Here in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, there are two main seasons.
First comes The Burning Season.
Next comes The Rainy Season.
We are currently shifting from The Burning Season into The Rainy Season, but let me tell you, that change cannot happen fast enough!
“What the heck is a Burning Season,” you are probably wondering. “Does it have to do with the temperature being burning hot?”
Nope! Nothing to do with temperature and everything to do with air quality.
When they say “Burning” they mean actual burning - with actual fire - of the fields and the land as a way to get the earth ready for planting before that Rainy Season starts.
I can’t comment on what the rest of Honduras looks like since the start of the burns at the beginning of March. But here in Tegucigalpa we have been sitting inside a cloud of retched smoke and ash.
The people do not burn only the fields intended for farming. They burn everything.
Empty lots in the city, stretches of unused land along the highways, any spot of earth that has a couple of weeds on it will be burned.
Why? To get rid of the weeds.
Yes, I know, they make a spray for that. Or a lawnmower. But why use a spray when you can permanently damage the pulmonary systems of people who can’t afford the medication?
Burning has been used in this capacity for generations. The government would like to put a stop to it, but what can they do? This is a system where, after fireworks were banned a couple of years ago, we can still hear our neighbors shooting them off for special occasions, holidays, or whenever they feel the urge to be obnoxiously loud.
“Hey, it’s Wednesday!! Let’s light a firecracker to celebrate!”
I don’t think the demise of burning is going to happen any time soon.
But hold your breath anyway, because you don’t want to inhale the contaminated oxygen we’ve got around here!
First off, there’s the smoke. Many days out of the week, the entire city is smothered in an awful gray haze. Some days, I misinterpret the overcast skies as signs of rain. If we could only be so lucky! And because many homes either don’t have central air conditioning, or none at all, windows have to remain open on a daily basis. After a weekend of no housekeeping, our shelves and knick-knacks look like they haven’t been dusted in a year. The grittiness can be felt walking barefoot through our wall-to-wall tiled house. And on bad days, chunks of ash can be found in the outdoor laundry room and all around the patio.
It is possible to get accustomed to all of the mess resulting from the burns. Consequences to our health are a whole other story.
Since March, 7-year-old Miss Priss and 4-year-old Lil’ Miss Sunshine have had continuous mild chest congestion, a little hacking cough and runny noses. And there is no amount of Claritin that is gonna clear that up! Thankfully, we are only here for a couple of Burning Seasons. Imagine if they had to grow up in this year after year?
But there is a country-full of people who do. And as I gazed up at the sun during its ascent one morning, looking like an angry orange ball as it tried to shine through a thick, nearly impenetrable blanket of smoke, I wondered why the people here had put up with this for so long.
And I prayed for rain.