21 May 2010 Port Narvin, Erromango 18 44′ S,   169 12E

After a lazy night’s sail up from Port Resolution we arrived this morning around 8:00 and found a spot to drop the anchor.  Unfortunately the incessant roll of the ocean swell as it rounds  the far point creates  a rather uncomfortable motion  here as we sit maybe 400m off the coral and sand coast.

It’s now getting onto 7:00pm and Bill is cooking up a storm in the galley … OK, maybe a storm is overstating it, perhaps a strong breeze, but I heard the words tuna, rice and green stuff (which was brought aboard by Iain and Ann) mentioned, which we all agreed would taste amazing … “why would you wanna eat anywhere else kids…”.
Outside, the sound of the wind in the rigging is constant  with the sea breaking on the distant rocks being a regular reminder that we’re real keen for the anchor to hold through the night.  Late this afternoon the clouds came down the valley and it started raining.  Now it’s pretty relentless,  lashing the cabin and decks.  It’s also quite cool, but very snug down below as we hold onto everything loose to counter the rolling motion.

After dropping anchor, having breakfast, getting the dinghy in the water and trying to set a stern anchor to help overcome the rolling motion we hit the beach.  We left Bob aboard to guard the fort and were met on the beach by a young lady, Susianne, (plus a cast of other onlookers) who introduced herself as granddaughter of Chief Joe.  She said we were welcome and then we began introducing ourselves to the crowd that had formed, explaining that Iain and Ann were both doctors and happy to see anyone who was unwell.

Surprise, surprise, the idea of making mud bricks came up in the conversation and I whipped out the manual complete with step by step photos.  “Make with cement?”  someone inquired. “No, just dirt, but you have to have the right dirt, maybe we have a look and see?”  A group of strong men and young boys thought this was a good idea and we began what were told might be a 40 minute walk up a nearby valley, but err we’d gone no more than 200 metres past a dozen huts down a path through the village when Bill and I kicked at the ground and said, “Maybe this ground be good”.  “Must be sticky, like clay”. So as simple as that we dug a hole at the back of Samson’s family’s house , mixed in water and dry fibre from coconut and pandanys plants and began making bricks.  It was indeed good mud and as the bricks began to line up more people began arriving and the manual was passed around.  It had all the hallmarks of a revival crusade.  As an added point of interest we collected some cement blocks nearby and fashioned a make-shift stove by stacking the bricks one on top of each other and then lit a fire underneath.  As for my claim of “low smoke” ??  There was smoke everywhere as the little fire  was established.  Then as  a pot was gathered from a nearby hut and the fire got going all agreed it was achieving good results – much to my immense relief.

Meanwhile, Iain and Ann did battle at the clinic against amazing odds.  I use the word “clinic” because that’s what the – rather solid by local standards – building is called, located for some reason way out of the village surrounded by long, lush vegetation.  As word got out about there being … not one, but two doctors in the house  the queue began to form.  I’ll resist the urge to make a joke about people having a choice  of “which doctor”, but by the number of pregnant women sitting on the veranda of the clinic it was clear that having a woman doctor on hand was not something to be passed up.

We were able to hand over quite a few of the donated medical supplies and these were a welcome addition to the dispensary shelves  which resembled Mother Hubbard’s cupboard in many respects.  Over dinner Iain and Ann anguished over the lack of facilities, support and training available.  The “nurse” was a bloke who did the best he could, but he arrived as simply an assistant with minimal training to fill the spot of the usual nurse practitioner who is away in Pt Vila for some time doing additional training.

In all they saw over 40 patients in the 6-7 hours or so they were open for business and look like having a full book tomorrow morning when they plan to open at 8:00am and close around 11:30am.  We crew members were suggesting that payment for their services might be by way of bananas, pawpaws, or perhaps pineapples for the more difficult cases, but these doctors can’t be bought.  We’ll just have to build up the pantry some other way.
As I sit here typing the rain squalls continue to pelt down, and you know it’s sad, I should be thinking … I hope some drips don’t make it through the hatches, but instead I’m thinking, I hope Sam, Joe, Simon and our gang of mud brick makers have properly covered the bricks.  I’ll check in the morning when the 7:54 dinghy from Chimere to the beach departs with two doctors aboard.

Our plan is to get through this rolly night and then be away around 12-1:00pm tomorrow around the top and down the other side of the island to one of last year’s favourite villages, Dillons Bay.   Upon hearing of our travel plans, Chief Joe asked if we would take a woman and her 4 children to Dillon’s Bay with us.  “No problems” is the standard response.

At the moment there is an unusually large number of people in the Port Narvin village from villages all over Erromango.  They are here for a week-long multi-denominational  youth gathering; being school holidays.
Everyone’s gone to bed and we currently have the motor on to charge the batteries.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and surely the rolling with stop soon.

Robert Latimer