It's influenza season, and there's one thing I've learned since I've been in Japan about illnesses: people love to talk about them. I hate to talk about illness, but whether it's norovirus or the bird flu or the New Flu, the news broadcasts cover the topic in-depth and so do people in casual conversations. And because I work in a school, it's a topic that we have to have conversations about because influenza impacts everyone here, from the students to the hardworking cafeteria staff to the office people to the teachers. Even one of our interview tests yesterday featured various forms of influenza as its topic. There's no escaping. Especially since one entire class here has been completely destroyed by the flu. Cancelled for the rest of the week.
This doesn't affect my schedule, since I'm through teaching them until next week. It's certainly strange going into a half-empty classroom, though. The kids seem to be in a different headspace entirely. They're not as attentive, they're more easily distracted. There's almost a holiday mood among the survivors, or the feeling of a Saturday class even though it's Monday or Tuesday. It throws me off the rhythmic method the JTE and I have developed. I feel an impending sense of doom, of some apocalypse in our near future.
Then it's back to the teachers' room to listen to more phone conversations about influenza, and to receive handouts about it. Masks on, hands washed, teachers joking about the situation in that way all people do when circumstances grow beyond their control and they become flotsam on the tide of an ever-flowing, ever-changing situation. You have to wisecrack. It's human nature.
This is the first time since I started working here we've lost an entire class. Last year, we came close during the height of flu season. On the whiteboard the school nurse toted up the names and numbers of our absentee kids, the ones with high fevers underlined in black, the confirmed flu cases in blue. This year that single class hit their sickness limit, and like a weary platoon where casualties have destroyed its combat effectiveness in wartime, the rest were pulled off the front lines to recuperate and wait for replacements. Maybe they'll be folded into the other classes. Maybe they'll all be sent home until the crisis passes.