20 December 2011

The babies of Karachi beach

I never expected my tour in Karachi to present me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it has. It turns out that the beaches of Karachi are among the top seven hatching grounds in the world for green sea turtles, so when we learned that the Sindh Wildlife Department had offered to provide a turtle experience for the consulate staff, I was eager to sign up. I’ve never seen a sea turtle outside of an aquarium or a movie and, although I grew up on the beaches of south Texas, turtles don’t visit there. I’ve seen lots of land turtles, of course, but this is different.

Late one night, a group of us were driven to a secluded beach outside the city to view turtle egg laying. We were told there were no guarantees. It isn’t like the turtles make an appointment to crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs. While this is the busier season for egg, there are nights when no turtles arrive, or they come later than we are allowed to stay.

After reaching our destination, the rather long, bumpy ride getting there quickly faded in memory when the scientist running the facility informed us that this was a special night. Not only was there a mama turtle digging her laying hole right then, but a group of turtle eggs had just hatched and we would be able to see them before they were released to the sea. It was like winning the turtle jackpot, since the hatchlings have to be in the water in less than two hours after hatching.

This facility, part of the Pakistan wildlife conservation effort, has been in operation for 30 years. It was easy to discern that it is run on a shoestring budget, but the commitment of the scientists and facility employees was impressive. We were led into a shell of a building about 50 feet from the water’s edge. It was pitch black, except for the flashlights our hosts carried. Inside, we were shown a PowerPoint presentation about the two types of turtles that come to this beach to lay eggs, and given information about various endangered turtle species around the world, the predators they face—humans are the most dangerous— and the destruction of their habitats by pollution and the spread of dwellings onto their spawning grounds.

To prevent the extinction of these majestic creatures, their newly laid eggs are dug up and transplanted to nurseries where they are protected until they hatch, approximately two months later, from the elements and from poachers—both two- and four-legged. Once the eggs are hatched, their caretakers deliver them to the water’s edge and hope for the best. It is estimated that less than .01 percent of the hatchlings will actually grow to adulthood and complete their natural lifespan of around 100 years.

My group was first introduced to the new hatchlings. Why are all babies cute? That must be some type of universal law, and the hatchlings were no exception. Their tiny flippers were in full motion swimming vigorously in the air and, after we each had the incredible opportunity to hold one and get a very close look, into the sea they went.

Next, we were escorted down to the beach and to the laboring turtle. The only light allowed was one dim flashlight aimed at her growing pile of eggs deposited in the 3-foot deep hole she had dug. While she largely ignored us, we were told that lights would confuse her and she would stop laying and return to the sea, and that would not be good. We stood watching this incredible act of nature until the turtle indicated it was over and began to use her hind flippers to cover the hole.

Four men then gently picked her up and moved her away from the hole so the eggs could be retrieved, but she didn’t seem to notice the ride. Her back flippers just kept scooping sand. She would do that for the next couple of hours until some instinct told her it was enough, and she would then return to the sea. The eggs were carefully removed, measured, weighed and taken to the nursery for reburying, and this amazing experience was over.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

05 December 2011

No, a fish pedicure was NOT on my bucket list!

One goal I will never attain is to work in East Asia. The opportunity has just never arisen for me and, since this is my last post, I’ve accepted that it’s not going to happen. So when a friend of mine invited me to visit her in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I discovered there are direct flights from Karachi to Kuala Lumpur, it was too good an offer to let pass.

This past month, in the same week we celebrated the U.S. holiday of Veteran’s Day, several local holidays were also strung together. As a result, only one day of actual office time was required of me that week and thus seemed the perfect time to hop a flight.

When I arrived, I was surprised to find my friend was hospitalized, with discharge still a couple of days away. It gave me the opportunity to learn a bit about the local medical system and how care is delivered.

My friend had an attending physician and several consultants who visited her daily for examination and updates on her condition. The hospital itself might have been in any downtown U.S. city, complete with a Starbucks on the first floor. The only thing that set the Malaysian nursing staff apart from their American counterparts was that they have retained the custom of the nurse’s cap, a tradition I was very happy to see dropped in the United States. The only thing I noticed that was very different, at least from the hospitals I’m familiar with, is that each time a patient leaves the room, the door is locked until his or her return. Otherwise, everything was very familiar and that was a comfort to my friend. It isn’t easy to be in a hospital in a foreign country with no family present. Familiar looking surroundings are a real bonus.

After a couple of days, I brought my friend back to her apartment, and we basically became couch potatoes for the rest of my visit. I did take one day to use the hop-on, hop-off bus that ran through the city so I could get a taste of this peninsular nation. Wherever I travel, I try to use these buses when available, as they usually provide a great overview and an efficient way to cover the highlights of the city I’m visiting.

At the central market, I hopped off the bus to participate in something that has peaked my curiosity since the first read of it several years ago. I had a fish pedicure! I dangled my feet in a large vat of water while small, sardine-size fish hungrily attacked dead skin everywhere they found it.

The first two minutes were almost unbearable, not because it was uncomfortable, but because of the freakish sort of tickle. But after the initial shock, the sensation diminished and it was quite pleasant. A half-hour later I was done, evidenced by the few fish still paying attention to me.

Each time another person came to the tub, however, it was like a feeding frenzy. (Maybe we have different flavors.) The fish would swarm to the new feet and do their thing, then eventually lose interest and disperse.

I can declare two things. This was by far not the best pedicure I’ve ever enjoyed, but it sure was the most unusual, and I have a photo to document it.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.