Thursday, August 23, 2012

Not an End, But a Beginning

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Well, it is easy to say that this was the longest day of my life.  I left Australia at 1:40 PM on August 21st to arrive in New York at 9:30 PM August 21st!  I can’t believe that this journey has come to an end, but I like to think of it as more of a beginning.

I left off describing my time in Honiara before departing for the plane.  Thursday morning brought early mass again with the sisters.  Clare and I headed home to pack out bags reluctantly.   Sister Rosa suggested that we visit the Guadalcanal memorial.  After hopping in the car with Emmanuel, about 30 minutes later we arrived.  At the top of a huge cliff was the memorial, including many stonewalls engraved with battle descriptions.  There was a guest book to sign in and I saw that so many visitors were there that week, including some from California, Norway, and Singapore!  The scene was truly humbling.  After a few more stops, we headed home to make a guest appearance in the sisters’ English lesson taught by Laurel.  The sisters asked us questions in English about our family, hobbies, and studies.  After some good laughs and a farewell lunch, Sister Mary, Saniella, Maria, and Rosa gave Clare and I each a T-shirt.  Mine is red with “Solomon Islands 2012” printed on the front.  They were tearing up as we were saying goodbye and I was heartbroken.  I seriously didn’t want to leave this country. 

We made it to the airport and saw Sister Catie right away with Jennifer.  They waited for Clare and I to check in and we said our goodbyes.  I felt upset to leave but I was also excited for the fact that I would get to see my family so soon.  That was pretty much the only motivating factor pushing me up the stairs to the plane.

Christine and Rick Vosila picked Clare and I up from the airport and we tried to recount as much as we could of our trip in the short car ride home from the airport.  I couldn’t believe I would have to try to explain my experience now!  I was so happy to see the Bells and we stayed up late sharing pictures and stories. 

On Friday morning, I woke up so early due to my usual 5:30 AM mass schedule.  I was certainly ready by the time it was my 11 AM meeting with Sister Rose Mary.  Clare and I met with the leadership team at Santa Sabina over coffee.  After the meeting, Sister Rose Mary, Clare, and myself headed into Sydney to see St. Vincent’s hospital.  This hospital is affiliated with the Solomon Islands.  They have a program where each year they take 15 or so patients with a treatable condition and offer them care and stay at the hospital.  We talked about the program with the nurses there and also met a man from the Solomon’s on dialysis.  Unfortunately he was too sick to return and they are trying to grant him refugee status.  We also heard the story of a young girl from Papua New Guinea who stayed courtesy of a doctor who found her there with a melanoma the size of a grapefruit on her face.  She received surgery and chemo that cured her completely.  Her case was truly a miracle and she is now home in PNG with a child of her own.

After we retuned, Clare and I headed out to a restaurant with Marcella, Rachel, and 3 of their friends.  I enjoyed a salmon meal whole-heartedly but felt a little out of place in a room crowded with people.  The next morning, Sue, Marcella, Bernie, and myself grabbed a bite to eat at the cafĂ©.  Bernie was heading to “The Shire” for a birthday party.  This is essentially like “The Hills” and is one of the nicest areas I have ever seen.  We drove her down and got a tour of an amazing mansion right on the water.  It seemed extra large to me especially coming from the Solomon’s.  Sue, Marcella, and I decided to walk around Cronulla, which is a downtown right near the beach.  We had some coffee and lunch and headed home because Marcella and I needed to attend a 21st birthday party that evening.

Marcella and Sue dressed me in a fancy outfit and we headed off to the party.  The birthday girl was a family friend of the Vosila’s so Clare and Rachel would be there as well.  In Australia, 21st birthdays are like sweet sixteens.  I was greeted at the door with a drink by a waitress and offered samples of French cuisine throughout the night.  I had a great time on the glass dance floor over the swimming pool and headed out with Marcella and her friends after a few hours.

I was exhausted on Sunday morning but woke up for mass and got ready for a barbeque at Anne Gibbon’s house.  The event was a celebration for all the work put in to make the fellowship happen and a thank you to the homestay families for being such great hosts.  I received a beautiful aboriginal art cross from Sister Rose Mary, Anne, and Jane Sulis.  That night I also participated in “Night Patrol” which is a program run by St. Vincent de Paul charity.  Every day a truck goes to various places around Sydney to hand out sandwiches and snacks to the homeless.  On Sundays Santa Sabina girls participate so we joined.  It was humbling to see the many homeless and also quite sad.  The group of 15-year-old kids who came for food particularly upset me.  It was a great program nonetheless.

On Monday morning, Clare and I had our final debrief with Sister Rose Mary about suggestions/ideas for next year.  We had a wonderful discussion and recounted many parts of our trip that were incredible.  I don’t think the fellowship needs many changes, especially with Sister Rose Mary in charge.  She has put in endless hours of organization and planning, trying her best to work with Solomon time and schedules!  She is a remarkable woman and I am so grateful for her work that made this the best experience of my entire life. 

I headed over to the convent where Sue Bell works as a nurse.  Clare and I shared our pictures and stories with the sisters, many whom have met some of the Solomon sisters.  I headed home to pack after that, because the Bells wanted to take me out for my last night.  I told them not to make it an extravagant outing, but of course it was!  Stephen, Sue, Marcella, Bernie, and I drove to Sydney and had a drink at an upscale bar based on the 1920’s.  The inside was amazing and our waitresses were flappers!  We then went to a remarkable French restaurant named Felix where Mr. Bell was friends with the chef.  The interior was beautifully decorated and so fancy!  I tried oysters for the first time and enjoyed my meal.  I am seriously going to miss the Bells.  We laughed so much over our time together and it is safe to say I was treated like a queen.  When I departed for the airport the next morning, Marcella, Bernie, and I said our goodbyes.  I said a “see you soon” to Sue because she is coming to my house in two weeks while she is in NYC!  Stephen carried my suitcases to the Vosila’s car and I was officially off to the airport.

The flight was long as expected, but I caught up on some movies.  Clare and I were getting so anxious as we approached New York after the 6-hour flight from LA!  We made a friend sitting next to us and probably overwhelmed him as we explained our trip and showed him pictures.  I think we were a little overexcited!  After landing, I ran to baggage claim where my family was waiting.  I was so happy to finally see them and we hugged for 10 minutes!  Collin and Dad carried my bags as I started talking a mile a minute to my mom.  We met Clare’s family and said our goodbyes. We will be seeing each other at PC in a week!

On the way home as I looked out the window and caught up with my family, I felt a sense of peace and happiness that I had never experienced before.  I was not devastated to leave the Solomon Islands, but so grateful to have been able to experience my time there.  I don’t feel like my journey has come to an end at all.  Part of this mission is relaying the story to family and friends.  I know that I will not lose touch with all those I have met in Sydney and the Solomon’s.  The sisters have truly helped me more than I have helped their country, and I cannot believe how much I have learned in 7 weeks time.  From hiking mountains, scuba diving, and performing surgeries, it is safe to say that my dreams have come true.  Each day was a challenge, yet also an opportunity.  I will not forget the sisters who made me double over laughing or the children in the hospital.  But most importantly, I will not forget the feeling of tranquility that surrounded me each day on the Islands.  This is how I will now live my life, and how I will perpetually preach the Solomon gospel.

Thank you to all who have made this journey possible.  Thank you to Father Robb and the Smith Fellowship Selection Committee and the generous donors.  Thank you to my friends who have supported me since the day I found out about my trip.  And thank you to my family who has been my anchor through the ups and downs of this journey.  I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog as much as I have loved writing it!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lukim iu behind! (pidgin "see you soon")

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Another weekend at Fanualama, and I knew it was going to be incredible.  As I woke up, I couldn’t believe it was my last Saturday.  Bishop was leaving today so we had to say our goodbyes.  First he took us to the market like usual where we stocked up on vegetables, taro, peppers, cucumber, breadfruit, cabbage, and of course… 3 pineapples!  We carried our groceries through the market with the sisters and it was lucky we had extra helping hands.  Clare and I decided to walk to get Internet access, so the sisters took our groceries home.  After checking some emails quick, we walked to the Cathedral where the Aligegeo students were having practice for liturgy tomorrow.  We listened to their singing and it was fun to recognize a majority of them!  Their voices are beautiful and I want to take videos of them singing tomorrow.  We walked home after practice with Sister Loretta and prepared some lunch.  She decided to make the taro, which is actually potato and coconut mixed in a bamboo stalk.  At first I thought I was eating bamboo, but I realized after that they just package it in there.  Sister heated the bamboo stalk on the stove, broke it open, and peeled the potato out.  It was delicious!   

Richard unfortunately was still not feeling well, but he refused to back out on his promise to take Clare and I to see his village, Lilisiana.  As much as I felt bad he was sick, I wanted to see where he lived so badly.  We hopped in Bishop’s truck with Patrick, Agatha, and sister’s 2 nieces Wendy and Gladys.  We bid Bishop goodbye at the wharf and then set off on our journey.  Richard kept apologizing for his English but I could understand him just fine!  He and Patrick took us down a long sandy road right along the water.  Families were posted up under their houses on stilts doing laundry by the water.  Richard showed me his primary school, and I could not believe how small it was.  He knew everyone we passed, showing me how close the villages are.  These were all his “wontaks.”  I had never witnessed a more beautiful place in my entire life.  Lilisiana is known for their houses on stilts coming out of the water.  These people ran out of land to build on, so they created artificial island villages.  The people are also known for making shell money and all of the jewelry is for sale all over Solomon’s, especially in Honiara. 

We winded down this path and I just gazed at hut after hut.  The way they were built so intricately seriously blew my mind.  I was in a trance until I literally almost ran into a wild pig!  It was HUGE and was bathing in the mud.  The little piglets followed behind.  Richard decided to take us to his home, and on the way we met Phillip, the main singer in church, and George, one of the altar boys.  Their huts were so tiny and had many family members living inside.  We kept walking as the little children ran around unclothed staring at us and decided whether or not to wave.  It was so lucky to be with Richard and Patrick so Clare and I didn’t seem like tourists (well, we were as close to locals as we could get).  We arrived the church where Father Moses says mass and Richard’s house was just to the left.  I met his many many family members, including sisters, older brothers, nieces, nephews, uncles, and his mother.  Their hut was probably the size of a triple dorm room at school.  Everyone was so happy, and his brother Gabby (the soccer player) even rode into the backyard on a canoe for good measure.  I took a moment to realize that I was sitting on a wooden bench outside of my Solomon Island friend’s woven grass hut in his village.  It was out of this world.  Seeing Lilisiana in all its beauty despite the impoverished people was a remarkable sight.  There was no feeling of despair among these people. 

Richard led us down another road along the beach to reach a freshwater lake.  We walked and talked for a long way, and I asked Richard to do an impression of me.  He said in an exaggerated girl voice, “WOW, COOL!”  I couldn’t stop laughing.  I mimicked him as speaking a mile a minute in pidgin.  We also joked how he couldn’t flare his nostrils or say the color purple.  He pronounced it “poypull.”  Richard was not acting shy today at all and was actually leading a song and dancing once we reached the lake.  The water did not look too pleasant or clean, so I held back for a second.  Especially after I saw 20+ little boys swimming!  Richard danced his way into the water and the boys loved him.  Clare joined, but I decided to just enjoy the view with Agatha.  Plus, it looked like it was about to be torrential so I helped Patrick wrap all of our “baskets” (bags) in palm leaves.  When the rain came it felt wonderful.  The boys and Clare were making water lily necklaces in the lake.  I asked Richard if Lilisiana was named after the water “lillisianas” but he didn’t laugh.  I thought it was pretty funny.  Clare cracked up so I felt better.  We noted how humor is not universal!  I decided to get close to the water to peer in and then I remembered something I had read about the Solomon Islands in a travel book.  “Beware of any fresh water and do not swim:  crocodiles and snakes.”  I don’t know how I remembered that; it must have been my dad telepathically warning me.  I jumped out of the water.  I asked Agatha out of curiosity if any crocodiles were seen at the lake and she said oh yes all the time.  WOW.  I wanted to tell Clare to get out.  All the little boys were making this strange yipping sound and she said it was because crocodiles swim away when they hear dogs.  Oh, wonderful.  Clare said by the time she realized she was in danger they could have used her water lily necklace for her funeral so she just stayed in the water. Luckily everyone was fine and we began our journey back.  I was having the best time and enjoying the sun once it came out again.  Richard and Agatha headed back toward the market while the rest of us headed back to Fanualama.

After evening prayer and a wonderful family dinner prepared by Ben, Clare, Sister, and I went to Aligegeo to watch talent night.  I really wanted to watch but I was going to be so angry if they made me dance again!  Luckily, they didn’t but there was some other action that took place.  Just as I was getting very sleepy at the end of the show, Sister had the man in charge put on dancing songs to let the kids have fun for a few more minutes.  The boys, including Patrick, grabbed Clare and I and we danced for a song.  It wasn’t bad at all, just really funny.  We sat back down as they played one more song before announcing the winners when all hell broke loose.  One of the teachers, Lucy, who is Sister Loretta’s niece, was judging and sitting behind the speaker with her small daughter Cathy.  All of a sudden, I saw speakers fly and people start to fight.  Lucy was hit with one of the speakers and was bleeding from her mouth.  I thought the fight would die as Sister yelled at the boys to calm down, but nothing stopped.  I saw that everyone was getting angrier and I was worried about Sister getting hurt.  None of the male teachers were doing anything to stop the fighting.  I went to check on Lucy and as soon as blood dripped from her mouth, one of the boys screamed that he saw blood and ran outside.  He was not going to get sick, he was going to get a weapon because he was related to Lucy.  It was essentially his blood.  I got so nervous and realized that this was an entire different culture and I had no idea how to handle myself.  After seeing Lucy was all right, I just tried to keep still on the bench not drawing attention to myself.  Luckily, Patrick grabbed Clare, Sister, Lucy, and me and led us out the door.  He pushed through all the boys and made sure we didn’t get hurt.  I had no idea who had a weapon and who didn’t so I just stared straight ahead with my flashlight.  We were taking Lucy back to Sister’s so I could clean her mouth and see how badly she was hurt.  Clare was carrying her daughter and holding hands with the others as the boys led us back.  All of a sudden the boy that ran out to get a weapon appeared in the path with, yes, a machete.  My heart leaped and I stepped to the side.  He was saying how he was going in to get the boys that hurt Lucy but Sister grabbed him.  She and Patrick held him down and led him back to the house with all of us.  I couldn’t believe how she was dealing with this.  I found myself standing next to machete man as we were walking and I quickly stepped behind him.  I had no idea what was going on.

Luckily, by the time we reached the house, some boys and Lucy had explained the story to me.  Two brothers who are from North Malaita started the fight.  They are also the brothers of one of the male teachers.  They were angry because their brother that is the teacher did not want to have dancing events.  In their North Malaitan culture/religion, dancing is not accepted. Deputy and Sister overruled the teacher because they argued it was a nondenominational school.  The student brothers planned to wreck the equipment so no other dances could be held and to defend their brother.  When Lucy got involved, the boys that are Sister and Lucy’s relatives were just defending their own blood, literally.  Lucy is from South Malaita, married to a North Malaitan.  She has blood relatives in the South and in-laws in the North.  The south and north have tension from time to time, but because Lucy is blood-related to the South, they decided to fight for their side.  South Malaitans also retaliate without any delay where other cultures may wait some time to seek revenge.  When we made it home, I checked out Lucy’s mouth and luckily all her teeth were in.  She had a massive welt on the side of her jaw and cheek and a bruise on her shoulder.  I didn’t think her jaw was out of place so I just wanted to put ice on it.  But, did you know that ice does not exist in the Solomon’s?  I literally took a frozen chicken out of the freezer, wrapped it, and placed it on her for 30 minutes while Sister Loretta gave lectures to the boys.  I also gave her some Advil because she does not have a refrigerator or anything cold at home.  My practical Kilu’ufi experience was put to use tonight.

One way or another, the 15 boys outside were all Lucy and Sister’s family.  Some of the boys went to the brothers who started the fight and received 100 dollars from them.  Apparently compensation is needed when something like this happens so the fighting stops for the time being.  Tomorrow, the villages and larger families will be made aware and Lucy will then receive more adequate compensation.  No police involvement, just family.  It’s funny because the whole time I’ve been here I knew Sister was Malaitan, but she seemed so similar to me that I totally disregarded her following tradition.  She knew the 100 dollars was needed and also knew that she could calm down a man with a machete.  What a woman.

Well, I’m going to try to sleep after this one, and hope the Aligegeo students are safe.  I am thankful nothing more serious happened.  It is safe to say I had a first hand experience of Solomon culture today:  villages, crocodile lakes, and talent night brawls.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I awoke this morning to Sister Loretta sitting at the kitchen table with tea saying, “Pineapple is waiting for some people!” in her high-pitched, hysterical voice.  I told them I had a horrible dream about a fight and a talent night and they replied they had the same dream too!  We shared stories and breakfast while clearing up some of the details I didn’t understand from the previous night.  It was our last Sunday mass, so we got ready and headed off to the Cathedral early with the Aligegeo students.

The mass was beautifully said.  The hymns the students sang were amazing as well as their offertory processions.  I love that their culture is still alive through the church.  The two are intimately linked, responsible for preserving this tradition.  Father Moses said mass, and at the end, Ben Ivy invited Clare and me to the altar.  Simon and Phillip presented us with two wooden crosses with engraved mother of pearl.  I couldn’t believe the appreciation from the community, truly confirming the fact that I do not want to leave.

After talking to the students for some time, we walked back to Fanualama to change for our trip to Buma.  Buma is a Catholic settlement area where there are DMI (Daughter of Mary Immaculate Sisters) and also Sisters of Charity, founded by St. Vincent de Gaulle.  Sisters, Clare, Agatha, and I squeezed in the seat of Bishop’s truck as Father Moses escorted us. I heard it was a long ride, but I was prepared.  Actually, just kidding.  I immediately started feeling sick due to the bumps and puddles and potholes left and right.  We were driving up and down instead of going forward.  I was bouncing and eventually had to close my eyes and lay on Sister Matilda.  We finally reached the village about an hour later and met all the sisters.  We also met 2 Father Lawrences, one the son of Immaculate from the women’s group and one who has traveled to Providence!  Before I could finish shaking hands, a 2-year-old boy Pius (pronounced Pee-yo) ran up to Clare and I growling and speaking an unknown tongue (not pidgin).  Everyone hysterically laughed.  Pius is full of energy and refuses to wear any clothes.  I tried to take pictures of the beach scenery and the chapel but if you look closely you can probably spot him in the corner in every single photo from today.  When we walked in the church he ran on the altar and handed me a baby Jesus sculpture.  Sister Loretta had to sit down she was laughing too hard.  When we were sitting in Father Lawrence’s hut, Pius was so wound up and I noticed he started chewing 3 separate betelnuts.  Essentially, this means Clare and I played with a 2-year-old who was high the entire day.  Many children do it and become addicted, but it is similar to tobacco.  It is the Solomon culture.  We had a cappuccino with the Sisters of Charity from Croatia and I learned they were all nurses.  They took me on a tour of their clinic and talked about their baby delivering experiences.  When we were leaving they gave Clare, the Sisters, and me rosary beads.  Father Moses blessed them on the way home while I held the wheel.

We invited Christina over for dinner tonight, so Sister cooked breadfruit (like chips) and Clare and I took care of the eggplant, peppers, and pineapple.  Christina will be 20 on Tuesday so it was a birthday/friend celebration.  We enjoyed our food as I ended up telling everyone about the “My Strange Addiction” TV show.  Sister just stared at me when I told her some people eat grass or chalk.  I couldn’t stop laughing at her face.  Clare and I had some gifts for Christina and walked her halfway back to school.  Clare and I decided to show the Sisters all of our pictures from the trip and of our families.  We ended up taking Photo Booth pictures and I have never laughed so hard.  We were so out of breath from laughing but continued once I played a video I took of everyone singing one of the liturgy songs in the truck on the way back from Buma.  It is such an amazing communion song and has such a catchy tune that I keep singing it everywhere I go.  It’s in Father Moses and Sister’s home language.  I have officially laughed myself to sleep.  Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I have arrived in Honiara safe and sound, thankfully!  After hearing so many horror stories since I have been here:  engine failures, breakdowns, and lost at sea excursions, I definitely hesitated to step on the boat today.  I’ll recount the events of my last day in Auki first.

I woke up and had a pit in my stomach, not sure whether it was due to sadness of the last day or not feeling well.  It was also Collin’s birthday!  Happy birthday you 18-year-old!  Father Moses said mass and I went back to the house to prepare for my last day at Kilu’ufi.  I wanted to go meet the students in Clare’s classes, so I headed to Aligegeo with Sister Loretta and her at 8 AM.  There was a morning assembly, and I was interested to hear if Saturday night’s events were discussed.  Lucy, the victim, was not at school.  The principal reprimanded all of the students in the dining hall, followed by the deputy principal.  She is so tough, I felt like I was getting yelled at.  After her stern warning to the students, she called Clare and myself to the front to thank us for our time.  I was so embarrassed to go up, after all, I was working at Kilu’ufi for the majority of the time.  They thanked Clare for all her hard work with the speech contest and teaching, and thanked me for my participation in “school activities” aka DANCING!  The entire room erupted in laughter.  Clare made a short speech and when we were walking through the hall to exit, I did a few exit moves out the door for good measure.

I accompanied Clare to her two morning classes where we did a word scramble.  Some of the letters they were unscrambling were from their vocab and also words such as America, University, soccer, Clare, and Cayla!  Clare gave out cookies as prizes, which the kids loved.  We answered their many questions about family, sports, and our studies. 

Baseball hat!
I headed off to Kilu’ufi after, just in time to start ward rounds in children’s side with Dr. Solomon.  Bishop Chris had given me some World Series baseball hats to give out, and I’ve never seen such appreciative smiles from the little boys.  There were two children in horrible shape.  One small baby was partially comatose with an intense fever.  Another younger girl was actually in a coma.  I asked her uncle what her condition was, and he replied malaria.  When I questioned Dr. Solomon about the malaria, she told me that her blood test was negative.  She was most likely suffering from meningitis.  I asked why her uncle had given me the wrong information, and she said that he refuses to believe it was a condition that he could have prevented.  I was a bit confused, but Dr. Solomon explained that the girl previously had rubella, from which she suffered a severe fever.  Her parents did not take her to a clinic to help to reduce the fever in time.  Even when she was finally given an injection for rubella, it was too late.  She went home and as she was playing with her friends, she collapsed with convulsions.  She is still having seizures, so that is why her family believes she has cerebral malaria.  Although it hardly ever happens in the US, when a child has a high fever that is not reduced by aspirin, brain damage can occur.  She suffered the consequences of meningitis, for which her parents were responsible.  Blaming it on malaria gives them peace of mind and an answer, because they cannot adequately test to prove it is meningitis.  I glanced back over at the family and felt sick.  They were crowding around her with wet washcloths, trying to help a little too late.  Dr. Solomon said that she would be fine, but the family wants to take her home.  They told her that the illness was untreatable and beyond her control.  They knew she was going to die, so they wanted her to pass away at home.  Dr. Solomon almost laughed when she told me the story because of their ignorance.  She even said the family wouldn’t care if she died.  They admitted to her it was meant to be.  Poor child.  Dr. Solomon convinced them to stay (the hospital is free after all…).  I know the children’s ward is never “happy” but I was looking forward to moving on to the rest of my day.

Once we reached the maternity ward, Dr. Solomon and I sat and discussed how we would keep in touch in the future.  She would really like my assistance with her VAW (Violence Against Women) organization.  If she were to build a shelter, she wouldn’t have to get it approved by the government, she would just have to buy the land.  She knows that the ministry of health would approve it even if the government does not see the benefit of having a place like this.  I agreed to brainstorm with her and try to find some contacts for her in the US.  She is such a strong woman, I do not have any doubts that her dream will come true, and I would be honored to be a part of it.  She also wanted me to look into having a team of psychologists or counselors to come train nurses.  The future is looking bright for the women of the Solomon’s. 

Nurse Cathy was on the office, so she joined in our conversation.  For some reason, we got on the topic of relationships in the Solomon’s, and I asked many questions.  Because it is so common for men to have other wives, I asked if the majority of men cheat on their spouse.  They both replied that probably most men have other women.  I didn’t want to flat out ask if their husbands had other women, so I just said that both of them seemed happy and had a good relationship.  They hesitated and Dr. Solomon said that she would not be frightened to leave her husband if he was with another woman because she knows the right people to approach.  She said the problem is that many women feel they are trapped because of culture.  I asked why women wouldn’t leave if they were upset?  They answered that most women expect their husbands to have other wives.  If they decided to get a divorce, the children go with the husband.  I was outraged.  Cathy said that even if the mother has a newborn, finds out her husband is seeing other people, and wants to leave, she is obligated to stay because of her child.  Once separated, mothers can never see their children again.  Dr. Solomon said once again that because she knows the right people, she would be able to regain custody of her children.  She really just wants to educate women that they do have a choice.  For instance, there is a bill being passed called “Family Protection” enabling women to still see their children after a separation.  However, if you live in the bush, a mother would never even know this bill was being passed.  Just another form of abuse.  I commended both women on their strength and asked if other women were just as strong; that they would hold in their feelings despite being cheated on.  They said that most times the women are strong, but often they become depressed.  She said she has had women cry to her in the labor ward about how a child is not their husband’s, her husband abuses her, and she didn’t want any more babies.  She also has witnessed mothers trying to run across the road to kill themselves.  The Solomon’s used to be called “The Happy Isles” but since this abuse is prolonging, it is not a happy place for many people.  I could barely believe what I was hearing and stayed quiet for a couple of minutes.  He phone rang and Cathy went to answer it.  She called for me and said that I was wanted at Aligegeo for a “function.”  Oh, no!  This means I was leaving Kilu’ufi.  I couldn’t even stomach the thought.  I said my goodbyes and see you soons, and tried not to shed a tear.  Dr. Solomon is looking forward to our project, as am I. 

After popping my head into the Operating Theater to say buy to Dr. Joe, Jason, and the nurses performing a lower leg amputation, I hopped on the bus to Aligegeo.  When I arrived, I was escorted to the Home-Ec classroom where all the staff was there along with Sister and Clare!  There was pineapple, cucumber, and biscuits as a thank you!  Many of the teachers made a speech thanking Clare for her help, and one teacher even referred to me as “the other one.”  Although my time at Aligegeo was short, I was honored when they presented me with a hand woven basket and a set of shell jewelry.  

After the party, we returned to the house where I told Clare and Sister that one of the nurses had told me our ship for tomorrow was broken!  They said they had heard the same thing and went to town to refund our previous round-trip ticket.  Tomorrow we would leave on another boat at 9 AM, but I was a little nervous about this schedule, engine problems, and Solomon time.  Either way, it was my last night, so Clare and I sat outside with Agatha and Patrick for the rest of the afternoon while he taught us pidgin on a IPad.  We were laughing so hard at my pronunciations and my statements.  Sister Loretta was lying in a hammock rocking back and forth and we were yelling funny phrases in pidgin.  I am seriously going to miss her!  I could sit and watch her facial expressions and be entertained for hours.

Richard started calling me from the priest house near Bishop’s.  I walked up the stairs trying to find him and found him drawing!  He and George come to study in the priest house after school because their homes in Lilisiana are not great for concentrating.  Richard was finishing his drawing for me and I was so excited.  He signed it and I cannot wait to frame it.  He also drew another one because Clare had mentioned possibly turning his drawing into a fabric for Serengetee T-shirts.  Richard would make money for his school fees and the money raised could be donated to Kilu’ufi for medical supplies.  I am excited for him and also so sad to leave.  When I was walking back he said, “I am sorry that you are leaving.”  My heart broke!

I needed to cheer up and our final celebration dinner was just the cure.  Clare, Sisters, Agatha and I enjoyed a cassava pudding, vegetables, chicken, and fish.  We laughed the entire dinner and said that we were going to stay up the rest of the night.  After cleaning up, Sister Loretta and Matilda gave Clare and me a present.  We received a necklace, bracelet, and earrings each with a Pacific Arts Festival banner.  The shell jewelry was beautiful and I was seriously honored that they would do this.  The presents didn’t stop there.  Agatha presented us each with a lava lava with the map of the Solomon Islands.  She was too cute.   She also gave us each a necklace Are-Are her home village.  The shells used for my long necklace with a shell dolphin are native to her land.  I felt so blessed and couldn’t believe that the Sisters ended the gift giving by handing us each a wrapped present for our moms!  I told them that this was the best Collin’s birthday I ever had!  After blasting island music, playing a round of cards, and Agatha braiding our hair, I was starting to fall asleep.  By the time I finished packing it was near 12:30-1 AM and I never wanted the night to end.

As I awoke on Tuesday, I realized it was still my brother’s birthday… what a long day!  Father Moses was called out to say a mass for an opening kindergarten so Sisters led the rosary instead.  After, everyone shook hands with us and I said goodbye to Richard, Simon, George, Gabby, Christina, Veronica, and everyone.  Ben was going to drive us to the wharf with his nephew who is going back to medical school in Cuba.  We luckily found a boat that was not loading yet and we were able to buy tickets.  It was smaller so we heard the ride would take 6 hours.  I started worrying and one of the Marist priests who is friends with the sisters started making fun of me.  His name was Father Julio and he is hysterical.  He was going to be sitting with us on the boat and I told him he better start praying.  He started walking to go get me a beer and I stopped him!  I don’t think that would make me feel better at 7 in the morning… We sat outside with everyone for an hour before loading the boat.  Sister Loretta stocked us up with biscuits and cucumber to take on board.  Right before we were getting on the ship, Liborio came with our paintings!  He had wanted to paint something for us but we couldn’t get in touch with him before we left.  I had asked for Fanualama chapel and Clare wanted Mary and Jesus.  The paintings are absolutely breathtaking and so colorful.  Libo is so talented and I will never forget how he made those crutches in one afternoon. 

I was happy to swallow my seasickness medicine but still felt sick saying goodbye to Sister Loretta, Agatha, and Sister Matilda.  They sat with us until they were kicked off the ship.  We joked around and tried not to be emotional.  I seriously plan on seeing them again so I had to keep a smile.  Agatha handed Clare and I each another gift for our mothers.  These women have gone above and beyond.

After falling asleep in the tiny seating area few times, Clare, Ben, his nephew, Father Julio, and I finally arrived.  I was so delirious the whole time I vaguely remember discussing Immanuel Kant’s philosophy with Father Julio.  I was so happy to stand up but wobbled over going down the stairs.  Don’t worry! The medical student caught me.  Woops.  I jumped off the ship (I’m getting more coordinated) and said my final goodbyes to Ben.  He is such a hard worker and great man.  I saw two sisters in blue so Clare and I walked through the gates to meet them.  Their names were Sister Maria and Mary.  Their driver drove us to Rosiena, their home in Honiara right near the central market.  I totally forgot how crowded this city is compared to Auki.  When we arrived I was completely shocked at the interior of their home.  Wooden floors, a huge kitchen, counters, 3 sofas, a TV, and fans everywhere!  Our room is huge and equipped with a fan!  We’re living in luxury right now.  After checking some email (they have internet), I took a shower WITH WATER PRESSURE.  I totally forgot what that felt like!  They also have hot water, not that you even want it. After a wonderful dinner of pumpkin and cucumber, I missed Sister Loretta’s laugh and Sister Matilda’s sarcastic whispers.  Once again, the 4 sisters here:  Sister Mary, Maria, Rosa, and Saniela are just as welcoming, and I know when Thursday comes I will not want to leave.  We watched Olympic highlights before heading off to bed. Being here makes me miss Auki, despite its few luxuries.  I miss the small kitchen, the outside bathroom, and the chapel outside my window. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I couldn’t believe Clare was making sure I was awake at 5:30 AM!  The sisters were all ready to go in the car with their driver, Emmanuel, and we headed off to Kukum parish in the dark.  We opened the outside church and sat in the dark until the priest arrived.  The view from the back window showed the sea.  By now, I know almost every song we sing for prayer, and afterward Sister Maria thanked me for singing!  I told her that was the first time anyone had ever thanked me for carrying a tune and she laughed.  I think having a beautiful singing voice is a trait carried by most Solomon Islanders.   

At 7:30 we were back, and enjoying breakfast.  The sisters told us that Sister Vero was coming to see us in the afternoon!  But, Sister Rosa wanted to take us to Tenaru in the morning to visit Sister Catie and Sister Stephany!  I excitedly hopped in the car as we drove 15 minutes down the road to St. Joseph’s at Tenaru.  The sight brought back so many memories, like crazy Sister Catie’s laugh and parrot!  I spotted her bright pink lap lap from the clinic and watched as she ran towards our car and left all of her patients.  I was already hysterically laughing.  I couldn’t believe I was back where I started and how close I feel to the sisters.  We enjoyed catching up as well as a nice meal with Sister Stephany and Rosa.  Sister Stephany actually had malaria so she wasn’t feeling too well.  We also saw our friend Jennifer who was just finished taking her trial exam.  Even as Clare and I move on and travel, the sisters continue their hard work.

After arriving back at Rosiena, the sisters were finishing up with their English lesson from Laurel.  She is a volunteer traveling from New Zealand.  Sister Mary and Saniela wanted to take us into town to do some last minute shopping!  We also had to prepare for a dinner celebration tonight at the other sisters; house down the road.  It was the Assumption therefore Sister Matrina’s feast day.  The sisters took us to an unbelievable wooden carving store where Clare and I were impressed by the Ngzoo-Ngzoo figures.  They are warheads and symbolic of Solomon tradition.  There were many other sculptures of canoes and faces.  We headed to Central Market and I felt familiar with the area! I couldn’t believe how much more crowded and dirty it was compared to Auki.  Honiara is like the NYC of Solomon’s.  There are people from every province selling their goods, so the market is 3x as big as Auki.  Pineapples and fruit were everywhere!   We splurged on a few fruits and various items before treating the sisters to ice cream!  I got vanilla with ngali nuts which was delicious (they ran out of coconut).  The heat was unbearable and I was excited to go back to the house.

Clare and I popped in the Insanity work out and Sister Saniela joined us.  We had a great time.  And to top it off, as I was “swimming” (showering) I heard a familiar and beautiful sound:  Sister Veronica’s laugh!  I sprinted downstairs and found her sitting with the sisters!  I was so excited and she just laughed and laughed.  She said the mountain was still waiting for me (Mount Chiromagati, the one where I almost cried climbing to the peak) and started the teasing already.  We cut up pineapple and mango as we shared stories about Sister Loretta and Matilda from Auki.  Sister Veronica and I also told the sisters how I thought she was jumping on the roof when the earthquake hit!  We also told the story of how I fell down the mountain and laid in Cindrella’s yard screaming, “Where do I live?!”  I couldn’t believe that was only 3 weeks ago.  I feel like Sister Veronica is my aunt or sister and we have been apart for so long.  I don’t want to leave her again; she is an incredible and strong woman.

After prayer together, we walked to Panatina Ridge, the other sisters’ house, for our celebration.  We shared laughter and so much food for Sister Matrina’s feast day!  We were even presented with a cake and 2 straw hats!  Just as I am really getting comfortable, it is time to leave.

After getting home around 9:30 PM, Clare and I showed Sister Vero all the videos and pictures of Auki, including Sister Loretta’s infamous nostril flare film.  We were uncontrollably laughing once again.  Sister Vero and Sister Loretta are best friends and now I can see why!  Both of their laughs can light up an entire room, maybe village!  Before we headed to bed, Sister Vero gave Clare and I each a bracelet.  She said she will miss us.  Seriously, I have been treated so special in the Solomon’s.  The people give, give, and give more, and it is time that they are given some gifts themselves.    

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Final Stitch

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

For the first time I was completely exhausted this morning when I woke up to my alarm in the pitch black.  I managed to get out of bed and woke up quickly after mass.  Sister Loretta was having her toe operated on today, so I had someone to walk with to Kilu’ufi!  We enjoyed our walk, but I could tell she was so nervous.  I waited outside the operating theater with her as we saw Dr. Jason and Dr. Joe getting ready.  We spoke with a woman outside of the theater who shook my hand and thanked me for “yesterday.”  It was then I realized that this was the woman’s mother that had the C-section!  She was so grateful and said she was worried the entire time.  All the credit goes to Dr. Solomon and the team because they are truly amazing.  Because Sister’s operation was so quick, they took her in on time actually!  I scrubbed up but decided it would be best to hold her hand instead of cut her toenail off.  I do still want a place to sleep at the end of the day!  Dr. Joe was laughing when I refused to do the cut but he was also nervous because he is part of Auki Parish!  After some numbing and a few quick cuts, Sister was all done, but she was in pain! I felt horrible but she took the bus home and I instructed her to rest for the remainder of the day.

After Sister, we saw a young boy with a fractured wrist and also a prisoner with fluid in his knee.  The nurses took care of both procedures.  I was a little nervous to see a prisoner even with the guards in the room, considering he was arrested for assault/manslaughter.  Dr. Jason said he was ready with sedatives and I hoped he was joking.  When Dr. Solomon came in, she told me she saw Alick this morning getting on the boat to go home!  She wished him well and gave him money to buy snacks.  I truly saw the light in her eyes when recounted the story.   I held down the fort in the Operating Theater while Dr. Solomon took care of a woman in septic shock in the maternity ward.  

Dr. Solomon came back and reported that the hospital ran out of “Panadol” or Tylenol, to give the mother in septic shock.  She was sweating with a fever and infection and the hospital could not help.  Dr. Solomon said she had to go to outpatient and ask the people outside if they had any extra tablets.  Luckily, she gathered five from various people and was able to give them to the mother.  I could not believe that this happened.  Could you imagine a hospital running out of Advil?  Dr. Solomon said that the director had not ordered more because the hospital doesn’t have the money.  Because the medicine is freely given out if prescribed, there is no “profit.”  Once again, government corruption rears its ugly head.

Dr. Solomon and I saw a few more patients in the children’s ward and maternity.  There was no real action, so I decided it would be helpful to the sisters if I went to town to pick up some produce for the rest of the week.  Clare and I caught a ride with one of the parish teachers and went to get Internet first.  I caught up with a few important emails and received a picture from my mom and dad showing me my room in my house in Providence that they furnished for me.  I couldn’t believe their hard work and it made me miss them incredibly.  More than ever, I feel so lucky.  At the market, I decided I wanted to buy something to make for lunch for the doctors tomorrow.  We haven’t taken one lunch break yet, and Dr. Solomon mentioned maybe taking one tomorrow (we’ll see…)  I picked up a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, cookies, and watermelon.  Although this may not sound appetizing, this lunch would truly be a delicacy at Kilu’ufi.  I was hoping to find some pineapple or bananas at the market, but nothing was available besides Betelnut.  I had to be creative.  After picking up sodas for them, I was satisfied.

While waiting for the bus to return home, Clare and I saw the ice cream stand was open and enjoyed every bite.  I proceeded to drop the watermelon and watch it roll down the street.  It was fine when I caught it but I realized I drew attention to myself when I saw a crowd laughing.  Woops.  It is already intimidating going to the market as the only white person, but I cannot seem to blend in no matter what I do.  The motif continued when we caught the bus, as I was the only person crammed in the front facing everyone.  The only thing I could do was laugh as I was about one inch from a stranger face-to-face.  I sure stick out like a sore thumb, but that’s how it is in the US too!  A true universal trait.

Sister was still sleeping in the hammock when we got home, and Clare and I decided to do Insanity.  Agatha met us in the conference room under the Bishop’s house and soon there were maybe 10 people all joining!  Chrisma’s mom Jill, grandma Gladys, friends, and Sister’s students were all doing Insanity.  I thought it was hilarious but also partially dangerous.  I toned the exercise down while Clare took Shaun T. seriously.  I couldn’t even fathom that a grandmother that had never exercised in her entire life was starting with this torture video.  Not safe.  Tomorrow I think we’ll do some sit-ups and fast walking!  The girls here are really excited about exercise.  I don’t think they have been introduced to any type besides soccer or sport, and mainly the boys take over.  I think it is important for them to realize that they are capable of setting aside a half an hour each day to be active.  This will make for a healthier population and give them some confidence.

After dinner and playing cards until late, I am signing out until tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I awoke to pouring rain outside my window and the cool breeze felt amazing.  When I finally got up, I attended the morning mass said by Father Moses.  After, Clare gave Richard back his birthday present backpack that she sewed.  Anything bought from the Chinese shops here is the absolute lowest quality so of course his new backpack broke the first day.  He was happy to have it back, and pulled me aside to show me a drawing he made me.  I could have just hugged him but I held back.  He was saying how his English isn’t well but he wanted me to accept a gift.  He even put an octopus in the center because I was admiring one on his other design!  He is planning to show us his village on Saturday.  His house is on stilts in the water.

Richard joined us for breakfast and then headed off to school.  Afterward I realized if we had not asked him to come over, he would have been starving all day.  We had crackers for breakfast, which barely sustain me, so I can’t imagine how a growing boy would feel.  Aligegeo high school students receive 4 crackers for breakfast and rice for the rest of their meals.  It seems that food and lack thereof turned out to be the theme of the day.

When Sister Matilda and Clare headed off to teach kindergarten, I took out my lunch supplies to make a feast for the doctors.  I sliced a huge watermelon (I am actually sore from carrying it back from the market) and placed it in a Tupperware.  I found myself happy to see how much I got for my money.  Since the market did not have any vegetables, bananas, or pineapple, I decided to make them my specialty:  peanut butter and jelly.  I felt disappointed that I couldn’t be more creative.  I made about a loaf’s worth of sandwiches and sliced them diagonally for effect.  I packed a container of cookies and 4 sodas for the director and 3 doctors.  Right as I packed everything up in a tablecloth and tied it so I could carry it on my shoulder for the long walk, the sky opened up with more rain.  Perfect timing!  When it slowed down a little I commenced my journey looking like I ran away from home with my knapsack, but luckily I caught a bus to Kilu’ufi.  I let the director know about lunch and also Dr. Jason when I saw him.  I received a pat on the arm and a, “You should come here more often!” He obviously means I am doing such a good job in the operating room.  I informed Dr. Joe who raised his eyebrows 3 times, and just shook my hand.  I couldn’t believe how happy they were to just eat peanut butter and jelly.  I have never seen them take a lunch break once, and if anyone deserves it, they certainly do.  Dr. Solomon was equally as excited as her eyes widened and she promised to take a break today.  I knew that wasn’t going to happen but I figured she could eat it for dinner if not!  I dropped the cookies off in the operating theater for my nurse friends and headed to the children’s ward. 

In the children’s ward, there were some new admissions.  I played with a little boy named Junior Sammy for about an hour as the doctors and nurses were reviewing him.  He was admitted based on “failure to thrive” or failure to gain adequate weight or grow for his age.  His AST enzyme count was abnormal after blood work. Dr. Solomon said that this represented an acute viral infection in the liver.  She said that she suspected it was due to malnutrition.  She said she feels sorry for the babies who have to suffer because the parents are either ignorant or just unable to provide their children with necessary vitamins and minerals.  Americans have baby charts where the pediatrician will mark the child’s height and weight compared to the average.  Based on the World Health Organization chart, a Solomon Island baby at 60% of height and weight is considered normal.  Babies can survive at 1.2 kilos.

Baby Collin
By the time we finished the rounds in the children’s ward, we moved on to a quick operating theater case that Dr. Jason took care of.  It was around noon, so it was time to head to the maternity ward to see patients.  Dr. Solomon began seeing a few, but as I walked through the ward a particular baby caught my eye.  He was staring at me from his wrapped blankets in the middle of the hospital bed.  His mother was nowhere to be found.  Just 2 days old, this baby was absolutely beautiful and perfect.  I took a seat and decided to just hold his hand.  Veronica, the woman whose husband I convinced to stay at Kilu’ufi due to her baby’s small weight, came over to talk.  Slowly all the mothers began asking me questions and wanted me to name their babies.  Whoa!  They apologized for staring and said they just like to look at me.  They even said the baby boy I was playing with looked like me!  We talked about childbirth for a little, and Veronica said that I looked like I was 15 years old.  Thanks!  It was a riot entertaining these mothers though.  I recognized some from when I operated on them!  They decided that I was to marry a Solomon boy and stay.  I agreed and they are working on finding me one.  Finally the baby boy’s mother came back and let me hold her son.  I was completely in love.  He yawned and yawned and even sneezed.  He was the cutest little nugget I have ever seen.  The mother really wanted me to name him but I felt so bad!  Veronica wanted me to write down a name so I finally gave in.  Baby Collin it is.  I told the mother I was taking him to America and Veronica told me I couldn’t because the woman was married.  Um, I was just kidding!  She said that if the mother wasn’t married and had a child it would be up for grabs.  Wow.  There are still so many traditional customs and taboos in the Solomon’s that really need to be eliminated for women’s sake.

It was around 3 PM and once again I was famished!  Dr. Solomon kept saying she wanted to eat lunch but I told her we could press on with her patients.  After all, I am only here for so long.  It is good training for when I start working!  I took a few vitals for her and we set off to her outpatient gynecological clinic.  Once a week, women come in for various issues that they wouldn’t go to Dr. Jason for.  There were two women with ovarian cysts that presented a lot of pain.  One was 20 years old and a student at Aligegeo.  Both of their pain got worse with menstruation.  After booking them for the surgical tour, Dr. Solomon explained more of the taboos with menstruation.  Women who live in the bush still abide by the rules of isolating themselves during this time of month.  They also need to be in isolation during birth.  She said that this is abuse and the most dangerous and unhealthy practice.  She also said that women have no access (even in Auki) to sanitary napkins so once-a-month you can expect girls to just stay in their house or miss school. 

Around 4 PM, Dr. Solomon slowly led me to the office where I collapsed.  How does she work like this every day?  I handed her the sandwiches and she devoured them.  I enjoyed some melon while reading over her speech on Friday.  Dr. Solomon is involved with a women’s rights group run by the United Nations, Unicef, World Health Organization (WHO), Ramsi, and so on.  Basically, they asked her to be a representative for Malaita because she is so knowledgeable and so powerful.  Dr. Solomon has been a part of a study where women volunteered to let researchers come to their home and interview them.  Both qualitatively and quantitatively, data on abuse was collected.  Over 2/3 of women are abused and it is more likely that a woman will die from abuse than malaria.  There are no such things as social workers, and Dr. Solomon is working to affiliate one with the hospital.  She also wants to advocate for women’s centers and shelters to prevent violence.  It is extremely difficult because women have always been submissive throughout the Solomon culture.  Women in America don’t even admit to being abused, so imagine how difficult it would be for a Solomon Islander where this harassment is socially accepted?  I commend Dr. Solomon for taking on yet another project and advocating for women’s rights.  It is an overlooked aspect of health in the Solomon’s, particularly mental and reproductive health.  Women become depressed/anxious as a result of the abuse and fail to be treated.  Furthermore, even though a couple might be married, men essentially rape their wives to have more children (more children=more money when they work or get married, such as bride prices), which could be detrimental to the mother’s health and baby’s.  I admire Dr. Solomon’s courage and her ability to stand as a role model for any woman.  She is the only woman (besides the sisters) I have met who has held a job without having children yet.  She is an incredible woman and I am eagerly awaiting her talk. 

Just as I was about to walk home, it was torrential yet again.  Dr. Solomon walked me out, and I caught the bus home.  I arrived at Fanualama and smelt something incredible (still starving…) I saw Clare headed to the back of Bishop’s and I followed her to an amazing sight.  Agatha and Sister Loretta were making a cassava and coconut pudding in the outdoor grass hut!  What a great day!  They grated the cassava and milked the coconut.  After wrapping a pan in palm leaves from the trees, they placed the two ingredients on top and covered it with more leaves.  They placed the pan on hot stones and put more stones on top.  What resulted was a delicacy.  The consistency was like thick oatmeal but not sweet, just crispy.  We shared the best dinner of fish, cabbage, papaya (popo), and pudding.  Sister Loretta wanted me to watch a movie called, “Gifted Hands” starring Cuba Gooding Junior as a pediatric neurosurgeon completing an operation to separate the heads of Siamese twins.  We all watched the film and joked that I would be doing the same thing tomorrow.  At this rate, anything is possible.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I couldn’t believe today was my last day in the operating theater.  I was seriously upset as I made my walk to Kilu’ufi.  When I arrived, I was thanked thoroughly for the food I brought yesterday and I was happy everyone was pleased.  The doctors were seeing 2 abscesses today.  Nurse David took care of the first, a woman with a mammary abscess.  The lymph node under her armpit was also extremely swollen.  Dr. Jason said this type of abscess is common, but I had never seen anything that looked so painful.  Her baby was only a week old.  I will spare the details but let’s just say there was a lot of cutting and scrubbing involved.  When I finished I ran into the other room to sit down while David walked in mimicking me.  He said that I was supposed to move toward the patient not away!  We joked the rest of the day about this experience and I told him I would get him back!

After I took a quick break, it was time to fix an old woman’s fractured leg.  It looked like her shinbone was cracked from falling up the stairs.  She winced in pain as they tried to straighten her leg and set just the back with plaster.  Her knee was too swollen with arthritis to put a cast on her whole leg so they would wait a week until they could drain her knee.  It was then a little boy’s turn for abscess removal.  The boy was put under so much ketamine he was having trouble waking up.  He broke into a sweat and his eyes were going back and forth.  It was so upsetting to see him like that and it reminded me of David After Dentist, “Is this going to last forever?” except it wasn’t funny!  He kept calling for his dad in a little voice saying he was hungry.  I felt terrible as they wheeled him away, but there was an appendectomy to get through.

While we waited to the patient to stabilize, I had many interesting conversations with the doctors and nurses.  Dr. Jason and I discussed his training in New Zealand and how it is hard to move around to different hospitals such as Honiara and Kilu’ufi.  He would like to do more training but unfortunately he cannot leave because of the shortage of staff.  I then moved on to a wonderful conversation with David who wants me to find him an American girlfriend.  I told him about the show “The Bachelor” and he wants to be on it.  He said he would prefer a Spanish woman, so who do you think I suggested?  Dani.  I described her appearance and received many “Ooohs and ahhhs.” I told him how all the boys in the US stare at her when she walks by and he agreed he wants to meet her.  Dan, next time you’re coming with me!  Our conversation then moved on to Solomon food and everyone laughed when they found out I ate sandpaper cabbage.  I think it is sort of the spinach equivalent in America.  It is regarded as not that tasty and it is easily grown.  It is what many families eat when they cannot find anything else, but I loved when Sister made it.  The nurses were laughing.  I told them about the cassava pudding, the mangrove fruit, tayo, and coconut rice and they couldn’t believe I liked it!  Now I was starving and it was time to go into the appendectomy.

 It was around 1 PM and I was already exhausted.  Dr. Jason wanted me to help.  This surgery was grueling and very physical.  I watched Dr. Jason whenever he cut, and helped with whatever he needed in the 2-hour surgery.  The man had much more muscle than the women so it was a very tiring operation.  While he was stitching the patient up, Dr. Jason and I chatted about the sports I played and activities.  I told them about field hockey and martial arts which they loved.  Dr. Jason told me he was a singer songwriter and was in a band!  I told him to bring me his record and I hope he listens!  When we were finished, Dr. Solomon told me that there were going to be twins delivered, so I said my goodbyes and walked over to the labor ward.
Dr. Jason in the Operating Theater!

The twins were not expected for another couple hours, and it was approaching 4 o’clock.  I walked around the ward and ended up chatting with one of the nurses, Cathy.  She is a well-spoken woman from Western Province.  She translated the “slang” that some of the men were saying to me when I walked by which I appreciated (I think..)  She ended up telling me her life story about how she wanted to marry a German doctor but her parents wouldn’t allow it.  They instead arranged a marriage for her so she would remain in the Solomon’s.  She said that she still thinks about him and he still writes her.  She told me that she was adopted and has a niece that goes to Berkley in California.  She also said that her great granduncle was actually the man that saved JFK when he was shipwrecked during WWII.  If you read up on the Pacific part of the war, you will learn that the story goes that JFK was stranded, wrote a message on a coconut, and was saved by Solomon Islanders who delivered the message to the US base.  This is exactly the story Cathy told me!  She said that her uncle was one of the men on the island who rescued the canoe JFK was drifting in with two others.  JFK exclaimed that he was American not Japanese, so her uncle rescued the boat.  He proceeded to climb up the coconut tree and grab an unripe (soft) fruit.  He carved a message on the coconut and hopped in the canoe to sail to Rendova where the US base was stationed.  They delivered the message by night and left JFK on the island because he refused to get on the boat in fear of getting hurt.  The US base received the message and rescued JFK.  Her uncle’s name was Biuku, but JFK pronounced it “Book.” 

I could seriously talk to these people all day.  They are so aware of their family history and so cultural in tune.  I figured I should probably head back so I started the walk home.  I barely reached the road outside of the hospital when a man came up to me with his hand outstretched.  This is normal, so I was not really alarmed.  Not until he introduced himself and told me that he was a bipolar patient in the Psychiatric Unit who had been off his medication for 8 years.  He said he came back to take some because he is starting to work as a mechanic.  I told him he was doing the right thing and tried to keep my smile.  I couldn’t help feeling a little nervous as I walked away down the road but all was fine.  After a nice meal and seeing the Bishop after his return, I went to Aligegeo with Sister Loretta and Clare to watch the students practice their speeches for a competition tomorrow.  This is a provincial competition and 17 students are competing from 4 schools.  Our friend Christina is one of them so I was quick to go listen to her speech on women empowerment and equal rights.  I listened to 4 different speeches tonight on poverty, development, and equality and I am truly impressed with the caliber of their English and confidence.  We walked to the dining hall (where my infamous dance took place) and noticed that so many people from different organizations were decorating the room with palm fronds and chairs.  It looked beautiful.  Christina then presented Clare and I with the sweetest letter and gifts of bracelets and lava lavas, or sarongs.  She apologized her English is not that well.  We invited her for dinner this weekend and Clare and I will try and spend as much time with her as possible.  I will miss this country and the beautiful people greatly.  Reiterating the words of Samuel, one of the speech competitors, “The Solomon Islands may be impoverished, but it is a rich country in its people.” 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Clare, Sister Loretta, and I traveled to Aligegeo early this morning to help the students prepare for their big speech day!  I was so excited for Christina and her women empowerment speech.  I was planning on staying the morning and then heading to Kilu’ufi for Dr. Solomon’s talk and then making it back to see the award ceremony.  The deputy principal stayed up all night decorating, and the dining hall looked fabulous.  It was donned in palms, flowers, and lava lavas.  The kids had the day off from school and were crowding around the hall waiting for the judges to arrive.  The minister of education arrived along with the UNDP, or United Nations Development Program.  They were running the speech contest to raise awareness for their eight new goals or initiatives to be achieved by 2015.  They were environment sustainability, eradicate poverty and extreme hunger, improve maternal health, lower infant mortality rates, reduce diseases such as HIV/AIDS & malaria, globalization and development, empowerment of women and gender equality, and ensure primary education.  The goal was for the students to either write an essay or give a speech on any of these topics.  The dining hall was packed, and there was even a bamboo band for entertainment!  The whole event was very formal, but I had to run to Kilu’ufi for Dr. Solomon’s speech!

When I got to Kilu’ufi, I helped out in the wards for a bit.  Richard came to outpatient excused from school because he was feeling so sick.  I gave his slip to Dr. Jason and hopefully he will get an X-ray this time to get everything sorted out.  There was also a CVA, or stroke patient in the waiting area with blood pressure 230/130.  I couldn’t believe it.  She was shouting in pain as we tried to help her swallow her pain medication.  Dr. Solomon still wasn’t in yet and it was 11:30 AM so I was getting worried because her talk was at 12.  They called her mobile and she was at home with a serious migraine but was being picked up.  I had made her lunch before her speech and she was happy to eat something.  She said she thought it was malaria but hopefully she would feel better.  Despite her illness, her talk was very enlightening.  Most of the staff came to the classroom and she summarized a workshop she attended in Honiara regarding VAW or Violence Against Women.  She is a representative for UN Women and was discussing the findings of the study that 2/3 of women are abused.  She recounted case studies and initiatives to make women feel safe and also to establish places where they can have shelter.  They would also like to train someone in outpatient to deal with abuse cases and to get the social worker involved.  Right now the social worker, police, doctors, and government are all on different pages.  I picked up most of her talk in pidgin, but I asked her if she knew anything about the speeches going on at Aligegeo.  She said she had heard about them but her research wasn’t connected!  She wanted me to get Christina’s contact information so she could come speak at the hospital.  Hopefully I can create a foundation for an alliance with Dr. Solomon and younger girls for women’s rights.  My job now is to connect the two establishments so when I leave they can move forward.  There is also a woman, Sheila, who is arriving at Fanualama today for a women’s rights workshop.  She started a Catholic Women’s Group to make village women aware of violence.  I told Dr. Solomon about her and she wants to meet her as well.  I hope that these connections are made and that progress is made to stop the women and child abuse in this country.  George, one of the operating nurses, told me that you can actually buy a baby in the Central Market at Honiara.  The same place where you can buy bananas, pineapple, and coconut.  This violence needs to stop and if Dr. Solomon and various women’s groups can bring awareness, that is a solid first step.

Right when I stepped out of Kilu’ufi, it started to rain like usual, so I rode the bus to Alegegio to try and catch Christina’s speech.  I took a back way into the dining hall and got lost for 10 minutes and slipped down a muddy hill, but I finally found it and I was in time!  I rushed in and sat down to watch and was suddenly overwhelmed by excruciating heat.  The dining hall was so hot and these people had been sitting here since 8:30 AM and it was 2 PM!  I was told it was even a hot day for the Solomon Islanders.  The kids laughed at all the speeches for some reason, whenever the speakers would make a bold statement.  One girl even ended her speech with, “Women are not recreational tools for exercise.”  That got everyone going.  Christina was so nervous but truly nailed her speech.  After waiting 2 more hours for the judges to decide the winner in “Solomon time” they were finally ready.  Christina had won 3rd place out of 17 contestants!  In fact, 2 other girls who spoke on women’s rights received 1st and 2nd.  It was a good day for the ladies.  Clare was equally as thrilled because she had revised their essays and worked with them all week.  Aligegeo also cleaned up in the essay contest, with Clare’s student taking 2nd place.  Overall, it was a great day.  Christina even told us that after form 7, she wanted to become a Sister of Charity, like Mother Teresa.  She said that she would want to be a nurse and help as many people as she could.  She is seriously adorable and her win showed that good things happen to good people.

Today was major progress for Malaita in the eight millennium development goals.  Making the youth aware is the first step to securing their future.   After listening to 2 more speeches from the ministry, Clare and I walked back to the house.  Bishop invited us to dinner to say goodbye because tomorrow he leaves for Honiara and New Caledonia so we will miss him before we leave.  He cooked us an incredible pasta with garlic bread and…. OLIVES! I was never so happy to see kalamata olives and I think I ate the entire bowl while the other women (Sheila’s Solomon Island women’s group) were grossed out and didn’t touch them.  After dinner, we talked with the 3 women from Malaita about their foundation of the Catholic Women’s group with Sheila.  Apparently, she traveled to the Solomon Islands and lived here for 10 years with her husband who was a doctor at Kilu’ufi.  The labor ward is dedicated to him.  When she was here, she got involved with the women who were being abused in their village. They founded a group and now these 3 women teach others.  Essentially, it is like a support group.  The sad part is, some women have to ask their husbands if they are allowed to attend meetings.  I realize now that women in America take their freedom for granted.  One of the older women, Immaculate, was telling us stories about how her son was a priest and her husband didn’t want him to be.  She was hysterical and told us how her son told her everything and she hid the secret from her Anglican husband.  When he was asked to go to the seminary, she acted like she didn’t know anything when her husband found out.  She was laughing as she was telling the story.  Now her husband is a fully converted Catholic and everything worked out.  She told him the story after and said that he could be scar sometimes so she pretended she didn’t know.  Listening to these women recount their stories is so entertaining.  It made me realize just how many unique stories exist in this world.