Monday 25 May, 9.51pm (anchored off Port Narvin, Erromango)
It’s hard to know where to start.
First let me say that it’s amazing what a difference a glorious sun rise, a settled blue sky and a gentle breeze can do for morale. The first piece of good news for the day was to learn that the medical team all awoke fresh and sparky after their nights rest – which was good because they had a big day ahead of them. Andrew and I ran their breakfast box ashore, containing certain essentials such as peanut butter, Weet Bix, and the once Aussie national food – Vegemite. It was then a case of transferring multiple boxes of glasses and equipment ashore in readiness for the clinic, which was to be held in the church.
As people came and went we started chatting and we soon began to gain a picture of the village leadership, and how life is lived in this small, very isolated community. By isolated I mean, there was once a road from here to the main centres of Dillons Bay and Ipota (Cook’s Bay)on the other side of the island but many years ago the rivers washed parts of it away and so now it is just an overgrown track. There is a boat (read, small runabout which operates when the seas are not too big) twice a week around the point to Ipota which takes the mail and apart from a couple of solar panels which occasionally work, the village has no need of an electrician.
As the clinic got under way, as I say, Andrew and I were hovering around, moving the occasional table and chatting with people. It was at this time Andrew introduced me to a man he was sitting next to – Joe. “I’m 86” said Joe. “That’s amazing”, said I, “have you always lived here?”. “No, I come from Dillon’s Bay, but my wife come from here, so I move here” We learned that Joe is a chief of his region. He said he worked for the Americans in the second world war, in Pt Vila. He then asked Andrew and I, (who he called picininis)… “your mother, your father? What about them?” We explained that they had both passed away and said it was quite recently. He sighed and said … “both my parents die too” And he said it in a way that indicated that he still felt the loss and understood the grief we must feel.
“Did you get some glasses”, I said. “Oh yes, they are here” patting his shirt pocket. “You have children?” I said. “Yes, this my boy Tom.” reaching across to the man who we’d been speaking to earlier “and a son in Dillons Bay”. “When were you last in Dillon’s Bay?” I asked, keen to get as much info about our next medical stop as I could. “2003” he said. That’s a long time ago?!” I exclaimed. “Yes it’s hard to get there, no road, only boat”
It sounds like a strange conversation now, when I write it down, but this was a very contented man and we just sat there chatting about old times. In fact for much of the time he sat there and held my hand.
Joe’s son Tom was quite a character too. He went through a French school, so he claimed not to know much English, but we didn’t seem to have any problem communicating. But Kathy was later able to chat in French to him when he came out to the yacht with us while we were picking up some more boxes of glasses. Tom said he was a builder, “built this church” he said. Then when I explained that the eyecare project was a partnership between the Presbyterian church in Vanuatu, the Uniting Church in Australia and the Rotary Club, he went on to explain that he was also an ordained Deacon in the Presbyterian Church too. When he noticed that there were some DVDs and tapes in one of the bags he asked if we can put on a movie for the village? “I think we should be able to” I said, “but we’d better test out our equipment first, before you spread the word”.
So it was that Finding Nemo showed tonight at the Port Narvin church to an appreciative audience of more than 150 – complements of the portable Honda generator off the boat and Don’s laptop, projector and PA system. It was big night!! Starting around 6:00pm village Ni-Van time (which is about 6:30) and featuring a Slide Show curtain raiser of photos taken today in the village by Margie from the medical team and Andrew.
As the people filed through for medical and eye tests earlier in the day, someone said, where’s Richard. “Oh he’s over at the primary school testing the 150 or so children”. Soon after, Richard returned and was just amazed at the standard of the children’s education. “I gave the instructions once and they read the eye charts through, right down to the youngest. Mostly it takes ages to do a school as I explain what we are doing and so many can’t read the letters so we use shapes”
It was soon after this that Andrew and I met another village leader – George – the primary school principal. Now George was initially a bit reserved and was keen to know more about the medical program and where we were from. But the more we chatted the more we seemed to hit it off. Andrew spoke to him about sustainable energy projects and construction, and I asked whether he’d like us to photograph his students and the school, given that “we hear from Richard that he was very impressed with their standard”. We gave George several packs of exercise books, plus some pens and pencils, but it was clear they could do with more. George was very appreciative and said it would be good if we could do some photos. We made a time for 2:30pm.
Andrew and I made our way there and sure enough there were seats in place on the sloping lawn in front of the Port Narvin Primary School sign and mats on the ground – all ready for the kids to take up their positions.
The photos went well and so tomorrow we will print them off and present them to the school. We aren’t able to do one for every child, but certainly enough to jazz up the notice board and one for each of the 6 teachers perhaps. They make do with so little, yet strive for better and at the same time have a degree of contentment with what they do have.
Tomorrow, (leaving around 6:30am) the medical team are taking a local boat around the point to Cooks Bay and the village of Ipota. The trip each way in the fast motorboat will take around 1-2 hours. In the afternoon they will return and at that time we will transport everyone around the top of Erromango to Dillon’s Bay. This will again be an instrument landing in the dark, but we feel confident after our successful landing here at Port Narvin, plus the weather appears to be heading our way (this time)
The medical team will then work much of Wednesday in Dillon’s Bay and in the afternoon we will head off for the sail through the night to Efate Island and Pt Vila, arriving Thursday morning – which most definitely be a rest day
Right now it’s time for bed.
Thank you again so much for your interest and support.
Smooth sea, fair breeze and Port Narvin