‘Yellow fever reappeared in Uganda. Make sure you take your certificate with you. They are checking them and if you don’t have it they will turn you away’.
The doctor passed back across the table the vaccinations booklet, stamped and signed up to date. He wrote his mobile phone number on a card he stapled to the back page. ‘If you are sick, phone me . . . phone me before you let them do anything’. The world is now so instantly accessible that the call would be easy to make
Without the yellow fever certificate, they might turn me away, but with it there is hardly a pause as the official hands back the passport and continues his conversation with the man sitting next to him. Carrying a British passport, entry to Rwanda does not even require a visa.
I worry about a friend arriving from Rwanda this week; a flight landing in Dublin at 1555 on Thursday. Even though he has a visa, Africans are treated differently.
Coming off an overnight flight from Dar Es Salaam to Amsterdam on the first Saturday morning in October 1998, there was a queue to get off the plane. The Dutch immigration officials were actually standing inside the airbridge asking for passports before people actually set foot inside the Schiphol terminal building. The discrimination was apparent; if you had a white face, your passport was closed and handed back; if you had a black face, you were interrogated. We had flown on a Dutch airline directly from Tanzania; why had the airline taken the money for fares if they knew, as seemed likely that many of those they carried were to be made unwelcome?
Tired and irritable, I reached the point where I encountered two surly immigration officers. ‘Why are you asking for my passport here?’
They seemed taken aback. ‘I can ask for your passport where I like. You are entering Holland’.
‘I am not entering Holland. I am a passenger in transit. I am going to the United Kingdom; I am just passing through your airport’.
‘We do not know who is in transit’.
‘You would if you were at passport control and not standing here. Why are you only questioning Africans?’
‘Move along please’.
My friend Roger pulled at my arm. ‘Come on, you will end up being arrested’.
The official looked at me and said, ‘Move along’. I pushed my passport into my pocket in disgust and walked on.
I hope my friend will receive a warmer reception; that those at the desk in Dublin will wish him nothing more than good health.