fellowship training, International health, Malawi, medicine, pulmonary and critical care fellowship

Wintering in Malawi

After a 40 hour journey, I am finally in Blantyre, Malawi as of 07/05/2017.  The longest portion of the flight was 13 hours from Washington D.C. to Addis Ababa. I became restless after watching 3 films and reading one book.  I will rate the following entertainment in order of enjoyment if you are looking to entertain yourself:

  1. Film: Lion  A 5 year old Indian boy who gets lost in Kolkata and his journey to adoption and finding his family again. Superb. Sob-fest. The Cameroonian next to me on the plane thought I was having adverse reaction to flying through my tears and gasps for breath.
  2. Film: Hidden Figures (If I have to summarize this, you are like me and don’t watch movies due to narcolepsy-like tendencies or you live under a rock.) What a gem. I should watch movies more often. (This is not the sci-fi space film with Chris-Pratt and Jennifer “what’s-her-face” in it.  Thanks to Phil’s synopsizing, I had confused the two for a while.)
  3. Book: Chemistry: A novel. A young Chinese-American chemist whose career and life doesn’t go according to plan and her inner searching dialogue. Outstanding intermingling of chemistry/physics with a unique immigrant perspective I loved.
  4. Film: Collateral Beauty: No idea what it was about. BUT! Will Smith is in it. Fell asleep 10 minutes into movie.

The first full day I spent in Malawi, July 6, 2017 happened to be their Independence Day. Everyone had this public holiday off from work.  It is the 53rd year since independence from Great Britain.  Around the city, some lights had been placed strategically on roundabouts.  The night before, the grocery stores were quite crowded and the traffic was congested from everyone trying to get home for the holiday. malawi independence dayI learned by googling that South Bend, Indiana happens to be home to most of Malawi’s Diaspora population.  What an awesome connection to Indiana. In fact, I found this great advertisement celebrating Malawi Independence day this weekend in South Bend. Zani Challe’s music is on youtube and pretty catchy.  She could probably give Beyoncé a run for her money. Most Malawians stated they didn’t do much to celebrate.  One of the ladies at work told me in the Joyce Banda (2012-2014) days, there was quite a stir around this holiday involving everyone, but now under the government of Peter Mutharika (current president), people are not stirred to as much celebration. (Not entirely a political statement, I think).

The southern hemisphere is currently experiencing Winter, or dry season. Blantyre days are comfortable and even hot in the upper 70’s but nights are chilly with temperature down in 50’s. Though Malawi never gets snow (which I associate with a real winter), you can tell the sun rays seem to be just a bit dimmer and the days slightly shorter with dusk settling in around 5pm.  Malawians get up with the sun at 5:45-6am and are in bed by 8:30pm.  (I need to get on that schedule, STAT!)  Jet-lag is real. Being 7 hours ahead here has resulted in me not sleeping through entire nights.  It’s nothing an anti-histamine won’t fix. Or if you are more patient, unlike me, you just wait it out and the day-night regulation will eventually set in.  I do not lament being absent to the summer temperatures in Indianapolis, but I do miss the lingering light from those long summer days.  A few pictures from my new neighborhood-home for next few months are below. I am contemplating buying a bicycle to bike to work…

The first few weeks in Malawi will be spent setting up the reagents and testing out samples in the molecular lab as well as processing more paper work.  As much as I hate paperwork, I do appreciate that at this institution in Malawi, there are stringent protocols for everything involving human subject research.  I’ve been working in the last year to get my study to be IRB (equivalent) approved here.  After 7 drafts, it’s finally approved! So I will be working on putting together a 3 inch 3 ring binder that includes all the ethics approval, study protocol, training protocols, etc for my study and running around to get signatures from different departments (finance, grant, human resources, clinical study investigation unit).  I will also be meeting and hiring a lab technician, field worker, and study nurse to help me with the bronchoscopy and sample collection, bronchoscopy and blood work, and lab work.

To everyone in America, three months seems like a long time to be in Africa. But to everyone in Malawi (and perhaps Africa in general), three months seem to be fleeting.  They are used to people coming here to do 2-3 years (mostly longitudinal, outcome studies).  The two signs associated my temporality include:

  1. Hot desk: I forage for an unassigned desk in the junior investigator room (~10 desk in one open room, 2 hot desks) that is first come first serve, a daily scramble. Meaning if you snooze, you lose, No desk for you if it’s taken!
  2. A visitor card: the unassigned, picture-less, non-staff access card to the buildings.

Honestly though, I have felt very much at home here, already (as much as you can be on a different continent).  Maybe because I made the initial introductory visit in February, I have a sense of familiarity.  People are welcoming and helpful, and the spirit is that everyone wants you to succeed. I truly appreciate that about this place. It has been a long road, but I just try to take it one day at a time.

I leave you with a few of my favorite things in the backyard here:

and my absolute favorite, the Poinsettia tree:



6 thoughts on “Wintering in Malawi”

  1. You’ll appreciate that Pat & Howard are taking me to Legend’s on Lindsey today for lunch. Claire is on rotation, so Yamei took care of her dog yesterday and from midnite last nite to 11 today, P & H are dog sitting :>).
    Thx for pix of the current terrain . . . I’m also grateful that the atmosphere is encouraging.
    In your corner . . . ~nella

  2. Looking forward to reading about your trip… your successes and challenges. I’ll be rooting for you back here!

  3. I chuckled that it’s hot at upper 70s and winter is only winter with snow 😬 Your backyard is almost as beautiful as you. Can’t wait to hear how your journey unfolds. You’re amazing. Love your FL LLL— be safe!!

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