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(Coffee) Shop Talk

Welcome to the shop where I talk about things that go well with coffee, which is almost everything.

swine flu pigletAs many of you may know, swine flu is a big deal. As many of you hopefully know, it has nothing to do with pigs.

It is no less of a big deal in Egypt, despite the small numbers of people who actually have it. Shortly after H1N1 became a big deal, the Egyptian government had all of the pigs in the country slaughtered. Awhile ago I was part of a conversation with an Egyptian who supported that move, even though he acknowledged that killing pigs had nothing directly to do with preventing the new flu. The prevailing theory among myself and fellow expat teachers is that the pigs were killed to stick one to the Christian population (the predominant Muslim population doesn’t eat pigs anyway). He claimed that it had nothing to do with religious persecution; instead, it was a move to force the extremely poor and unhygenic pig farmers to find a different, cleaner occupation, thus they would be less likely to spread germs in general and H1N1 germs in particular. I personally feel that this argument doesn’t hold a lot of water. My comment was, “so it wasn’t a racist thing, it was a classist thing?” Further arguments on his part seemed to be aimed more at justifying classim than refuting my view.

Egyptian swine flu absurdity has also affected me on a more personal level. The school that I came to Cairo to work at was forced to open weeks later than scheduled because the Ministry of Education decreed that no schools could open before October 3. I feel that this was a silly move for a couple of reasons. The first is that, when a disease is nowhere near epidemic proportions, the net health gain from keeping kids out of school is definitely outweighed by the net educational loss of kids not being in school. Secondly, I think that move almost would have made sense if this were the spring semester. That way the postponement would have been towards the warmer, non-flu season. One could have argued, “Kids are more likely to catch flu in the winter, so let’s wait and open school when it’s warmer and they’re less likely to be spreading disease.” However, this is the fall semster. The only way I can interpret that is, “Ok, so let’s wait and open school later, closer to flu season.” Meaning that not only are kids starting school weeks later than normal, they are also more likely to catch the flu immediately after starting school rather than three weeks into it. Meaning that they are less likely to learn anything at all during this semester. Brilliant. (Happily, I’ve actually had relatively few absences so far.)

In addition to all of this, once students are actually at my school, they are required to have two surgical masks in their bags at all times. This will keep them healthier by….providing a protective talisman against voodoo germs? Some students do wear their masks, but I teach a kindergarten class. When you see a five-year-old in an adult-sized surgical mask, you will first of all laugh, and second of all realize that expecting them to wear it all day is impractical and kind of mean. Some of them can barely see over it. Never mind the fact that surgical masks are not magical germ-filters; all they can do is contain germs when the person wearing them coughs or sneezes. They’re not meant to protect the wearer, but rather the vulnerable person that the wearer would otherwise be breathing on.

On an even more personal level, my mother called me from seven time zones and umpteen thousand miles away for about three minutes just to make sure I didn’t have swine flu yet. At the time of publication, I still do not have swine flu.

(As a possibly interesting side note, I do frequently speak the way that I write. I feel that this may account for some of the blank stares I get from EFL and kindergarten students; unfortunately, speaking in semicolons and subordinate clauses is a hard habit to break.)


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