After frantically packing, unpacking, and repacking my bags (50 pounds is really quite limiting), I jetted out of the U.S. of A. on the Monday after our MS1 finals to embark on my lengthy journey across the globe (literally) to the Republic of Palau for the summer. After a whole day of traveling, I arrived safely, got settled into Koror, and began work at the Health Policy, Research, and Development office (HPRD) of the Ministry of Health. Needless to say, the first week was quite a blur of battling jet lag and attempting acclimation.
Let me back up for a minute, though. Many of you may be asking yourself “Palau? Where is Palau?” Well, I’m glad you asked. The Republic of Palau, known as Belau to locals, has a rich and rather complicated history. Palau is a country of about 250 islands located slightly north of the equator making for sweltering and humid summers (speaking from personal experience here) and is a little more than 500 miles southeast of the Philippines. Palau is now an independent nation as of 1994, but in the country’s 3000 year history (yes, you read that right) it was under Spanish, German, then Japanese, and post-WWII, even U.S. rule. Because of this, the national languages are Palauan and English with some states speaking Japanese as well. The culture here reflects some influence from all of these countries, yet the Palauans are bursting with pride for their heritage and have truly embraced their independence.
I’m living in the T-Dock neighborhood of Koror, by far the largest city in Palau. My apartment has a slight, but still existent ocean view (it’s a glamorous life, what can I say) and am but a stroll away from my favorite night swimming spot at Sunset Park on T-Dock itself. Each morning, I am awoken by countless roosters (better than any iPhone alarm app) and howling dogs which stir up the neighborhood around 5:30AM. So much for sleeping in! My apartment is a 15 minute walk (more like leisurely stroll) to the central, lively city center where countless restaurants, minimarts, the country’s two main grocery stores, parks, souvenir shops, and Palau Community College campus are located. The HPRD office is located smack dab in the middle of the PCC campus, so I’m surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city.
My summer will be spent analyzing data from the Ministry of Health about betel nut chewing (more to come on this topic later) in pregnant Palauan women. To satiate my clinical hunger during my stay, I will also be traveling to remote islands and towns to help out in the community clinics and at home visits. This means I will hop on boats and drive along dirt roads out into the distant reaches of the country, all in the name of health care accessibility! I plan on immersing myself fully in the Palauan way of life now that I am starting to be recognized not as a tourist, but as a “local”. And while I stand at least a head taller than most of the true locals, I’m doing my best to eat from Palau, get active with the community members, and spend my free time exploring the culture and islands. More to come on my transformation into a Palauan!