Walking up the wide street that leads to my school one ordinary autumn morning, I realized the Macedonia I had come to know ten years ago would not be the same for a long time. My nose itching, my throat abraded by what felt like thorns, my eyes burning from the windborne dust that had entered them. I pulled the navy blue scarf I was wearing that day over the lower half of my face, but even so, I could not prevent the stench of avarice and illness from crawling over me. I looked up, as if caught in a sandstorm, to see that the dense fumes were escaping an old factory. To be fully honest, I never particularly cared about the concept of sustainability or the environment; I wondered if I did now, and hoped my senses were betraying me. Searching for words to describe how I felt, I thought of a concept I had found in a book once: “You think it’s distant, you think it’s happening in a land far away to people you don’t know, you think that will never be you – and then it hits you”.
Tetovo and Skopje, the cities I called home, were now lingering among the top 5 most polluted cities in Europe. The Air Quality Index, which has been legally set by the EU at a maximum of 50, has been varying between 200-300 now. A strong correlation between the skyrocketing pollution and the release of PM10 particles was recently discovered to be affecting the citizens of Macedonia. No data seems to be absolutely reliable, but given the circumstances, I believe there is space for change. On that note, I would like to direct some words to the world leaders gathering at the COP21 right now:
Truth be told, I am a 16 year old who knows very little about the intricacies of diplomacy, and the complications of business. But I know for sure, this is a painful sight to witness: my professors unable to lecture because of their sore throats, my parents absent from work beaten down by the widespread flu, my peers unable to bike to school, my classmates afraid to open a window, everyone around me avoiding the air itself. And I understand, I really do understand, why someone would favor a good deal over a green environment. If life was a game, I’d also try to be wealthier, more powerful, a winner. Then, I wouldn’t have a single worry in the world; I could buy myself a comfortable mansion, shelter myself from this ‘pollution’, as everyone else calls it, move somewhere where my lungs could fill with oxygen fearlessly. I would be able to detach myself from the world, and let whoever lost the game worry.
But life isn’t a game, unfortunately. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘restart’ button, and no matter how far I run, it seems like my lungs can never fill with oxygen fearlessly: that damned ‘pollution’ always catches me somehow. I tried breathing in the sweet taste of money – it indeed was sweet at the beginning- but that seemed filthy, and I craved purity. I craved for people to grow more informed about this issue, I craved clear water stemming from a river, I craved a clear blue sky, I craved green, freshly trimmed grass, and above all I craved my old Macedonia back.
Dear renowned leaders, if at any moment, sitting in your leather chairs, discussing the fate of this planet – our planet – you encounter these words, and the cries from India, China, all over the world, you’ll find that they roar for a better future. Hear them talk about the icebergs in Greenland, the traffic in Delhi, the sanitary masks in Beijing, hear them out because you think it’s distant, you think it’s happening in a land far away to people you don’t know, you think that will never be you – and then it hits you.