The Air We Breathe

Copenhagen, Denmark

It was dusty in Sulaymaniyah, but nothing compared to what I returned to in Singapore. In Suli I learned quickly that I couldn’t inhale through my mouth. Nasal filters needed to deal with that air before it hit my lungs (not the best pair, since a bout of bronchitis in 2013), or I’d be gasping for breath.

Then I got back to Singapore. Our government is undertaking an enormous Home Improvement Program in our area that includes giving every household brand new bathrooms – among other things – for the price of a song. It’s a tremendous program, but it did mean that the air in and around the flat was full of fine concrete dust for weeks on end, as hundreds / thousands of us got our bathrooms remodelled. It got into everything, relentlessly. By the end of my first week back, it felt like my throat was lined with concrete. I discovered after a time that an N95 mask works great, but it’s impossible to sleep in. Four weeks into this floury atmosphere, and a week before I left for Denmark, I got the flu.

By the time I got to Flemming’s temporary home in Copenhagen, the wintry Danish air in my clogged, half-functioning lungs meant I just about passed out climbing the three floors to the flat.

I’ve always taken breathable air for granted. That bout of bronchitis in 2013 I’d mentioned happened in Mexico City, one of the most atmospherically polluted cities in the world. It was a terrible month, including a week where, too weak to move, I actually thought I wasn’t going to make it. That was thankfully my paranoia speaking, and maybe also my good fortune of staying with an excellent host. In the days I was laid up, José kept me fed, checked in on me like an anxious parent, and somehow got me to the doctor several times.

That’s the sickest I remember being since… I can’t remember when. It took years to properly recover my lung capacity, and I’ve not been the same since. I’m more sensitive to air quality than I was before, and anything respiratory-related takes me longer to recover from.

I’m pleased to report that I’m rid of the flu now. Free to take big, big gulps of this clean Nordic winter before I head back to Singapore to line my lungs with concrete once again!