I step out of the room and approach the three steps to the playground when I am assaulted.

We’d been here for a couple years before we started to pay attention to air quality. In fact, we had been working on the assumption that the air here is fine.

Of course, the Harmattan is its own beast. Thousands of tons of Sahara sands airborne, bringing haze, density, grounding flights and hampering visibility. The layered dust visits daily. We clean it away, but it persists. It says hello again, and again, and again.

But the Harmattan is seasonal. It comes, stays, then goes.

Unfortunately, the type of assault that arrived this morning visits year-round.

Burning is habit here. Yard waste, food scraps, trash. Burning makes it all go away. It’s easy, effective, cheap.

But nothing is without cost.

Levels of particulate matter are high. Not China high, but they are up there. Literally.

When a big burn takes place the daily parade of ‘not-quite emissions-checked’ vehicles is augmented by suffocating black smoke. It’s the cost of doing business. The cost of development. The cost of we’re not quite sure how to manage all our waste.

And so, when I step out of my classroom I am assaulted. My eyes water and squint, nose wrinkles. For a moment the smell evokes roasted campfires, calling out for marshmallows. But there’s more to this. An extra layer, something that doesn’t quite sit right.

I seek refuge under the mango tree.

And take a breath.

Published by Radutti

Teaching in Ha Noi, screwing things up daily but surviving to write about it. ...everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

Join the Conversation


  1. Wow, great writing. First, such a surprise- the kind of assault. You managed to give us necessary information while still keeping it a personal , experiencial piece. And ending with gratitude for the refuge of trees!


  2. I’m intrigued by the Harmattan. I lived in India after graduating from college, and there was always a smell of burning in the air. The air was often hazy. Your post reminds me of that experience.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: