For our last day of clinics, I jumped ship and joined Team 2, so I could get some more photos of their pretty faces (excepting Graeme of course) and spend some time with them (again, not Graeme).
After getting succesfully bogged on the vicarious road up to the village of Iehlia, George managed to negotiate his way out, zooming past us with a triumphant little smile on his face. And so with muddy feet and boxes of supplies soaked through, we arrived at the Iounanen clinic. It was much like the Lowiaru clinic in build and supplies, however slightly less well-stocked. This one did have an aid post worker, who was able to dispense medications, and kept a log of all his visitors. Presumably nurses may have visited from time to time, with some more complicated cases and births recorded.
We encountered some very old men – the oldest, 97, and despite his frailty in perfectly good health; some mothers and children – a pair with scabies that, thanks to the operational status of the aid post, could be treated by the aid post worker; a woman with suspect TB and an enthusiastic former teacher and translator called JJ – Jimmy Joseph, wearing navy workman’s overalls and with perfect English.
We also met a little boy named Robert, who had very severely deformed club feet. We all momentarily drew breath at the sight of him, not because of his wretched state, though it was very sad, but at the fact that he was remarkably similar to George’s son, who had been flown to Brisbane (?) to have an operation and was now much better. He came to visit us the week before; his legs were much straighter, although turned in quite a lot, and he could walk and play with much more ease than before.
Robert’s Dad, Robert and Graeme; photo taken by Graeme on his iPhone.
George was summoned from outside to explain to Robert’s mother and father what their son’s condition meant, and how there was a great deal of hope for him in recovery. Bemused and bewildered, I doubt his parents had expected such a whirlwind response. They had, indeed, brought him to our clinic in hopes we could perhaps do something, but to be told they would be flying to a very foreign country was most likely quite confronting.
With so many people lining up for our help, a fair proportion of them leave with problems we can’t completely fix. A man born completely deaf and blind; an old woman with terminal liver cancer; more sore backs and knees than you can count… Then there are some who we can help a little: a man with yaws who was administered with penicillin injections; another who had had a severe accident while under the influence of Kava and had been left a paraplegic, incontinent, useless and ashamed – we can provide a wheelchair…
And then there are families like George’s and little Robert’s who the project can really set the wheels of a big change into motion. Navigating the tangles of bureaucracy, and funding and transport, Don and team can get them there.
Read Dad’s (Dr Graeme) account of meeting Robert here.
On a completely different note, apparently one thing we can also do is see half-naked men in penis sheaths. We ventured a short distance from our clinic up to the nearby Custom village. A Custom village is one in which modernisation is rejected in favour of traditional customs, but ironically most of their income is drawn from nosey tourists visiting their village to watch the spectacle and snap away on their expensive digital cameras.
We are surprised on arrival to be greeted by none other than the enthusiastic former teacher turned translator JJ, or Jimmy Joseph, this time not in his navy blue workman’s overalls but donning nothing apart from a Nambus (query spelling here). Despite the strangeness of seeing a man who was only moments ago wearing clothing now almost naked, we converse, and with the coercion of the resident random Polish astrophysicist named Jurik (again, query spelling) they perform a dance for us. With their numbers severely depleted due to a funeral ceremony in a nearby village, they put on a great performance.
JJ also informs us that he was the voice behind the recent BBC special that sent five custom villagers to England to meet their idol, Prince Philip. Famous.
We leave a little damp, and with Fiona convinced that Jurik has some sort of psychological disorder – after all, what Polish astrophysicist would travel all the way to Vanuatu every year and live as a native for several weeks? Unfortunately (or fortunately) this time he is wearing a tracksuit straight from the 80′s, but I am nevertheless convinced he has some strange complex akin to the one possessed by people who pay regular visits to their local Dominatrix.
And on that note…