I was happy to do that... looking forward to going out in the country.
Vet Techin’: To Faint or Not to Faint, That is the Question
Shifting from Guadalcanal to Malaita (those are two of the different islands included in the mission) was truly uneventful... unless you can appreciate beautiful clouds, a lazy but colorful sunset and rays of sunshine pouring like molasses through the clouds. Okay, yeah, I loved it. As soon as I heard Spike (the Chief Mate) say that “that would make a pretty picture”, I ran down to grab my camera (thanks for my bday present Jer!) and started snapping. I think I did rather well, considering one of the photos is now my desktop photo.
After only seeing a limited view of Honiara in Guadalcanal, I hoped that Malaita would prove a more rural gem and I was very happy with the outcome. Maybe my malaria chemoprophylaxis was only necessary for Guadalcanal? Hmmm… think I won’t test that one.
With this mission, my normal job has pretty much disappeared to be replaced with a lot of middle man type loads. I act as a go between for the Civilian Mariners and embarked military. Can you imagine that they might not get along so
Taken from the RHIB going to Auki, the port of Malaita. Port is a strong word.
well at first? It took quite a while for them to warm up to one another. Furthermore, adding to my twiddling thumbs at times, the Community Relations projects haven't been very relevant to my skill sets (yes, I do have some). After discussing with the Veterinary team on board (Army: CPT Jay Coisman, SGT Thomae Jones, SPC Roman Blas, and SGT Matt Jepsen; Air Force: LTCOL Tammy Von Busch), they welcomed me with open arms to assist them in both large and small animal work.
As an aside: I just mentioned skill sets, how in the world does an engineer/logistics officer know anything about animals?
Back in the day... I mean really back in the day, I worked at a Humane Society in Georgia and a Vet Hospital in Tennessee. Let's just say it was middle school and high school jobs, yes, it has been a while. I wanted to be a veterinarian for most of my childhood. What happened? Let's just say that on my first day at the animal hospital, while trying to draw blood from a dog (the Vet, not me... I was just holding the leg/paw), I
Our faithful guide.
passed out at the client's feet. Yes, I was smooth. I continued to work there in the hopes that I would be able to overcome my weak stomach, but to no avail. No matter how many surgeries I assisted or how many animals I cared for, I just couldn't get over it. Engineer it is!
Back to the story, we meet at the gangway at 0720 and take the RHIB into Auki. This is my first time off the ship, so I’m trying to gauge what my first reaction is going to be as the land comes into focus. Is it going to be like Guadalcanal, with trash everywhere and hygiene optional? Will I be able to dive around here? I start talking to the Coxswain, Scottie, and he tells me the water depth is around 2000 feet until you get right up to the island, where the reef wall shallows considerably to the harbor entrance. In the small harbor are the two Aussie LCHs, the HMAS Wewak and Betano and lots of small canoes. Then I notice the huts all along the coast… serious huts, some two or three stories tall that include being on
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
...to get me away from the ship. I was on the top of the hill looking out over the harbor.
stilts. It’s hard to believe that they can withstand the day to day usage with extended families living in them! Maybe that’s a little bit rude of me to say, but seriously, it reminds me of “The 3 Little Pigs” story, the house made out of straw. What makes that analogy ironic is that I helped to care for MANY pigs here.
Getting ashore, the first sense to wake up (besides my sight) is the smell. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but a very pungent odor, slightly musky and a hint of cocoa butter to it. It was almost too strong of an odor, most people with me didn’t like it, but I didn’t mind it. I found out later that it was copra, one of the few major exports of the Solomon Islands.
Copra is the dried sections of the meat of a coconut, valued for the coconut oil extracted from it. Also the residue left behind, coconut-oil cake, is used for livestock feed. Copra was first introduced to Europe in the mid 1800s as an edible fat. Now it’s used for making things such as
Jay and Thomae
My Great New Buddies
cosmetics, cocoa butter, and oil. What’s interesting is they export it to Britain and other places to make these items and then they buy the items back for a higher price. Seems like some businesses could be made over there if people took some more initiative.
As usual I digress, just trying to give some good explanations here. So, we climb up on the pier (yes, literally climb) and hop into two trucks to take us to the local department of agriculture (or whatever their equivalent is). There I meet Chris, our local guide and agriculture guru, we pack up the giant Pelican cases full of various medical necessities (scalpels, gauze, etc) and off we go again. At first, the concept of sitting in the back of a moving truck may sound appealing, especially with paved roads. I have no idea where we’re going, but it doesn’t matter. I’m outside, enjoying the (mostly) clean air, sounds and sights. Let me clarify though that most of Malaita does not have paved roads and my tooshie and back certainly let me know it. Everywhere we go though, people are waving and smiling at us, I felt like the
The first group
Oh yeah, I totally loved this one
Queen of England. Actually, Chris made a comment that the people probably thought I was a princess or something. Ha! How’s that… Princess for the day (or a few days)!
Our first stop along the road looks like a very small community of cattle farmers. We pull off to the side when we see the pasture and are quickly greeted by cute, little naked kids running around with extremely snotty noses. It was a little strange at first, but we found that most kids below the age of 6 run around barefoot and naked. Saves on clothes I suppose, but you can’t imagine the surprise on our faces to see these kids climbing trees and messing with livestock without anything on. A little bizarre, but it’s their culture, I won’t judge.
The patriarch, Simon, comes out to greet us as well. He’s a slight man, probably around 60 years old, maybe 5 feet tall, with heavily re-stitched clothing and, again, no shoes. He is extremely formal and greets each of us with a guarded hospitality. He asks us if we can look at his pigs and cattle, we offer
So I put this dye marker where?
Deworming cattle... somebody's got to do it.
to do any castrations and de-worming that he needs. He leads us over to his piggery first… this is my first time really seeing how pigs are raised. With a low roof and quite a bit of rotting wood, I’m a little concerned as I walk into the pen, but things are clean and the pigs are in great condition. “Can you castrate some pigs?” I do a double take, am I really ready to watch this? Granted I’ve assisted with a lot of small animals, but they were all asleep! Yep, if you didn’t know, when it comes to livestock, no anesthetic, no nothing. I’ve already told Jay (he's the CPT with a doctorate) about my wooziness, he said as long as I didn’t fall on something sharp, he’d be fine with it. Okay! Let’s get to it!
As soon as the first person touches this 20 lb. pig, it starts squealing bloody murder. Yeah, I remember now, it’s the noises and the blood together that have always affected me the most. Yikes! We haven’t even stuck it with anything yet! What a pansy… yes, my concern for the critter goes out the window with
It's a whole new meaning... I love the little naked ones though! So cute!
my empathy. Let’s get down to business here. I drew up some meds and just provided backup for any problems, but it was pretty ordinary. I felt a flutter or two as the somewhat veiny and fleshy parts were popped out, but the cool factor went way up as one of the pigs had a hernia for Jay to suture back in and I was fascinated. It’s pretty interesting that on pigs, you don’t have to close the incision site, they just leave it. Hey, wait a minute, where did my nausea go?
You may be wondering, as many people asked me later, why we would castrate pigs where it is so obviously a major food source and the more pigs the better. Yes, you’re right to some extent. Food is very expensive, so the more pigs, the less food to go around, the quality of livestock goes down at some point. Once they’ve found their favored males, they use them to sire all the litters. All the other boys are castrated to make the meat more tender and flavorful, just like steers. Speaking of, it’s time for the cows.
My first Piggery
Yeah, not what I expected either.
Honestly, you have to admit that there is much more of a cute factor when it comes to cows. Maybe it’s the whole Hindu thing, maybe it’s because I helped out on a dairy farm in Scotland, I don’t know. I especially love the little ones! So as Jay brings out the giant clippers that look like giant toenail clippers and Thomae breaks out a big backpack of goo (de-wormer). What am I left with? I’m going to be marking all the cattle with a giant paint marker. It's a good thing too, watching Jay wield the "loppers" like Arthur with Excalibur was a little difficult at first. I'm going to blame it on the heat. Okay, maybe it's the blood... yeah, you're right, I'm still somewhat of a pansy. I only had to walk away once, I hopped up on the corral fence and just looked around for a couple of minutes. It gave me the opportunity to take pictures, right?
I can't say how many animals we saw and how many pink and fleshy parts we took off, but little by little, I started to get better. We saw small animals as well, neutering and
Off Em Balls
That's how they say it in Pigeon, I swear!
spaying any cats and dogs we could get a hold of. That's my favorite part, but the livestock was a really great experience for me. It's their livelihood. Even if they have a dog and cat overpopulation problem, the people still need their livestock to survive... makes the agriculture visits a little more important to me (despite my love for the small animals). We spent the majority of our time in the back of the truck, riding to far and distant places, sometime hiking through jungle-like growth and hopping little streams. The most difficult had to be the coral in the mangrove areas... trying to get to piggeries with our combat boots was hard for me, I think I would have been better off barefoot. Okay... maybe not.
Two of my favorite spots were little villages near the water. The first was what I called a "Shell Money Village"... the little necklaces that people buy back in the states that looks like polished rocks (you see a lot of hippies wearing them, like me). Anyway, they make those necklaces there. They get the shells, clean them and heat them up to change the colors of them
I'm De-Worming Pigs
Pretty fun unless a pig bites you.
and then they grind them down to a uniform size after drilling a small hole in the middle for stringing. They call it shell money, I guess they used to trade those instead of money; I didn't get the whole story. The other favorite village was run by a matriarch who tended to orchids in her yard, ran her little piggery, kept bees and lives a beautiful life next to the mangrove waters. We castrated a few of her pigs and fixed some of the dogs, the next thing we know, she's got bottles of honey and Sol Brew for us. She was so sweet and very appreciative of the help. That's rewarding in itself, but to add honey to boot was icing on the cake.
Four days of work... it was such a great break from the ship. The Vet Team was patient with me and taught me so much each day... not to mention we became great friends in the process. I'm so happy that we have more islands to keep it up. I must admit though, hitting my rack each night was amazing... they wore me out! Oh... and I didn't faint once!
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