What makes you happy?

Wed 29 July, 8:30 PM (half way between Loh and Santo, travelling down the west coast of Santo)

For those who’ve been following the Ship’s Log of the past few days, you’ll know that there are two things which still have not been resolved.

One, the running of a clinic on the nearby island of Tegua, and two, the picking up of a pregnant woman, also on Tegua, and bringing her to Loh.

As for the first, it was cancelled, on the basis that we have no time and many of the island residents are already here on Loh for the Independence Day celebrations and could attend the clinic held today in the village.

The pregnant woman, however, could not be cancelled and so Atchin, (the driver of the local boat), Zebulon (the local health worker), Richard, plus a few other Ni-vans I couldn’t identify, made a request for continued use of our (more reliable) outboard, plus a further 20 litres of petrol so they could race over there and pick up the woman.  (very fortunate I bought an extra 40 litres of petrol in Santo before we left)

This they did and around 5:00pm they came by, with the small boat chocker with people (including the pregnant woman and her husband, two (tied-up) pigs (who were also going to the independence day celebrations) several chickens (read the same as for pigs) and piles of fruit, kava plants and bags.

A mountain of coconuts, pawpaws, taro, yam and two bags of fruit which we’d never seen before but which look like apple cucumbers (very tasty – bit like an apple) were off loaded onto our deck in “payment” for all our help.

Mike handed the mother-to-be a pile of baby clothes and other clothes,  (from our “trading stash”) while the small boat was tied alongside – it had been raining, the seas were a bit rough on the island crossing and this woman sat up the back of the open boat in a very stoic fashion.

As part of the exchange it was time to finally bid farewell to the crew member doubling as a doctor, or was that a doctor doubling as a crew member – Dr Graeme Duke. After 3 wonderful weeks aboard.

A very sad time it was, but a very quick one in the end, as light was fading and Chris had to accompany the local boat, plus our dinghy (which was towed)  back to the other side of the island, “re-claim” our outboard and bring back the final mountain of boxes for stowing aboard and return to Pt Vila and in some cases Australia.

Chris (accompanied by Jo), just made it back before absolute darkness.  And we then set about the task of getting Chimere underway – south to Santo.  The manual lifting of the anchor was the biggest challenge, but in the end was quite routine,  with the dinghy also lifted and lashed down along with everything else that could possibly move.

We are now loping along in the darkness with a moderate sea and winds just off the port bow.  It’s 180 miles to Santo and we hope to do it in 30-36 hours.  Mike is currently making chips, or for our friends across the Tasman, chups.  He’s making them out of a brown thing much like an enormous potato, either yam or taro.  They taste lovely.

As a farewell gesture, Dr Graeme has written a few observations about his time here in Vanuatu – in particular about the people. He’s titled it “What makes you happy?”

What makes you happy?
The Ni-Van people are a wonderfully complex mix of characteristics and personalities. It has been interesting to observe, reflect and compare our own situation (in Oz) with those we have met over the 3 weeks or so since I arrived. These are my own observations and should be taken as such, and are in no particular order.

Their sense of fun and wonder is spontaneous, entertaining and delightful. They create laughter and enjoyment out of almost every activity. The frequent singing, almost non-stop chatting, joking, giggling, and laughter, even whilst they haul our medical boxes up a steep hills of Toga (Torres) is not the way I would respond. Maybe I am also another source for their amusement?

To hear a whole group of children and adults burst into song on the sea cliff at Merelava, and dive gleefully off the cliff or the deck of yacht into the sea whilst still wearing their (only) clothes was certainly amusing to me. Their constant expression of wonder (what we call the ‘wow factor’ in children) is frequent and not restricted just to the kids.

Contrast this effervescent nature with their lack of possessions and even basic services we so often take for granted, such as running water, electricity, a second set of clothes, etc. If we took the reverse of Bob Hawke’s  famous “prediction” from the nineties  it would approach the truth to say: By the year 2009 no child shall live above the poverty line! And yet they appear to value the little they do own and are grateful for simple things rather than complaining, like us, about what they don’t have. Somewhere I recall reading “What makes us happy is what we appreciate, not what we acquire” and this is certainly true in Vanuatu.

Despite their poverty of possessions they are extraordinarily generous with what they have. There have been frequent gifts of fruit and vegetables even though it may be out of season or in limited supply, or required hours of work and long-distance treks to their gardens (that are often several kilometres from the village) – bananas, papaya, pamplemousse, nuts, taro, coconut, etc. We have done our best to reply in turn with items they need, such as hats, clothes, fishing tackle, and gifts of chocolate, and a laminated photograph (or several) taken and printed by Rob. (Yes, there’s more than just the kitchen sink on board Chimere!)

Then there was the time on Motalava that Henry, a local Ni-Van, found me waiting alone on the shore by the dinghy for the return of the others, and who willingly remained to keep me company until they arrived after dark and over an hour later – freely offered and gratefully received by lonely me. We shared stories and when I found he was still unmarried I asked him about courtship customs in Motalava. Whilst many marriages are pre-arranged by the parents, this was not for Henry. His tactics were simple: “If I find a girl I like, and she like me, then our parents can talk and arrange marriage.”

They value their circumstances – even those over which they have no say, such as their ethnicity, their traditions, their family, their birthplace, their birth-village, and their social structure. It has been interesting to contrast the village communities with the few townships we visited. The villages are always clean and tidy and reflect a pride in maintenance and order.  The ‘westernised’ towns had less community ambience and were not as ordered or clean.
Despite this idyllic external appearance there is evidence of similar conflicts to those we experience. There is disagreement and violence, and their view on right and wrong is very similar to ours. Their children need love and belonging, teenagers and young adults struggle with purpose and meaning to their lives, families seek independence and security.

The church’s presence is obvious in most villages. Most have one or more church buildings which often take a central position within the village. I have not attended a worship service but Rob tells me they generally go on for 3 hours. This is no mean feat. The pews are narrow wooden benches, so I am not sure who has the more difficult role – the vocal cords of the priest, or the rear-ends of the attendees!

The church outwardly supports local traditions and customs and works with the government and provides basic education and health services within the community. The local parish priest holds position of importance within the village but does not usurp the village (paramount) chief. We have found them to be useful points of contact and support for referral of patients for ongoing specialist treatment.

Many (?most) villages have five chiefs – one for village cleanliness (=waste management), security (=law and order), land management (= environment), customs (= traditions), and a paramount chief (= mayor). This may sound analogous to our municipal councils but these guys attract respect and honour and authority rarely, if ever, seen in our communities.  Imagine if your local mayor knocked on your door one morning and asked you to stop what you are doing and go out and tidy up the rubbish in your street; or to carry some groceries by foot through the night to the next suburb, for some visiting dignatories you have never seen before!  What would you say to him?
Tomorrow I return to civilisation. Or am I leaving it?

Dr Graeme Duke

Smooth sea, fair breeze and what makes you happy?


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