We're no angels!

17th July 2015
“With all the different islands, why are you going back to the Laus?” A good question especially when you have had an extraordinary time, will going back spoil those memories? We had such wonderful welcome in Lomati in 2013 and enjoyed ourselves so much we visited the village on three separate trips to their island of Matuku. We felt we left a little bit of our hearts there but would they even remember us? It was a chance that we felt we wanted to take and what follows is what happened when we did.
Shortly before sailing from Auckland to Fiji we downloaded a message to our web site from someone saying how much they had enjoyed the photos of their home village Lomati. To cut a long story short it transpired the author lived in the capital, Suva and was the son of one of the families we had got to know pretty well. Not only that, but his parents were visiting Suva to see their first grandson and would love to see us. So drinks in the Royal Suva Yacht Club lead to an invitation to visit where they are staying and of course Sunday lunch. But Koli and Lusi weren’t the only family celebrating, we discovered Penina, another mother from Lomati was in also Suva having just had baby number five. Her husband Chiko had stayed on the island so had yet to see his new daughter, less than three weeks old when we visited. All this before we had even set sail for Matuku, with a photo of baby Wainisi so Chiko could have a sneak preview of his fifth daughter!

We realised people were going to be forewarned of our arrival (in fact Koli’s son, Luke and Anna, his fiancée were cooking dinner for us on the first night) but we certainly weren’t expecting to see Moape in the pass in his fibreglass boat waving and shouting ‘Bula’ the greeting you hear throughout Fiji. We nearly ran him down as not sure he appreciated that going through passes with coral reefs on either side is not something we find relaxing and certainly don’t want to be playing ‘chicken’ with local boats as we adhere to our previous safe tracks through what can be navigation nightmares. We hadn’t even got our anchor fully set and the engine off before Jese and Luke were aboard with the warmest of greetings, not to mention disbelief that we were back; followed shortly by Moape for coffee and biscuits. What was amazing was how they not only remembered us but remembered things we had said and all wanted to know why we weren’t on our way back to the UK for the Rugby World Cup.

Ashore the welcome was no less warm, even after traipsing through the mud at low water and it really felt like meeting up with old friends, catching up with the news, some good, some not so good and the changes to the island. There is now some internet available via a slow landline at the school in the main village of Yaroi, but sadly not generally across the island and not in a way that would help the children with their IT skill. The supply ship now arrives fortnightly and in Lomati there is a new shop set up the Women’s Committee – surprisingly well stocked and with a diverse range of goods from onions to flip flops to baby lotion.

Sadly we learnt from Jese, who had greeted us when we anchored, that his father, John was back in Suva having had the front part of his foot amputated. He had trodden on a nail and infection had set in that local services on the island weren’t able to get under control, complicated by his diabetes, so amputation had been the only option.
Health provision on the island of Matuku is an odd mix. On one level there is a lot of primary healthcare – blood pressure, weight and blood sugar are all monitored monthly. Healthcare advice and medication for blood pressure control readily available and better than people would experience in Suva; yet seemingly no way of getting an infection identified and appropriate antibiotics started in time to save save John’s foot. And whilst there is an increase in diabetic patients having limb amputations in the UK, we suspect that here they are far more common. A stark reminder, if we needed one, that life in paradise isn’t always as idyllic as it might seem.
When we had last been in the Laus we had seen one couple from another yacht distributing reading glasses collected, graded and sorted by the Lions Club as part of their international Recycle for Sight programme. And we had thought this would be great way for giving something back to these communities that have welcomed us into their lives so readily. So when we were in Australia we had contacted the Lions and aboard Sea Rover were four boxes crammed with reading glasses and a few pairs of sunglasses.
This is a very traditional culture so we thought it best to visit the paramount chief for the island and ask his permission as a courtesy and also to link up with the senior nurse practitioner for the island to ask her help in arranging ‘clinics’ for the glasses to be distributed.

This proved a brilliant move as we linked in with the healthcare workers in the villages who were able to translate to those who’s English was even less than our Fijian. Anna and Luke came to each clinic with us and Anna took on the role of dispensing the glasses once Devala and the village nurse had made their best assessment of a person’s prescription.

Anna would show them all the glasses we have that matched their prescription and, with much reference to the mirrors we are carrying, they’d choose the pair they liked.

It was always going to be important that they only got to see the possible frames after their prescription had been agreed or else suspect there was a real danger that the prettiest glasses would be perfect!

Luke and Chiko from Lomati ferried us around in a mixture of our dinghy and Chiko’s fibreglass boat as we visited five villages. Luke is helming in the photo because when Chiko was steering the longboat, it was such an adrenaline ride over the coral patches that there was no way Mike was risking the camera.

Most of the time, we saw people in community halls and once at the island hospital but on a couple of occasions we also made home visits to three people who were unable to walk that far – quite took me back to days as a community physio!

It’s been quite humbling doing it and a great way of spending time with people. One villager was at pains to tell us we were doing the work of god, even if we didn’t believe in him. We have heard at various times that it is their Christian belief that explains their welcome to strangers, as one person said ‘You never know who the angel is’. All we know is that here in Lomati we have received a greater and warmer welcome than elsewhere in our travels through the islands of the South Pacific. Maybe it’s because we have spent more time here and so got to know the people more. Who knows, all we know is that that it’s very special and more than repaid coming back here. Of course, we’re sorry to disappoint, we ain’t no angels!

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Photo comment By Anita: Lovely story and pictures!
Photo comment By Adrian FAULKNER: I sailed HADAR to Matuku in 1976, and anchored off Lomati. Happy memories that are too distant to include names. Now travelling England and Wales, a VERY DIFFERENT WORLD. Helen has just completed a four- week choir tour of UK and Ireland. We are back to NZ in early August. Best wishes, Adrian & Helen.

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