Sunday, July 29, 2007

Four Wheelers and Smokers

Yesterday I was driving down the street in a taxi when I saw a girl cruise down the central street on a 4-wheeler. Amidst the loud roar from the bright green machine’s engine, I saw her white blouse flutter and her dark hair stream behind her. She wasn’t wearing a helmet.

I’ve seen four-wheelers around, especially in off-road areas and near the super-wealthy neighborhood of Ubari. But I’d never seen anyone using a four-wheeler as transport through the center of the city. I asked the driver whether it was legal.

“Here, whether or not something is legal doesn’t matter much,” he said, highlighting a significant difference between Santa Cruz and Quito.

He told me that it was dangerous to drive such a vehicle through town, given the risk of tipping over. And that not wearing a helmet was crazy. He said that four-wheeling is a popular pastime among the wealthy. Every year, a caravan travels over two weeks or so to a remote place like Beni or Trinidad, attracting about 500 people to the journey.

I have developed a canine-like sense of smell in the past few months. I can identify a scent from quite a distance and the scents affect me strongly – from the lemony scent of the bathroom cleaner used in Quito to the exhaust emitted by the micros, my cherry office freshener, dust buildup in a car, and of course, the ever-present problem of smoke. I’ve never liked breathing second-hand smoke. But I’ve never disliked it more than now when I notice it from all the way across a room.

In the office, it’s gotten better since the human resources department sent out a letter signed by the General Manager strongly recommending that smokers, in consideration for the health of their colleagues, not smoke in work areas during work hours. It still happens sometimes, but with the letter as a backing of institutional policy, it’s easier to ask people to stop and I notice a definite improvement in the air quality. This is not the case however in restaurants, cafes and other public places.

I think it’s unfortunate that the burden is on the non-smokers to have to ask to not have chemicals blown into their faces. I truly miss and appreciate the laws in the U.S. that guarantee everyone the right to breathe clean air (as well as pursue their personal habits in their personal spaces). That’s one aspect of working in the U.S. I’m really looking forward to.

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