First and foremost, thank you all for keeping the blog alive while I was off gallivanting around the globe. It’s amazing how many memories I’ve crammed into the past two weeks, and I want to do the World Vets experience justice so forgive me while I take a bit to collect my thoughts, my notes, and the 1200 pictures I took while I was there.
If you follow pawcurious on Facebook, you might have noticed there was a wee bit of travel drama coming home (read: it took 60 hours), then I came home to a husband on a business trip so I dropped straight into I HAVE A BIRTHDAY PARTY TODAY AND I NEED CLEAN SOCKS and it’s a little discordant when you just spent a week with people who took a three hour bus ride just to claim someone’s used running shoes. I am collecting my thoughts. But to sum up, here’s a preview of the things I am going to write about when I am coherent:
1. I made it to the summit of Mt. Meru
It was kind of a side note to do this trek before the World Vets portion of the trip, and there was a part of me that questioned the wisdom of clambering up the side of a volcano right before the work commenced, but it was a good thing. It was insane for someone who’s camped, like, once, and whose experience with hiking was limited to 6 mile trail runs at sea level to make their inaugural overnight camping experience a four day trek to a point higher than anywhere in the contiguous United States with a group of strangers, but I basically decided not to think about that and just go for it.
It was insane, of course. But it proved to me two things:
- sanity is overrated
- Boundaries are there to be pushed
Plus I got to see some of the most surreal and beautiful landscapes in the world. Bonus: did not fall off the volcano.
2. It’s good to be with like minded people
Most people I know don’t understand why any person, especially a mom with young kids, would want to take off and go to to Africa and volunteer in the bush for a week or so. The desire to do this is something you either get, or you don’t.
The first couple of days we spent getting to know each other, and one of the first things I learned was that three out of the six women on the trip were moms with young kids. In fact, of those moms, my kids were the oldest. So really, I’m on the conservative side when it comes to the adventuring spirit. It’s like a secret sorority I just found out existed, and I could tell you the secret handshake but then I’d have to kill you.
I can’t wait to tell you more about the people I was on this trip with, but suffice it to say it takes a certain personality type to say, “a week of work in unknown conditions in Africa with the potential for malaria and no running water? Where do I sign up?”
Now, you might on occasion get unlucky and find that one of the people on a trip such as this is in over their heads and utterly miserable. But if you’re lucky, if you hit the traveling companion jackpot, every single person there is possessed of the right temperament to make this sort of experience work. We mused a lot about what those personality traits might be, but I think it can best be summed up as follows:
- flexibility in uncertain circumstances, up to and including the ever present threat of GI distress
- OK with getting dirty
- a fan of practical jokes and/or improv dance routines
- hard time saying no to anything that sounds interesting
- a genuine interest in doing good work, whatever form that might take
You’ll get to learn more about them when I write about the trip, but for introductions, here are the people who became my World Vets family for the week:
Mpuzi (silly): Kyle Baird, Washington
Kyle, a World Vets veteran, and his wife Rachel have been all over the world with veterinary projects. Despite protesting that he doesn’t have the experience of the other team members, there wasn’t a moment he wasn’t doing one of three extremely valuable things: lugging vast quantities of supplies around his tall frame as our very own beast of burden; using his long reach to spray the donkeys with fly spray, Vetericyn, or paint to mark them as treated (the long reach is a godsend when you have a skittish animal); and thirdly, entertaining gaggles of screeching, giggling children who couldn’t get enough of his amiable antics. We can treat hundred of donkeys with dewormer, but when it comes to building trust in a community, that game of frisbee can be just as vital.
Aziza (powerful): Rachel Baird, LVT, Washington
Every morning at seven, when the rest of us were just coming to in our PJs looking for coffee, Kyle and Rachel would go for a run. You might think, looking at the two of them, that Kyle is the stronger of the two, but Rachel is the one who had to carry Kyle’s pack to the summit of Mt. Meru- a trek I did in four days, they did in two. On the third afternoon of our trip, as the village councilman was attempting to help Rachel wrestle a bucking donkey, he looked down at her slight frame and said in awe, “You are a powerful woman,” and let go.
Batuuli (young maiden): Dr. Janet Beagley, Washington
Despite being a mom to two adorable little kids and busy wife to a professor, Dr. Beagley has made plenty of time for international travel and volunteering. As you’ll learn, she is an ace tooth floater, can climb trees like nobody’s business, and according to multiple disappointed Tanzanians, commands the highest offering price of any of the World Vets team from men in search of wives.
Damisi (gregarious): Toccoa Graves, Florida
The only bad thing about having Toccoa for a roommate this trip was that I spent more time laughing than I did sleeping. She’s a combination Hawkeye Pierce meets Amelia Earhart, someone who gets right down to business but can still bust out the running man when work’s over. It takes a certain type to go on a Navy ship as a vet student, fulfill her two month assignment, then ask for a three month extension, but that is just what she did. If you ever get to meet her in person, and I hope you do, you have to have her show you the Toothy video. I can say no more.
Zuri (pretty): Dr. Rudy Kirkhope, Arizona
Dr. Kirkhope arrived a day late to the party due to the joys of long haul international flights, leaving us to wonder after our first day of bonding whether this last guy was going to be a dud or fit right into the group. We needn’t have worried. And it’s a good thing, because he had the most equine experience out of anyone on the trip so even if he had been a pain, we’d have no choice but to put up with him. In addition to his valuable veterinary experience, Dr. Kirkhope is a big fan of hitting the gym, a fact that did not go unnoticed by throngs of young women murmuring appreciatively in Swahili as they meandered back and forth through the marketplace. (And he’s single, ladies- as long as you’re cool with British accents, horses, and dancing.)
Furaha (joyful): Alana Tagliabue, Perth, Australia
Alana is one of those ‘still waters run deep’ types, quiet at first but once you open the floodgates- watch out. A fourth year vet student, she jumped right in on the first day and by the third day, she was heading up her own unit of donkey treatment. Like Mary Poppins, she kept procuring increasingly valuable items as the week went on. She brought a huge stack of halters, which according to our local contact Livingstone Masija of the Arusha Society for the Protection of Animals, was of huge benefit in getting the local villagers to bring the donkeys to us for treatment. She then produced stacks of hair ties, paper, and best of all, pens- which meant at the end of every day one could find her being happily mauled by excited children scrambling for her goodies.
Anisun (friendly): Dr. Teri Weronko, Washington
The leader can make or break a team in a situation like this. How lucky were we to have the gregarious, beautiful and just all around amazing Teri Weronko as our leader. Some people are dog whisperers, others are horse whisperers, but Dr. Weronko- she is a people whisperer, with the ability to put anyone from a jaded porter to a dubious Maasai at ease within about ten seconds with a joke, a hug, or a song she just learned in Swahili. For a project such as this, where the work is as much about building trust in a new community as it is about the medicine, we couldn’t have asked for a more effective person for the job.