Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down

January 19, 2012

El Salvador Unique

El Salvador is heavy on the volcanoes. All these gorgeous conical mountains are or were active volcanoes. These beauties sometimes turn deadly. It hasn’t been that long since the last volcanic eruption.

For that reason, when I first saw ash raining down from the sky on a windy day, I was worried. I could not see any sign of fire nearby, and did not smell more than the usual amount of smoke.

It bears explaining that there is in fact a “usual amount of smoke” in the air here.
Depending on where you live, your neighbors may be in the habit of burning trash, both household debris and leaf litter. Much of it is very compostable, particularly here, where everything rots pretty quickly (but that is a whole other rant). Then there is the lack of any enforced regulation for vehicle emissions. How strange that I actually feel healthier! I guess we take the good with the bad.

After a crazy evening of watching Emme chase little black tendrils of ash around the park, I asked a neighbor. I learned that the ash drifts up from the cane fields this time of year.

In what sounds like a risky and destructive process to my “guess prone” ears, the farmers burn the cane fields before harvest to make the process less labor intensive. The air in the cane growing areas (a significant portion of the country) is thick with the stuff during this season.

Though San Salvador is at a higher elevation, and some distance from the cane, when the wind is at the right angle, the city still gets the soot from the fires. As you can see from the video (which I did not take, but found on youtube) it is not a “spare the air” kind of process.

The cost of “cheap” anything, can be quite high in the grand scheme of things. There is much study going into an epidemic of kidney disease among rural men in Central America, specifically cane field workers. No specific cause is known. While some attribute the deadly trend to chronic dehydration from working long hours in the heat, others suspect farm chemicals. Whatever the cause, the numbers are alarming.

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About Nanelle

Nanelle is a 43 year old former Ballet Dancer and Police Officer. Join her on their move to El Salvador, Living life in El Salvador as an American expat woman and loving it.

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One Response to “Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down”

  1. Zaira Says:

    Thanks for your post regarding Ashes. We recently moved to San Salvador and I assumed the ashes were only from burning trash and debris. Burning sugar cane fields. Okay. Also – interesting to read about the kidney epidemic. There is so much to be concerned about regarding Farmers, what they are exposed to, and their difficult lives, here, in the states, and world-wide.