Let the penguining begin!

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September 7th 2012
Published: September 7th 2012
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After writing my last blog post, I decided to shop, walk, and explore Table View. I thought I would shop a little at Bayside – mostly for a warmer sweater to bundle up for the cold nights in the house. I got a great deal, because all of their winter stuff is on sale, as we are moving into spring in South Africa. Then I wanted to explore, with a plan to eventually get to the beach. Now, from the mall to the beach along the main road takes 10-15 to walk. I decided to see if I could get there on side streets, leaving out of a different exit at the mall. One day I’ll stop trying to explore without a map, embracing my gift for getting lost (aka my spatial disability). But, I want to be the type of person who can find her way (literally not metaphorically) through a new city, so I keep trying to “act as if” I am that person. So, I got lost. Really lost. A walk that should have taken me a 15 minutes took me 2 hours and 15 minutes. Ok, fine. The most ridiculous part is that I tried AGAIN after I got to the beach. I thought “Ok, I have my bearings now, so I am going to take this side street to the mall”. And, I got lost AGAIN! It took me 40 minutes to find my way back to the mall. So, all in all, I had a nice 3.5 hour walk – much more than I bargained for. The good news is, it was a beautiful day and I enjoyed discovering different bits of Table View. And, when I got back to the mall, I decided to see a movie. That is something I know how to do! It was mostly the same as the US, except instead of butter they use powdered butter flavoring…

The next day, Wednesday, was my first day at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). My South African adventure was meant to be a balance of fun and hard work – vacation and volunteering. After enjoying the vacation part for a couple of weeks, it was time to focus on volunteering. Fortunately, my marathon walk got me using my muscles again, because penguining is HARD work. On any normal day, there is so much to do. There are several dozens of penguins there for raising or rehabilitation (because they were born at Sanccob or got admitted because they were sick or injured). Plus, there are several penguins that, for one reason or another, couldn’t be released (so they are permanent residents of Sanccob). Each of them requires a fair amount of daily attention. They need to be fed, sometimes forcefully, several times a day. They get fed fish (whole or as a “milkshake”), water, and darrows (like powerade). They have various swimming regimens, which have to be managed by the employees or volunteers. Their pens get deep cleaned in the morning and surface cleaned in afternoons, every single day. Also, their pools get drained, cleaned, and refilled every single day. All of this means that each person who works there has something to be working on every minute of every day… There are also educational tours for school children, which add to the activity level at Sanccob. But, on top of that, there was an oil spill that has oiled many of the penguins on the beaches. So, in addition to the normal hustle and bustle, they also have tons of “oilies” coming in that need to be cleaned and cared for. PLUS, they had media there to do a story on the impact of the oil spill. I was blown away by the amount of work and activity.

Each day starts with a “morning meeting”, where they outline what needs to be done and who is going to be doing it. There were 5 volunteers who started yesterday (Wednesday): Myself, Zac (an American from Philadelphia, staying at Aviva, volunteering for 6 weeks), Naomi (another American, from San Francisco, doing a 3 month internship and a homestay), and Ellen and Matt (two British students doing a 3 month internship for their University). Naomi and I were assigned to “Pen 10” initially, so we spent the morning watching Lisa, a local and experienced intern, feeding the penguins their normal morning regimen. Then, we cleaned Pen 10, which is surprisingly satisfying. My favorite part is power-washing the mats, because they start out so gross but when you blast them with water they get so clean. After that, though, we started running around and helping where we were needed. This involved a lot of laundry, moving crates and other things around, preparing food, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Everything needs to be cleaned. We work from 8am to 5pm (except both days so far we went over by quite a bit), with a 15-minute break at 11 and an hour for lunch at 1. When we are not on break, we are moving. After the first day, I got home at about 6 (Sanccob is about a 15 minute walk from Aviva, and I walked with a seasoned volunteer so there was no way I could get lost). I was in bed by 8:30.

The next day, at the morning meeting (where we were joined by Rocky, the most friendly of the permanent residents, to boost morale) Naomi and I were assigned to be in charge of “General”. This is the backbone of Sanccob. It’s where we prepare all of the food, as well as clean all of the syringes and tubes used for feeding. We also manage the laundry… If I realistically estimate the number of loads of laundry we did yesterday, I think that it was probably in the neighborhood of 50. Plus, we have huge bathtubs filled with a cleaning solution for washing and water for rinsing. Every thing that is portable that gets used (e.g., buckets) come back to us for washing. We had several people helping us, and so we had to manage everything that needed to be done and delegate tasks as necessary. Each day you have to figure out how many syringes need to be filled for each of the feedings (fish formula, water, and/or darrows). There is a feeding at 8am (prepared the day before), 9am, 10am, noon, 1pm, 2pm, 4pm, 5pm. If you are assigned to general, you have to make sure that everything is ready for the people taking care of the penguins. What they need ranges. Our fewest “order” was 7 syringes of fish formula (a fish milkshake) and the highest was 170 darrows. Then, after they are used the syringes need to be cleaned, which takes 25-30 minutes. Yesterday, we never had enough syringes (because of the influx of oiled penguins), so we were constantly rushing to get the orders ready. Normally, you can work ahead a little, but that wasn’t an option for us yesterday.

My least favorite job so far was making fish formula. It is a “milkshake” of fish, vitamins, and dog food, that gets blended together. Then you have to strain it twice, to get all the scales and bits out. It is totally disgusting. The worst part is that you have to prepare the fish by removing the head, tail, and fins (with scissors) and then cutting them into small pieces. This is much bloodier than expected. I hope I don’t have to do this very often.

What I have heard is that you have to work up to being able to handle the penguins, and so I was prepared to do the types of work that I am doing. I am really looking forward to handling the penguins, but I am surprised at how rewarding the behind the scenes work has been. There is something so cleansing about hard physical labor – you get completely into the task at hand and you don’t have time or energy to think. The fatigue at the end of the day also feels good, because you can physically feel how hard you worked. But, in addition to that, the work feels really needed. For example, you need to do the laundry because there needs to be clean towels to use for the sick penguins. And, with just one glance you can see how much the penguins with oil are suffering. (Plus, they are so darned cute!). So, if you can keep the laundry going it feels really rewarding and important.

Also, it’s really hard to clean oiled penguins. They are so stressed and uncomfortable, and they are otherwise healthy animals. They don’t understand what is happening or that the volunteers are trying to help them. As a result, they try to protect themselves by fighting. Even the most patient and experienced volunteers are ending up with bruises, cuts, and bites all over their hands and arms. If there is anything that I can do to make their jobs easier, I am happy to do so.

Yesterday, I got home at 6:30 and managed to stay up until 10. I hope that’s a sign that my body is getting used to the hard work. And, thankfully, I now have 2 days off to recuperate!

Additional photos below
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7th September 2012

...you are and so are your pictures. Miss you in our alcove, Sarah! Glad you are there to help these precious creatures. Sending love--
7th September 2012

Super great work, Sarah!
Sarah, so proud of your volunteer efforts! Keep up the good work, also keep the posts and pictures coming. Miss you, love you!!!

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