Havana, City of Smoke

Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 1 — Havana looks like a city of smoke. Those of us with allergies or asthma are confronted with a tremendous dilemma: whether to leave town or stay despite the diseases. Leaving the city isn’t so easy, and even if it were, where would we go to save ourselves?

I know it’s worse in some other places, but that doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the matter.

Whoever gets up early in the morning will see a huge cloud hanging over the city. From some places, such as above the giant Christ statue on the hill overlooking the city, the line that defines that cloud is clearly distinguishable. It’s smog, though what’s curious is that there’s little industry in Havana.

Although I don’t know the exact figures, I can almost assure one that the number of smokers (increasingly younger) is increasing every year. It’s not at all uncommon. Thanks to advertising campaigns for the different brands of cigarettes, the sensitive fibers of people’s emotions are touched – especially those of teenagers. And though not everyone has the money to buy whole packs, the sale of individual cigarettes promotes their use.

Consequently, those of us who don’t smoke are exposed to their nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, lead and cadmium (among other substances) that are released into the air with the burning of each cigarette.

Added to all of this is the gray smoke that comes from spraying to kill off the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, gases from the fumigation that is difficult to avoid given the dengue epidemic in the country.

Therefore, we have to live with this smoke penetrating our lungs and the smell of kerosene wafting into our homes. Ignorant of the risks, we have to ask ourselves if anyone knows what substances are used for fumigating.

At the corner where I live in the outlying Alamar neighborhood, sunrise is anything but peaceful. At each bus stop is the usual black smoke and the familiar sounds of the horns. Plus, not long ago a fleet of roofed-bed trucks were added to the vehicles serving the P3 bus route.

This means an increased number of motors constantly being started up and turned off while expelling their smoke. But where do these gases go?

These too end up in the atmosphere, of course, as we continue breathing in lead, soot and carbon monoxide.

If to all of this we add the methane generated from landfills and the carbon dioxide gases produced from burning garbage, a common practice in the city, all we can do is nostalgically think back to those the days when the air was pure.

The solution is not new: we need to use waterpower, the wind or sun which industrialization had us discarding. We also need to quit using nicotine altogether. In addition to bicycles, we should also go back to getting around on horse, donkey and goat-drawn wagons. I can even imagine riding around in a high stagecoach-like wagon, dodging potholes in Havana. It would a slower trip, but one without so much smog.


Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

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