Suffer the little children….

Wednesday, 1 July 2009 9:47 PM (anchored at Lolowai, Ambae Island)

We’ve only caught one fish this whole trip. Bob says they’ve run out, but
judging by the flying fish scooting over the water this morning as we went
in the dinghy to the dedication service at 7.30 am, I reckon they just have
the game worked out. Right now they’re winning.

The deputy Prime Minister attended the priest’s dedication service in this
tiny backwater, so a whole day of celebration was planned. There is no
church building, so a table was set up in the Nakemwahl (village communal
hut) for an altar, and people brought woven palm mats to sit on, rather than
sitting on the dirt floor. The huts around Asamvari on Maewo Island have no
window spaces; just woven bamboo walls and thatched roofing, and are very
dim inside as a result. As I sat amongst the villagers listening to the
service, which was conducted in local language, and the wonderful harmony
singing in Bislama, a gentle breeze blew through the walls and waves lapped
on the shore about 30m away.

Just before Holy Communion all the children lined up to take their turn at
the communion rail to be blessed.  As even the tiniest of them ran
confidently into line, love and support from the church body washed through
the room and over them. I found myself moved to tears by the quality of love
that places children in the forefront for care and blessing. That kind of
humility and gentleness characterises these people. There is much we could
learn from them.

After church, the Nakemwahl was transformed into  a festival provision
centre. Narrow logs were placed down the centre to separate the men’s and
women’s areas. At one end men prepared kava for a special chiefs’ ceremony,
and at the other, women sat to unwrap huge parcels of lap-lap and vegetables
for breakfast. A group of men performed a traditional welcome, and we were
treated to music and kustom dancing by men and women in traditional dress.
The day wore on easily as we sat under trees by the ocean, watching and
chatting with locals and other visitors.

The village chief called upon us to provide our boat “chief” for the kava
ceremony with the deputy Prime Minister. In Bob’s absence (he’d stayed with
the boat), we elected Martin to fulfil the role. Accordingly, Martin did the
manful thing and spent the afternoon socialising with other dignitaries in
the “male only” area. Later on, layers of banana leaves were removed from
two huge fire pits to reveal the cow and the pig that had been cooking there
since 2 am. When I went to pass the Anzacs around, I discovered that the
musicians had found them and helped themselves liberally. Since I’d made
several dozen, there were still some left to share, fortunately.

While we were participating in the celebration on Maewo, the medical team
had had the most gruelling four-wheeled drive trip they’ve ever experienced.
The road to one inland village was steep and deeply rutted, seeming almost
vertical in places.  The driver got out and had a look at the road ahead
every now and again, once rebuilding a bit of it to get them through. They
came across a pig wallowing up to its full depth in mud in one of the tyre
ruts. Fortunately it was agile enough to extract itself and beat a retreat
at their approach.

Their first patient of the day had walked two hours to get to the clinic. He
told the team that his grandfather had done something not so good – he had
killed the first white missionary to come to his part of Ambae. He had
earlier been blackbirded to the Queensland cane fields and had been put into
jail and also put in water up to his neck for a misdemeanour he didn’t
understand, so when he saw a white person come to his island, he killed him.
It’s not clear how he had managed to return to Ambae from Queensland. There
has been reconciliation between this man’s family and the family of the

The village school the team visited today was very poor, and of the 45
children they saw there, the vast majority had yaws. These are infected
sores that can penetrate to the bone and cause permanent problems if they
are left untreated and become severe enough. They can be cured with a single
dose of penicillin. The team is referring the school to the Ministry of
Health for blanket treatment of the children there.

Albinism is a reasonably common problem here in Vanuatu, and the intensity
of the sun causes both eye and skin problems. Today the team saw a one-year
old albino baby, so once they return to Australia they will send clothing
and tiny sunglasses to protect her from the sun.

We sailed back from Maewo to Lolowai this evening, making good time (1 ½
hours) under the mainsail and yankee in a fair breeze of 20 to 25 knots. We
had our last meal on Ambae at Mary Tabi’s again, medicos and boat crew
together. Mary’s husband Jonathon had been down at the bay at 1am two nights
ago to pick up fish especially for our farewell dinner from the copra
trading boat when it arrived during the night. We finished with an enormous
glazed lumberjack birthday cake Jen and I made on board this afternoon to
celebrate Marie-Leah’s birthday.

Back to Santo tomorrow.

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