You arrived as strangers, you leave as family

Tuesday 25 May 2010 Bound for Efate 18 33’S, 168 53’E

Our two days at Dillon’s Bay have come to an end.  And it’s amazing the number of people we have come to know and the activities we have managed to pack in.  There’s the irrepressible David with his plans and wonderful location at the edge of the bay overlooking the entire region, for the Dillons Bay, Wo Wo Yacht Club.  Paster Bernard who supervised the medical clinic for the entire day in the absence of the nurse and the nurse’s assistant who were both away.

On the brick making front there were too many names to remember, but of course there was the village leader David and Joe the builder and the blokes from the Public Works Dept who kindly transported a load of clay 9km from the airport to the village – Willie and Richard I think.  Then there was Joshua, grandson of the big chief William, who we saw only briefly, and who organised the night fishing with local guys Joe (the builder) and Justin, plus Donald the sandalwood nurseryman and his offsider/right-hand-man Wilson who seemed eager for knowledge about all things concerning growing seedlings, in particular sandalwood.

I spent much of this afternoon with Donald and Wilson sitting in the shade in their nursery talking about plants, soil mixtures and the demand for sandalwood and all things sandalwood really.  Andrew (my brother) had kindly emailed me some cultivation notes based on the sandalwood experience in India and I went through these with Donald and several others and it appeared that they were already doing much of what was recommended.  Having originally trained in Agricultural Commerce, (30 years ago) I suppose their efforts and enthusiasm got me thinking back to what I had learnt in university and at various work placements, about plant propagation etc. and as one thing led to another we started building a small tunnel house using one of the very large plastic cargo bags off the boat and experimenting with different potting mixes to improve drainage, water holding capacity and nutrient content.  The old idea of making a pen for some of the many chickens that seem to wander around the village also came up, not just for the eggs as a source of food, but also for the “farmyard manure” which the cultivation notes from India referred to and which many in the West would replace with artificial fertilizer.

As we dug and talked and sweated and shared stories and took their wheel barrow up river to collect sand it was Donald who opened up about life in the village as a Ni-van generally.  How the older folk mostly follow traditional ways and are content to sit under a tree in the afternoon, how the young ones stay up all night chasing girl maybe having kava then sleep much of day, but many people also want to build something and live in hut with iron roof, and not live in thatch hut and how time is racing by.  He was a real thinker was Donald and has plans for a bungalow on his block of land next to the river and of expanding his nursery to produce many thousands of seedlings a year.

I mentioned to him that many people in the West spend a whole lifetime working hard to build up retirement savings so they can have a lifestyle like his and he’s only about 30 and living like that now.  But the drive for western development and comforts is very understandable and while encouraging him in what he was doing I urged him to hold onto much of what he has and to protect the beautiful environment in which they live.

After presents of fruit and a lovely meal of yam prepared by Donald’s wife where I quite embarrassingly sat at a table in the garden complete with colourful tablecloth, eating the lone plate of yams and drinking cordial from the only glass while about 8-10 others sat on the grass or on a nearby bench (while a young lad constantly brushed flies away with a small branch in front of me) it was time to say our farewells.  Donald sat beside me as I ate my plate full of yam and declared, “you arrive as stranger, you leave as family … many white people come here but always very busy and moving on, but you talk with us blackman and want to help.  Thank you for coming.  You my brother”,
Much like the solo yam meal, it was a bit embarrassing, but it was good to be able to establish such a friendship after just two days.

It was funny, as we walked along the path beside the river with the hulk-of-a-guy Wilson pushing the wheelbarrow I had a bit of a flashback to when we brought the medical team here last year and my brother Andrew and I walked this very same path and encountered a couple of guys collecting coconuts from the top of a very tall tree nearby. I turned to Wilson and said, “Eh Wilson, do you remember giving me and my brother a drink from a coconut you’d just dropped from one of these trees?  Was that you?”  Wilson exclaimed, “Yes, I was just thinking the same.  I remember that.  We chopped two coconuts for you, just here”.  It was a strange feeling.

Being a declared lay-day, things were a bit lazy aboard today.  Iain and Ann went ashore for a stroll and had maybe gone a hundred paces before someone asked for medical assistance “thinking clinic also on today?”.   Someone called out “no clinic today”, then Ann said, “maybe later, we see you later”,  which she duly did.

As we soaked up the morning sun a local motor boat came by after a night’s fishing.  George, the boatman and nephew of David, asked a lot of direct questions about where we were from, who we were and what we were doing.  We observed his haul of crayfish and fish and said that we could only get one last night.  He then needed to know where we went and with whom.  To which he commented … “nothing there, I’ve already been there”  George asked if we wanted to buy some crayfish and at 1000 Vatu per kg (about $12) we said yes we were interested.  He then asked if we had any outboard oil to mix with petrol and suggested we trade. So after establishing that a container of oil cost about the same as a kilo of crayfish we did the deal.  After returning with the oil I saw there were three crays in our big bucket and Scott declared he’d traded one of his $30 windup torches for two.  Everyone seemed happy with the arrangement which was a pretty good way to go fishing I reckon.

In an act of bravery in the heat of the galley, Scott then proceeded to cook the animals in the big pot.  So now they are now safetly stowed in the fridge waiting for the right moment to eat them.

As afternoon wore on and with all the farewells done it was aboard again for the start of our journey north the 75 miles or so to Pt Vila and the island of Efate.  Starting out around 6:30pm the winds were light which forced us to rely on the engine; an important piece of equipment in need of further maintenance.  Consequently speed was low – around 2 knots, until we cleared the tip of Erromango and the lovely, steady SE wind filled in off our stern quarter at around 12-15 knots. It’s now after midnight and the smoky engine has been off for an hour or two now.

Bob and Bill are sleeping, Scott’s on watch and chatting with Iain and Ann in the cockpit after a sleep earlier on.  The moon is bright, the seas are calm and we’re doing a lazy 5-6 knots.  Looks like Pt Vila by lunch time

Smooth seas, fair breeze and good by Erromango.

Robert Latimer

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