It is officially my 5th week in Blantyre. I’ve settled into a routine with work. With the frequent power cuts, it’s becoming easier and easier to go to bed early around 9:00PM and wake up with the light breaking through my curtains around 6am. Life begins at dawn with the noisy chirping of the birds outside my window followed by the sometimes sweet, yet sometimes acrid aroma of firewood or other biomass burning as people build fires to cook food or heat water.
One of the things I would like to do more of is to see more of the the country. Even driving around, it is quite fun to observe the vast, changing topography, flora and fauna of the land. For the first time ever in my 5 trips to Africa, I spotted baobob trees! I was so excited when I saw it, I kept exclaiming at each one we passed. It is not as tall as the California redwood, but it is quite amazing. It can get up to 82 feet tall and 46 feet wide.
It is often called the up-side down tree because of its dry appearance. Despite how root-like it appears, 80% of its trunk is actually water, and it is considered a giant succulent. I really love how it looks because it reminds me of an upside down bronchial tree.
It just sits through thousand years, across the dry landscape, a sage presence reminding us of the time that has gone by. Seeing these trees remind me of the wonderful expansive world we live in, and how little of it we may experience each day. I even found this excellent children’s book I will buy for the next friend’s baby shower.
I quite love trees. Unfortunately, the landscape of much of Africa is changing due to deforestation.
A lot of it is caused by poor population’s dependence on wood fuel as a major source for cooking and heating. This type of practice is what causes high levels of household air pollution that lead to pneumonia and other cardiopulmonary disease. Alterations in the lung microbiome from this this type of exposure is what I am hoping my research project will help elucidate.
My project is up and running, finally. We recruited 8 volunteers and signed them up for home visits and bronchoscopy. I was so excited the first day of screening I really wanted to hug the first volunteer. It is really exciting to see the effort of the last 14 months materialize into something tangible, right in front of your eyes. I am truly grateful to God for putting such key, wonderful people in my life who have trained me, supported me, and rooted me along in this process. There are too many to name. It truly takes a village, and my village is still growing. Even here, I have great support from my entire team of research nurse, bronchoscopy nurse, field worker, lab collaborators and technicians. I know that this enriching experience is changing my life. I leave you with a picture of Mada taking down information and getting informed consent from a volunteer.