Was it really only yesterday?

Thursday 22 July 2010 (Abwatuntora, North Pentecost  15 29.80S, 168 08.31E)

It’s been a big couple of days, and it’s amazing how times gets away.  After a 4:00am start from Asanvari on Maewo, and I was going to say 3 days ago but it was actually just yesterday, we met the medical team at Abwatuntora on Pentecost.  It was going to be for a 7:00am pickup from the “beach”, but whilst we arrived just before 7:00am, there must have been a bit of sleeping-in ashore because we didn’t get away until close to 9:00am.  Fortunately our destination wasn’t far, just 3 miles down the coast at a place called Loltong.  We took half the medical team for the overnight stay at Loltong, with the other half of the medical team remaining in Abwatuntora.  Whilst it’s only 3 miles by sea, the road is very bad, even by local standards and not worth trying.

Whilst we weren’t long at Loltong, the experience was very memorable.  For starters it’s a wonderful anchorage, close to shore in 5 metres of water, nestled behind a couple of outlying coral reefs.  It even has lead markers onshore to help with navigation; a wonderful comfort as we made our final approach with the aid of binoculars to see the leads onshore amongst the lush vegetation.

By about 10:30 the clinic was in full swing with a steady flow of people making their way through the church building which had been set aside as a full-on medical centre for the day.

There was considerable interest in trying the mud bricks and a couple of asthma and chest-problem cases who presented at the clinic clearly needed the benefits of the low smoke stove which the bricks are used to make.  After much discussion, passing around of the instruction manual and digging for suitable soil, a mud brick clinic time was set aside for around 2:30pm, however, the actual clinic didn’t start until around 4:00pm on account of a “house call” Graeme Duke and Donald Beaumont needed to make in a nearby village around the bay.  I took them over there in the dinghy and it was wonderful to meet the old man Silas with the flowing white beard.  He was reportedly in his 90s and in 1958 built the very large church in the middle of the village; a grand structure with very strong concrete foundations but whose weatherboards and iron roof are looking like they’re in need of some work.

Once underway though, the mudbrick clinic drew a big crowd, amongst them a man with whom we became good friends (despite his Springbok rugby shirt) in such a short period of time – Reginald, the Headmaster of a nearby school Vulunam College.  Reginald was also set to give a big speech on National Children’s Day this Saturday in front of all the schools in this region and sounded us out on a possible message he might impart to the crowd. He was keen to teach the mudbricks to his school and so I promised I’d leave an extra mould and instruction manual for him before we left.

During the course of the clinic we met a local healthcare worker, Phillip, who does a bit of work in the dental field – largely education in schools and extractions.  We were keen to chat with him, because on the previous day at Asanvari we were made aware of several “dental cases” by the lovely nurse there, Olivette.  We explained that we just provided the transport for the medical team, and couldn’t do anything for those with dental problems, but that if we caught up with anyone who could we’d see what we could do to bring them back with us.

So here we were face-to-face with a Ni-van dental nurse.  Rather than tie him up and take him immediately back to Asanvari, we settled on a more subtle approach.  After a good discussion with Phillip it was revealed that he generally doesn’t do much in the way of fillings and so we brought him out to the yacht and gave him a tooth filling kit comprising hand tools, instruction manual, wind-up torch and filling agent Fuji9.  I’d already asked him whether he ever got across to Asenvari on Maewo and he told me that he was flat out working in the North Pentecost region.  In addition to handing over the dental kit I also suggested he might like to spend the day with our dental man, Bob, who is very familiar with the ART (Atraumatic Restorative Therapy) tooth filling technique.  Phillip thought this was a great idea.  Later in the day Lanie told me that Phillip was able to come to Asanvari with us on Friday, but he had to be back in Loltong on Saturday (Childrens Day)  So plans were beginning to take place.

Sure enough, this morning as we gathered the medical team and their gear aboard for the short hop back up the coast to Abwatuntora from Loltong, there was Phillip amongst them ready for a day’s dental training with Bob. When the medical team finally headed off inland on the back of a ute to run clinics at the nearby village of Nazareth, Bob was excited … “I will show Phillip how to fill teeth with ART, and Phillip will show me how to extract teeth” he said.

With the medical team off inland there was nothing left for me to do but … run another mud brick clinic.  Interest had already begun growing amongst the women gathered at the medical clinic with the instruction manual being passed from one to the next.  Everyone seemed excited by the idea of having less smoke in their lungs and eyes when they cook and so I explained how the bricks were easy to make and that we needed the men and boys together to give it a go.  It didn’t take long for the lads to be assembled and so we headed off to find the ingredients – clay, soil and dry pandanys, plus a shovel and a bucket.  The mudbrick clinic went well and before long we had knocked out 20 bricks – enough for one stove – to the satisfaction of all.

I returned to the yacht for lunch and there was Mike busily adding medical records from the various clinics to the computer, with Gerhard, Matt and Lanie equally engrossed in useful activities – including making lunch.

Mid afternoon as we sat together for a cuppa on the foredeck our senses were collectively put on high alert as we felt the yacht vibrate in a really strange way.  There seemed to be a rumbling sound but maybe it was the noise the boat made as it vibrated on the spot.  Later in the evening when I got a chance to chat with Don MacRaild and Graeme Duke after their return from a day in the field they related their earthquake story – of giving a health talk in the school when it struck and everyone making their way to the door ASAP.  Looking behind as they ran they half expected to see the building to be reduced to rubble, but the only noticeable effect seemed to be some cracked and missing plasterwork.  Graeme’s observation was that the teachers appeared to make it out first, the benefit of a homeground advantage no doubt.

In talking on the VHF radio tonight in order to make plans for tomorrows departure, Graeme also related the story of little baby Rowena – just 6 months old and little more than a kilo or two above her birth weight and suffering a hole in the heart.  Rowena’s parents, Anika and Livingston are very anxious about little Rowena’s future as plans are put in place to hopefully get her over to Australia for a life-saving operation.  Please keep them in your thoughts.

Whilst on the radio, Graeme also related the story of meeting another school Headmaster, Richard, from the Walter Lini College at Nazareth.  Richard was very keen to find out more about the mudbricks and so we are in the process of developing plans to get a mould and an instruction manual, and maybe even a demonstration to him over the next few days.

As it turned out we had Livingston and half a dozen of his mates on the boat this evening as the sun went down.  Around 4:00pm a young lad, Wensley paddle over in his dugout canoe and we asked him aboard.  “Did he play any music?” we asked.  “Yes, just a little”, came the reply and we handed him the guitar, whereupon he sang us a lovely Gospel tune.  A few of his friends had gathered onshore and I asked whether they all played stringband together and he said his friends played, but only Christian songs and he pointed out the ones onshore in his group.  A few minutes and a fast dinghy ride to and from the shore later we had an extra six lads onboard, including Livingston, plus a second guitar.  What followed was a wonderful selection of harmony-filled tunes, played as the sun set over the 1500 metre island of Ambae on the distant horizon.  It was a just an amazing, spontaneous moment.

As the medical team begins their journey home to Australia tomorrow, we also say farewell to MSM crewmember Gerhard.   Gerhard always planned to return at this time with remaining crew members, Lanie, Matt, Mike and me taking charge for the next week or so as we make our way back to Pt Vila.  It’ll be sad to say farewell to Gerhard.  He’s been a wonderful asset to the team, bringing a multitude of skills including master cook!  In saying farewell Gerhard reflects on the wonderful people as being the highlight of his time here.

A big thank you to MSM Cub Reporters Mike and Graeme for their recent contributions.  Hopefully tonight’s Ships Log relates a bit more of what’s been going on here and thank you so much for your continued interest and comments.

Whilst we are out in the field we are not able to send back photos, but with Graeme Duke’s return to Melbourne this week-end there should be more photos posted in the galleries for you to view.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and thinking of little Rowena

Robert Latimer

Clear As A Mud Brick

Thursday, 22nd July. MSM Cub Reporter, @ Nazareth, North Pentecost.

For those confused by the whereabouts of the crew & the teams from yesterday’s posts here’s a brief geographical clarification.
1) Tuesday: All team members travelled from Ledungsivi to Abawuntuntora, via Tanbok on the inland roads, on Pentecost Is. The MSM team were in Asanvari, on neighbouring island of Maewo.
2) Wednesday: Chimere sailed south, & half the team (Don, Meg, Donald, Gibson, & Graeme) headed further south to Loltung to run the clinic. The rest of the team ran a simultaneous clinic back at Abawuntuntora.
3) Thursday: The Loltung team returned to Abawuntuntora and all the eye/medical teams went by truck north to Nazareth to run a clinic and then an education session at the local school. The whole team then returned to Abawuntuntora, where the MSM crew were anchored (=slept) all day.
Hopefully this as clear as a mud brick?

So, here’s this week’s maths puzzle: If there are 5 people in MSM crew at Loltung, 5 in Eye Team A at Abawuntuntora, and 6 in Eye Team B at Nazareth, why did the chicken bother to cross the road to Nazareth?
Post your answer below to go into the draw for a free mud-brick demonstration with Rob, or the runner’s up prize of a free dental extraction from Bob (He’s real good, you know.)
On a more sober note, this morning we picked up a 6month baby girl with a severe VSD (congenital heart disease). ROMAC has kindly offered to pay all costs to get her and mum to Oz for curative open heart surgery. Sadly, the RCH in Melbourne will not help us so we’re trying to find a suitable hospital in Brisbane (where Lerica had heart surgery after last year’s programme.)
The clinic at Nazareth was steady and now we head off to the school.

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