My Day Off

Our new boss arrived in town and after a busy week she instructed me to take Saturday off. I don't take many days off, partly because I enjoy my job, but partly because there is not much to do in Lae when I'm not working.

Our new boss arrived in town and after a busy week she instructed me to take Saturday off. I don't take many days off, partly because I enjoy my job, but partly because there is not much to do in Lae when I'm not working.

So I decided to spend the morning having a look about the shops. The main house/hardware shop has a cafe, but I've not had the time before to try the food. It turns out they do fantastic food including a full breakfast which I was very much enjoying when I received a phone call from our nurse: Our third vehicle had broken down and she was stranded. In terms of all the day-to-day things that can go wrong, a vehicle breakdown ranks as a high priority. Raskols are quick to strip down or steal vehicles that are stranded in insecure areas and the nurse herself could be in danger without transportation. Fortunately she was in a car park of a transport company that we deal with and she quite safe. Nonetheless, getting the vehicle moving again was now an urgent priority. Our first car was being driven by a qualified mechanic so I sent him to the scene while I approached in vehicle 2.

Upon arrival the mechanic quickly diagnosed the battery as the problem. Seeing the vehicle parked facing up a small ramp, I guessed we might have a chance at jump starting it by letting it roll down the ramp and then bringing up the clutch, but the ramp was so short we would only get one chance at this. And in reverse. Expats don't normally drive vehicles, but under pressure from the watching crowd of expats (telling us we had no chance to jump start a car down a 4 metre slope, in reverse) I decided it me who should give it a try. We got it moving and took it back for repair.

So much for my day off... I ended up back at the clinic sorting out flights for our registrar who is going to represent our project at an annual event in Canada. She has never been outside of PNG before, so she was pretty nervous.

Chris Houston | Tree in the MSF clinic

Photo: Chris Houston | Tree in the MSF clinic

Later in the afternoon, I was working in the garden when I heard and felt a crunch that shook the ground. We get earthquakes every few days, but they are normally silent and this sounded of metal mangling. Well, it was; our driver had crunched our best vehicle's wing into the compound gate. He was still sitting in the vehicle when I got there. He looked like the most terrified man I have ever seen in PNG - but getting angry with him wouldn't have improved the situation. He was extremely shaken by the incident, so I told him to go and drink some coffee while we planned how to fix this one.

In the process of mangling the front wing he had also bent part of the gate so it could not lock. Fortunately the guards and I already have a plan of action for gate damage and we used a chain and padlock to close it pending bolt repairs.

The driver recovered his composure, but was clearly feeling awful about the incident. He offered to repair the vehicle himself (he is also a mechanic) although we declined - but I did take him up on his offer to fix the gate.

He turned up the next day with a welding machine and a grinder and our gate is now even better than it was before the accident.

C Houston

Photo: C Houston | The boys and their cars, driver Noah and guard John

I warned the team to expect disaster as everyone should know that problems come in threes. With 2 out of 3 vehicles being in problems in a few hours I was keeping a watchful eye on the only surviving vehicle, but it was not until 11pm when we discovered our fate. Our generator failed. Working in the rain, our driver/mechanic, guard and myself tried everything to get the thing started. I advised the team that it seemed unlikely we were going to get it going and to stock up on batteries and prepare for an uncomfortable night without fans. The mechanic tried everything. Last time this happened we had to change the electronic control panel. We took it off, but was a sealed unit and not user serviceable. Maybe it was the contacts to the cable that were not so good? After 90 minutes, soaked and oily we decided to moisten the electrical contacts between the wire and the panel (with some Scottish saliva) and try to start her up again. It worked, much to the amazement of us all. We all burse out laughing. "You have very strong spit" the guard complimented me. The team were quite happy too.