quarantine: from Merriam-Webster
b : a state of enforced isolation
Today, expat teachers at the international school where I work received contracts for the upcoming school year. We have six days to sign, indicating whether we will return for the next academic year. This time around, there’s a bit of a glitch, and it has to do with a word in our director’s cover letter: “quarantine.”
"Before signing your contract, think carefully about the potential problems related to Avian Flu in the region. No one knows at this point whether Avian Flu will spread to humans, but the potential is there…
[I]f Avian Flu does strike, we will, most likely, be quarantined in [this country] (as will other international teachers will be in their respective countries). This quarantine could last from 6-12-18 months. I cannot advise you on what to do in this case, but I want you to think of the potential dangers and related complications connected with this very serious issue.”
So, I’m sitting at my desk during lunch, thinking, how would I handle quarantine? What would it be like, knowing I COULDN’T hop on the next plane home?
It reminded me of when the TwinTowers fell. I was living in the American southwest, teaching in a public school. School didn’t close, so all day we listened to the news on the radio, and talked to each other. We huddled. We hugged. The day the towers fell, not much of my regularly scheduled lesson plans got taught.
The school’s multimedia class went from room to room interviewing students and teachers. When they asked me to share my thoughts on camera, I looked straight into the lense and said, “Our world, as we know it will never be the same.” And I got goose pimples when I said it, for it felt like a prophesy. And I have goose pimples now, just thinking about how little I knew at the time, and how true that statement has become. We live in a state of perpetual fear: the War on Terror is on the news daily, in some shape or form.
When I learned that one of the planes went down in field in an undisclosed Pennsylvania county, I called my parents, worried because they live in the middle of a Pennsylvania cornfield. They were safe. And more than ever, I wanted to be home. Mom was in tears, and so was I.
But, I couldn’t go home. For days, all flights all over the US were grounded. Unless I hopped in my car and drove for three days straight, there was no way I could go home.
That was a strange feeling. Those three days remain, for me, the longest three days of my life. Because I was stuck, far away from where I needed to be.
Which brings me to the present.
I’m not sure how I would handle a year in quarantine, especially in a land 10,000 miles from home. Would I be stoic? Would it "build my character"? Would I reach some sort of spiritual enlightenment, rising above my situation like the masters? Or, would I simply go bonkers, living out the rest of my life in some sort of surreal never-never land, lingering on the edge of insanity?
So, in that spirit of “not knowing what will happen”, I will sign the contract.
I will sign it because I have experienced a pseudo-quarantine in my very own country.
I will sign it because you never know WHAT’s going to happen,
no matter in what country you live.
My suspicion is that the media’s portrayal of the Avian flu is mostly hype. But, the unpredictability of most pandemics is what has most scientists and epidemiologists concerned. The fact is: we don’t know what will happen.