A few years ago, the American reality TV show "Survivor" spent a season on one of the islands of the country of Vanuatu. Five Fabulous FOBs from Kudjip recently traveled to Aniwa, another of Vanuatu's tiny islands. We were part of an international Community Based Health Care team. (I previously wrote about how the opportunity came to be in my blog "CBHC: Vanuatu.") Our week was quite an adventure and included passport problems, a mosquito net, bucket baths, meals of freshly speared reef fish, a night safari and a volcano, and Subway sandwhiches... all the necessary ingredients for our own episode of the TV show. It was definitely Survivor-worthy.
Our adventure began early one Sunday morning. The PNG members of the team gathered at Kudjip circle for a time of prayer with our fellow missionaries. I designated our group the "Five Fabulous FOBs" or "fresh out of the bush"... me, my roommate Becky, Dr. Susan Myers and her daughter Jessica, and Priscilla Radcliffe. Our route took us from Mount Hagen through Port Moresby where Priscilla picked up her recently renewed passport just in time to leave the country. That same afternoon we headed on to Brisbane, Australia for a couple of hours of modern civilization. Unfortunately it was Sunday evening and many things were closed. But we did rather enjoy ourself with a nice dinner, a shopping spree of sorts through the IGA grocery store (my purchase included a fresh peach and Reese's peanut butter cup), and real ice cream. We were sooooooooo FOB.
Monday morning we headed back to the Brisbane airport to check in for our flight to Vanuatu. Well, that was the plan anyways. We stepped up to the airline counter and the attendant began looking through our documents. She took one of the passports and with a serious look on her face headed off to talk with some more senior looking attendants in the corner. Apparently Vanuatu is very strict does not allow anyone into the country with a passport that expires in less than 6 months. Jessica's passport expired in 5 months 3 weeks. The penalty to the airline for letting us go on into Vanuatu would be a several thousand dollar fine. Noooooooo!!! How can this be, Lord? You have made the way for us to come, but this is a seemingly impossible obstacle to overcome. Becky and Susan headed off to the phone and then down an elevator to an unknown destination in an unsuccessful attempt to contact our missionaries in Vanuatu. The time was counting down and in just a few minutes the flight would close. Jessica and Cilla and I prayed, prayed two more times, and ate doughnuts while we waited. One of the attendants took pity on us and began to makes some calls to their colleagues in Vanuatu. With just minutes to spare, someone decided it was OK for us to board the flight. PTL!
As the plane descended into Port Villa, I was struck by the tropical beauty of Vanuatu. The green seemed even greener than PNG. We made our way through immigration and customs, serenaded by the sounds of an island band. The immigration officer didn't even look twice at Jessica's passport. On the other side of customs, we were welcomed by David and Sylvia Potter. The Potters were previously missionaries in PNG and already part of our extended family. It was wonderful to see them again. We dropped our things at a guest house and headed out for a brief tour of Port Villa. A small motor boat took us across the water to the Iriki island resort were we enjoyed dinner overlooking the water and a South Pacific sunset.
Tuesday morning we arose before the sun and headed back to the airport. Our PNG delegation met up with the other members of the international team: Sylvia Potter, Pastor Peter Isaac who is a Papua New Guinean missionary in Vanuatu, and Pastors Aseri and La from Fiji. Aseri and La have attended several CBHC trainings in Vanuatu. They are hoping to use the CBHC model as a ministry to people in their own country. From Port Villa, we flew about 45 minutes south to the island of Tanna where we had a several hour layover. Tanna is known for having an active volcano and is a popular destination for adventure-seeking tourists. The airport was on the other side of the island from the volcano, so we never actually saw it while on Tanna.
One last 15 minute puddle jump from Tanna and we were landing on the coral runway of Aniwa. We were greeted and collected by Keithly, the young pastor of the Nazarene church. Luggage was transferred from the plane and piled into to a rickety blue pick-up truck, the only vehicle on the island. The "taxi" took us across Aniwa to Ikaukau, the village where we would be staying for the next several days.
Most of the ladies in our group settled into a nice bush house that Pastor Keithly had recently constructed for guests. It even had a cement floor! The walls were lined with colorful cloths. We were all provided with a mattress, pillow, sheet and light blanket. The "shower," as Becky insisted on calling it, was a tarp-enclosed cement pad with a bucket for washing. Not exactly what I had in mind when she said "shower," but I was able to bathe on a daily basis so I really couldn't complain. The bush toilet was a short hike down the hill.
We ate our meals in a palm leaf and bamboo shelter next to the church. Someone somewhere had a clay oven, so we enjoyed warm bread every morning for breakfast. Fresh reef fish and mangoes were abundant. Unfortunately I may have developed an allergy to mango. What a tragedy since I so enjoy them! The island was recovering from a severe drought, so some of the normal local foods such as cassava and taro were not available. We did have the opportunity to try laplap which is one of the staple foods on Aniwa. From the description of how it is made, I would say it is sort of like Grandma's corn meal mush... although made with potato or banana and not nearly as tasty. Maybe if you added a little maple syrup it would be more tolerable. We also brought rice and a few supplies from Port Villa to supplement our meals. The flies were so thick during the day it was difficult not to eat them as well. Thankfully they dissipated at night. Chickens, dogs, and even the occasional pig were frequent and uninvited guests at our gatherings.
The CBHC trainings began Wednesday morning. Susan and I were the guest speakers. We were participating in this trip because the people of Aniwa had requested more education on children's and women's health. Dr. Susan, a pediatrician by training, led the morning classes. These sessions were open to men and women, anyone who wanted to attend. She discussed well child care, prevention of disease through nutrition and hygiene, and common childhood illnesses. We also spent some time in the open sessions teaching about adult health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and HIV. On the final day of class we did a blood pressure screening. Everyone wanted to have their blood pressure taken!
The men were kicked out for the afternoon classes. I spent time with the women discussing all sorts of women's health topics, from the complications of pregnancy to breast cancer to menopause. Many of the women attended because they so wanted to learn about taking care of themselves and their families. Several of the participants were traditional birth attendants and had never had any formal training. The ladies amazed me by their participation. They asked so many excellent questions. And they were not afraid to share with me about their customs and traditions and health beliefs. I so enjoyed sharing with these women, and learning from them as well. It was an absolute blast!
Our team took part in several extracurricular activities during the time on Aniwa. One evening we had service at the Nazarene church. I always love to worship with brothers and sisters from other cultures. With representatives from the U.S., Fiji, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea, I imagine that is what heaven will be like. Jessica, Cilla, and Sylvia held a kids club one afternoon. They played games, acted out the story of the Good Samaritan, and made bracelets with the colors of the Wordless Book. I so enjoyed watching our young ladies interact with the kids and young ladies of Ikaukau.
One of my favorite activities of the trip was a "night safari." By the light of the moon, we walked along the jungle trail to the beach. I loved the sound of the waves crashing onto the fossilized coral cliffs. And along the horizon you could see the distant glow of the Tanna volcano. Waaaay cool. We returned the following day just so that I could say that I saw the ocean in the daylight. Wow... I am sure glad I didn't miss out on that opportunity. It was breathtakingly beautiful. And it is probably a good thing I didn't discover that until the end of the trip because I just may have skipped class to spend all day by the water.
Friday was our last night on Aniwa, and the night we walked to the beach. We returned to our house and attempted to fall asleep but not very successfully... John Frum is a cargo cult. Apparently sometime during World War II, an American soldier promised to return to Vanuatu with a ship full of goods. A religion was built up around this "John from" America. The members of the cult hopefully wait for John's promised return. An American flag flies in the center of their village, and ceremonies include soldier-like uniforms, marches, and guns made from bamboo. Friday is the night of worship for the John Frum cult, and they do so until about 1AM. Drums beat the rhythm while people sang and danced on the green adjacent to our house. Activities continue at about 5AM on Saturday morning. So much for sleeping in!
Saturday was the day of our departure, for half of the team. Becky, Pastor Peter, Aseri and La stayed behind for an additional week of CBHC training. The rain fell in torrents that day. We were a little concerned that we would also be staying indefinitely, but finally it cleared and the plane to Port Villa was able to land. We waved goodbye and headed back to the city where we enjoyed the luxury of a real shower. The Potters treated us to dinner at a little French-Italian restaurant. What a treat since we hardly ever have the opportunity to eat at a restaurant in PNG!
The rest of our trip home was relatively uneventful. As we flew into Port Moresby on Monday, I was surprised by the feeling that I was coming home. I don't remember ever feeling that way about PNG before. And it was good. Of course that amamas was quickly dissolved by the craziness of POM airport that afternoon! Geesh. We were welcomed to Hagen by a car load from Kudjip. Aniwa was a wonderful trip, but it was good to be home.
For more pictures of this amazing adventure, check out the corresponding Vanuatu photo album.
Related blog entries posted by the Myers family:
Aniwa here they come!
And links by David and Sylvia Potter (missionaries in Vanuatu):