What with water activities, roller coaster rides (of the sea water variety), jungle adventure walks, rock climbing, multicultural culinary experiences, local costumes customs and dancing, and friendly new faces everyday, you could be forgiven for thinking MSM is one big Disneyland theme park. Except that it is all real. To quote Fiona (2011 VBPB team member): “You know, you’d pay a lot back home for a ride like this!”
For example, after our Thursday morning clinic at the village of Dolap we were invited by Levi the local Anglican minister to witness the first open display of their kustom (sic) dances. These were a long and colourful affair involving a percussion and rhythmn band, many colourful costumes and masks and headgear, lots of stamping, jumping, and running.
It was explained that these dances represented the history of the people of Gaua, the significance of the environment birds, fish, plants, animals, then the arrival of humans and arrival of Bishop Patterson followed by the stabilising influence of Christianity on the local community.
“Only half-an-hour.” we were promised, but it was each dance that took 30min to prepare and execute. Levi was keen for us to help to market his village crafts, food, dances, and activities and create a cultural festival aimed to attract other yachties for local commercial purposes. To quote Rob: “We do more than fix teeth and eyes.”
Thus our departure (for Vureus Bay) was delayed and after a pleasant cruise up the coast and across to the island of Vanualava, we arrived after sunset but with enough light to avoid bumping into two other yachts or the coral reef. Cancel this afternoon’s clinic!
Unbenown to us the Vureus Bay community had just completed their annual 4-day cultural festival. Clearly this ‘cultural festival’ idea was becoming popular! Although we were disappointed to miss their festival this turned out for the best. Had we arrived the day earlier (as planned) the clinic would have been competing with the local economic endeavours! Reliable methods of income are rare in these remote parts. So it was that the clinic day was revised to an all-day Friday affair, and this news was spread to surrounding villages.
We awoke to a fine, sunny day with a gentle cool off-shore breeze. The clinic was held in the, now vacated, “festival ground” – a small grassy area surrounded by several beachside thatched bungalows. In line with the festival theme we offered many sources of entertainment for the locals.
There was a dental clinic set up on the recently constructed festival ‘stage’ where Barry performed extractions, examinations, and fillings to the amazement of the onlookers whose ‘Oooh’s and ‘Aaah’s could be heard.
Across the ‘common’, in the ‘restaurant’ hut, the medical and eye clinic was setup. Blood pressure and glucose measurements (“One, two, three, ouch!”), and visual tests were watched with awe and curiosity, especially after the entire local primary school arrived for ‘check-ups’.
In the centre of the village green Bob and Graeme ran impromptu education talks on “Helti Tut” (Health Teeth) and Helti Bodi (Healthy Body). Over 100 school children were screened for dental and visual problems.
‘For those more interested in a ‘hands-on’ activity Rob ran the mud brick stove demonstration for the benefit of the adults, school principal, village chief, and dozens of curious kids, complete with DVD and DIY mud brick construction.
There really was something for everyone here at the Vureus Bay Medical Festival! Some happy customers had regained their eyesight, or cures to simple ailments, whilst others were noted to be walking around with sore jaws but thankful hearts.
At the end of every day there is always the tedious task of re-packing all the dental and medical gear, transferring it to the beach, into the dinghy and returning it all to the yacht. With the assistance of dozens of locals and 20 or more kids all the gear was transferred to the beach and the dinghy re-launched into the surf to their excitement and shouts of glee.
Many beaches in Vanuatu are black sandy volcanic soil beaches. The grains of black sand are larger than ‘white’ sand – so large they look more like dunes of poppy seeds! But sand is sand, no matter what its colour, and that means one thing: castles.
Graeme yelled out to the local kids. “Let’s build a house?” and commenced furiously pilling up sand with his hands, but the response was stunned curiosity. None joined in. One or two even said “No.” It was as if they had never built a sand castle before!
Graeme commenced building a second sand castle and yelled to them all: “The first ‘house’ is the island of Merelava, this one represents Merig. More sand!” As the third ‘island’ was constructed he announced “And this one is Gaua!” Curiosity got the better of 2 or 3 who came over and helped piling up sand.. “More, more.” we yelled.
“Now we will build Vanualava.” Graeme yelled. And with that all the children were yelling and laughing and building sand castles everywhere over the beach, yelling “More!”. There must have been twenty or more ‘islands’ being constructed. Some of the girls decorated their islands with branches and flowers, whilst the older boys were determined their ‘castle’ would be the largest. Rob showed how to build a retaining wall against the rising tide. For an hour or so they were happily digging, building, and decorating their ‘islands’, yelping with glee as the waves crept closer to the awaiting ‘islands’.
One particular highlight for us was to catch up with young Adison and his father Silas. Adison had been found by the VPBP team in 2006 and through the assistance of ROMAC he had come to Australia for 9-months of major reconstructive facial surgery to correct a severe congenital disease that had deformed his face and nose and affected his eyesight to the point he had been ostracised and unable to attend school. We last caught up with Adison on the first MSM mission in 2009 and it was time to check his medical progress and it was wonderful to see him again, growing more confident, accepted and loved, and now able to attend school. Thanks to the hard work of many individuals and the God who claims “I am your healer.”
And so it was that the Fifth Day of the Vureus Bay Festival and Beach Mission was inaugurated.
Smooth sands, fairs and festivals, and let’s have some more fun.
On-board Cub Reporter.