A Visit from Friends (Carmen)
One of my oldest and dearest friends Lauren and her gem of a partner Mick decided that they needed a well deserved holiday. Lucky for them they knew two people who lived on a tropical island in the Pacific who were more than a little excited to have them come for a visit.
The sound of the plane engine woke us up from our catnap at the airport and we watched, from the shade for the trees, as their plane came over the horizon and landed safely on Ambrym. We quickly gathered up their impressively small luggage and started the walk to the boat. As we walked we caught up on news, between Loz’s shock at how tanned I am and them telling us the exciting news that they had just bought a house, we were loaded in the boat for the trip home.
Rich’s mama had made Loz and Mick a welcome dinner and to our surprise Loz was the first person who immediately enjoyed island food. Usually the texture or ‘interesting’ flavour is an acquired taste and takes some getting used to. But when Loz finished her first piece of laplap their wasn’t a hint of feigned politeness when she said the food was good. It was lucky that they both enjoyed island food as a trip to Ambrym wouldn’t be complete without meeting both our families and others in our village over many shared meals.
Loz and Mick flew in on a Saturday, just in time for church on Sunday. With Loz and I decked out in our island dresses and Mick and Rich in colourful island shirts, we walked to the next village to attend the Apostolic Life Ministry’s (ALM) church. ALM is a Pentecostal church that lends more towards singing than preaching – it is a fun experience and definitely different from the Catholic mass that Loz and I are used to. Many songs have actions and it wasn’t long before Loz was singing, clapping, jumping and dancing with all the women. On the men’s side of the church, Rich and Mick followed the men’s subdued lead and stuck to singing and clapping. After church the congregation ate lunch together and after explaining what Loz and Mick did in Australia, Pastor John asked Loz to give a talk about what to do if you have a sore back. With Rich translating, Loz gave a short talk about what to do and what not to do and then had everyone up practicing different stretches. When we left all the women were still laughing – Loz was a huge hit.
On Monday we went for a walk to Nobul Village and on the way stopped at the local school for a visit, then headed up to Rich’s family garden where we were given freshly picked watermelon and just before we reached Nobul beach we stopped in at the health clinic. The day before Loz and Mick arrived one of the ladies in our village and a relative of Rich’s had a baby girl. Rich and I ducked into the clinic to meet the newest member of our village. A very healthy baby girl named…. Carmen!! Baby Carmen is sleeping and feeding well and has caused her mama only a few sleepless nights.
Tuesday morning arrived quickly and we all set off for the airport for our trip back to Vila. While boarding the plane I was handed a baby and the man indicated that the mother was already seated on board and to carry the baby to her. Halfway down the plane I reached the mother, who was already holding an identical baby – they were twins. Already with her hands full she smiled and gestured for me to keep walking down the plane. I reached the end of the plane where there was a spare seat and I looked around confused trying to find who I was supposed to give the baby to. Rich laughed as my confused expression faded as I realised that there was no one to give her too and she was sitting with me for the flight to Vila. Luckily she only cried on take off and fell asleep quite quickly. By the time we were flying over Epi I was boiling hot, the plane was stuffy and not helped by the lack of air-conditioning or by the gorgeous but sweaty baby sleeping on my chest. With relief the plane began it’s decent and in 10 minutes the doors were opened to a gush of fresh air. After handing the baby over to waiting relatives we grabbed our bags and headed for our guest house for a shower.
We spent four fantastic days in Vila relaxing, our biggest decisions were where to have an afternoon drink while watching the sun set over the bay and which restaurant to go to afterwards. After four days of laughing, drinking and eating I headed back to Ambrym and Loz and Mick headed across to a resort island for some luxury before heading home.
Ladies… Dingo is off the market (Carmen)
No Dingo hasn’t set up house with a local woman dog, making little dingo babies, he has been de-sexed! On our last trip into Vila I ran into Christina, a Veterinarian based in Vila, and asked if it was possible for someone who knew how to de-sex a pig to correctly de-sex a dog. She cringed, but agreed that it was theoretically possible and then quickly suggested that she come to Ambrym herself and de-sex Dingo before heading up the volcano.
Christina also offered to de-sex any other local dogs for free as all the medicine and surgical equipment had been donated to Sam’s Animal Welfare Trust (a not-for-profit off-shoot of the Vet Clinic in Vila). All I had to do was provide a table, location and be willing to take a crash course in being a vet nurse. Although I had never considered being a vet nurse as a career option, I was quite looking forward to it and I was just hoping I didn’t inadvertently kill anyone’s beloved dog.
After church on Sunday we gave a quick awareness talk about de-sexing dogs and announced that Christina would be de-sexing dogs tomorrow on my veranda. Christina had created quite a stir: while people de-sex their pig as it makes them fatter and therefore worth more money, no one de-sexes their dogs, although everyone agrees we have too many dogs in the village. It wasn’t long until we had our first couple of dogs lined up to be de-sexed the following day.
In the morning we started to set up our make-shift vet clinic, our kitchen table was moved on to the veranda, boxes used for a surgical equipment table and a chair used to hold the drugs and syringes. Once we were all set up Dingo was the first cab off the rank. People were still sceptical about de-sexing their dogs so I very bravely, on Dingo’s behalf, offered him up as the first patient. Dingo was given his first injection and while we waited for him to get drowsy I was given my vet nurse instructions, which boiled down to making sure the dogs were still breathing. Thankfully I didn’t have to give mouth-to-nose resuscitation and all dogs continued to breath throughout their surgery.
Twenty minutes later Dingo was drowsy, actually more drunk than drowsy, and he had attracted a large crowd. Almost everyone from our village was grouped along the veranda or along the fence. The kids had front row seats and were four rows deep all on tippy-toes waiting for the show to begin. We got Dingo up on the table and I held his head and his paw while Christina inserted the catheter and the drugs to make him unconscious. In seconds he was sleeping and Christina quickly got to work preparing his testicles and belly for surgery. I was given my next nurse duties, correctly unfolding gloves and blade so they remain sterile. Christina made her first incision, not as bloody as I had imagined, but I kept my eye on Dingo’s breathing and signs that the drugs were wearing off. Moments later Christina popped a testicle out, sewed up the tube and cut it off and put it to the side while she poked around for the second one. Out it came and in seconds both had been put in the rubbish bag at my feet. With Dingo stitched up and breathing well Christina took the tube out of his throat, removed the catheter and laid him on the cement to wake up.
Over the next few hours Christina de-sexed another three male dogs and I was forging a career as a vet nurse. The crowd had thinned and with the only women dog up for surgery, Vatu, at the garden with Rich’s brother we decided it was a good time for a lunch break. By this time Dingo was awake but groggy and happy to sleep the day away while we prepared for the last surgery of the day. De-sexing a female dog takes longer and hurts the dogs more so more drugs are required. I was starting to quite enjoy lifting the paw to give an extra ml or so of drugs. For Vatu’s surgery Rich’s family crowded round and the small group meant that Christina could explain what was happening and answer questions.
It had been a long day for Christina; she had de-sexed 5 dogs in less then ideal conditions with a large audience and did a fantastic job. When we moved to Vanuatu helping de-sex dogs was not the type of community development that I had in mind, but it was a strangely enjoyable day and one that everyone here has talked about for days.