Treated like royalty
02 September 2018 | Tanegeu Bay, Santa Isabel Island, Isabel Province, Solomon Islands
The word has spread very quickly about the Eyeglass Assist program and we had a steady stream of visitors from the surrounding villages up until sunset, with often a dozen or more children-filled dugouts hanging about or tied to our stern or softly banging against Monkey Fist's hull. For village people the day starts when the sun rises (5.30-ish) and by 7 am the following day we had a steady stream of people coming on board for glasses and we finally managed breakfast after nine by which time we had supplied and fitted over 30 pairs. One of our visitors was the chief from the main village, Charles, and like many of the other people who came and saw us, he was blown away by what we were doing. They understood that each pair of glasses to them was worth hundreds, if not a thousand dollars in financial terms - by the time they caught the ship to Honiara, paid for food and accommodation there if necessary, and then paid for the glasses themselves. The Eye Care Centre in Honiara provides vision screening free of charge but the glasses must be purchased. Often unfortunately the glasses that people need are simply not available or in stock and sometimes people therefore buy whatever they can get their hands on from a “Chinese shop” or a pharmacy, without really knowing what they are doing (education is something we include in our vision screening). Often during our testing we ask people if they have had glasses before and the small amount who have done so often say that the glasses “didn't work”. So people go to all that expense and effort and still find themselves without any benefit and when money is limited and everything is expensive, it's not something they can afford to pursue.
On the Saturday we conducted a clinic in the main village of Tanageu after which we returned to Monkey Fist and spent the next few hours fitting and supplying glasses to people who had heard about what we were doing but had missed the clinic. The next day after the church service we did a follow up clinic at Tanageu and another even larger clinic on the small nearby island of Sigana. As usual, there were many, many people with extremely poor vision to whom we were able to give them back their world. One elderly lady who was wearing a pair of glasses (that were practically falling off her face) waited patiently to be seen. As could be imagined by now we are getting pretty good at looking through glasses and working out approximately what script they are. The lenses were very scratched and worn and were partially opaque but we realised they were positive and immensely strong, well beyond what normally we can assist with, but we do have a few extras and we ended up fitting the lady with a pair of +11.50 spectacles upon which she declared “it's all clear”.
Chief Charles worked tirelessly making arrangements and sorting out facilities to ensure we had everything we needed to run the clinics. He said that he and the other chiefs had a meeting and wanted to thank us properly by preparing a feast and entertainment the following night which we sadly had to decline as we needed to move on. All the families in the entire area originate from Sigana Island where, in the 1970's, the people decided it was too small and located to other locations nearby to establish their own villages . The extended village has a pan-pipe band and Chief Charles had arranged an impromptu performance for us with local dancers during that evening and would we were available?
It was after dark in the community hall (a huge open “leaf house” which we had found out by now is what hey call a traditional thatched hut) and most if not everyone from the village was in attendance. Frances and I had the only two chairs and felt like the visiting royalty, especially when a small table was brought up with tea and dry biscuits. The pan pipes themselves are made from bamboo and range from sets less than 30 cms long to some over 2 metres long. All of the musicians were young males and some of the youngest had not reached their teens. The first group of dancers were young girls followed by some men from the band playing small pan pipes. Nearing the end Frances and I joined two men and a woman dancing and the clapping and cheering that ensued almost brought the house down. Wow! It was such a wonderful experience that it took Frances and I some time to go to sleep that night. We were told we were the first yacht in two years to visit this area and also that the last yacht didn't visit any of the villages so we're pretty much off the beaten track and again the villagers expressed their desire to attract tourists.
The 'White Devil' Effect
Every now and again we encounter what I call the “White Devil Effect”. Many of the toddlers and young children have never seen a Caucasian person before and although many are not phased, every now and again a child is frightened out of their wits by the sight of us, and in particular it would seem, the white male. The abject fear is manifest in their dinner-plate sized, tear-filled eyes as their gaze is locked in your direction, at the same time they are paralyzed with fear, heedless of the onlookers unheard consoling overtures. This is often exacerbated when the white person is seen doing something to their granny who is baby-sitting them (fitting glasses). One little tacker was led past us by his older sister, with tears streaming down his face as he stared straight ahead, too frightened to steal a glance in our direction, bravely managed to keep one foot moving in front of the other. Oh dear...