Saturday, 24 August 2013

Outreach in Peleliu

This week I had the opportunity to visit one of the outer islands, Peleliu, for work. The purpose of the trip was to assist with health screening and provide nutrition support where required. My ulterior motive was to broaden my nutrition assessment to include some of the less populated places. 

Welcome to Peleliu! Where the fishing is good and the life is simple.
Peleliu is a small island south of Koror. The population is about 700 people, making it the 4th largest population in Palau. If you are interested in diving or WWII history then it is definitely a place for you to visit. I am not a war buff but my understanding is that Peleliu was a strategic site heavily fought over in WWII. It was a Japanese strong hold that reportedly many people lost their lives over. The Japanese reportedly placed themselves in thousands of well hidden caves, forcing the US soldiers to change their combat strategy so they had to do ground patrols in very dangerous areas. Unlike most places in the world, many of these sites are still accessible to tourist. Asides from war history Peleliu also has free standing monoliths (stone faces) which are apparently very cool to visit.
At the dock in Koror waiting for the boat to leave.
Nice day to be out on the water
Not a bad way to get to work

The Ministry of Health boat left around 8.30 am. It was a crowded ride for a small boat but luckily it was a bright sunny day and not too windy. Every Wednesday on pay week the doctors and hospital staff go to Peleliu to do outreach in the community centre/hospital. On this trip there was a few members from my team, Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) unit, a paediatrician, outreach doctor, Medical technician, nursing staff and the new Doctor and Nurse Fijian couple who have taken up the post to live and work in Peleliu. The Peleliu clinic services not only Peleliu but also the outer islands. Prior to the appointment of the Fijian Doctor and Nurse couple, Peleliu hospital employed a hospital administrator and a maintenance man (who I also think drives the ambulance). Needless to say the arrival of the Doctor and Nurse to the island is an absolute god send.

It took us just under an hour to get to Peleliu via the smaller boat. On the way we got to take in the scenery of crystal clear waters, blue skies and some very beautiful and isolated beaches and Rock Islands. Just as we were leaving Koror a largish sea turtle poked his head out of the water. I think he was wishing us well. I just absolutely love sea turtles. They are by far my favourite marine creature and I knew I was going to have a good day.

Island View Motel- more like sea view. Our digs for the night.

Beached as boat!

Who you gonna call!?! Our wheels in Peleliu!

Peleliu- tide going out
Cats of Peleliu- I wanted to take this one home with me sooo bad!
It was all systems go when we arrived. We dropped our bags at the Island View Motel, hopped a ride in the local ambulance and headed to the hospital.  We were anticipating a maximum of 20 women over 2 days at both day and night clinics.  However, we were smashed the first day, seeing 30 women. We didn’t finish seeing ladies until 11:30 pm and I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day. 

Needless to say, I got in very little sightseeing and downtime. I managed to check out the local supermarket which was the size of a small bedroom. Food items consisted only of canned and packaged goods and not a fresh food in sight. There were 6 large coolers full of ice, beer and soda though. That's a type of food right?!?!
Cats of Peleliu- Siamese twins

 It was a worthwhile experience. I think I am starting to scratch the surface of the nutrition issues faced in Palau. As far as health issues are concerned, the stats show high rates of overweight and obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Like most Pacific Island and Micronesian communities, diets have shifted away from traditional and local foods to ones that are energy dense, nutrient poor and low in fibre,  high in salt, fat and sugar; a chronic disease cocktail. Having spent a bit of time with people here I think tastes are skewed to a salty/sweet balance and they consume packaged foods at most meals.  For example canned beef, like spam, and ramen cup noodles are commonly consumed for breakfast (and most other meals). On a sweet note, sugar sweetened beverages such as iced tea, vitamin waters, sodas etc. are drunk by most people by the gallon every day.  

The Nutritionist in me really wants to get into it and work towards increasing awareness and changing behaviours but I keep needing to remind myself that my role here is to build the capacity of the people around me to do the work; once that’s done then the fun stuff can begin!

Main Road into Peleliu
Peleliu Community Health centre & hospital


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Life on Mars

I am well over due to a post on this blog. We arrived in Palau two months ago today and it feels like we have been here for a lot longer. Time here has a strange way of moving here. The hours seem to drag but then the next thing you know it’s Friday afternoon and I am sitting at Palasia drinking Frozen Margarita’s ruminating on where the week has gone! 

The wet season has certainly set in and I am finding the temperature really pleasant. It probably gets to about 30 degrees C (86 F) and drops to a temperate 24 degrees C (75 F) at night. There are heavy downpours of rain throughout most of the day. With the weather being quite warm it really isn’t that bad. Like the Norwegian expression goes “there is no such thing as bad weather just inappropriate clothing”. Mostly what I wear I don’t care if it gets wet and it quickly dries if it does so it really doesn’t matter. I should mention that I only wear a tinted sunscreen as make up, wearing mascara would be like living on the edge! 

Although it didn’t feel like it would happen when we first got here, life is as we hoped it would be. Nathan has started doing his Dive Masters and is really enjoying that and the people here are friendly and very welcoming of newcomers. We hang out with an interesting mix of people that come from all walks of life and all sorts of countries but the core group is from Australia and the US.  I feel that life here is simpler and things don’t weigh on my mind like they used too. Work, however brings its own challenges. If I hadn’t spent so much time working in such a sick organisation in Queensland then maybe working in Palau would have come as a shock but it is not too dissimilar to Qld Health.  

Jellyfish Lake
Globs of Jelly- Jellyfish. Thanks to Tai for the photos.
So about 10 days after our work visas and local cards were sorted Nathan and I were lucky enough to be included on a work trip to Jellyfish Lake. Yep, not bad for a day’s work! Snorkelling and lunching on isolated beaches. 

One of the many Rock Islands
According to Wikipedia, Jellyfish Lake is about 12 000 years old and formed at the end of the last ice age. Basically the Jellyfish were trapped in the lake, have no natural predator and over time have evolved to lose their sting. This makes them gentle globs of jelly that float around the lake and are harmless to touch. 

Larger Rock Island

Snorkelling at German Channel!
Swimming with the Jellyfish was far more awesome than I imagined it would be! Jellyfish Lake is in the centre of a Rock Island, Eil Malk. They have done a lot of work to make the lake accessible and have built proper stairs so that it’s not as treacherous as I have heard it was to get to the actual lake. The walk is about 200m up and over a hill. Once you get to the top of the hill the lake comes into view; it is like the lagoon in the cheesy Blue Lagoon movie. I kept expecting a young Brooke Shields to appear in the centre of the lake.
The day we went was cloudy and rainy and there were still so many Jellyfish in the lake- it was incredible! At first I felt guilty for coming into contact with them but they really are passive creatures and have no control of where they go. In the end I just spent most of the time floating face down letting the Jellyfish float around me. It was a really cool experience.

One eco-tourist note: the Jellyfish are fragile creatures. If you do get an opportunity to go to Jellyfish Lake please swim without the aid of fins. There are so many Jellyfish you can’t help but come into contact with them, if you hit one with your fins you may actually cut them up. So please be kind and considerate and not wear fins. 

Note: I've having huge issues with formatting this blog- so I give up! 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Alii!!! Palauan Language Lessons

After some miscommunications we finally had our first language lesson last night. Hehe pun intended! It was great to sit down with someone & ask them about the intricacies of the language. 

The Palauan language has only been written down in the last 50 years- since the US came in I guess! It is quite unique from neighbouring Micronesian countries & reportably difficult to master. Honestly if I can have a conversation by the end of our placement time I will be hugely impressed! 

I've never been great with language but I've also never lived in another country so we will see. I would really like to master at least the basics as it seems the locals switch between Palauan & English depending on who they are talking too. So although they speak English there is loads of discussion that happens around you in Palauan & I want to be able to participate in said conversations! 

To set some context the written language is made up of Latin characters but some characters make different sounds & I think you pronounce all the vowels. 

Characters with unique sounds
k= g
d = th
ch = ug (or a gap in the word) 
ng = sound comes from the tongue at the back of the mouth rather than the front 
r = is slightly rolled. 
ii = ee . 

To give you an idea I've written what I think would be a basic sentence.
Alii ungil tutau (Good morning). Keua ngerang (how are you?). Ak mesisiich (I am strong!). Ak kiei era Ngermid (I live at Ngermid). Ak oureor era ospitar (I work at the hospital). Ngak e Nutritionist (I'm a Nutritionist). Mechikung (goodbye). 

That's about all I know & my pronunciation is not great.