To digress slightly, I must say that I like my doctor. I do.
Whenever I fancy that I have some terminal affliction, he checks me over, and then slaps me over the head, before telling me to get my shit together. I go to see him before every holiday, and he jabs me like a pin-cushion with every concoction that he has at his disposal.
Except this time.
Right now, as I sat on the bus, sweltering, I was mentally transported back to his rooms. I could hear him telling me that Yellow Fever was reasonably rare in the area of my travel (perhaps he hadn’t heard of Africa?). Maybe there was some medical reason why he just didn’t jab me for kicks and giggles, I don’t know. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been pricked like a meth addict anyway.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “But look, sometimes the border guards will ask for the yellow vaccination book. If they do, I want you to write in the book yourself.”
“Just write in it?” I asked, a little taken aback. Impersonating a medical practitioner was not usually my style.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “Write ‘yellow fever’ here,” he pointed to the fatal spot, “and then forge my signature. I give my permission.”
“I see,” I said. I didn’t see. He wasn’t finished.
“Whatever you do, DO NOT allow the guards to give you an injection at the border.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because they don’t always use new needles. So just sign my name.”
Now, this theory is all very well, except that as I didn’t actually have the little yellow pamphlet with me, I could hardly forge it.
On reflection, perhaps I should have asked more questions. When I related this tale to my fellow travellers, there was a consensus: get a new doctor. But as I said before, I like my guy. His beard is cool.
The officials were insistent. There was no way I was getting into Tanzania without a yellow book (forged or not), or a jab. There was a specific table for the inspection of the booklet, and one could not pass into the promised land until the bridge was metaphorically crossed. The purchase of a new yellow book was mandated.
This task could be accomplished for the princely sum of $50 USD. Of course, they did not take credit cards, and I had to cadge a fiddy from a colleague. We were told where to sign, and money changed hands. I noted that it had already been completed for my convenience, confirming that I was the proud recipient of a vaccination.
Now, this was all very well for the young lady, who was prophylactically protected from the scourge, but I was not, although I was now legally allowed to travel.
I instituted further enquiries. The nurse indicated that she thought I had already had the needle, was apologetic, and took me into the back room. I was determined to ensure that a new syringe packet was opened.
My fears were groundless. This nurse was wearing a gown with the slogan “Reduce AIDS in Africa”, so that was promising. I watched like an eagle as she extracted a disposable needle from a sealed packet, and jabbed me.
What was a little concerning was the fact that neither I nor my friend had to produce any proof of vaccination, and therefore it’s a reasonable conclusion that the simple payment of $50 will exempt anyone from complying with the rules, which is hardly an effective disease prevention policy.
We were then marched through no-man’s land to the Tanzanian border, where they also duly and inevitably collected another fee, and sent us on our way, onward to the Serengeti.