25th April 2008
For the next 3 days chaos will reign.16 years ago there was a tribal fight near the school with considerable loss of life.In controlling it, the police burned down houses and since then the people have been fighting for compensation.They have recently won their claim and have been awarded 20M Kina, (five Kina = £1.00), divided between 900 families, (to put it in perspective, a teacher gets paid less than £2,000 a year!) The payout is happening at school over the next 3 days, beginning to-day with a sing sing (tribal dancing and singing).The locals dress in tribal costume, which is quite magnificent, with face paint, headdresses of bird of paradise feathers and other adornments and their dancing is accompanied by kudu drums, which can sound quite intimidating!Incidently, the leaves covering their rear end is called 'arse grass' - quite apt I thought! So if fighting breaks out tomorrow, feathers will literally fly!!
There is a meal late afternoon today for local dignitaries, to which we have been invited as honorary guests, (more speeches!!), then Thursday and Friday the families will come to collect their money.There are concerns about fighting and drinking at the school gate and the head can't decide whether to close the school or not - I would have no doubts!The trouble is, because of this landslide, food and drink is running out, so there may be a shortage of celebratory beer, which means they're likely to be drinking the home made brew called 'steam' which is apparently horrendously potent.It's brewed in an empty gas bottle, heated and then the steam is condensed! I think John and I will stay holed up indoors or climb a mountain to keep out of the way for a while!
We went to the dignitaries' meeting and were officially welcomed and had to make the customary speech, saying how delighted we were to be there. There was a whole, roast pig in the centre of the room. Whilst the obligatory prayers were being prayed, I watched with fascination at the poor pig dripping blood and fat onto the floor in front of me - nice!Other than that, the food (the bits we felt inclined to eat), was delicious and we had some interesting conversations with the lawyers involved in the compensation claim.
There is a headteacher's meeting tomorrow to discuss whether schools should be closed as a result of shortage of food and fuel, which is particularly affecting the rural boarding schools and even in our town school, school lunch has been stopped from to-day (not that it consisted of much, just a bread roll).The situation is also being discussed by VSO and if it gets to the stage where there is a real food shortage and the possibility of rioting, then we'll possibly be evacuated.The repair of the road looks as though it's going to take some time as not only is the mountain still moving but the villagers in the area are demanding 10M Kina (£2M) compensation from the government before they will let anyone onto their land to start repairing things.
It is a real compensation culture here.At the moment though, although some of the supermarket shelves are becoming depleted, food is still available, though becoming increasingly limited in variety.We're stocking up on staples and John's got his sauce, so all is well!Also, Lisa sent us some tins of corned beef which are edible, so with John's favourite corned beef hash on the menu, survival is guaranteed.I suppose if teachers can't get to school because of the fuel shortage, they'll just all return to their bush houses and live off their garden produce and I'm sure the children won't complain, in fact, will they notice?
We went for a walk this evening through the village at the back of the school.The scenery is truly stunning, especially in the light of the setting sun. We really are going to tackle the surrounding mountains, once I feel strong enough and we've had lots of offers of guides, from little children to elderly women. Every single person we met this evening, greeted us, not just 'good apernoon' but hugs and handshakes and some of the children ran up to us and gave us flowers.The scenery and the people are totally enchanting.
Now that it's over, and no harm done, I can tell you about it.After my second dose of antibiotics for diarrhoea that didn't work, I rang the VSO doc in Madang.He was away and I eventually was connected to his locum.He had my notes in front of him and he prescribed a drug called chloramphenicol.Four days into taking these pills, (which had had no effect up to then) our internet got connected and I looked the pills up.I stopped taking them immediately upon reading 'do not take this drug if a safer one is available'!It is banned in the USA and as far as I could make out, is used mostly on animals! One of the side effects is a serious anaemia which is incurable without a bone marrow transplant!It is used in third world countries because it is cheap and one of the other side effects is diarrhoea!A few days later I visited the VSO doc in Goroka, who said on no account should a caucasian person take this drug, but said as I'd stopped taking it promptly I would be OK and the likelihood of adverse side effects was only 1 in 25000, so I felt reassured.However, I rang the doc in Madang to suggest he sack his locum and he said I had nothing to worry about - he'd been using the drug for years and never killed anyone as far as he knew!!However, I made an official complaint to VSO medical unit, who also reassured me and I feel confident I'm fine, but if I hadn't looked it up, I might not have been.I've also warned all other volunteers not to touch the drug.Whew!!Beware doctors I say, they'll kill you given half a chance!
I'm now beginning to feel better, though I still have some way to go, I think my body just has to take time to recover from all the medication, but thankfully the diarrhoea has cleared up.I have to say that I have had huge support from the VSO medical unit and the Education Programme Adviser, so I have been well looked after in that respect.
Deep depression amongst all volunteers here, as yesterday we were given a directive from the Programme Office in Madang to evacuate by plane tomorrow morning.The main reason given was that according to the medical adviser in Madang, the hospital in Kundiawa no longer has basic medical supplies, because of the landslide (e.g. oxygen) so if something happened to any of us we might not get the medical attention we needed.Most of us weren't happy, as we felt there had been an over reaction on the part of VSO and no proper assessment had been made.We think there is a notion in Madang that the highlands is unsafe anyway and anything untoward that happens, causes them to panic.We told them that at least we wanted to wait to see if the situation improved over the next week, but to no avail, our tickets had been purchased. If we refused to do as we were told, our volunteer status would be withdrawn and we would get no further support from VSO. So we started packing to-day, then received a phone call about midday from our project manager, saying that the Programme Office have changed their mind, they now think essential hospital supplies are getting through, so they have given us a choice as to whether to stay or not.We have chosen to stay and will keep the situation under review, so we're now unpacking our packing!
I think we're now beginning to go into the dry season, as we had no rain yesterday - hope it doesn't mean it will get hotter!If that is the case, it should give the mountain a chance to dry out, so that maybe it'll stop shifting, as the heavy rains haven't helped the situation.
We hope to send this blog sometime soon, but for the past few days, we have been unable to make connections via internet and the telephone has also been playing up.We're in the process of trying to get Telecomm to respond but when that will be is anybody's guess - it is Friday today after all!
Hope all is going well in Blighty