Near Lilongwe, Malawi
February 5, 2012. 2pm
It is warm. For the first time since my departure from Baltimore, many hours and 15,994 km of flying prior, I notice the air temperature. It is distinctly un-planelike. And humid.
I have arrived in the terminal of Lilongwe’s airport and am staring out the window at the lush green fields reaching to the edge of the parking lot. Taxis and shuttles board their passengers for the half hour trip into the capital city. Rather than heading to the city, I wait for my backpack, naively hoping that the South African Airways staff will somehow discover it in the empty plane and bring it to me. When they finally tell me the bag is still in Johannesburg, I find a taxi and set out for my hotel.
After some small talk and pointing out a few sights along the road, Felix, my driver, asks what brings me to Malawi. I told him how I am doing work related to vaccines for kids. “Oh! There is a new vaccine here, for the pneumonia!” Felix turned his head to look at me. His eyes were wide, a broad smile on his face. I hadn’t told him that my work was directly connected to that very vaccine, introduced to the country just a few months ago. But in a country with such an extraordinary burden from vaccine-preventable diseases like pneumonia, the odds are that someone in Felix’s family has suffered from pneumonia’s terrible toll. “Everyone is excited,” he tells me. “Oh yes, it will save many lives.”