locations on Erromango…

Having now had 24 hours of Victorian winter to reflect on our journey of the last month, it is hard to believe that we were so recently in such a different world. The first, and rather confronting impression on landing in chilly Melbourne was how orderly it all was, and I have to say, rather prim and self contained. The quiet, smooth trip home contrasted so sharply with the riot of colour, sound, bounce and smell that is Vanuatu. One hopes that all Victorians are not living “lives of quiet desperation”, but there was little sign that they were, on the whole on Saturday, joyously engaged with Life in the way we have experienced.

I don’t look at NiVan island life through naïve eyes; it is clear that the absence of so much of what we take for granted, electricity, running water, sanitation, social security and a universal health system does make for a tough way of life. But I do think they have at least as much to teach us about acceptance, relationship and social cohesiveness as we like to think we can show them about”improving” their lives. There is a saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”. We had such a clear expression of that in action. it was often difficult to work out the relationships of the children and adults we were seeing, as the children seemed to be as comfortable with their accompanying adult, often not related, as with their parent.   It was incredibly humbling to receive so much gratitude and generosity for our efforts, and frustrating not to be able to effect more change. I comfort myself with the thought that one never knows what the ultimate effect of one’s actions will be. Thank you for the reminder about the boy on the beach with the starfish!

Through the kaleidoscope of images of the last four weeks there is a recurring theme, that of sparkling eyes and dazzling smiles! Mind you, the class we examined at Anyteum will not have those shining smiles for long if they don’t take Tony’s hilarious demonstration of tooth brushing seriously.
Our time on the boat was wonderful…yes, even, in retrospect, that Tuesday! We survived! We had some fantastic sails in moonlight, stormy winds and calm seas. We won’t forget the whales we saw off Vila for a long time, especially their curiosity about the fish attractor!

Thank you to you all, fantastic crew, Rob, Bob, Bill and Scott who cared for us so well, and kept us safe. We hope the combined efforts of Noah, Rhys and you all are making progress on the boat!
We will be thinking of you as you continue the journey…
All the best,
Iain and Ann

With one sleep to go before the new crew arrives, today was a day for last minute maintenance work and tying up loose ends.  While I headed off late morning with next door neighbour yachtie and helper, Noah, on a  quest to purchase new boat batteries, Bill, Bob and Scott continued their tasks aboard.  Around lunchtime Bob apparently had the brainwave to walk up the hill to a fish and chip shop he fondly recalled from last years stay.  With Bill and Scott in tow it was a case of … “I think it was on the next corner” … only to arrive and for Bob to exclain, “no, I must be mistaken, it’s down here, then at the roundabout” .  Around 2:00pm and quite a bit of walking, it was concluded that the shop must have shut and so they consoled themselves by walking up and down the aisles of a large hardware store which apparently sold everything – and sadly, 20 litre fuel drums $15 cheaper than I’d bought yesterday – before retiring to a Chinese restaurant that by all accounts made a pretty good fish and chip shop substitute.

Meanwhile, Noah and I jumped into the first minibus we could find after first checking out the local Toyota dealership and asked to be taken to other likely suppliers so we could compare prices.  The minibus wove around the back streets dropping off and picking up and after 10 minutes the front seat was empty and while we were briefly stationary the driver indicated for me to sit up there.  I jumped in with words like …”OK, I’ll ride shotgun”  and as the ground was muddy and sticky I exclaimed … “you know, you could make mud bricks out of that stuff and build some lovely houses here”

Immediately the driver, who introduced himself as  Terry (from the island of Tangoa in the Shepard Islands) was interested and quizzed me on the mud bricks and whether I could do a demonstration for all the churches in the region, because this was his neighbourhood and he was a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, but as he said, all the chuches work together.  Terry was married with two boys, one, Andrew, who was having his 8th birthday today.  So we drove on and got to the first place that sold batteries … “It’s shut” calls out Noah from the back … we were now the only two passengers … “Oh yes … it’s lunch time, they open again at 1:30pm”.  said Terry.  “Maybe we try Wilco.  They not shut for lunch”, volunteered Terry.  So off we went, through the back streets to the Vila equivalent of Bunnings.

As we arrived, we indicated to Terry that this ride was worth more than the standard 150 vatu (about $1.80)  each, but he insisted that he would wait.  But as Noah said, “we could be 45 minutes.  We’ll just wander up and down the aisles”   This didn’t seem to bother Terry; he wouldn’t take any money but insisted he’d wait.  So out Noah and I jumped and whilst they didn’t have batteries, we couldn’t resist the urge to stroll up and down the aisles and in fact bought a few things, up until then, we didn’t realise we absolutely had to have.

After half an hour it was back in the bus and with time still up our sleeves before the main shops opened I asked Terry where he normally eats his lunch and whether we could buy him lunch.  “What about Chinese food?” said Terry,  “Sure” we said in unison … “How much?”  “About 350 vatu  ($4) ” said Terry.  “Sounds good!”  we said.

So down a few more back streets and hey presto, there’s a shop with some rough hand drawn words on the front glass which clearly indicated this place sold Chinese food.

After lunch the three of us climbed back in the minibus and we must have visited a further 6 or more businesses over the next hour, inspecting each company’s stock of batteries, asessing prices and asking whether they knew of any other places that might supply truck-sized batteries. (I should say, we were not after ordinary old car batteries.  We needed 4 batteries, each of 200 amp hours and weighing about 40-50kg per battery.)

By 2:30, Terry apologetically asked whether we would mind terribly if he made a slight diversion to pick up his son from school.  He attended a local Baptist non-Govt school and along with young birthday boy Andrew, there were a further 8 or so kids who Terry took aboard on his usual rounds.  By 3:30pm we still had Terry driving us around but by now we were back on board Chimere showing Terry around and pulling out some caps, clothing and a soccer ball for him to take home to young Andrew.

It was a great afternoon and we have certainly made a new friend in Terry the bus driver.  I suggested that maybe we could do a mud brick clinic in early August when the boat is back in Vila after the June and July missions up north.

(Just for the benefit of those new to our “mud brick mission“, we have been demonstrating how to make mud bricks in the various villages we have visited, primarily to make low-smoke stoves to help reduce smoke inhalation, but the bricks can just as easily be used for building houses.)

In the end we bought the batteries from the Toyota dealership where we’d started our quest earlier in the day.

The task of delivery, installation and payment being deferred till tomorrow.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and new batteries

Robert Latimer