The Yellow Passport Club

20150521_083852“So, which vaccinations do you need?”

“Um.” I unfold the paper and hand it to him.

“Ah.” He winces. I take this as a relatively bad sign. “Where are you going?”


One of the realities of travelling to Africa is the preventive medicine involved. There are a slew of over the counter medicines to combat diarrhea, headaches, diarrhea, stomach issues, and diarrhea.

There are anti-malaria pills and I feel like Father Merrin about to confront Pazuzu in The Exorcist. We first met 20 years ago in India. If you have taken anti-malaria pills then you know that these pills give you the strangest, most vivid dreams imaginable, like Tim Burton taking LSD with Salvatore Dali in your subconscious. In India, we’d awake every morning and glare around the room, sweating, panting, and wonder how one brain could create the roller coaster we’d been on all night.

And just like anytime I am waiting to get on a roller coaster, I am not looking forward to it, but I am.

Primarily, though, there are vaccinations to get sorted out and there are a lot of them to consider. This is reflected in my list, which is comprehensive. Distressingly, I have noticed that the list of illnesses you can potentially come down with in Ethiopia is about 20 times longer than the illnesses you are required to vaccinate against before going there.

For example:

The World Health Organization recommends the following for all travelers: diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, as well as hepatitis B.

The Center for Disease Control (US) recommends the following for all parts of Africa: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningococcal meningitis, rabies, and typhoid, as well as boosters for tetanus, diphtheria, and measles.

Vaccinations required for entry into Ethiopia: yellow fever.

Now, notice any glaring anomalies among those lists? Right.

Today, the doctor has narrowed it down to inoculations for yellow fever, tetanus, and a couple of the hepatitis siblings. He is now going over my vaccination options installment plan, as though he’s selling me a living room furniture set.

“Now, you can get hepatitis A alone for this much, or, I can offer you hepatitis A and B together and it’ll save you this much money. It will be cheaper. Do you remember when you had your last tetanus shot?”

“No, I don’t remember…”

“Well, if it was more than 20 years ago, then it’ll be three shots and your insurance will cover that. Now, once you get the yellow fever shot everything else is off the table for a month. You can’t get anything for a month. OK?”


“So, what do you think?”

“I think I’ll take the hepatitis A and the yellow fever for today. I’ll do tetanus before I leave.”

“Good choice. Good choice.”

He sends me out to his nurse who asks me if I’m a fainter. I tell her that I am not and that I don’t mind needles at all. Nevertheless, a very good nurse, she takes my mind off of the needles she’s going to plunge into me by telling me about her upcoming motorbike trip to Provence. I wonder if there’s a soft cheese vaccination for France. When she’s jabbed me twice, once in each arm, she goes into her drawer and pulls out a bright yellow passport, which she fills in, stamps, and hands to me. This is my proof of yellow fever and hepatitis A vaccinations.

Though she doesn’t shake my hand or congratulate me, I do feel that I have been allowed entry into some club. The off the beaten track club. The adventure club. The good luck and go to a hospital if you shit a dolphin club. The Yellow Passport Club. And though I wonder if she might give me the needles to commemorate the occasion, I do not ask.

I am asked to wait 20 minutes in the waiting room, just in case I have a bad reaction to the serum. I read and fondle the new passport in my pocket. The doctor asks if I feel OK. When I assure him that I do, he sends me off with a handshake and a reminder to come back for my second hepatitis A shot in a month. Everything’s off the table for a month.

I wander up the road in the rain and decide to visit a friend who’s tending bar around the corner. I think I’ll celebrate my entry into the club with a few more shots.

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