The truck is moving. Sharon, our guide, stands, bracing one arm.
“Get out your passports and health record book. You need proof of your yellow fever vaccination. We’ll be at the Malawi border in an hour.”
Our booklets, along with our minds, are blank.
Kevin and I hadn’t planned on going this far. We had assumed that three weeks of camping on an expedition truck in Southern Africa would probably be enough. But we’re loving this, and so, we begin the bumpy trek towards the next border…which is when we discover that Malawi will not allow anyone in without their vaccinations.
The various national health booklets are propped open. All the nations are similar in that they are all signed by a doctor, stamped with a variety of different seals and the batch number of the vaccine.
Babs laughs, “I’m a doctor.” The 36-year-old American has just spent a year in Botswana finishing her PhD in parks and resource management. We hand over our Canadian Health Vaccination Record book. The Doctor signs them and prints a fictitious batch number. Now, the seal. Various pins are removed from jackets, inked up and rubbed on pages. Nope. Kevin seizes the Bactine bottle. Push Down While Turning, it instructs. He begins colouring the Braille-like letters with a magic marker.
The customs building squats low in the yellow dust. Soldiers sporting wrap-around sunglasses and casually slung weapons mill in front. I am sweating. I refuse to imagine past this moment. I stand beneath the large hand-lettered sign demanding proof of vaccination.
The guard scans my passport. He looks up at me with hard eyes. He reaches for my Vaccination Record book. He scrutinizes the perfectly blurred Bactine seal…slowly running his finger under the signature.
He slaps it shut and pushes it back to my side of the counter.
We continue north through gold grasses and glossy green treed hills. Children run from their round huts waving and yelling, “Welcome!”
We stop at a roadside stall. The young man’s skin matches the polished ebony rhinoceros he holds up in his pink-palmed hand. What was once a Nike T-shirt is held together by worn strips of material joining the tags and fluttering pieces. He wears these flags of American culture with a casual dignity, the scraps and pieces somehow transforming themselves to appear as a unified whole. I hand him crumpled U.S. dollars and feel the dark weight of the carving in my hand.
We stop at the side of the road for our picnic in an empty golden landscape. Within minutes we are surrounded by children wearing rags. We approach them slowly to hand them food, but they bolt. Finally, we leave it in a plastic bag. Driving away we see them running for the bag. The boy in the too-large shorts gets there first, jerking it over is head. He holds it up, dancing.
Sharon makes her announcement, “We’re nearing the Tanzania border. Get your passports and proof of yellow-fever vaccination.”