Monday, 10 December 2007

Tales of an Island Adventure (part 1)

10th December 2007
15 Days to go till Christmas

tlm fact: I once ate 5000 calories of flapjack in one sitting. Needless to say, I didn't feel particularly well afterwards but it was worth it!

In an effort to re-live some of our time in the Solomon Islands, this is the first part of a series of short (true) stories about our summer adventures. Some of the stories will be things we did ourselves but others will be tales told to us by the Dr Gunter Kittel, the doctor in Lata.

First of all, let me fill you in on some facts; in recent years there has been some 'ethnic tension' in the Solomon Islands, the majority of this tension happened in Honiara, the capital. As a result of this, a group of South Pacific countries formed a coalition called RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) to offer help to the Solomon Islands. RAMSI have a significant presence in Honiara and on the other islands for quite a while.

The RAMSI police have an outpost in Lata on Santa Cruz island, the island we were on. Feelings seem rather mixed towards the RAMSI group, and RAMSI don't exactly do a lot to integrate themselves into SI society. For example, the outpost on Lata receives its own weekly flight (bear in mind that there are only 2 at best, Solomon Airlines flights per week), on this flight is a supply of food; beef, chicken, apples, oranges, pasta, cheese etc etc. This food is stored in the huge chest freezers in the RAMSI compound. The RAMSI police are told not to buy or eat any local food because it might be dangerous (it didn't do us any harm), they are told not to go into the local police station because it has asbestos in it. (How the RAMSI police are supposed to work with the local police without using the same building I don't know). They are told not to socialise with the locals and especially not the women. I'm sure you get the idea by now.

Dr Kittel doesn't have the best relationship with the RAMSI police, there are a number of reasons for this and we spent many a night listening to Dr Kittel recount stories of his relationship with RAMSI.

One day, a young man presented to the hospital with a laceration to his hand. It was a serious injury caused by a machete. His fingers were literally hanging off his hand, the muscles and tendons having been severed. Dr Kittel doesn't have the equipment at Lata to deal with such an injury therefore the patient had to be referred to the main hospital in Honaira. The patient would have to wait for the next cargo ship, which could feasibly be weeks, by which time he would have lost his hand - maybe even worse. It just so happened that shortly after the patient presented the weekly RAMSI plane, which is empty but for a supply of food and pilot, was heard landing down at the airstrip. Dr Kittel cycled down to ask the RAMSI people to take the patient back to Honiara where he'd be able to receive the treatment he needed. The RAMSI people on the island refused and told Dr Kittel that he should go and contact the main RAMSI base by radio. He persuaded the plane to wait until he'd been back up to contact the main RAMSI base but as he cycled back up to the hospital the plane took off again.

Apparently, RAMSI are not supposed to help out Dr Kittel by transferring patients unless there is a life-threatening situation. This young man might not have been immediately dying but if he lost his hand he wouldn't be able to do much to support his family.

To me its absolutely ridiculous that this empty RAMSI place couldn't be used to take this patient to Honiara which potentially would have saved his hand. It is no wonder that the relationship between RAMSI and the local is quite difficult. It must be said though that after contacting the main RAMSI police, Dr Kittel did get a RAMSI funded plane to fly out a few days later to transfer the patient. What a waste of time, money, resources.

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