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My first few days in Vanuatu

By Mia Kerr

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We’ve been in Vanuatu a few days now and it’s been quite the eventful start to our time here! We arrived at the weekend so had a few days to relax and get to know Louganville before getting to work on Monday morning. Sunday we took a trip by kayak upriver to Matevulu blue hole. Blue holes are unique to Vanuatu and are a type of fresh water spring. The water filters through limestone to give it its distinctive colour – photos don’t do it justice!

Sunday evening Vanuatu gave us its first little surprise by way of a 6.9 magnitude earthquake. We were a way away from the epicentre but it was strong enough to make the walls shake. We don’t have Wi-Fi in our accommodation, so didn’t realise how big it had been until we read the worried messages from friends and family who had read about it on the world news. There have been no reports of any deaths or injuries from the quake and fortunately the tsunami warning initially put in place never came to pass.

We started at the hospital on Monday morning and spread ourselves across the various wards I plan on spending the first week on medicine, joining ward rounds and clinics. It’s going to take me a few days to get used to the way things work here so will write in more detail in a later post.

Since our arrival on Saturday it had rained almost constantly – Vanuatu was not turning out to be the tropical paradise we had all envisioned! Tuesday night the rain continued, but we would be finding out our F1 jobs that night so to mark the occasion we struck out of our accommodation for dinner at a local restaurant. As we ordered our food the wind rose higher and the rain came down stronger still. We had heard vague reports of a cyclone arising in the Vanuatu area and asked the restaurant owners if we should head back to the hospital. They said it would be nothing more than heavy rain, but still a little worried by the way the staff were nervously moving their equipment away from the leaking windows, we wolfed down our meals and headed out into the storm just as the street lamps went out. The rain was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Within minutes the road was knee deep in water, and the wind was howling by now. We tried to catch a taxi back up to the hospital but everyone was heading in the opposite direction, back to their homes and families. As the corrugated iron blew off the house in front and down the street we realised it was becoming dangerous to stay out in the open. Thankfully a taxi finally stopped and was willing to take us back home, albeit for a steep fee!

Back at home we patched up the leaks in the windows as best we could and hunted down a few head torches. Fortunately a previous elective student had left detailed instructions behind on how to survive a cyclone, so we set about filling bottles of water and warned our families in case the mobile network cut out.

Cyclone Xena as, we found out she was called the following day, thankfully didn’t cause the level of destruction of last year’s cyclone Pam. Even so, many houses here on Santo have been badly damaged and reports are that the outer Islands have been worse hit. At the hospital many staff couldn’t make it in, all surgery was cancelled for a week and in obstetrics three women ended up giving birth by torchlight. We felt very safe in our accommodation here and in the end it was all just a big adventure – the worst being an extra day of anxiety before the Wi-Fi returned and we could finally find out our jobs!

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