3rd and last week of mission

Continue the adventure with us, aboard the M/V Silver on this humanitarian mission to Papua New Guinea, in partnership with Gulf Christian Services.

Akoma and Ikinu Village

The village’s name means “to count the men”, and derives from the ancestral practice of stopping there after inter-tribal battles to count the survivors. The village was established in the 1950s by the Koriki people. The Korikis trace their origins back to a time when two brothers were separated and set out in search of new land and resources to settle their respective families. This separation is attributed to tribal battles with outsiders.

Land is held by men in a patrilineal fashion, handed down from father to son. Women are required to marry outside the clan to produce heirs to the land, and are forbidden to marry inside, as this would cause inheritance problems. Two groups of women exist in the village, organized around ecclesiastical activities. The women’s main role is to make sago, followed by fishing, breeding and shellfish gathering. Sago is number one because it’s in high demand, and sometimes there’s a shortage of this sustenance in certain villages.

Usually, the men cut the trees and transport them by river, floating the trunks, while the women take care of the rest of the process. When men are not available, they take care of the whole process. The age of marriage is between 16 and 21.

Evangelization in the 40s caused the disappearance of much of the cultural heritage, a fact bitterly regretted by the elders, depriving the population of the cultural vigor necessary for their survival, and leading to the death of many inhabitants. The belief that sorcerers mastered crocodiles has, they say, led to a resurgence of fear of these animals, which pose a constant physical and psychological threat to villagers.

aidocean papouasie total damien roques
Aidocean guillaume lemoine paouasie

The village of Akoma offers us a wet welcome, and the boat docks in a marshy area filled with huge logs on which we walk in a slippery balance. Françoise bore the brunt of this, but fortunately without any damage apart from a pair of muddy, smelly pants.

We move into the medical center. The village is in mourning, so the streets are quiet and the population sparse, including at the consultation. In short, we won’t see many people today. The other village that was supposed to join us was only notified this morning…

aidocean papouasie mission humanitaire
aidocean papouasie mission humanitaire

Never mind, we’ll go there…
We’ll be there for an hour and a half, sitting under a mango tree on the riverbank. During this meagre interval, a child is brought to us who has accidentally mutilated himself with a knife. An unfortunate blow to the thigh, quite deep nonetheless. Children here often carry sabres (machetes) and knives!

The return journey by boat is marked by an encounter with a crocodile sitting quietly on the bank.

aidocean papouasie mission humanitaire
aidocean papouasie mission humanitaire
aidocean mission humanitaire papouasie

Day 21: Tuesday, April 30

A word about Sago or Sagou, a starch made from the trunk of the Sagoutier palm tree. It’s one of the staple foods in this province. It provides essentially lipids, no proteins, no fats, no vitamins or minerals. A flour is extracted by felling and debarking the tree. This is normally done by men. The women then pound the heartwood from the trunk using adzes or bamboo hammers. After filtering and decanting, it is recovered as a paste.

aidocean sagou papouasie

This morning’s set-up is rather precarious for some of us. As is often the case, the medical center is a little cramped, and we’ll only be accommodating vaccination and gynecological consultations. The dentist is relegated to the teachers’ room at the nearby school. The others, however, i.e. consultations and dressings, will go under the medical center to protect themselves from the sun and rain… real Breton weather. And that’s where it gets funny. The boards aren’t well joined, and the people walking over our heads ship the sand under their feet onto ours, not to mention the ceiling at Papou’s height. In other words, I bang my head or walk bent over. But that’s not all, our colleagues upstairs are eating off our heads and we’re getting the works… a little coconut juice, the juice from a can of tuna that has escaped from its owner’s hands… Magic shampoo.

aidocean papouasie mission humanitaire
aidocean papouasie mission humanitaire

The consultations are drying up earlier than expected, so we’d like to go and do the other village that hasn’t been contacted. We still have enough time to work for at least 3 hours… But the Kapuna team is due to leave tomorrow. So it’s decided to return to the Silver Star to repack all the boxes of medicines that will be taken back to the Kapuna hospital by the team.

aidocean papouasie mission humanitaire
aidocean papouasie mission humanitaire

Day 22: Wednesday, May 1

No public holiday for us, especially as this is our last working day. A very short day, as we’ll only be working for a few hours this morning in the empty school. We have to push the desks. The family planning office occupies an empty room next to a classroom in full swing, so the notion of privacy is relative here. As throughout this mission, the tide decides for us. The Silver Star has to sail up the branch of the Kikori River we’re on to take over the Purari branch. But the confluence of the two rivers is tidal, and the tides here are diurnal. This means that there’s only one high and one low tide a day. So if you miss the chance, you’re stuck for 24 hours. It will be the same tomorrow for leaving the Purari River to reach the open sea and return to Port Moresby. We thought we’d work until Thursday or even Friday and fly back to Port Moresby, but the plane has broken down. So we’ll have to stop early, as we have between 48 and 72 hours of sailing ahead of us, depending on how well we complete the above passages.

papouasie aidocean
aidocean mission humanitaire papouasie

We return to the boat to say goodbye to our colleagues from the Kapuna hospital, who are leaving loaded with 2m3 of medicines, ordered by the hospital and transported by us.

The Silver Star pulls up anchor and heads north. The passage through the confluence goes smoothly. In the past, boats have been stuck here for 2 weeks, waiting for the tidal coefficients to be high enough to refloat them! It’s easy to see why we were urged to leave the area. We’ll anchor on the Purari for the night.

aidocean kapuna hospital papouasie
papouasie purari river aidocean
aidocean mv silverstar papouasie

Day 23: Thursday, May 2

Today is a day of sailing down the Purari River, so we’re only sharing a few landscape photos.

The captain informs us that we’ll be attempting to pass the Purari estuary this evening. The tidal coefficients are rising. He announces a depth of 2.60 m at the highest tide for a boat with a draught of around 2 m… So it’s worth a try. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow evening to pass through (3.10m depth announced).

By 6pm, we’re all on the deck watching the approaching waves and the depth sounder. The depth is gradually decreasing and we pass through the channel with a 0.7m margin… a great relief for the whole team. On the other hand, the seas are very rough, pounding, creaking and, above all, heeling and pitching. The M/V Silver Star is a high-water barge with a shallow draught: the perfect river boat and the worst for the sea… We head off to lie down for … 20h. The standing position is more than difficult to maintain, and above all, the nausea gets to us. Only lying down is tolerated.

See you tomorrow, certainly in better shape!

papouasie aidocean

Days 24-25: Friday May 3 and Saturday May 4

The night was turbulent, as was the day. We had to wait until we were approaching Port Moresby (the last 2 hours) for calmer seas. We were then able to regain our strength and prepare our luggage.

We disembarked at around 4 p.m. in Port Moresby, only to find ourselves pitching again! Homesickness is playing tricks on us! In a few hours and after a good night’s sleep, we’ll be back on our feet 😉

As luck would have it, at dinner Marine runs into the director of the Kavieng hospital in the hotel, with whom she worked on the 2 previous missions. A breakfast meeting has been arranged for tomorrow morning, to give her more time to talk things over with him. Saturday will also be an opportunity to visit the patients the association has helped:

– The young girl with her heart problem was able to be hospitalized and oscillated, but unfortunately her condition is too advanced for any intervention to save her. We are therefore sad to leave her.

– The little girl with her cleft palate also arrived safely, and is waiting to be seen by a specialist.

marine bayer aidocean papoouasie
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