Monday, October 5, 2009

Learning the Ropes

It is late in the afternoon, the sun is hanging low in the sky, shooting rays of yellow, orange and pink over the Vila harbor. This is a harbor that I am getting to really know and love, from the inside out. Yesterday I did my usual swim in the calm, clear, early morning waters. Lovely. This past weekend I was delighted to spend two afternoons sailing on a large wooden pirate boat, Cassiopeia, with a fabulous crew of folks. I'm "learning the ropes" and taking in some fabulous sunsets. Oh, and dressing up like a pirate, too! The group of baby-docs from Australia, Elias, and myself headed out for a sunset cruise on Cassiopeia on Friday night and played to part by rummaging through an impressive collection of pirate clothes, and went to work hauling the sails on our way out of Vila. I returned on Sunday with some other folks for another sail, swim, and sunset. For such a water baby, this is a magical place!

The sun rises about 5am and sets around 6pm here, which I am loving. I am a morning person more than a night owl, which is a funny thing for a midwife since the company I keep tends to be more night-owl like- the babies, that is.

We had a busy night at the hospital last night, luckily with a full crew of midwives and students. 2 of the local midwives, 2 midwives who just arrived from New Zealand here for a working holiday, Elias and myself, and Alex, a baby-doc from Australia were all on hand. Even with the help, we were all busy. Over the course of our 9 hours there, we had 5 babes born, easily enough to share amongst us! Alex and I took the first one. I was happy to be able to coach her through catching a baby from the midwifery perspective, since all she has had exposure to thus far in her training has been through OB care. Last week after observing some births with the midwives, she confided that she's having some questions about being a doctor- she wants to be a midwife!!! Although a first time mama, this 21 year old was amazingly efficient in pushing her baby out. And Alex did a fabulous job of keeping the head from popping out to quick, ending in a lovely birth. Although her perineum and vagina were intact, she had split one of her labia, directly adjacent to her clitoris.

As you may imagine, birth folks or not, this is a very difficult and sensitive area to suture for the obvious reasons. With the coaching of one of the New Zealand midwives, I went for it. In Seattle, it is somewhat rare for students to get much suturing experience. I was lucky enough to suture 8 or 9 times before I came to Vanuatu, working with a variety of midwives, so I felt up for the challenge. This is also a big part of my purpose for coming to Vanuatu, in addition to the few births I needed for my requirements, to really get my suturing skills up to par.

All went well, and this amazingly stoic mama took it all in stride. WOW!

The other birth that I managed was a second time mama who walked in very calm and relaxed, not having had any prenatal care, but saying she was in labor. We checked her and she was nearly "fully" (aka fully dilated) so we encouraged her to walkabout. She was quickly complete, we ruptured her bag of waters and within 10 minutes she pushed out a sweet baby girl. No tears, no complications, a nice way to end the evening for me. It is in this busy maternity ward that I am reminded how often birth does JUST HAPPEN. This past year was oh so challenging in the birth practices I worked with in Seattle (which I attributed to the year of the OX- hard work and struggles), and I yearned for births where women just gave birth. Period. I am grateful to have all those challenging births under my belt, however, for experience, and I'm soaking these up and charging my birth batteries once again!

Today I slept in after our late night at the hospital, and headed out for my second scuba dive this afternoon. I'm happy to report that I had no problems with my ear this time and was able to enjoy the experience so much more. Yeah!
I was aware today of how few experiences in life are so greatly dependent on the breath. In yoga we use our breath joined with our movement. Scuba diving is similar for me. It's meditative for me, the rhytmic breathing and the ascending and descending that occurs with the breath. And the fish are so curious. I guess I do look pretty funny with my mask and fins and regulator- they must be thinking what kind of fish are YOU? I just laugh and they swim on! I noticed some underwater plants today that resemble our land-based ferns- they even seem to have fiddleheads! I also spotted a few lion fish and some tiny shrimp (i know, shrimp means small.... but there were really tiny!) A successful dive on a beautiful day. Below is a shot with the other baby docs as we suited up before our first dive last weekend! That's the Vila Harbor behind us.

Lastly I headed to the market where I decided to taste some of the local fixins. I roamed around through the booths to find one that had a menu and ordered the curry with chicken, rice, and vegetables. As I waited for the woman to fix me a plate, the woman at the stand next door started talking with me and we made a date for me to come and learn some cooking from her in her little market kitchen. As many of you know, cooking is central in my life and learning from one of these fabulous Ni-Van women will be a real treat.

I made my rounds in the market, purchasing a huge bag of fresh tomatoes for 200 vatus (about $2), wild raspberries, pawpaw (papaya), parsley, a mango, and last, but certainly not least, about 12 pounds of sweet potatoes! This is notable for several reasons: first, they are sold in these baskets-of-sorts made from banana leaves and bark (which are very strong- thank goodness), secondly, all 12 pounds cost me a whopping 500 vatus ($5), and third, my challenge was to walk back to my digs with all the above treats on one arm, and this massive basket of sweet potatoes in the other. And so I began the journey home.... I started out on my walk, down the main street of Vila, congested with buses and crossed over to the steep staircase that takes me up above the main harbor, stopping at a conveniently placed bench at the top of the stairs for a breather, then on past the roundabout, up cresting the hill, then down through our local neighborhood, around the corner, and finally home. I received some pretty funny looks from the local folks..... i probably wasn't carrying the basket as it was intended, or maybe people just take the bus when they are hauling such a load, or maybe they wondered what I, a whitie, was planning to do with all those sweet potatoes! It's a good question..... we'll be getting really creative with them! Oh and there was that one sweet potato that continued to fall out of the basket, forcing me to balance both of my loads in a way that allowed me to bend over and pick up the lone potato. I'm sure I dropped a few here and there as I walked, which will undoubtedly be eaten by some of the chickens that run about through the streets, or used as a toy by a group of pikinninnis (Bislama word for child) that play in the streets.

Home at last, I'll be making a delicious tropical fruit salad and heading into the hospital for more adventures in baby catching before the sun goes down. Mmmmmmmmmmmm..... abundant paw-paw!

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