Unusual week for us in Kovol: it was vasectomy week. I quickly need to say we weren’t the ones doing (or getting!) them. We hired a family-planning doctor from Goroka to come for 4 days and provide vasectomies free of charge for the men who wanted them.
Birth control is pretty lacking out in the bush, so marital relations tend to result in pregnancies. The average number of children per couple is probably around 6, infant mortality is probably 30-50% and ladies give birth on a mat of banana leaves out in the bushes with no medical help available. Thus ladies dying in childbirth and little babies not making it are normal life.
For a few weeks now, we’ve been giving the announcement about what the procedure is and explaining the benefits and on Monday Dr Noel arrived by helicopter.
One of our first impressions of Dr Noel was being impressed by his work ethic. Jumping off the helicopter he sees the crowd and wants to get started even before we’ve shown him where to put his bags! As the week went on we became more and more impressed by him. He worked tirelessly, was as comfortable having meals with us in our houses as roasting bananas on the fire with our guys, and genuinely desired to help however he could. He was a man who knew what he was doing and believed in it too.
He came with all the medicines, implements and surgical supplies from the hospital. We were a little embarrassed by our makeshift clinic – a plank lying on top of two oil drums partitioned off by a plastic tarp, but he didn’t mind. I watched one of the procedures and can also confirm he knew exactly what he was doing working with sharps and sterile implements. This is his day-in-day-out work in Goroka after all.
In the end, he snipped about 40 men. We took care of going through the consent form with the guys and explaining things, while he was back to back doing the procedure. One of the questions we asked for the consent form was “How many children do you have? How many alive and how many dead?”.
The answer varied of course from 8 alive + 0 dead, to 4 alive + 6 dead, to 6 alive and 4 dead; lots of kids!
The uptake was also very uneven. One of the 7 Kovol villages had 20 guys come forward, others none. The village close to Pal (where an NTM team has been for years already) were all for vasectomies, and the villages furthest away were circulating rumours that a side effect of the procedure is that a man shrivels up and loses his strength.
Regardless, we’re really happy with being able to provide this service. The goal was to introduce the idea of it. Vasectomies are available for free in town, but there’s a hesitancy from our bush folks around new things. We’re anticipating that as the doctor’s visit becomes a distant memory the results will be evident and will get others thinking they want the same; and now they won’t be scared to seek it out in town because they know multiplex people who have had it done.
In other news, polling for the election happened in our village this weekend. A bit of bad planning on our part, having the Dr come in the middle of all the election distractions – but we didn’t know they were happening! A helicopter dropped 2 ballot boxes along with an electoral team in a village 6-hours hike from us. Actually the helicopter was supposed to land in our village, but they went to the wrong place! This put the electoral team a day behind and they spent that first day hiking over to us.
I got to sit with the electoral officials and observe the process. I was impressed by the system and by both the professionalism and the flexibility of the team. They definitely had a process and a schedule and were sticking to it – but when dropped 6-hours hike away from where they should have been, they adapted admirably.
The ballot boxes are sealed with zip ties with ID numbers printed on them which are read out as they are cut. Volunteers from 10 different candidates had hiked in to follow the ballot box to each of the 5 villages on the itinerary and they recorded the code for each seal in notebooks, and tallied the number of male and female voters who cast a ballot in each place. The result is a no-trust system where the electoral officials hold the candidates (or their representatives) accountable to not interfere with the ballot and multiple candidates can hold the electoral officials accountable.
Unfortunatley with people expecting to cast ballots on Monday, the helicopter’s landing in the wrong place meant turnout was low,. People had expected the helicopter to arrive and when it didn’t they went to their gardens.
There’s also obvious relief that it’s all over and done with. People have been dissapearing off to their gardens to escape the tension brought by the vote happening and the noticeable friction between some of the candidate representatives who have been around for the week. I did tell them that 2 weeks of election talk and tension isn’t bad. In town it lasts for months and in the US it lasts for years 😀
To finish off the week we brought our break forward from Monday to Thursday because of how the flight schedule worked out. After arranging it on Wednesday and starting packing we’re glad the helicopter made it through sketchy weather to pick us up. We suddenly realised how tired we were; we just wanted out for a while.
I finished off my latest ‘aquisition project’ in language learning – working on 100-word stories and needed a new one. I can’t bring myself to sit down and set a new target for the next days and weeks though; I need a bit of a recharge.
As we fly into Goroka it’s funny to be hit by a mild culture shock as I see all the buildings and vehicles going around. PNG bush life and urban life are different enough that it takes us a day or two to adapt and not be overwhelmed by everything!
First thing on the cards for our break was a trip to the Lapilo store for snacks. $62 was spent before we knew it just on a snack and breakfast for the morning. Easy to do when a box of cheerios goes for $12 😀