African Vaccinations – A Failure to Jab (Part 1)

I always forget something.

Sometimes it’s important, sometimes it isn’t.

I left to hike the alpine Overland Track in Tasmania without a warm (or waterproof) jacket. That was important, but it didn’t strike me until I was 2000m above sea-level in a frigid gale.

This time, I realised my mistake much earlier. I was in the Sydney airport lounge, awaiting the boarding call, when I realised I had forgotten my yellow vaccination book. The particular scourge of concern for Africa was yellow fever.

Take it easy, I said to myself. It’s no drama. I can get my wife to email me a copy of the certificate. It’s in my underwear drawer, I’m sure. I sent her a message.

She is a little dismissive of my all-too-familiar incompetence, but locates the vital document amongst my smalls, and sends me a copy. I have no idea whether this will satisfy a twitchy border guard, but it’s better than nothing. It’s too late now anyway.

I take a modicum of solace in the thought that, as there is no yellow fever in Australia, I’m unlikely to be stopped on the way in to Africa, though getting out may be a somewhat different issue. It’s probably unlikely that I’ll be pulled up for not having a yellow fever jab in a country dirty with the stuff. We shall see. It may yet be a short trip. Or a very, very long one.

*

At Nairobi airport, the Kenyan immigration officials, as expected, aren’t interested in my vaccinations, only the 50 USD for the entry fee. In a week’s time, however, I’ll be crossing the border into Tanzania by land, at Isebania near Lake Victoria. This may be a different kettle of foreign fish, but I take some comfort in knowing that I will have a guide.

*

We’re given careful instructions at the Tanzanian Border. No revealing clothes. No smoking. Do not exchange money (there are no approved traders at the border, and hence any money changing will be via the black market). And most importantly, do not take photographs. This last prescription is apparently designed to prevent the planning of terrorist acts, and if discovered (“there are security cameras all over the place”) the police would board the bus, confiscate the camera, and maybe refuse entry or imprison the culprit. One of our group relates a story whereby she was refused exit from France as a result of a visa irregularity, and had to slum it in Paris until the fiasco was remedied.

In case it needs to be said, Isebania is not Paris. I couldn’t imagine being stuck here for an hour, let alone a week. Corrugated iron shacks advertised themselves as being ‘safe’ hotels, and large groups of men idled in the shade, drinking despite the hour. As for photographs, there was little to attract the paparazzi here in any event, unless one has a penchant for dirt and poverty.

I had previously purchased a Tanzanian Visa while in Australia, at the cost of $95 AUD. It can be organised here at the border for only $50 USD, and most of the group were savvy enough to avail themselves of this small saving.

But there was still the problem of my vaccination certificate. I wasn’t the only one lacking the required documentation: another Australian girl had also neglected to bring hers along.

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While we were waiting in the inevitable queue, I inspected the digital version of my certificate, and made an important discovery: I hadn’t been vaccinated against yellow fever at all. Sure, I was germ-proofed against all manner of other forms of pestilence, but not the only one required to cross over.

This revelation triggered a cinematic style flashback. All of a sudden I was back in my doctor’s surgery, discussing my trip and the required injections. It all came back to me…

(Next week – Part 2: What my doctor said – a strange solution)

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