Off travelling this week, I did better than normal with my beleaguered yellow card. I nearly forgot it completely, of course. Then I remembered, and found it in minutes in the ‘certificates’ pocket of my concertina file. I don’t think I would have done. ‘Certificates’ is a new place for it. But I had spotted it there some weeks ago when sorting out my son’s birth certificate. And there it still sat, ‘Duplicata’ stamped on it, from the time I had to get it replaced at the six-year mark in my last 10-year run of yellow fever jab.
Today, it also contains my most recent jab, from just two years ago, which Nairobi Hospital explained to me is now forever. No more 10-year renewals: I am yellow fever protected until the day I die.
Which is good for me, but not quite so good for that card. For I may be going strong, but that card, it’s not. Indeed, my six-year-old, unlaminated piece of paper does not have the air of a card that’s going to run the whole course with me in any possible conceivable future.
Yet it matters a lot that it does. Engraved on my brain still is the time I arrived in Johannesburg and that card was not in my passport. I got filtered off, had begun the interviewing process. The prospect loomed of being put on a plane back to Nairobi – until I found it in my travel papers, slipped down when I popped my passport in with my printed boarding passes.
Never has my relief been so great.
Indeed, so often has my card been lost that every time I lay my hands on it easily I feel like the trophy winner – maybe I should be held high on shoulders and cheered through passport control – yay, I have my yellow card! Look what an amazingly organised and on-top-of-it-all individual I am.
But the thing that confounds me most in this entire test of humanity – the test being: how able are you to retain a small piece of paper, too large for a purse or wallet, but essential to travel, and liable to fray, smudge, tear and disintegrate – is why do we actually need to do this at all?
Its whole point is travel. I don’t have a yellow card for another reason. Does anyone? I have it because there are a whole bunch of countries that will not let me in, or from one to another, without proof I have been variously vaccinated. So why doesn’t the proof go into my passport?
The visas do. I have countless visas stamped into this one, and the two before it. My passport is fit for work permits. No one ever made me keep hold of bits of unlaminated cardboard with a rubber stamp, a sticker and a signature in order to be a taxpayer and resident. Into my passport they all went.
So what is it, exactly, about travel-vital vaccinations that cannot be recorded in my travel documents?
It’s hard enough when I have to hand over my passport at every building reception in CBD, and many across Nairobi too. How many times have I risked an international lock out as that yellow card swished about in some ‘people-currently-in-the-building’ box?
But if it was a page in my passport it couldn’t just drop out. If I lost it then, it would be because I had lost my whole passport, and then I am not travelling anywhere anyway.
So here’s my plan. When they make me Foreign Minister of No-Name Land, I shall make it my very first act to add a travel vaccinations page into the passports of my esteemed nation.
Or maybe, when I retire, I shall just spend my years writing letters, to international boards, to the World Health Organisation, to the EU, to governments everywhere. I shall put stamps on them and walk to my nearest post office to post them.
Dear European Commission, Dear Director General, Dear Minister, Dear Prime Minister, Dear President, my 400 letters, please can we stop with the yellow card joke now, and put our vaccinations in our passports? Thank you.