Under Quarantine

CAIRO, Egypt — Being roused from your bed by the Egyptian Ministry of Health at 2 a.m. can never portend good things. I had my temperature and throat cultures taken before I drowsily fell back asleep. But unfortunately for me, the masked officials took more than that: They took my freedom. For the next week, I was quarantined inside an American University in Cairo’s dormitory due to a small outbreak of swine flu among the U.S. law students living here (figures).

It wasn’t really so bad. Our dormitory has a small courtyard so we could get some sunlight and fresh air. We organized daily activities like yoga, dinner on the rooftop, and a soccer tournament to keep things lively. But daily I would mope for a bit by my window facing the street, once making eye contact with some passersby and gleefully chatting with them using only gestures, until one of the policemen, who stand on every corner with AK 47s, yelled at us to stop. Evidently I might have passed the swine flu just by grinning at them.

But I understand why Egypt decided to pen us up. While their actions may seem extreme given that, at the time I was quarantined, infected Harvard students were attending graduation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended staying at home and resting as the flu’s best treatment, Egypt is in an entirely different situation. Very few people have health coverage, most do not get ideal nutrition, and proper hygiene as we think of it is simply non-existent–our dorm didn’t have soap in the bathrooms until the quarantine. Avian flu caused hundreds of deaths here, and so officials are right to be concerned about the impact swine flu could have on the poorer population.

I just hope I’m not in town for the next outbreak.

Anna E. Boch, a Crimson editorial writer, is a Near Eastern languages and civilizations concentrator in Winthrop House.