Monday, 21 November 2011

Part 1

Sat 19th Nov, 2011
As I left my parents and a couple of my good friends at Melbourne airport this afternoon, I was feeling nothing but nerves. I made my way through the Qantas terminal and forced myself to just keep breathing - deep breaths, and I’d be ok. What lies ahead of me is a wonderful opportunity but I still struggle to get my head around what I’ll encounter. As much as I like to think I can ‘go with the flow’ and roll with whatever comes, this trip will be all that, but on a different, slightly more intimidating level. As a solo girl in a developing country, I like to think I can be strong and independent. I’ll do my best, anyway. I know I’ll have supportive people around me in the Solomon Islands, as long as I’m not in the way and a nuisance, that’s a start.
So... ‘What the hell am I doing?’ It’s a common question from my friends and family lately, something like that anyway.
I am the still-stunned recipient of a scholarship from Monash Uni that enables a final year pharmacy student to travel and work in a country in the Asia-Pacific region. Uni put me in touch with some incredible people who have a wealth of experience in this field and they’ve helped me line up work in the Solomon Islands. Malnutrition as a consequence of chronic diarrhoea is the second highest cause of death in children in the region and treatment with zinc supplementation is one option that can reduce the severity and duration of potentially fatal diarrhoea. 
‘What can you do? You’re not a real pharmacist yet..’ is another question I get, in not so many words...
My impression at this stage is that I’ll be helping to investigate the current usage of this supplement, its availability and health professionals’ knowledge of the therapeutic rationale. In saying this, I’m up for the possibility that this could change, what I’ll do exactly could be very different to my expectations at this time. I’m aware that the logistics of medicine and its effective use often leaves much to be desired in developing countries such as the Solomons. Obviously it’s an issue about which I can only echo other people’s opinions at this stage but hopefully by the end of this trip I’ll have my own experiences that will enable me to form some sort of reasonable viewpoint.
Sun 20th Nov, 2011
At Brisbane airport, my muesli with fruit and yogurt is helping me feel alive again. And I’m enjoying what could be my last decent coffee in a while.
Stayed at a motel near the airport last night but didn’t sleep too well last night due a mixture of worry about not waking up to my 6am alarm and anticipation of what today will hold.
The interest and encouraging words from some of the people I’ve come across in during my travels the last couple of days is helping to ease any residual nerves.
I don’t know who I’ll meet or what things will be like upon arrival which is a little unnerving but hey, it’s an adventure.
Til then, cheers :)
Feeling alone and isolated. 
I waited an hour at Honiara airport after a pleasant flight but noone was there to meet me. Great. After the initial rush of people greeting the newly arrived passengers had died down, I was still waiting. Noone sells sim cards on a Sunday so my temporary phone was useless. As much as I tried to get a contact number out of Mick while I was still in Aus, I arrived in Honiara with only his email address. The one contact number I have is for Tamie, a friend working in another province in the Solomon Islands. She had said she knows Mick so the Customs Officer allowed me to use their office phone to try her. No answer.
I was becoming increasingly panicked but hid it well I thought.
Michael, the Customs Officer was worried about me. This was my first taste of overwhelming kindness and generosity common of the people of the Solomon Islands. Outside, taxi drivers had been hovering, willing to drive me to wherever I needed. Up until then I’d be politely refusing, hanging out for a familiar face but I decided to accept Kelli, a taxi driver‘s offer. I tell him I need to find a room in a guesthouse for the night. He and Michael exchange a few words in Pijin and tell me Chesta is a good place in town.
Kelli’s warm and friendly personality cheers me instantly. If anything, his chatter was a distraction from my worries. I tell him I’m doing work in Honiara with other pharmacists and he picks up two clear plastic bags from in front of his gear stick. One bag contains a blister pack of ibuprofen tablets. It is labelled much like any Australian prescription item with directions and supplementary warnings. The other bag contains loose tablets which, according to the label contain metronidazole, a type of antibiotic. Kelli went on explain how he felt sick a few days ago, and how the medications came to be prescribed. He asked why the ibuprofen needed to be taken with food, sometimes he had pain when he wasn't hungry. I explained that the antiinflammatories can upset the stomach (didn't want to alarm him with graphic information about destroying the lining of his stomach haha) anderhaps Kelli sensed a hint of inexperience in me because he asked how long I’d been a pharmacist. I meekly told him I’d just finished university (minus the fact I’m still not a ‘real’ pharmacist in Australia! I didn’t want to have to explain all that) but Kelli was ever interested in me and my work. 
I’ve already had a sneak peek at the hospital because we popped in on the off chance that they would have a contact number for Michael. No luck. The doctors were very busy and couldn’t stop to help us, we weren’t going to get very far. I’m going to have to get used to the looks I got while we were in the hospital as I was the only white girl in the place, but who can blame people for being curious. I’m sure I’ll come to describe the hospital further in time, but my first impression wasn’t a negative one. It’s set up simply but effectively, without the hustle and bustle of city hospitals. There was a sense of calm about the place. Whether this is a reflection of the attitude of the people in the place or just because it was a lazy Sunday, I’ll soon find out.
So we took off to Chesta Guesthouse which was full and I was worried I would not find a room at the last minute like this, but our next stop was at a guesthouse set back from the main st, in a hilly area. They had a room free thank goodness! I then asked where I could get food that night and Kelli offered to drive me back to the main st because the ‘cheeky’ boys might annoy me on my way back down the hill to the shops. While I wouldn’t have minded a walk, I appreciated Kelli’s offer. We found a convenience store and it’s tuna and crackers for dinner tonight. As Kelli drove me back, he offered to pick me up at 8 tomorrow and take me to the hospital to find Mick. I’m so lucky to have come across Kelli, he’s looking after and treating me like his own daughter.
I’m sitting in my room now. It’s nice and clean, my window looks onto small houses, and kids of all ages play in the street outside. The power is still out everywhere but I’m happy to lay low and jot down my thoughts as thunder rolls in the sky.
Hopefully tomorrow will be better.
Mon 21st Nov
Well it’s been a crazy 24 hours to say the least.
I was hanging out in my room last night when at about 8.30-9pm I got a knock at my door. I thought someone must be at the wrong room but when I asked who it was, Michael answered me. Embarrassed to be seen in my pjs I got him to hang on but I called out to ask how he found me!?! He only explained when I opened the door - he’d gotten carried away doing a weekly radio show that afternoon and only remembered I had arrived in Honiara that afternoon at 4pm when he finished the show!
He’d called all the guesthouses he could think of and tried taxi companies who did a call out to all their drivers! I don’t know how exactly Michael found my guesthouse or how Alex the owner let him knock on ‘the white girl’s’ door(!) but we were soon off to my actual accommodation where I'm staying with 4 other very cool Aussies. They're all about my age, Anna, Jacinta, Gav and Eddie. They all volunteer for AYAD doing various things. Michael had a beer with us when he dropped me off before heading home. 
I felt so much more comfortable now with people who are just like my friends at home. They’re very down-to-earth and work hard with a passion for what they're doing. 
Emma and I were up at 7am this morning and shared fruit and tea looking over a peaceful and still Honiara. It felt as warm as the night before when we’d been sitting outside with beers but fresher.
Michael remembered me this morning! He bounded up the hill to the house from his car just before 8 to pick me up. We stopped at a luxurious cafe for coffee (so no, I won’t have to do without! :D) and he came with me to organise a sim card so I’m finally in touch with the world! Then to the hospital.
Already buzzing with people, we headed straight for the pharmacy department where I spent the day in the dispensary. For day one, it gave me insight as I worked with pharmacy officers, pharmacy students and pharmacists. Students travel to PNG or Fiji to obtain a pharmacy degree and often return to the Solomon Islands to complete their compulsory intern year prior to registration, much like the Australian system. Chatting with all of them was fascinating and they were curious about me and my life in Australia. The pharmacy officers are trained for two years for their role which is roughly equivalent to a pharmacy technician’s job in Australia. I get along particularly well with Benitta and Vera, two of the pharmacy officers, and we chatted all day long about anything and everything. Everyone else in the dispensary were really friendly - noone could believe my story about being left at the airport!
Benitta took me across to the shops across the road from the hospital for lunch. I picked up a lamb curry, lets just say it’s nothing like Australian lamb! 
The afternoon was frustrating for all because msupply, the program used for dispensing prescriptions on the computer, kept freezing and caused a backlog of scripts waiting to be processed. When there are usually 30-odd people sitting on benches outside the cover in an undercover area, this backlog meant standing room only, if you could find a spot undercover out of the now pouring rain. I was told people usually wait about 30mins for prescriptions, but people were now facing an indefinite wait. As we kept trying to get msupply working, the possibility of handwriting labels and the relevant pharmacy records was suggested to a not-so-enthusiastic response...
The IT guy worked some magic and msupply was up and running again...for now. A choatic process line ensued. Generated labels are much like the labels on Australia prescription items but most tablets are loose in a small plastic bag, only very few are in blister packs. This meant A LOT of counting of tablets. In saying, that the pharmacy has a tablet counter which saved a lot of frustration but medication is rationed so quantities vary with each prescription. And I’ve never seen so many antibiotics dispensed!
Caught the bus home with Judith who I work with and Michael drove me from the bus stop home so knew they way to the bus stop each day. When I say bus, picture a decrepit mini-van. But it does the job!
Eddie’s made awesome lasagne, dinner time! Til next time, cheers and love to all

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