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Welcome to my blog! True to my name, Shiva the Spy, I will be your eyes and ears in Iran, bringing you detailed accounts of everyday life from my perspective. You'll have a window into the social, cultural, political, and historical aspects of the country. I will bring you the stuff that American media can't...or won't. So, check back regularly for stories, photos, commentary, and anything else your curiosity calls for.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Bright Side :0)

I’ve heard of schools shutting down due to blizzards, hurricanes, and other natural phenomena, but before today, I hadn’t considered air pollution as a reason to take the day off.

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.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI, Steve,
Thanks for your comments. You bring up an interesting angle to the pollution problem that I haven't yet considered--politics. I guess I viewed it more as a social and economic issue, rather than a political one. So, from a more political perspective, I'm not sure I'd place blame on President Ahmadinejad, yet, considering he's been in office for less than six months, while pollution has been a major health risk for more than five years, here. However, I think he should try to fix it, as his predecessors have sought to do. Ahmadinejad, who taught my cousin's traffic engineering class, may have the background knowledge needed to come up with more effective solutions. So, we'll see. Up to now, it appears that nobody has dealt with Tehran's air pollution properly because it continues to be one of Iran's most damning issues, worsening at an exponential rate.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally forgot about the pollution in Tehran. I heard that it’s worst than ever now, but I never thought it’s this bad.
I don’t know what the government has in mind to solve this major problem. I hope they do something about it, because this problem might get totally out of hand and end up being very costly for the population and the healthcare system.
Take care of yourself Shiva in anyway shape or form you can…
Cheers :)

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Farzad,

I think the problem has already gotten out of hand, and people are definitely pissed about it. Aside from regulating traffic at times, and calling for schools to close, I don't think much else has been done to tackle the pollution issue.

Thanks for your concern for my safety. I've been shopping around for gas masks.

1:59 PM  

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