“Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage; minds innocent and quiet take that for an hermitage.” – Richard Lovelace

Welcome to the Quarantine Quarters.

There’s plenty to do here.

This was not the next subject I planned on writing about, but as we have all seen in the last few weeks, plans can change.

I and my comrades in the Swahili-speaking community here in Utah–50 of us–spent months preparing to attend a religious convention near Los Angeles on March 7th. We rented 15-seater vans so parents and children and friends could all ride together. Between our group and other Swahili speakers in the Western US, we booked hundreds of hotel rooms.

I apologize again to the owners of those hotels. On March 5th, the event was cancelled.

Well, I had already arranged a visit with some pals in the San Diego area, and as of that date, Coronavirus had not yet reached there. So on the 7th, I washed my hands and boarded a plane. Two hours later I got off the plane and washed my hands again.

Besides my flight and a brief trek through the airport, I hardly went in public at all during my visit. My buddies and I spent our days taking walks around the neighborhood, cooking our meals at home, and visiting a tiny bookshop in a remote town that had no customers except the three of us. In not a single place we went did I spot anyone who looked sick.

The day of my flight home, I woke up with a sore throat.

Southern California’s weather, uncharacteristically wet throughout the week, might have given me a simple cold. But this was not the time to hazard guesses. My own health was involved, and even more importantly, the health of others. I wore a mask onto the plane. The man sitting to my right got out a Lysol wipe and sanitized his armrests and tray table, and I did the same. Just before takeoff I accidentally glanced at the text he was composing, and he was reassuring someone back home that ‘the girl next to me has a mask, so it should be fine. :-)’

Whether a layer of cloth can really stop COVID-19 or not, at least my effort made a fellow human feel safer. We all have that option. Since most of us probably don’t have the virus–or if we did, it wouldn’t kill us–we’re within our rights to continue our normal activities, uninterrupted and unchanged. But with whom do those normal activities put us in contact? The elderly, or people with fragile health? Their caretakers?

When the possibility of harming another person exists, the things I would like to do seem unimportant. Or even if they are important, they’re still far less urgent than the protection of human life.

So I’m on self-imposed quarantine for a while. My introversion may bias me, but honestly, living in isolation’s not so bad. For you extroverts who crave human interaction, we still have cell phones and the internet. You might argue that these don’t satisfy the craving. And if you’re only using them for texting and social media, you’re probably right.

But phones can do more than text. Do you have a friend or family member whose voice you haven’t heard for a while? Try calling them. Or when did you last write a thank-you card, a letter, or even a friendly email? If you’re sick, or on precautionary quarantine, this is a rare opportunity to practice having real interactions, even using virtual means.

Let’s all start practicing now. When things settle down and we can see each other again, our company will be more meaningful and satisfying than ever before.

At long last, we’ll see each other in 2020.


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