Things ain’t always as they seem

Wednesday 19 May 2010 Port Resolution

After an early night it was up with dawn (that’s the sunrise, we haven’t taken any new crew members onboard) so that Scott and I could make it to the far beach for 8:00am to meet Peterson for the 1hr walk to his village so as to make mud bricks.

Those who’ve been following the Ship’s Log might be starting to tire of our regular reports on the making of mud bricks, but with the first medical team having flown home and the arrival of our doctor-crew members still a couple of days away, we are doing all we can to be useful in the surrounding villages – and mud bricks appears to be our new calling.   So wait, there’s more.  The walk to Peterson’s village was indeed 1hr and as the sun got higher in the sky, the perspiration began to drip. Peterson kept up a steady pace and upon arrival at his home we were introduced to the extended family and immediately set about mixing up the mud.

In all we made 40 bricks, using different mixtures of soil.  Some with pure clay, some with half clay half soil and some with just local soil, all the while listening to the hiss and boom of the volcano which was just over the neighboring hill.  By 10:30 our work was done and we wound up with some lovely oranges to eat and Scott distributed the donated caps and clothing he had carried up from the boat, which were a big hit.

Scott and I assured Peterson that he didn’t need to guide us back, that we would be able to find the way OK and we set off back to the beach and were back aboard around 12:00 noon for some lunch and a well earned rest.

In the mid afternoon we left Bob aboard sorting and fixing and Bill, Scott and I made our way ashore with a list of tasks to perform:  me to deliver some photos I’d printed out from a village encounter yesterday, plus to retrieve a DVD (King Kong) we’d loaned to a guy who had a generator and TV in his hut; Scott and Bill to look at a wind generator which we were told had died, plus a solar panel and battery belonging to a village and church leader David.

As far as the wind turbine come power generation unit goes, the sign said it was donated and installed by the Govt of Germany, Canberra Australia on 11 November 2009, but the locals said it stopped working on 24 December 2009 when a power lead was run from the inverter on the wall of the thatched hut to the village (several hundred meters away) to power some Christmas lights. It must have been too much of a drain for the 240v inverter which is connected to the bank of 24v batteries, because all of Scott’s testing revealed it was kaput. (a technical electrical term – after all, Scott is an electrician)

Another sign at the wind generator told how much it was for the locals to charge their mobile phones, but no inverter means no 240v power and no charging of mobile phones; which explains why we have done 4 phones onboard Chimere for different locals in the last 3 days.

All Scott could do was suggest they get a new inverter, and tomorrow we’ll get details of the organisation in Pt Vila that installed the unit to see if they’ll come and fix it.
So there’s an abject lesson in appropriate third world aid if ever there was.  On the one hand a wind generator sounds like a perfect way to produce 240v in a village where the south easterly wind blows nearly every day of the year.  On the other hand, if a local isn’t trained in  its operation, or there isn’t access to regular maintenance or follow-up it’s all as good as wasted.  We made a guess that the installation must have cost close to $20,000AUS, and it lasted about 1-2 months.  If a burnt out inverter ends up being the problem, it might have been good to have installed a breaker switch or fuse somewhere in the system as a form of protection.

It was then onto the solar panel, light, 12v battery and small 240v inverted which fed one hut and after much multi-meter testing it was discovered that this little inverter was also kaput (refer above).  After all, there’s only so much power you can extract from one solar panel and one 12v battery and the TV in the hut was a bit of a giveaway.

Our last task of the day was to deliver some caps to a village about 10 minutes walk away, where Charlie Joseph lives, and to give some band aids and antiseptic cream to Natalie, the French/Canadian occupational therapist back packer who had taken up temporary residence in the village while she searched for a passage to Pt Vila aboard a yacht.  Did I say that Natalie could also cook, just thought I’d mention that.  Any way, Natalie asked us the other day whether we were going to Pt Vila and whether we had room for her.  Her initial approach was in a dugout canoe.  Bob was aboard alone – as is standard Chimere procedure, and he referred her onto the “owner”.  When Bill, Scott and I met her in the village later on that day we had no immediate objection, but gave no absolute commitment, rather, leaving it open in case she found one of the other yachts was departing sooner.  So the last few days we’ve been discussing aboard how the dynamics would change if Natalie was to move in, whose cabin would she take, do we have enough toilet paper, could she really cook, are the French really so easy to get on with etc etc – you get the picture – then yesterday we discovered she found passage aboard a yacht we’ve dubbed “the pirate ship” because it’s an old style two masted schooner with a big bow sprit. So today when we delivered the ban aids to Natalie it was farewells all round.  I think one of the older village blokes I met the other day must think we’re all a bit thick aboard Chimere.  In a quiet moment the other day he asked me, “you take woman aboard?  She cook for you?”  I asked him … “is it OK for her to here in the village with you?”  He replied “yes it no problem, but maybe you take her she go now and cook for you tonight”.  I smiled a knowing smile to him and said,  “many things to consider Charlie”.  And he smiled back in an understanding way.

As we left the village we said g’day to a couple of older men on the side of the track and pretty quickly got into a discussion about … you guessed it … mud bricks.  We asked whether they had seen them in the other villages and they explained that they are from the village near the steam vents and they’d asked Jake at that village to show them, but he had said no.  With a look of disbelief I said, “what do you mean he said NO?”   Our new friend Jimmy then went onto explain that he had tried to find out about the bricks and see how to make them, but the people from the other village said NO.  Jimmy then explained that he was the Paramount Chief of the whole region – including the steam vent village – but they still said NO.  I then explained that we were giving the manuals and moulds away for free and expected people to share the idea with everyone else, which he agreed was a good thing, but he couldn’t explain why they said no.

So tomorrow morning we meet Jimmy and a few others at 9:00am at the far beach near the steam vent to show them how to make bricks. As they said, they want to see it with their own eyes.   Apparently their village is only a 10 minute walk from the beach.

As we made our way to shore in the dinghy this afternoon we pulled alongside the French yacht – they set off earlier today, but motored back because there was no wind outside the bay –  we chatted with Anik and Jean-Batiste and they said they went up to the volcano last night (you’ll just have to image their outrageous French accent) and explained that they walked all around and then, … “all of a sudden, eh go BOOMMB and zee volcano bombs shoot into zee air and land 3 meter from Jean-Batiste an e run like crazy…”   I reckon I’d run like crazy too.  We’d heard this story from two young ladies on another yacht earlier in the day and it sounded pretty hair raising then, but now we were hearing it from those who had made the narrow escape – in person.  As they say, go only once and never turn your back on the volcano.  I must say, the pall of black smoke and ash rising from over the hill here in the bay certainly suggests it is more active this year than last.  I went up last year and I’m sticking to the one-trip rule.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and things ain’t always as they seem

Robert Latimer

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