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Diary of a quarantined sociologist - day 1
By Sarah Burrage
Posted on 9/14/2020 3:04 PM

Arrival into SA and Day 1.

Arriving in Australia and walking through the Adelaide airport, through what is normally a bustling arrivals gate, I found my heart rate elevate and a sense of apprehension wash over me. Upon leaving the plane we did not get far before arriving at a temperature check and being asked to swap our masks and sanitize our hands. Going through border security it was just me and a few others in the rows upon rows of empty ropes that would normally house the hundreds of weary travelers departing the plane. I was given a stapled package of information about my quarantine and the rules about arriving in South Australia (SA) from overseas. Standing at the carousel was a lonely affair but following customs I was asked to sit on a chair at the back of the wall, where about a dozen were lined and spaced apart. I was briefed about the COVID legislation passed in SA by a masked member of the police, before awaiting my turn to board a bus and taken to the designated hotel.

Taking us in groups of 11 to 15, we were escorted with our bags out to the bus where staff members was assigned to load luggage. Again I was asked to sanitize my hands and briefed about the boarding protocol by a member of the team. Boarding the bus, we were then taken to a hotel in the Adelaide Central Business District. Passing a police car barricade with lights flashing we pulled up outside of our hotel to the sight of a dozen masked and gowned hotel staff, police and COVID officers. Sitting there expecting someone in a Monsters Inc. like hazmat suit to board the bus, we were instead greeted by a gowned manager with smiling eyes who welcomed us to the hotel and told us about how we would proceed getting to our rooms. Taking us off two at a time, we had help collecting our bags before being escorted to our room. A table of envelopes in alphabetical order, like you would see at a conference, containing our room assignments with more quarantine information. The masked bellboy chatted to me on our way up the elevator in a jovial way and helping with my bags, unlocked my door and departed with a quick wave. In short, the room was amazing. Large and spacious with a balcony and desk. I was beyond relieved and surprised at where I would be spending my time in quarantine.

The feelings I had during this whole experience were mixed and complicated. While sitting on the bus staring out at all the gowned, gloved, and masked airport staff and police officers, it felt uncannily like I was watching a film from a distance about a bio-hazard leak or alien life force that found its way to earth from a distant planet. Dystopian films of the pandemic variety flashed through my mind as I feebly waved goodbye to the staff, not receiving a wave in return. Protocol’s were strict and the mood ominous.  While I felt wobbly and nervous at the images of those people from afar, however, the conversation had was kind and assured. Despite giving the appearance of disease and distrust, people were sympathetic and pleasant; not giving off the vibe that I was some unwanted visitor returned from abroad. Much of the mood that I felt was largely due to the fact that I could not see the workers faces properly or gauge their facial expressions- something largely significant in reading the social atmosphere. While the flashing light, gowned statues, and smell of antibacterial gel was jarring, I found myself in pleasant conversation with the customs staff about where I was coming from and their own experiences of having traveled there. We were encouraged to join a hotel group Facebook page so that we could ‘feel together stay separate’. Calling the front desk that night for information, the hotel reception staff member, Alistair, jokingly said that I had 14 days for questions so why not space them out!  Having a hot shower, a snack and a change of clothes, I began to settle into what would be my home for the next 14 days.

Hitting the pillow late at night, and despite a brief jet lagged wake up period at 4am, I woke at 7am feeling surprisingly human. I feel like I have not actually had the time to feel ‘isolated’ as the idea of quarantine would suggest. Despite being alone, the presence of social media and platforms such as Facetime have provided much needed social contact that otherwise would not be feasible. If possible, I am busier now then I have ever been in having conversations and catch ups with friends and relatives over the phone. Not to mention having care packages dropped off and a constant barrage of messages to respond to. Not having Facebook, however, means that I miss out on the hotels private Facebook Group that gives updates, fun activities, and daily menus (something I would actually love to have). Right now mealtimes take on a roulette feel. Someone knocks on your door over a two hour stretch and deposits a package of food that could quite literally be anything. For lunch today I bit into a deep-fried jalapeno that almost burned my mouth off.  Very substantial and thus far tasty, I find myself waiting for mealtimes like a kid waiting for Santa. Afraid to use the bathroom in case I miss the sacred knock. Taking a 20-minute snooze in the middle of the afternoon to recharge and push through my work is a definite bonus, however, being so close to a fridge stocked with treats is a vice that I am not as good at managing.  Perhaps the strangest feeling I have had today is the sheer desire to leave my room for a walk or visit the front desk but knowing that under no circumstances am I allowed to do so.

I have a balcony for which I can view the outside world, however, that is as far as I go. Don’t get me wrong, I have a to-do list as long as the Burj Khalifa lying down and enough books to read to last beyond the 14 days. It is just the sheer fact that I am not allowed to leave this room that I probably find the most confining. I have made myself a schedule of goals for the day and assigned myself a hopelessly unrealistic workout regime. As ridiculous a connection that can be made, I pulled advice from Peter Greste’s time of imprisonment in Egypt to attempt and maintain as normal a daily routine as possible. Greste, however, did not have access to such plush surroundings and a computer with internet and Netflix- so our comparisons cannot under any circumstances be considered similar. However, the idea of a daily routine and goals was something I took to heart and will endeavor to maintain. In between awaiting the ill-fated ‘knocks’ on my door that tell me food has arrived, I also await visits by the public health nurses who test and check for COVID. Coming to visit me this morning I discovered one nurse and I had the same birthday and we hit it off just fine (turns out a number of the nursing staff and I are born in early October, which gives us much to talk about). The COVID test itself I would definitely not define as pleasant, however, it is not painful. It is just weirdly uncomfortable having a cue tip go up your noise so far that it touches your brain and leaves you with a sensation like needing to sneeze. Fleeing from this test I returned to my nest of pillows and books in my room like the overly sensitive Canadian that I am.

The upsides to this time alone is that it is the first time I have gotten off a plane from travelling and actually had time to myself to decompress and recoup without jumping back into real life. Having two weeks to nap and catch up on what I have missed during the 9 months of fieldwork is actually just what I needed; despite the fact that I am somewhat forcibly detained into doing so. In either case, day 1 passed into the night without much fanfare or drama. A typical day of trying to access slow internet, read emails, get lists written (and not checked off), chat to my mother in law, and reflect on the past week of travel made the day go quite quickly. As an extreme extrovert and natural social creature, I can see how by the end of the 14 days my time in one room will wane.  However, being looked after in a hotel room that is larger than many people’s homes provides some much-needed perspective on rights of privilege, access, and modern human demands for mobility.