It’s not often that you hear the sound of unadulterated children laughing with no traffic noise, phone beeps or vibrations, and it was bliss. The sea breeze rustling the coconut trees brought some welcomed coolness to the mid-morning heat. This was how our clinic set up was on Mananusa Island, a little island off Mussau Island. Children here are well behaved and respectful, but still curious and testing limits as they should. There was the usual one or two who were cheekier than the rest. They loved playing with my long straight hair and giggled a lot but only after seeking permission. There is no day care here as older siblings of school age look after and carry the younger ones. They learn, play and squabble together as adults carry on with their daily chores of cooking, cleaning, gardening and chopping wood. People on Mussau Island have better health than the rest of New Ireland Province. Some say its religion (Seventh Day Adventist) but I think it is a healthy respect for nature, the environment they live in and their own health. Taking responsibility for one’s own life is a skill and habit they have mastered quite well here and we all could do with an extra dose of that. Too bad that ain’t on prescription.
Turtles and the Odd Croc
Not much more to say about the turtles except there were tonnes of them swimming in the shallow reef to munch on some seagrass. We were greeted by them every evening at high tide when we returned to Lomaku after a day at clinic. I had the privilege of hanging out with them if we finished early and the bigger ones were not too skittish.
On our rest day, I ventured out to the deeper reef and it was a scuba diver’s paradise. Large spotted rays, barracudas, turtles galore and curious white and black tip reef sharks came out to play. I have only encountered such curious behaviour from marine creatures on exploratory dives where they have never seen humans before. One medium sized black tip came a little too close for comfort, but I suspect it was just puzzled by this odd looking thing swimming around with goggles. On our way to and from clinic, we saw marlins breach, dolphins jump, manta rays feed and the odd croc basking in the mangroves! Crocodiles here are called pukpuk, and are greatly feared with good reason. A school boy succumbed to a croc attack earlier in the year. All in all, there were some friendly marine life and some not so friendly marine life. But the work commute was rather enhanced by their presence. I gave that black tip shark the respect it deserved after it checked me out for the second time, and swam back in.
Technology time sheet
I will risk sounding like a broken recorder (not that many folk use analogue recorders these days) and bring the technology thing up again. I saw this on the wall of the community hall and was told that it is an exercise for young teenagers. One would wonder why they would teach this when access to electricity, mobile reception and internet here is virtually non-existent (solar power is available but scarce). There is no harm in preparing the younger generation for life in the modern world and what is likely to be inevitable – the invasion of modern technology into even the most remote places on earth. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for technology if it enhances our lives but not if it takes over. So I was rather impressed by this poster and the community’s foresightedness on a remote island of Papua New Guinea. On that note I will sign off, be my own boss and go for a swim with the turtles.
It’s not every day that the odd combination of sea sickness, a satellite phone, couple of scared puppies (and a bit of their urine in tow), rice and edible seaweed is thrown on to one’s lap. On our way back from Mussau, we were unable to land our boat on Tingwon island to do a clinic despite going around the island and trying several sites. The sea was rough and my esteemed colleague and local legend Dr Naeman decided to bring back a couple of pups from Mussau for his family.
They were really cute but kept me up the night before and were distressed with the choppy seas. I ended up feeling ill and lay on the boat floor and the pups came to join me on my lap. The team and boat skipper ended up making the decision to abandon landing at Tingwon and went to a sheltered bay for some lunch. The patrol members were in good spirits when the odd wave came and knocked folk and their lunch around. Hence, I ended up with the odd combo. The team finished their lunch and we made our way back to town safely. The puppies ended up in a good home. We can try Tingwon again next year. My sea sickness improved with a much needed cup of tea. And I had a shower to wash off the smells.