I mean, I guess I have to write an end to the story…

Our final day in Sydney was spent with a brunch at the Bell’s café. The food was ridiculously good (and they serve iced coffees with ICE CREAM!). We hopped on the train and headed into the city. Kate wanted to walk over the Harbor Bridge, which we walked across. Something about our trio walking over the bridge and talking about various people who have come into and out of our lives was very liberating and exciting. I can honestly I’ve traveled across the world and spent time with friends I will always cherish.

After shopping around, we sauntered around The Rocks, the historical district, and then headed over to the Sydney Opera House. It was fitting that the last thing Kaitlin and I would do during our time in Australia was visit its most famous monument.

Although we all parted ways after our time in the city, we were to be reunited early the next morning for a final group run. I was fueled by a fantastic dinner cooked by Sarah Vaccari. It was the last supper I had always dreamed of having. Laura, funnily, had decided she wanted to skip the most important meal of my time in Australia. I’m not bitter at all though. Really. Okay maybe just a little.

That next morning was a morning of goodbyes. I parted with the Vaccari’s one by one; they each left for work early in the morning at different times. I really appreciated all they did for me, and I always will. The hospitality of the people I encountered was overwhelming and made a lasting impact on me. I hope they all take me up on my offer to visit me any time in the United States. I miss them already. Later that morning I parted with my good friend, Kate, after our run through the Sydney Olympic Park. It seemed only appropriate that we spend time all together on our last day in Sydney. It attests to the kind of experience the Father Smith Fellowship has been: a challenge and an opportunity to growth with the help of those by whom you are surrounded. I learned much from the communities I became a part of, but I also learned from my travel partners, Kaitlin and Kate. I want to thank them both for that, their friendship, and for putting up with me (five days for Kate and a whopping six weeks for Kaitlin).

We hopped on the plane home that day, both excited and deflated. We each missed our parents, our friends, and the familiar environment at home, yet we wished we could have stayed longer. Kaitlin and I can both say that we have three homes: the US, our homestays in Sydney, and Fanualama in Auki. After some scary turbulence over the Pacific, a transfer in Dallas, and three hours of sleep in 29 hours, the open arms of our families greeted Kaitlin and me.

So I guess this is where it ends. I want to thank all those who played a role in organizing my fellowship. I consider myself eternally indebted to those who graciously awarded me this once in a lifetime opportunity, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart: my life, and, hopefully, the lives of those with whom I interacted will never be the same. Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank my family and friends for supporting me, and God for giving me the grace and strength to travel around the world to do his work.

Cairns: as it can best be described in words

Our excitement was at an all-time high for our trip to Cairns, as we chattered on the way to the airport about all the amazing things that lay ahead of us. After a quick flight and stopping at the hotel, we went out for a nice dinner. We went to bed early in anticipation of our early wake up for our dive on the Great Barrier Reef. That next morning, we were set free, as we sailed on the Ocean Freedom. The boat made two stops: one at an outer reef location and another at a cay (which was currently underwater). I was amazed at the wildlife that lay just beneath the surface: beautifully colored coral, brilliantly vivid fish, and even a barracuda! We snorkeled for about an hour and a half, or so, at each location but made sure to catch some rays on the boat as well. Kate and I generously applied sunscreen (making mom and dad proud), while Kaitlin, thanks to some more forgiving genes, was able to lather up a little less and get a significant tan.

The reef was, without a doubt, the best part of our trip to Cairns. A close second, however, was the time spent with Kaitlin and Kate. It is really amazing that three people, who are not wholly familiar with each other, can get along so amazingly for a few days in a country around the world. I guess it speaks a lot to the nature of Providence College and the kind of students that attend the institution. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to be, as Father Robb said, “these ladies’ knight in shining armor.” We all noted how lucky we have been with getting placed together on our fellowships (our parents even suggested a reunion dinner this summer, HOLLA!). I will remember my time in Cairns fondly, especially our daily runs, either at morning or during the evening; when the air was crisp, the views were breath-taking, and I was still half-asleep. A blog post cannot do justice to the time spent in Cairns, but I must say this has definitely been a highlight of my time here in the Eastern Hemisphere.

As Sue Bell, Kate’s host mom, picked us up from the airport, we got to know her a little better. She told us about her children, one of whom, Ryan, had chased his dream to Berlin to start a bar. She called him a bit of a free spirit, which, as Sue said, “goes with the name as it seems.” Sue told us of her son’s ups and downs, and, almost without thinking, I blurted out, “Well, what’s life if you are not chasing your dreams?” I think that this fellowship has really helped me see that, both in the people I have met and the things I have done. I have seen a lot, and learned exponentially more, both about the world around me and myself. I feel grateful and, even moreso, I feel humbled by the opportunity that I have been given.

NOTE: Please see Kate and Kaitlin’s blogs for pictures. They took a million.

Reunited

My first full day in Sydney began as I was able to sleep in past 9am for the first time in four weeks. While I welcomed the late wake up, I definitely missed the morning routine of mass as well as the community at Fanualama. I grabbed a quick breakfast of toast, Nutella, and an apple before I ran out the door to meet up with the Solomon Island team at Santa Sabina with Kaitlin.

Our debriefing session was much like the briefing session, except Sister Rose Mary, Jane, Anne and Elizabeth all asked about our experiences. It was a fun gathering and a good way to close a chapter of the fellowship. Kaitlin and I both agreed that we hope someone from Providence College comes to Auki next year to continue the relationship that has developed over the past three years.

Sister Rose Mary then allowed Kaitlin and me to accompany her in picking up Kate Mulvihill, who was due back from Newcastle after a few days of service there. She did not know we were coming so hopefully it would be a nice little surprise for her. I could not wait to see my best friend from Providence College. Before Kate walked towards the turnstiles, Kaitlin and I discussed how we might be able to greet her. We thought we could just walk up behind her if she did not notice us. However, Kate did not give us that opportunity: she and I made eye contact, and she sprinted through the turnstile, dropping her bag and we gave each other a long-overdue hug. It seemed so surreal to be with a member of your Providence College community on the other side of the world. The same could be said with my experience with Kaitlin in the Solomon Islands: we were not just doing service anywhere; we were halfway around the world representing Providence College.

The rest of my day was filled with planning and catching up with Kate and Kaitlin, watching rugby, and learning about the Australian political system, which seems a lot different than the United States’ government.

We depart for Cairns tomorrow! Here’s to friends on the other side of the world.

My first combined post, I permit you to be judgmental

We spent our two days in Honiara with Brother Roger (a Missionary of the Sacred Heart) and Sister Rita (excuse me, the Sister Rita. Note: for the inexperienced reader, please refer to my previous posts about Honiara). Honiara was mostly a transition between Auki and Sydney, so it was a great place to relax. Kaitlin and I spent some time at the market with our friend (and body guard) Brother Roger. We bought a fish for dinner that night (a red emperor reef fish actually!) along with some other goodies. Kaitlin and I were supposed to meet up with some of her students who were on holiday, but after an hour and a half and still no sight of them, we went back home. An hour after we got home, we looked out from the porch to see them walking up the hill; they walked all the way from the market to come see us (its about a four mile walk).

After their visit, Brother Roger took us to see St. Joseph’s school at Tenaru. It was cool to see because a few people we met in Auki went there and its also ranked as the number one secondary school in the country.

Brother Roger is a pretty cool guy. The next day he was talking to me about why he was so tired. He had been up the whole night before speaking to someone on the phone that was suicidal. He has a “specialty” in dealing with/talking to people that have lost hope. I was telling Brother Roger that he must be a very strong and faith-filled individual to interact with so many people that have fallen on hard times in their lives. Brother went on to tell me it “just made sense” for him to come to the aid of those people because he always was the middleman in high school: acting as a messenger between a friend in need and a priest. He is an inspiring young fellow, and I hope he gets his visa to go to Papua New Guinea soon. He has been waiting for almost seven months now!

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Sisters in Honiara (on the first leg)

The day of our flight consisted of flying and transferring planes. So to make up for that, here are a bunch of pictures of things I have talked about in the Solomon Islands thus far!

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From left: Lucy, Dr. McDreamy, Allyson

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On the prowl in the rice fields of St. Joseph’s at Tenaru.

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Philip and me

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Sister Loretta and Kaitlin standing with some guy

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Allegedly yelled “Freebird!” as I jumped. Allegedly.

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Fording a river in Nariaoa on our way to the dam that powers their entire village!

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This is everyone

 

Throwing up the deuces: farewell Auki!

After staying up late packing (read as: crying), Kaitlin and I attended our final mass in the Solomon Islands. I will never forget the whole congregation singing, people’s stares, and the whole congregation wanting to shake our hands. I am so blessed to have met these people and to have been welcomed into their homeland. After mass, Kaitlin and I were each presented with carved, wooden crosses inlaid with shells. My cross is the gift that I hold most dear from my time in the Solomon Islands. Bishop Chris also wrote us a note each, thanking us for our work and sharing our gifts and talents.

I spent the time I had left in Fanualama with Philip: helping him to record a song on my phone. The recording came out well. He wrote the lyrics to the song but borrowed the melody. It came out great. I only wish he could have recorded another song; he would have if the guitar strings had not broken! After a lot of hugs (and a goodbye bite from Patty…?), we hopped in the back of the bishop’s truck to the wharf to catch the Discovery360. We took a last group photo and, before the boat pulled away, Father Moses sprinted onboard to give us a last-minute handshake and farewell laugh. As we pulled away, I was almost so sad that I forgot that I was supposed to meet Dr. … but he never showed up. I guess that was the kind of ending I needed with him. A goodbye might have been too emotional for him (HA!).

On the boat, Kaitlin and I were able to begin the process of internalizing the experience we just had. We talked and laughed (and got major sunburns!). We each learned things about ourselves that, without the fellowship, would not have been possible. I will miss the people I met, but I will carry them with me. (Also, on the boat, we both got really excited to meet up with Kate Mulvihill and head off to Cairns! Great Barrier Reef, here we come!)

As a spider weaves its web

Today was my last full day in Auki, for tomorrow I will be boarding the Discovery360 and beginning my journey home. The past three weeks have been a blur, and I find myself thinking back on different events in disbelief that they were two weeks ago. Our day began with a trip to the youth rally in Dala, where Philip and Gabi (soccer) had been for the past few days. It was fun to catch up with the friends we have not seen in what seems like forever. Bishop Chris said the closing mass. At the end of mass, one of the leaders of the retreat stood up and asked the youth about some of the things they had learned in the past few days. One of these sayings I liked in particular: The law of friendship is to never ask your friend to do wrong. While simple, I can understand how it lies at the heart of a good friendship. After mass, Bishop Chris was joking with Philip, Patty and Gabi, asking if the retreat had been more of a honeymoon for some as opposed to a religious experience. He told us that although the villages are full of good sea fishermen, they are also very well known for their “land-fishing.” This had the kids (and myself) screaming in sidesplitting laughter. For the rest of my time, I asked the kids who was the better fisherman. Although no direct answer was given, I got the sense that Patty was pulling in “the catch of the day,” if you get my meaning.

We spent part of the rest of the day cleaning the chapel. Bishop Chris gave me the job of scraping wax of candlesticks. He said, “I can’t think of a better job for a bio major.” While I thought I was a bit overqualified for the job, he seemed that it fit me well. After making the chapel shine like the top of the Chrysler building, we hopped in Bishop’s truck to go to the carwash. He pulled the car right up to the river and the kids began throwing buckets of water on it while myself and a few others used some rags to wipe away some of the dirt. Car washing soon developed into a water fight, with Joe and me tossing water from the buckets at people. Can you believe some people question my maturity?!

Our day concluded with a Solomon Island traditional farewell dinner. People of the Solomons have the custom of gathering their closest friends and family to share a final meal with their visitors. Another aspect of this dinner is for people to give speeches and present gifts. Had I known that I would have had some time to speak, I would have prepared something. Uncle Ben said prayer, and thanked Kaitlin and I on behalf of the Fanualama community. He noted how Americans hold a special place in his heart: pointing out an American missionary from his youth, Bishop Chris, and people like us. Father Moses was next to speak. He thanked us on behalf of the parish of Auki. A lover of jokes, he began his speech in Latin. He asked me why I was laughing. Then he continued to say his entire speech in his native language, which only a few people could understand. He had the whole party laughing, and when the laughter had subsided, Patty stood up and translated his speech for us. Last, Philip thanked us on behalf of the youth community with whom we spent time. Part of his speech was an apology for “anything that they might have said or done that offended us.” It is also part of their culture to apologize in case anything was not to the liking of their guests. Liborio then presented Kaitlin and me each with a painting and told us the meaning behind them.

Kaitlin, being the older, wiser, and better looking half of the duo (as Bishop Chris says) had come prepared with a speech. I, on the other hand, had to make something up on the spot. I initially thanked everyone, on behalf of my parents, for keeping me safe and for helping me not get dengue or malaria, because I know that my parents would be thankful for that. Next I told everyone about a spider I saw everyday as I walked to work. Each time I passed the spider, its web grew and developed until, on the last day, it was a masterful work of art – a cone of web with the spider sitting at the middle. I told everyone that, in this analogy, I was the spider. And just as the spider built its web, I built mine in Auki and made relationships and friendships that I will never forget. However, unlike the spider who built the web all by itself, I had the help of everyone I met. The spider made its own thread; I had pieces of thread thrown to me. By the end of three weeks, I had a community of people who surrounded me, supported me, and uplifted me. Just like the spider, a home had been built for me.

I had to cut my speech short, because I have a tendency to get emotional and stuff. But I finished thanking them and sat down. Tonight, I lay down in bed and thank God for the family I have in Auki. I hope some day I might have the means to come back, bringing my family and friends with me, to show them the amazing place that I have been blessed to spend the past three weeks in.

Cutting it close

I started my day off the right way: with a haircut. Uncle Ben grabbed his pair of clippers and went to work, giving me the buzz cut of my dreams, Solomon style (it looks just like it normally does). Kaitlin and I then took a trip to town and shopped for some last minute items before our last weekday in Auki. It all went so fast. As I walked into the hospital for the last time, it looked just as it had three weeks ago. I wish I had more time here.

The day looked like it was going to be quite uneventful; however, that all changed relatively quickly. There was a phone call to the doctor’s office asking for assistance for a knife wound patient. After some Solomon time-esque lollygagging, we finally got over to outpatient. The woman sat, covered in blood, pale, and she was probably in shock. One of the nurses, who I would not feel inclined to say is my favorite by any means, took his time transfusing her with liquid. Dr. , who was busy trying to figure out a plan of action, told me to glove up and put pressure on the dressing of her wound because she was losing blood at an alarming rate. I did as he instructed, and after a few minutes, I got the sense she was slipping into an unconscious state as she started to feel limp in my arms. With American urgency, I said to Dr. , “Hey, we should probably get her to the operating theater, I think she is losing consciousness.” My sensei then explained to me, calmly, that we first had to stabilize her, and that after we do so, we will not need to be so alarmed. He also told me to talk to the patient to try to keep her mind focused. Again, I did as instructed.

As I have grown up in the U.S. I have come to learn that if a doctor tells you to do something, you generally should do it, especially when you consider all the time he spent in school… Dr.  was right, of course: after we transfused her with some fluids, she came out of shock and stabilized. I will never forget walking out of outpatient towards the operation theater, bent over the wheeling stretcher with my hands pressing on her wound.

Once in the operational theater, Dr.  performed a procedure that could probably be in a surgery textbook. The patient sustained a laceration to the face. It was fairly deep and about 12 cm long (darn the metric system). Dr.  commented that she was lucky, had she incurred the same cut but a few inches lower, it would have severed her carotid artery – fatal injury.

I took a ton of pictures on my last walk home. But what made my stroll home even better was that I ran into the group of kids that always yell to me when I walk home. I asked them if they wanted to take a picture, and they all gathered together in their grass hut and smiled. There is one girl in the motley crew that always yells to me “Hi, white man!” to which I usually respond, “Hi, black man!” They all find it hilarious. But she made my entire trip; when on my last walk home, after taking a picture of her and her friends, she yelled, “Goodbye, white man!”

Singing and dancing in the rain

Today was my last day in Operation Theater. Looking back on my experiences, I can honestly say that I learned more than I could imagine. Seeing Dr.  manage patients and watching him perform surgery taught me much about his field as well as the field of medicine as a whole. Because today was my last day with the surgical team (Margaret, Lucy, George, and Allyson), I took pictures of them (and with them). I also gave them my email address so they could contact me after I left. I have enjoyed the company of Lucy and Allyson the most, because they love to joke around and poke fun at each other. They also said they were going to miss me so much that they were going to “need a bucket” when I left. I did not understand until they told me that they were going to fill said bucket with their tears. George told me to look him up on Facebook and send him all the pictures of them. From speaking to people at the hospital, they seem to all agree on a few things. First, they want me to come back. Second, they want me to tell all my friends about Malaita and Kilu’ufi hospital and to ask them to come visit as well. And, third, they are glad that I visited them. I feel very blessed, for Kilu’ufi has provided me an environment where I can learn and meet some amazing people.

Today I also helped Dr. finish his forms for the course in Fiji. He says he will be leaving on Sunday as well, so he wants to ride the boat together! I am excited because I get some more time with him. There is some uncertainty concerning when the boat actually leaves, but I am sure it will all work out.

When I got home, the skies opened and it began to pour. At home, rain usually correlates to little fun. However, here in the Solomon Islands, nothing can stop the fun. Sister Loretta was busy trying to fix one of the gutters that guide water to the rain collection tank. I stepped outside and decided to help her. She did not need much help, but I just wanted an excuse to go play in the rain. We ended up dancing in the rain, and grabbing soap and took an impromptu shower outside. We lathered our hair with soap and danced around (yelling for Agatha). It was so simple, but so much fun.

We then went on an hour-long hike up one of the mountain roads to the Telekom tower. I wish I had brought my camera, because it provided us an awesome vantage point of the harbor, Li’lisiana, and Auki Island.

After our hike, we quickly got dressed for a special evening mass for all of the diocesan priests. The service was not as crowded as expected due to the continued onslaught of rain. It was a nice service, however, and I was honored when Bishop Chris asked me to read. After mass, we dined together in potluck fashion. I “ate it” on some slippery steps, adding to my list of physical casualties. I took it like a champ, however, popping up immediately and throwing my hands up in the air (like a gymnast who had just stuck a landing). Perfect form, by the way, mom.

On the walk home, Gabi (with the smile), Rex and Patty conveyed to me how happy they were I spent some time in the Solomon Islands, each telling me how they do not want me to leave. Patty even called me his brother. I had a difficult time holding back tears, for the formation of a bond with the kids here and to have them call me brother is the greatest gift I could receive from anyone here. I once heard that what you do on the road of life pales in comparison to with whom you walk it.

When priests attack!

Bishop Chris is holding his annual meeting of all the priests in the diocese of Auki and is hosting them all here, at Fanualama. There are approximately twenty-five or thirty priests, all of which are staying in my house (a floor above me). This has proven, in just a day so far, to be quite a challenge. With one bathroom and a rain-water dependent water source, we have been rationing our showers and water use. I have not had a problem getting the bathroom yet, but with thirty priests for five days, something’s gotta give. All this being said, it really is great having all the priests here: they are all quite wacky and love to stay up late telling stories. I have been able to meet quite a few so far.

Today was a theater day as well, and I was lucky enough to catch a skin graft for a diabetic patient. Before seeing the surgery, I thought skin grafts were dangerous and very difficult procedures. But now I can say it looked fairly straightforward. Dr.  is a general surgeon, which he calls “a dying field” in the United States because everyone is specializing. Basically, Dr.  can do any general surgery (as the title implies). All of the surgeries I have mentioned he has been the main operator. I give him a lot of credit: he is a very smart man, who, despite poor situations, makes the best decisions for his patients. There are, obviously, some risky decisions he makes, but so far he has a good track record.

After my day at Kilu’ufi, I tagged along with Gabi, Rex and Leon to play some soccer on Aligegeo’s school field. The rugby kids ended up playing for two hours, so we just messed around and had a good time. The element of camaraderie among the youth here is amazing: no one is left out, no one complains, and despite, differences in ability, each individual is supported by the rest of the group. I doubt the students know how much value I place on my time with them. Unlike Kaitlin, I only get to see the students after school, and usually they are busy with other activities. So whenever I get the opportunity to spend some time with them, I am very eager to join in.

Last, we had dinner with all the priests. Agatha cooked for everyone. It is amazing how much food she made: she had to have been working for hours. Bishop Chris introduced Kaitlin and I to them: “These are two students from the United States. The pretty one is Kaitlin, the other one… that’s Ryan.” I feel very blessed to have someone like Bishop Chris as “point man” here at Fanualama, and I have not expressed that yet. He is a great, holy man with a wonderful sense of humor (all of that on top of being kind, understanding, compassionate, and overall just an awesome person). Of course, this comes as no surprise: he graduated from PC.

Highs and lows: they teach you a lot about yourself

Hi everyone. My Monday was great, thanks for asking. How was yours? Well, this post is going to be a little different, and as I picture it, a little shorter than the rest (I hope, but no promises). Generally, my day was pretty similar to most ward run days. But two things in particular really helped shape and motivate me today: a high and a low.

High: Part of my day was spent dropping off Josh at the ferry as he departed for Honiara. Dr wanted to see him off, so I accompanied him. Although I was a little sad to see my work buddy and teacher go, his parting words to me will always stick with me: (Note: must be read aloud in an English accent to do it justice.) “It’s been a pleasure, Ryan. Hopefully I will see you soon… in the medical world, that is.”

With that he turned and walked toward the ferry. I may never see Josh again, but his words will always stick with me. His message filled me with confidence, with gratitude, and with a sense of pride.

In a way, Josh was saying that he had faith that I would “make it” in medicine, despite the competitive nature of the field. He had spent just two weeks with me: two weeks during which I laid myself down at the mercy of him and Sarra. I told them I knew nothing, however they repeatedly said, “Don’t worry about it, once you go to medical school you will.” There is something powerful about someone who has accomplished what you wish to accomplish telling you that, not only will everything be all right but also they have faith that you will succeed. That is what Josh did for me.

His words also filled me with a greater gratitude for what he and Sarra taught me. Obviously, I learned information, but watching them provided me with insight on how to think diagnostically. I also felt grateful that they had helped me further discern what I want to do with my life. I do not know how many of you remember college, or went to college, or are still in college, but it is a hectic time. You do not know which way is up, who you are, or what you are supposed to do with your life afterwards. I cannot say with 100% certainty that I know where I will be two years from now, but I know where I want to be.

Last, his words made me proud. I am proud to know that he wants someone like me in his field performing the same tests, surgeries, and procedures.

Low: Later in the day, after we dropped off His Royal Highness at the ferry and ate some lunch, Dr. and I headed to outpatient/emergency care. I know I have described how the hospital functions minimally in the past; however, just for refreshing…

People arrive and just like in the United States, they are triaged and are given priority if they are an absolute emergency. Patients that need to see a doctor (if not dealt with immediately as an emergency or as an easy case for the nurses) are called in one-by-one and assessed. This functionality is akin to that of a General Practitioners office, not so much an emergency facility. Many people come complaining of bowel problems, head soreness, and your usual problems that are dealt with at your GP.

What I am trying to convey is, for me, I did not find this very exciting. I wanted to be in the thick of it. As someone once told me, I always need to be on the move doing something exciting. Obviously, life is not always like that, and you (and by “you” I mean “I”) need to be patient and take life for both the exciting and the boring. I was bored out of my mind, and even when an interesting case came in, more often than not we could not treat it due to Kiu’ufi’s limited resources.

This experience has taught me that I need to have patience. Also, that I should probably not be a GP. Similarly, it taught me much about the disparity between the first and third worlds in terms of medical care. The cases that we had to refer to a larger hospital probably should have been treated more immediately: broken mandibles and abdominal masses four inches in diameter among the few. I would not trade my experiences at Kilu’ufi for anything.

I learned a lot about myself in one day. Call me introspective. But, think about it: what was your high and low today?