Saturday, April 29, 2006

Vunisea (Voo-na-see-a) and Drue (Droo-ay)

Vunisea Secondary School

April 6th, 2006

Up for breakfast at 6am, packed and all three teams off to first village. Called Vunisea, right by the airstrip. We walked up the hill and on the right was the highschool. It is a boarding school, the kids come on Mondays and go back to their villages on Fridays. Continued up the hill to the community hall and got set up. While we were waiting to get started a group of young children and moms came by the hall--they were on their way to the small hospital to get their measles vaccines. We handed out many toys and candy.

It took a bit of time for the first dog to show up. The first surgery was a neuter, which is nice because it is (generally) an easier and faster surgery than a spay. It went very well; we all breathed a sigh of relief. This is more primitive than anything any of us has done...we are used to having all sorts of machines to monitor patients. It is good, because it got us back to our powers of observation.

We ended up doing 13 surgeries in all. Not the 10 per group we were hoping to do, but a good start. One man walked 1/2 hour home to get his 3 dogs and bring them back. We found out at the end of the day that the reason there were not more dogs brought to us it that there was a funeral in a nearby village, so many people were there.

The day went well in spite of the small numbers. There were few anesthetic problems; the protocols seem to work very well. Good to have the first day 'under our belts'.

We were back to the resort by 4pm: enough time for a bit of snorkeling. I saw more wonderful fish--a green eel-ish creature floating in the reeds, a long slender fish striped like a zebra, a large fish that was greenish-yellow with a big black spot near its tail. Many small fish, bright blue, orange, and black. Donna and I also saw a huge lobster hiding in the rocks. The coral waving in the sea was so breath-taking.

I was sitting on the beach after snorkeling. The breeze was blowing the palm trees, the parrots and lorikeets were singing and swooping through the trees. I thought to myself, this is a movie! I still don't quite believe we are here.

We had kava again, with much singing, dancing and laughter. The people here can harmonize so wonderfully. They sit in a circle and play guitars and sing--it is not for us, they just love to do it. When we sit for dinner, they bring out a game called Bindy Windy...sort of a cross between pool and air hockey. You use a large disk to hit small disks and try to get them into holes in the corner of the table.

We are all in bed by 10pm, as we will be up again at 6am for another days surgeries.

April 7th, 2006

Ahhhhh, slept like a baby. Alarm went off at 5:45, and just barely woke up for it. We had breakfast and were in the boat for 7am. Two of the teams, mine and Donna's, were dropped off at a village called Drue, while the third team went to a village a little ways away. Our guides went to talk to the chief on our behalf. Bate, one of our guides, grew up in this village, so knew many of the people.

We were shown to a building where we could do surgery--another 'community hall'. We had mostly been expecting tables set up under the trees, so we were very grateful for the rooms. The first dogs came soon after we were set up, and we went fast and furious from 8am to 10:30--7 dogs and 1 cat. All the dogs were males. I asked why and was told that some believe that males are better hunters, so the females are sometimes killed at birth. Didn't much care for that answer.

We waited for a while to see if any more would show up; when they didn't, we were taken on a tour of the village. We went to the school, where the kids were a bit leery of us at first. They warmed up quickly, though! Soon they were holding our hands and wanting to sit in our laps. The children are all so gorgeous. I took a picture of a group of them, and they swarmed me to see themselves! The were pointing and laughing--I had fingerprints all over my view screen.

Donna and friends

The children then lined up outside one of the schoolrooms and went inside. They moved aside the chairs and desks and swept the floor. They set up enough chairs for all 6 of us to sit in front of the room. This was all without a word from the teacher. We went in and sat down, and they began to sing for us. "We welcome you" they sang. We were all so humbled and in tears. It was the most amazing thing. They sang several songs and then some of them came up and danced with us. They were so great! I don't know that I could adequately describe it. I had chills down my spine.

We had a tour of the school. They have 4 teachers: Grades 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8. They all learn English. There were lessons on the walls of all the same subjects that kids in Canada learn: science, algebra, geometry. We played with them for a little while (we gave them a new soccer ball) and then headed to the beach so they could get back to their lessons. The boat had gone to the airport to drop off some other guests, so we had a swim in the beautiful Pacific and searched for treasures on the beach until they returned.

Back at the resort, we cleaned instruments, prepared supplies for tomorrow, and then spent the rest of the afternoon reading, relaxing and writing in journals. The sun goes down at 6pm here, and then the mosquitoes come out, so we have to get in as much outdoor fun as we can before then.

In bed early again--I'm lying here writing this at 9:45--the work and the heat tire you out quickly! We are up again at 6 tomorrow, so it's off to sleep.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Organizing; Enjoying

April 5th, 2006
Our first morning in Fiji. We were up early for breakfast and a strategy session. We spent the morning calculating drug dosages, plans for IV catheters, etc. Not like in a clean/sterile hospital, lots of things to think about out here. We also met with 'the guys' from the resort, who are going into the villages with us--what they will say to the chiefs and villagers to smooth our way. We then spent several hours dividing all teh supplies into 3 groups, so each team has what it needs.

Tanner, one of the teammembers, is going to start ophthalmology school in the fall, and he brought a few pairs of donated reading glasses, as well as many pairs of sunglasses. He started out with one 'patient' and before you knew it, he had just about the whole staff there. It was really neat to watch him help all those people out. Many of them have scarring on their eyes, from years on the water with the sun's reflection, and no protection. Tanner was so great with all of them, and they were so grateful.

The rest of the day was spent in fun--volleyball (I re-injured my knee on the first serve), soccer, snorkeling, swimming. Sara and I walked around the grounds to the parrot 'enclosure'--an open sanctuary where the Kadavu Shining Parrot can be safe and fed. This year was the first year that they nested there. The parrots were being hunted to extinction before the resort owner put a stop to it. There was only one in the enclosure, but we were able to get close enough for pictures. These birds are absolutely gorgeous. They wake us up every morning with their screeches for breakfast.

Gord went out spear fishing with the guys. He didn't fish, just waited in the boat. They came back with the most amazingly colored fish--turquoise, red, orange, yellow. Also a LARGE lobster. Fish for dinner!

I went snorkeling again--coral of blue and green. Fish like I have only seen in an Aquarium. Getting into the water is the easy part, you just roll over the side of the kayak. Getting out, thats another story. Donna had me in stiches as she tried to get herself back in...I was in and holding the thing steady. Well, she got herself out of the water, and in the boat, but she was flat on her stomach!!! I had tears rolling down my face I was laughing so hard. Everyone said they could hearing us roaring from shore. I was pretty sure I was going to have to do all the paddling, but she managed to get herself upright without tipping us both over. I'll have to look into a waterproof video camera!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dirty Water, Anyone?

April 4th, 2006 (continued)

As we arrive at Papageno resort, the employees are on the beach, singing a welcome song. We wade through the water to the white sand, and are each given a freshly picked coconut with a straw in it. Not like the ones you buy in the supermarket at home, thats for sure! Our luggage is carried to our rooms, and we settle in a bit before heading for lunch. The 'dining room' is a large thatch-roofed enclosure with screens for windows. It contains a large eating area, the kitchen, a bar and a seating area with a library of books and games.

(Sara and Donna enjoying their fresh coconut milk)

Isaac, the general manager of the resort, has made us an itinerary of the villages we will visit, beginning with a village just next to the airstrip, then moving toward the resort, and then past the resort to the East. Isaac is originally from New Zealand. He is very friendly and quick to laugh. He has arranged with the villages to have the dogs ready for us, as well as assigned each of our 3 teams a 'guide' from the resort to come with us and translate where necessary. He has also arranged for a kava party tonight--where we drink the boiled kava root (apparently not unlike muddy water)--and dance and sing. [Note after the fact: they don't need the excuse of new visitors for this party--they are quite happy to have one every night! :-)]

We spent the late afternoon kayaking out to a reef and snorkeling. It was just amazing. I have only been snorkeling once before, and it was nothing like this. Coral, sea slugs, fish of all colors. Warm water and turquoise blue.

As the last of our supplies came over on a flight after ours this afternoon (our meds came from Suva), we will spend tomorrow organizing and dividing the equipment between the 3 teams. We will start out early Thursday morning with the first of our villages!

(The long, braided fabric is meant to point toward the chief in a true ceremony)

The kava ceremony was very interesting. It is the crushed root wrapped in fabric, and then soaked/squished in water. It absolutely tastes like earth. Not something I would go looking for to drink! You are asked whether you want 'low tide' (a small bowl) or 'high tide' (a full bowl). As the bowl is handed to you, you clap, say bula and then drink. And make a face as you choke it down! I noticed that even the guys from the resort had to clench their teeth--apparently it is not even an acquired taste... They say it is a mild narcotic. I got numb lips and tongue for my trouble. (Vo, one of our 'guides' in picture to right--we came to think of all the employees of the resort as friends)

(Sarah, Norma, Ben, Gord, Tanner left to right)

We were asked to dance as they played guitars and sang. You and your partner stand facing the same direction with your arms around each other's waist, and you basically just walk forward and back, with the occasional turn thrown in. Even the most dance-challenged could manage it. It was a wonderfully fun evening and quickly introduced us to the joy and good humour of the people of Kadavu.

('high tide')

Monday, April 24, 2006

THAT'S the Airstrip????

April 04, 2006--lost a whole day due to the international date line

By 6:30 am we had collected our luggage. First order of business was to change into shorts and sandals, as even this early in the morning, it was hot!

We took taxis into Nadi for breakfast. We sat on the patio of a little cafe in town and people watched.

All the school kids were walking to school in their uniforms. They seemed to walk mostly in groups of 3--sometimes friends, but sometimes obviously siblings. The kids are so beautiful, but often shy and don't want their pictures taken. I noticed that the girls and boys didn't walk together, unless they were family. The girls mostly wore their hair in a long braid down their back.

After breakfast we went to a craft marketplace--necklaces, bracelets, sulus (the long skirts), carved masks. The vendors are very 'aggressive': 'Here, it will be good luck for you, I'll give you a good price'. Unfortunately, we have no room right now, we are overweight as it is...will have to stop here on the way home.

We went on to the Nadi Municipal Market--rows upon rows of tables and tarps laid out with fruits and veggies: bread fruit, cukes, tomatoes, lettuce, kava root, spices. They were some vendors sitting on the ground selling; there was construction going on the increase the size of the market. Some of the vendors had their wares stacked up in piles--made for neat pictures.

We caught cabs back to the airport for 10:30, so the vets could meet with the Agricultural Official to get licensed. That done, we checked in for our flight to Kadavu.

They weighed not only our checked luggage, but us and our carry-on as well. I guess with the small plane, they have to be very sure of the exact weight they are carrying. And a small plane it was! It had 19 passenger capacity. There were only 13 people on our flight, as a surf board was taking up 6 seats. There was very rough turbulence as we ascended. I was laughing hysterically at one point (I do that when I get stressed) saying I may have to take the boat on the way back. It is beautiful scenery though. I am looking down on it now, as I write. Coral reefs abound, turquoise water and a few fluffy clouds. 15 minutes to our scheduled landing--I only hope it is smooth.

EEEEEK! The scenery coming in to land is stunning...Green as far as the eye can see. But the landing strip--only as long as the island is wide at that point--which is not very! And, I have been told, it was only just this year paved--just gravel before...

Well, I didn't like it, but it was an ok landing. The airport is a 20ft by 20ft room--not much. Walk through and across the sand, and into the awaiting boats for our 30 minute ride--Now that is the way to travel. Beautiful sun, sea, and not 20 000 ft up!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Experience of a Lifetime

Home, safe and sound, tired and tanned. What an amazing experience! I consider myself very fortunate to have been on this project. We experienced Fiji as few tourists get to. We met many wonderful people who were so grateful to us for coming. And yet we felt so grateful to have been allowed to come and help them and their dogs and cats. We performed 201 surgeries in 18 villages in the almost 2 weeks we were there. We helped to save many dogs from the pain of a strychnine poisoning death. Not just those we sterilized, but the puppies they will never have. What a privilege.

I kept a journal everyday of the activities of our group, and specifically my team of 2 techs, myself (Kirsten) and Sarah, and vet Gord. Over the next week or so, I will post my journal writings, with pictures. I hope you enjoy the trip!

April 2nd, 2006

Our flight leaves a little late at 7:50pm. We met at the airport at 2pm to give us time to redistribute the weight among team members, as the supplies were many. Needles, syringes, some medications (many were purchased through the Fiji SPCA), gauze. Also many gifts for the village children--soccer balls, candy, books, crayons, pencils, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, nail polish. There was a fair bit of turbulence on the way up, (much to my dismay--I don't like flying much!), but then settled in for a beautiful flight.

We landed in Honolulu at 10:32 local time. It was a great flight--a bit of turbulence just before beginning our descent. There was just a sliver of moon visible--it was just below us as we started to descend, and then all of a sudden it was above us. Beautiful. Clear and 23C. An hour and 15min stopover. We looked around a bit in the garden, but it was too dark to see much, and the mosquitoes were terrible.

Our flight left Honolulu just on time. I watched a bit of the movie, but fell asleep soon, and slept most of the way. About 30 min outside of Nadi we had MAJOR turbulence! Most I have ever felt, and I was quite scared--until Terrill looked over his shoulder from a seat in front of me and threw up his arms like he was on a roller coaster. Then I was laughing too hard to be worried, and it smoothed out quite quickly. We landed almost right on time. We have until noon in Nadi, so we will pick up our luggage and find some breakfast!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Another Long (But Successful!) Day

Today was really busy -- our team did 17 dogs and 2 cats, Donna's team did 15 dogs and 3 cats, and Terrill's team did 9 dogs. We went to Junior's village today (another of the resort guys), and his village cooked us these amazing fish samosas. So good. It was a very long day though; we left the resort at 7:10 am this morning, and got back at 6:00 pm. Everyone is tired, but a good tired. I think our total is up to about 130 so far, so very close to our goal of 30 per work day.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Busier Day Today

A busier day today... each team did at least 10 animals. My team did 9 dogs and 4 cats. We were doing surgery under the palm trees on the beach! Got some good pics, which we'll post to the web site soon.

The villagers are amazingly hospitable. They just welcome you. The kids hold our hands and crawl all over us. We bring candies and toys for them, and they love it.

We went to Vo's village (Daku) today, about a 20 minute boat ride. Vo is one of the fellows that works at the resort we are staying at, who have been helping us in the
villages. We have one or two of them each day with each group, and they talk to the chiefs and set things up for us.

We were immediately taken to Vo's parents house and invited in to have some lime juice and bread with lemon. His kids and wife were there also. He works at the resort during the week, and goes home when he can. Not every night, or every weekend. The women are very much the servers here... although some men do laundry and serve as well.

We got set up and went to work on the surgeries. Vo's wife made us delicious chicken and noodles in soy for lunch and we had a picnic on the beach. Back to work, and when we were done, they had a kava ceremony. Too much kava... Vo was vomiting on the beach, and I did not feel well at all. Much stronger kava than here at the resort. Then a boat ride home.

I don't think the photos will be able to express the feeling of being here, I guess they never do. The people just amaze me, so friendly. We finally feel today as though we did some good work. Not that we didn't the other days, just not the numbers we wanted, 30 a day. We finally achieved that today. Not getting all the dogs, or cats, but at least we are helping to keep the population down. We may have to come back in a few years though, and do this again!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Work Continues

We went to 3 villages today, did 7 dogs and one cat - not as many as we are hoping to do, but we also met with the agriculture guy in one village, the one who poisons the dogs when needed and chatted with him about what we are doing, and about the ear tags to id dogs that have been spayed or neutered, so they are kept out of the poisoning.

In one village, we went to the school, where the children swarmed us, just like you see on tv. We took some pics of them, and they were all over us, wanting to see themselves on the digital camera screen. They then set up chairs for us in a classroom, and gave us an amazing singing session. They can harmonize so incredibly! It was extremely humbling, and some of us were in tears. Then they got us up to dance! It was so great.

I continue to be amazed at the beauty here. Everytime I step outside... the birds, the fish, the gardens, the ocean. Amazing. We saw dolphins in the water as we were boated to the village yesterday.

I have taken about 200 photos already, and burned them to disk, so will be able to hopefully post them when we get home.

We are going to 3 more villages tomorrow, hopefully more dogs. Even if we don't do as many as we wanted to, we are at least saving some from the horrible poisoning death that they may face.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bula from Fiji


What a beautiful country! We arrived on Tuesday here, in the afternoon. We spent Wednesday meeting and organizing. Then we went out today, Thurs to our first village. It was the town just near the airstrip, and we did about 12 surgeries. Less than we wanted, but there was a funeral in town, so a lot of the villagers were there. Many people were a bit worried at first, but after a few, they were all interested in watching. The dogs were given ear tags after the surgery, so that when the government comes to poison when they become overpopulated, these dogs will separated. The children all came to see us, and we gave out toys, books and candy. The kids are all so beautiful...gorgeous smiles!

I have to keep this short, as we are using the office's computer. I will try to post more as our time here progresses. We are off to 3 different villages tomorrow, and hope to do closer to 30 surgeries. These villages have been told we are coming, so hopefully the turnout will be better.

Vinaka (thank you) for continuing to support us!


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