CAIRO: At 5:58 am on Monday, Jesse Sossong and four other quarantined students waited by the door of the American University in Cairo dormitory in Zamalek.
At 6 am, the doors opened, and the students ran outside, holding an impromptu celebration on Mara’ashly Street.
The weeklong quarantine was officially over.
On June 7, the Egyptian Ministry of Health confirmed that two students living in the dorm had tested positive for the H1N1 virus. Egypt had only one previously confirmed case of the swine flu, a 12-year-old Egyptian-American girl who was stopped before leaving the airport.
Health officials tested all the students in the Zamalek dormitory in the early morning hours of May 8, and at the time imposed a 24-hour quarantine on the dorm.
When five more students in the dorm tested positive for H1N1, the Ministry of Health extended the quarantine to a full week. Students at the dorm were first informed of the extended quarantine by watching Egyptian state TV.
AUC celebrated the end of the quarantine with a breakfast party. Students handed out t-shirts that read “I Survived the Great Quarantine.
Approximately 20 students came downstairs for the breakfast. Some were fully dressed, ready to catch the 7:10 AM bus to the AUC campus in New Cairo.
Others came down in their pajamas, happy to be able to go outside. They sat in the common room, eating breakfast and smoking cigarettes, reminiscing about the past week.
AUC President David Arnold was in attendance. He expressed relief that the quarantine was over.
“The students have been cooped up for seven days, he said. “They’re ready to go out and do what they came here to do: pursue their academic courses.
Students were also relieved that the week of isolation had ended. Many expressed frustration at having been in Cairo only a few days before the quarantine began, and were eager to resume classes.
Nonetheless, many conveyed positive sentiments about their experience under the quarantine. Bonding with fellow students was on top of the list.
“It was actually cozy, said Rama Abdul Hadi, one of the quarantined students. “Normally people have a specific group of friends, but with the quarantine everyone spent all their time together.
“It wasn’t what we expected; we thought it would be horrible, said Lana Ali. “Even if there was nothing to do we just sat and talked for hours.
Students described a range of activities intended to pass the time, including yoga, study sessions and late night movies.
One student described writing a song about Tamiflu – a drug that prevents the spread of the influenza virus and which all the students took as a precautionary measure – and performing it on karaoke night.
Students also praised the actions of the AUC administrators and residential advisors.
“At the beginning it was kind of crazy, but by the second or the third day they knew what they were doing, said one student.
Alexander Guindy, residential life director of the dorm, described the challenges of providing food for the students and ensuring that bathrooms and common areas were cleaned with only a small staff available.
He admitted that the Residential Advisors slept “only three or four hours every night. In addition to working with AUC administrators outside the dorm, Guindy and the residential advisors communicated between the English-speaking students and Arabic-speaking staff.
“We wanted students to feel that we are there for them, he said. “We could communicate with the students, find out what they need, go back to the staff, and ask them to provide us with those items.
Food was delivered consistently and paid for by AUC, however Guindy noted that a few restaurants refused to deliver to the dorms. Bathrooms were also cleaned five times a day.
Residential Advisors also scheduled activities for the students. A soccer tournament was held on the basketball court, and two dinners were served on the rooftop terrace of the dormitory.
Students were not the only ones affected, however.
Egyptian staff members were quarantined along with the students and unable to see their families.
“I have two daughters, and now I will go home because I miss them, said Ashour Mohammed Ahmed, an electrician at the dorm. Ahmed Zakaria, part of the cleaning staff, admitted that the past week involved “a lot of work. However, he described the relationship between the staff and students as “very good throughout the quarantine.
The students will now return to classes at the university, which had been suspended after the first confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus.
Tomo Takaki, one of the quarantined students, explained that he will be in class “from 8:30 to 5 all week in order to make up for the week of the quarantine.
Classes resumed at the AUC campus in New Cairo, after being suspended since June 8.
Only one student was seen with a face mask, which she had draped casually around her neck.
Most students said that they were unconcerned about the H1N1 outbreak at the Zamalek dorm. However, they admitted that some of their classmates are worried.
“The problem is that the Egyptians think that swine flu is death, said Abdullah Mohamed. “There are students here scared.
Many students have also heard rumors that Egyptian students are dropping their summer courses.
“Today my professor said that students had dropped the course. She didn’t say that it was because of swine flu but I think that was the reason, said Hassan El-Sada.
“A lot of people are dropping classes, said Lina Geoushy. She believed this was unnecessary, adding “It’s not that big a deal.
Although the rumor circulated the campus, it wasn’t confirmed.
Students also denied any concerns about the students from the Zamalek dormitory returning to campus.
“I’m not concerned about the students in the dormitory because of the AUC email, which said that they all took Tamiflu, said Geoushy.