The last week our country of residence has hit international news. And it’s not because of anything we or our Singaporeans around us have done. No, it’s because of our “Indonesian neighbor.”
Indonesia and Malaysia produce most of the world’s supply of palm oil. Part of the farming process requires the clearing of land. The cheapest way to accomplish this is to “slash and burn” during the dry season. The combination of hundreds of forest fires, persisting dry (aka “non-rainy”) weather, and the close proximity between countries means that Singapore ends up with haze from its neighbors smoking habit. Sometimes this haze seems little more than a thicker day with less clarity than the norm. At other times the air quality diminishes and a smokey film descends on Singapore. Last week the haze was the worst in the history of the Republic of Singapore.
It started out with what would be considered normal haze. The haze just continued to get worse. A funky aroma of something stale and burn was permeating the air in Singapore. Health advisories from the government recommend limiting exposure and activities outdoors. For more susceptible categories in the population, such as elderly and children, the advisement eventually became to remain indoors and limit activity… indefinitely.
The haze persisted enough to make me stir-crazy. But, eventually I was let loose.
Released from the haze:
Saturday morning dawned. Andrew got out of bed to go get Gideon, who was calling us to come get him. I asked what time it was.
Andrew replied, “Just after 9 o’clock.”
“WHAT? NINE????” I asked, sure that I had misheard.
Apparently, Gideon decided the day that his Daddy was able to sleep in was a good day for him to sleep in too!
It was a great way to start out Saturday.
You see I had been at home for over 90 hours. Gideon and I had been grocery shopping Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon the general haze thickened to a smelly smoggy don’t-go-outside type of haze. In fact, the haze pasted the from “moderate” to “unhealthy” levels according to Singapore’s pollutant standards index (psi). We stayed home the rest of Tuesday.
Wednesday the levels were in the unhealthy range almost the entire day. Gideon and I decided we could wait for the haze to pass and stayed inside with the windows closed and the air conditioners on to filter the air.
What we didn’t realize was that the levels were not on their way to decreasing, but rather to increasing. Thursday the levels hiked up and up and eventually passed the all time high EVER recorded in Singapore.
The bad news was that I became stuck inside as Gideon and I waited for the haze to subside. The good news was that I had a new hobby to keep me busy: stalk the online service that posted the psi readings every hour and read news articles about the historical moment I was living in.
Andrew went to work taking care to spend minimal time outside. His company handed out respitory masks to their employees to use for commuting. By the end of the week they even went so far as to give employees the option of working from home.
Andrew would get home and gently suggest that I go out for a walk (with his mask). But I would look at the numbers and complain that I didn’t have a good enough reason to go out and deal with the pollution.
However, by Saturday I was really getting desperate. With a glimmer of sunshine seen through the window and with the need to get outside and do anything, I masked up and went to the mall while Andrew stayed home with Gideon.
It took a few minutes to get used to walking around with a mask and not feel overly self-conscious. But I realized it was for my health, and also that I wasn’t the only one doing it. I counted people that I went by and realized that 30% of 100 people I counted were wearing some type of mask. Many were only wearing paper/surgical type of masks which do not keep the smaller pollutant particles out. But regardless of the type of mask, the number of people wearing masks made me feel like I wasn’t it in it alone, even though [besides Gideon’s company] I had spent several days straight alone and inside.
I was amazed by how it seemed to be becoming clearer by the minute as I walked outside. When I got home, we checked the numbers. While not out of the unhealthy range, they were the lowest they had been in several days! The forecast was calling for hazy conditions to persist for several more days, but the current haze level was barely in the unhealthy range. We decided it was time for the whole family to get out, because it might be last break in haze we would get for several days.
We decided even though it wasn’t necessarily “fresh air” – the sunshine and getting outside the house would effectively be as good as fresh air.
I think Gideon enjoyed getting outside of the house. I have been thankful that he isn’t crawling or walking yet: otherwise, I’m sure he would’ve felt much more cooped up in the house.
To match our light hearted mood, Andrew took it upon himself to stop by one of our favorite bakeries and get me my favorite treat: a mexico raisin bun!
I have never been so happy to be out doors and away from home for a walk!
Sunday the winds unexpectedly changed causing the thickest of the haze to leave Singapore and head north to Malaysia. (Well, unexpected according to the weather report. I, and I’m sure others, had been praying that the haze would let up. I’m only sorry that the Malaysians are still dealing with it.) While the haze is still kicking around here in Southeast Asia, we have had a break of it for several days. It is still mildly hazy, but not enough to be constantly reminded of the awful thick stuff worth of breaking records from last week. Praise the Lord!
Now, I’m praying that the haze holds off through my sisters visit. I can’t believe she’ll be here next week!!!!