Browsing Posts published by smaher

Our boss likes to tell us he is “checking off the boxes” as he makes progress throughout the day, so now we’ve adopted this phrase as well. This marks the end of our 8th week and we’ve just about wrapped up our scope of work, which included working with 9 different departments. Next week, we’ll be doing some more training and then troubleshooting any issues with the current databases. We have fallen behind on Pharmacy, Pediatrics, and Lab due to vacations, scheduling issues, and other things, but we’re hoping to wrap them up as well next week. We finished our Excel/Access training lessons, and are now developing a plan to try and make them sustainable without us, suggestions??? We submitted an executive summary of our final draft today to the division head and also scheduled our final presentation for the ministry on Monday, August 6th.

People are appreciating our work so much that they’ve been offering to take us out or to cook dinner for us, which is a kind gesture. Personally, I’m not much of a cook, so I really like it when someone offers to do it for me. Gopal’s parents visited last weekend, and his mom spent 10+ hours in the kitchen making meals for us to eat over the next 2 weeks. We told her we were fine, but she wanted to cook, so then we conceded. We did take them to the beach and sailing with Dave. We also went on a trip to Babeldoab, the big island here which is Micronesia’s second largest after Guam. Since we went during the work week, we stopped at some of the remote dispensaries along the way to check out their computers and fix internet connections/fax machines. We saw the new capitol building, pictured below.

I went diving again last weekend at night, we left at sunset (around 6) and came back around 8:30pm. There was bio-luminescence which was little glowing specks like fireflies that lit up every time we moved the water. It was really a surreal experience, watching them light up as I swam they even lit up in the wake along the side of the boat. I was lucky to see them, because they’re only around during the full moon, I believe. There are still a couple more dive sites I want to go, there are about 50 total…I really want to see a big manta ray, they can have wingspans 10 feet or greater, so I’m trying to go to the sites they like to visit.

Dave is trying to schedule us some trips to Kayangel, the northern most island, which is a coral atoll, and Anguar, one of the southern islands, to check out the dispensaries there as well. It looks like we’ll have enough time to check off all the boxes of whats left to see and do as well as finish up our work here, but there are always unforeseen difficulties.

NewCapitolBuildingNew Capitol Building opening in October

executiveMe, looking executive, in front of the Executive building

Heres a few more from the Babeldoab trip:


I think the other TCinGC trend, besides “exotic” rain, this summer is snorkeling/diving.  I’ve gone on 10 dives now and went snorkeling about 10 times as well.  It truely is amazing and the best thing to do out here in Palau.  Tourists come from all over the world just to go diving here.  We almost always have a translator on the dive boat.  I’ve met people from Russia, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and England.
In response to Conrad’s post, I’ve actually seen and touched the poisonous stone fish also known as the scorpion fish.  Our dive guide had his hand right next to it (I thought I saw him touch it) and the fish didn’t move, which made him hard to spot initially.  I wasn’t sure if it was dead or not, so when it was my turn to look I poked it in the side.  I was curious.  It felt squishy and alive, and it didn’t sting me luckily…It just stayed there next to the coral and didn’t move.  The stone fish looks just like the lion fish, except smaller.  I’ve seen 2 lion fish and each have had about a 12 inch diameter in size.  They have all of these “spikes” sticking out of them and look rather odd.  Sorry I don’t have a picture to post.

It seems that naming fish after animals is a popular trend, besides seeing lion and scorpion fish, I’ve also seen bat fish and squirrel fish.  The bat fish is also about 12 inches in diameter, but they are round and flat.  They are black and yellow (Pittsburgh represent).  The squirrel fish are red and have a furry tail.  Just kidding no fur, but they do have an odd looking “tail”.  I saw them when I went diving inside Chandelier’s Cave.  We brought along flashlights, since it was pitch dark inside.  We saw many different stalagtites (Spelling?), some were over 30 feet in length!  We were able to surface in 5 different spots in the 200 yard long cave.  There were only 3 of us inside it, so that made it fun to explore.  The rarest fish I’ve seen is the coveted mandarin fish, which is really tiny and has lots of beautiful colors on it.

Besides seeing fish, I’ve seen a couple Japanese ships that the Americans sunk during WWII.  They are now covered in coral and have become the home of many different fish.   Note to future TCinGCers in the Pacific, bring a snorkel and mask and prepare to see some amazing things…

This week we finished up the Radiology Patient Encounter/Tracking database. We’re almost done with the modifications on it so that it can be used for the medical wards and the physical therapy departments. The meetings with their department heads have gone well. They’ve been getting excited over what Pivot tables/ Lists can do for them. If you want to analyze a lot of data, Excel pivot tables are a good way to go. Next week, we will train the department staff how to use the databases for data entry, so that they can be used before we leave.

We’re falling a little behind on two of the other departmental databases: lab’s and pharmacy’s. Both of the department supervisors have gone on vacation and their appointed employees seemed to have lost interest in working on the databases with us. Their bosses are both scheduled to return next week, so we should be able to pick up the work on those projects before we leave.
DSC00790Me showing Belinda how to copy things on her newly installed printer/copier

DSC00799Me showing Jesse how to use Microsoft Access

Palau’s constitution was written 25 years ago on July 9th, so the holiday was observed this past Monday, July 10th.  We had the day off from work to go to the fair in Koror, which featured various booths from the 16 different states.  Some of the booths had woodcarvings and crafts.  Others had some local food (usually made out of taro, tapioca, coconut, or grilled meat).  We also got to see traditional dance performances from Palau, Yap, and Guam cultures.  The performances were held in the gymnasium, because there was another big tropical storm this past weekend.  Last weekend we were nearly hit with a typhoon, which headed for Yap at the last minute.  We’re hoping for nicer weather this weekend, so that we can enjoy the blue skies and outdoors some more.

Gopal and I have been rather busy at work, so we’re not just going on trips to the rock islands all the time (just on the weekends).  It seems like we have 9 development partners instead of 1.  We are working with the radiology, physical therapy, lab, pharmacy, the wards, pediatrics, maintenance, blood donor, and infection control departments which are within the ancillary services division of the ministry of health (the department our actual development partner is from).  Mostly we have been doing personalized 1 – 1.5 hour training sessions with the department heads and a few others.  We do different ones every day, for about half the day, then the other half we have been developing databases for their departments.  Before we arrived almost all departments were entering data into spreadsheets or old databases, but weren’t doing much analysis with it.  Their process was fine for data entry, but when it came time to generate reports to do status checks, come up with grant statistics, or look up some other information they would manually count the data.  Our sessions have focused mostly on how to use Excel and Access to collect consistent data and then how to analyze it.  To ensure valid data and speed up the data entry part, we are developing Access forms.  For the statistical analysis, we are using Excel’s list functions and pivot tables.  We are also creating some simple Access reports.
The training sessions have been going well so far, because most people are enthusiastic to work with us, since they are frustrated with having to manually count the data.  They have been enjoying the sessions, since we are letting them use their computers/laptops to do the exercises after we do them on a projector.  A few people have missed some of the meetings, so we are having some of the same attendance problems as Conrad and Danny.  We’re still learning to read when a Palauan really means “yes” when he agrees to something as Canisius warned us about in Hawaii.  Dave is pleased with our work so far, since he is developing a 5 year strategic plan that will be based around the statistical information gathered from the different departments.

Its hard to believe we are half way done already, but we’ve accomplished a lot in terms of building technical capacity.  We’ve enjoyed the experience so far and are looking forward to finishing up the access databases by the end of next week, so the departments can start using them.

I think all of us in the Pacific are in the middle of the wet season right now (I hear Pittsburgh is as well…). However, rain is a little different here in the tropics. Usually it downpours twice a day for 10 – 20 minutes. The only warning is the distant storm clouds, then they move in and are gone within an hour. On our .8 mile walk home from work the other day, we noticed storm clouds a mile away and misjudged the amount of time we had to make it home. We were halfway home and it started pouring. I sprinted home, leaving Gopal behind, but still looked as though I had gone swimming. Luckily, my laptop was unharmed. The next day we got huge umbrellas from the hospital, however even these are insufficient, because it rains so hard. The rain actually hurts. Even inside a covered boat, we still get soaked. At least one advantage of tropical rain is that its always warm unlike Pittsburgh’s rain. Plus it’s responsible for making Palau so GREEN.

SoakedSoaking wet.

This past weekend, Gopal and I snorkeled some of the unique spots in Palau.  The first was called “Jellyfish Lake”.  We swam with an estimated population of over 1 MILLION jellyfish.  The jellyfish had no predators in the inland lake (although it is connected via underwater tunnels to the sea), so over time they lost their stingers.  We took pictures, but they are on an underwater disposable camera, so we won’t have them for awhile.  Check out for a longer description and the photos at the bottom of the page.  Our next stop was “Clam City”, where we saw some giant clams (3 feet X 2 feet in size).  Again, sorry no pics just yet.  Our last stop was “Milky Way” and yes we do have pictures.  There was a layer of mudlike sand, 10 – 15 feet below the surface.  We dove down and covered ourselves with it.


PW is palau’s US postal code, not sure but it is. Last weekend we went to babeldoab, the big island of palau and the second biggest in this part of the world (only guam is bigger). Richard, Dave, Gopal, and I enjoyed following a taiwanese tour group into the museum so we didn’t have to pay admission. Dave also got us into the aquarium here for free.
Palau has over 3,000 different fish species I’ve been on 4 scuba dives (2 each saturday) and have probably seen over 1,000 of them. I’ve also seen some tiger sharks, leopard sharks, sea turtles, and napoleon ras fish. These were some of the biggest creatures I’ve ever seen under water; the biggest sharks were 10 feet, the sea turtle 3 feet in diameter, and the ras was at least 40 pounds.

Dave took us on a tour of Pelaliu, an island 25 miles south of Koror (where we live). Pelaliu is the site of a big WWII battle, where the US troops basically killed 12,000 Japanese til the very last one, becuase the Japanese would not give up. The Japanese had dug tunnels all around the island and we saw many of them still had guns and shrapnel in them. The US used tanks with 40 – 50 feet flame throwers on them to basically burn them out of the caves. We saw many of the old tanks and landing crafts (Saving Private Ryan style) that were used. The US just left them here, because it was too costly to bring them back.

We went out to an Indian restaurant on Friday night with two girls that are interning here from University of Washington on Bill Gate’s money. They are med students that are part of UW’s international health care program.  Its good to meet some other American college students again..

Dave Rykken, our boss, is a pretty interesting guy so here’s a quick bio of him. He’s a 36 year old expat from minnesota. He has been to 81 different countries and lived in many of them for 6 months at a time, including east africa, brazil, thailand, indonesia, turkey, australia, india, and central america. He has a sailboat and a BMW. He lives in a house that resembles a water tower, its a five story tower with a round room on the top. He has been showing us a good time since we’ve been here and we’re grateful to have him as our boss.
David, The Boss

We got off to a slow start here, but after the first week, Richard, our mentor, came to the rescue. Dave took time off on Monday and Tuesday of the second week to set up meetings with all the department heads that were under ancillary services, the area where he wanted us to focus. The department heads Dave wanted us to work with were enthusiastic and excited to be working with us. This might be because Dave introduced us and has been telling them that they would have to work with us for a month now. The minister is also urging them to work with us. The second week we had like 5 meetings a day, so we were rather busy and didn’t have much time to finalize our scope of work and schedule.

Now it’s the third week and we are scheduling 1 – 2 hour slots with supervisors from 9 departments to work on our projects. These projects include mostly Access databases with report generating capabilities and Excel tutorials, so the big focus is on training the supervisors to expand their IT capacity.

Ministry of Healththis is belau national hospital where we work.