For a Gujju, the absolute pinnacle of travel and adventure is a safari in Africa. I am not joking. The vegetarian, ahimsa believing, teetotling and God fearing Gujjus love a safari – and boast about how many kills they saw.
HRH the Queen of Kutch is preparing to do just that, i.e. go on a Safari. I must point out that except for the fact that her origins are from Kutch [which is in Gujarat] she does not have the Godly attributes of a Gujju. She fears nothing except raw onion.
One necessity when going to Africa is that you need to get a Yellow Fever vaccination. This is where the fun started. I tagged along on this wild and woolly adventure as I was HRH the Queen of Kutch’s bodyguard.
Yellow Fever is caused by a bite from an infected mosquito – much like Malaria. There is no cure for Yellow Fever. Stomach pains, nausea, fever, headaches and bleeding are the symptoms. It can be fatal. This is a serious problem in Africa, but can be prevented by taking a vaccination. The WHO has mandated that people travelling to Yellow Fever affected areas have to be suitably inoculated. The WHO distributes the vaccine which is administered by the Governmental Authorities. In Mumbai there are 4 centres where you can get the vaccination – the Airport Health Organisation at the T2 approach road at Sahar, J J Hospital and at Ballard Estate and a new one at Colaba. The consensus was that getting the vaccination at the Airport Health Organisation was the simplest way of getting this done. Once vaccinated you are given a card, the vaccine lasts 10 years. When you travel you take the card and produce it at immigration when you return.
All this sound perfectly logical and simple. But, my dear readers, we are Indians, and operate in India. The reality is totally different. In the short 3 odd hours I spent with HRH the Queen of Kutch at the Airport Health Organisation for her to get the vaccination were wildly entertaining, thankfully not very aggravating and I learnt so many ways to sort things. Yes folks, how to sort things.
Without being in the least facetious, reading this post will really help you if you intend getting a Yellow Fever vaccination. This is your all in one guide answering all the possible FAQ’s and not so FAQ’s on this process.
Let me give you a bit more information.
If you are travelling to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Syria and Cameroon, you require a Polio vaccine too. Yes folks, Polio is alive and well in these countries.
The Yellow Fever vaccine is distributed by the WHO in a pack size or dose of 10. Thus, if there are 11 people or 19 people, only 10 will get the vaccine. The others have to take their chances the next day.
Not only do you have to be in multiples of 10 but the authorities administer no more than 70 vaccinations a day. Presumably, it is mentally exhausting for the staff to handle more than 70!!!
To add to the mayhem, is the fact that you need to stand in line early enough in the day in the fond hope that you are not No 71. So how early do you come? How do you know how many fellow travellers will come on any given day? Really tricky. That morning we had some people who had arrived at 6 am. The doors open at 10 am. This was worse than applying for the US Visa in the bad old days. HRH the Queen of Kutch and I turned up at a seemingly respectable 9.30. HRH the Queen of Kutch was the 37th person. Phew. Now with labour cheap, and being a feudal community many fat cats had sent their domestics/peons/drivers/travel agent reps and other similar creatures falling in the Mango People category to stand in line so that Saab and Mem Saab could saunter in at 1030. You could do this if you like.
Once the gates are opened you are allowed in on producing your passport and ticket. Since I was bodyguard I was allowed in. An announcement was made that people could have breakfast in the canteen if they were feeling peckish after waiting from 6 am. The way to the toilets was also kindly shown.
You are then given a form to fill in, please fill both sides, you are told. The reverse of the form was most interesting. It warned you in no uncertain terms that you should not take the Yellow Fever Vaccine if you had/were:
· HIV positive
· Allergic to egg, chicken or other proteins
· A weak immune system on account of radiation and so on
· Liver or kidney damage
· Myasthenia Gravis
Reading this I realised in a flash that Amitabh Bachchan cannot get a Yellow Fever vaccination – poor chap has Myasthenia. Anyway, the egg allergy had me intrigued. Our friendly Gujjus are vegetarian along with the Khandelwals, the Jains and the Ramaswamis. Poor creatures have never had an egg pass their pious lips! How in God’s name were they to determine if they were allergic to egg or chicken? I had visions of these poor unknowing creatures collapsing in a heap with hives on their skin, a swollen tongue, bulging eyes displaying all the signs of massive anaphylactic shock. Presumably, the Airport Health Organisation keeps equal measures of anti-histamine shots to revive these creatures.
You then pay the fees – 300 for Yellow Fever 100 for Polio or 400 for both – no discount – and wait. Then at some magical moment you are herded in 3 groups of 10 at a time to another room where you wait some more.
Then each group of 10 is taken to yet another room where sit the Doctor and her assistant. Assistant’s job is to fill 10 syringes with the vaccine and line them up. Then its vaccination time. Yippee!!! Right handed people get the vaccination on the left hand and vice versa. Then you go back down to fill in your certificate.
The certificate is stamped and signed and handed over to you. Job done. This took for HRH the Queen of Kutch, from 9.30 to 12 noon. Not that bad. Of course if you ask someone who had lined up at 6 am, he would have a different tale to tell.
Now for the wonders of sorting.
You know that in most of the civilised world there is a queue. You simply join the end of it and life goes on. Yes, I accept that your place in the queue may be taken by your hireling. In India we have clumps – no queues.
When HRH the Queen of Kutch arrived at 9.30 AM the gates were shut and a straggly queue was formed with a clump at the head. One gent handed HRH the Queen of Kutch a foolscap sheet and asked her to enter her name. She was number 37. One thinks this will be your number for the day.
Nope, we were wrong. This is India. Let’s fuck it up really well.
The moment the gates opened the queue disappeared and a big clump formed. Slowly, after a stupid peon checked your passport and ticket and had a long illogical and excruciating arguments with non-compliers, you went into and large waiting area. Here you were made to sit and given the form. The form had a new number and your seating position corresponded with that form number. So this meant that the original No 37 that HRH the Queen of Kutch had as well as the No 1 Mr. 6 am had were all rendered meaningless. You now had a new number. Undoubtedly, this would have been the most equitable system. But who gives a fuck as to what is fair, certainly not anyone with a modicum of power.
Then, as I have written earlier, you were herded in 3 groups of 10 to a room. Then, for some apparently very logical reason, despite you having this new number, all women were called out and vaccinated before the males on that group of 30!! So once again the world goes topsy turvy. The men have to wait.
After this is done you have to fill in your own certificate and give it for stamping. If you fill your certificate quickly and give it in you will find that yours is on the bottom of the pile and all those who fill in the certificate later will have their certificate above you. So once again you are destroyed.
I honestly wonder why things are so insane. In today’s day and age, surely an online system can be devised. You book your slot. Pay the fees online and release slots in lots of 10. I am not a specialist in this but surely there are more sensible ways to do this. The details given at the time of getting the appointment could be captured and a certificate generated automatically. You could easily add in the AADHAR number and the goddamm PAN number for all I care. The Yellow Fever certificate could become a form of ID. So much is possible. But we will continue in this absolutely anal, cruel way. People do travel to Africa for business, to visit relations and on safari. They travel from all over India. Why can this not become less insane, less terrifying, more humane and more transparent?
I do not know why the authorities regard the Yellow Fever vaccination as some sort of huge benefit that is being taken by people. It is not by any stretch of the imagination. Come on, no one in his right mind would want to voluntarily take this vaccination. We do have better things to do. So why all the cloak and dagger with Passports and tickets. I mean you can easily get a ticket, get the vaccination and cancel that ticket. I am sure no one does that, unless of course they have to cancel their trip.
Of course there are stern warnings.