The Bright Side :0)
On those fateful days when the pollution is considered particularly hazardous to Iranians’ wellbeing, the health advisory sends out notice to children, the elderly, and people with heart or respiratory problems to stay home. Kids, for instance, get the next two days off from school because of the high alert pollution levels. In the U.S., it’d be like getting Thursday and Friday off. Lucky kids.
During the fall season, as the weather changes and winds die down a bit, the canopy of smog hovering over the metropolitan capital of Tehran begins to thicken and settle closer to the ground. The sharply pungent fumes of exhaust and second-hand cigarette smoke plague—and probably paralyze—the olfactory nerves; the mélange of toxic chemicals travel straight up to the brain, producing a dizzying effect that borders on nausea, often resulting in an unwarranted state of lethargy that sticks with you for the rest of the day. Then there’s that blackened ring of soot that trims the collar of your crisp, freshly washed white t-shirt that serves as a cut-off point for the subtle film of grime settling on your face and neck throughout the day; that same translucent layer of gunk that blackens the inside of your nails when you scratch your skin.
It is at this time, during which there are few winds to move the pollution around—at least to circulate the air—and no snow or rain to absorb these chemical clouds, that Iranians may begin to don the bright white surgical masks that people made popular in Hong Kong and China during the SARS outbreak.
SARS masks, apparently, provide some with an effective filter through which to breathe. However, I’m sure even these medically sanctioned guards don’t protect from the most harmful chemicals in the air, the ones we cannot detect.
One way I’ve dealt with the toxic air is by stuffing my face into my headscarf; but this rarely works because the garment usually smells ten times worse, catching all the muck that would otherwise have soaked into my hair. I’ve also tried breathing differently, which takes a lot of focus and mind-over-matter-type motivation because of the fewer and shorter breaths I force my body to live off of. Still, I may be moving towards the SARS mask soon enough.
The papers blame the problem on the capital city’s overcrowded streets. On a daily basis, 3.5 million vehicles traverse Tehran, which is way over the designated—but not enforced—limited capacity of 1 million cars. As a result of this excess, there is a lot more concentrated emission of poisonous gases in the city.
Fortunately, if you can function as your normally breathing self in Tehran’s polluted streets, without the waves of occasional, smoke-induced nausea washing over you and depleting you of energy needed for the most productive part of your day, then you’ll probably survive a carbon monoxide poisoning attempt on your life. Call this “the bright side.”