The modern ferry, carting hundreds of passengers, a mixture of wazungu tourists and local business folk and families, skipped across the Zanzibar Strait in ninety minutes. We trundled up the gangway to the chaotic customs area. Sam and I approached the counter.
‘Passports,’ the official said.
I handed them over. Morton had advised me Zanzibar was actually still a separate country within the ‘union’ of Tanzania and we would need our passports, but not our yellow fever certificates.
‘Yellow fever certificates.’
‘I don’t have them here,’ I explained, ‘they are back at the hotel we were staying at in Dar, in storage. I didn’t think we would need them given you have to present them to get into Tanzania.’
‘This is a problem.’
He spoke to a nearby female official in Swahili and she approached us. ‘You must follow me.’
She marched us through the crowd and we entered a quiet glass enclosed room.
‘You must understand you have only two options. By WHO regulations, if you do not have physical evidence of a yellow fever vaccination, we cannot let you into the country. Zanzibar is an independent country. Your other option is we take you to the department of health and you both receive another vaccination, which is not harmful even if you have had a previous vaccination. This will cost you seventy dollars US each.’
‘Can I ring the hotel and get them to find the certificates, take a photo and send it to my phone. That is physical evidence,’ I said.
‘No, I do not have time for that. I am going home soon.’
I thought to myself that that is an odd thing to say.
Sam wasn’t happy. ‘I don’t want another needle. I don’t want to go back.’
The official looked at me. ‘You must help me solve this problem.’
The penny dropped. I had heard that phrase before.
‘Will money help?’
‘How much money?’
‘How about twenty US for both of us.’
‘I can’t hear you.’
‘$30US, and I am now speaking very loudly.’
She opened the top drawer of the desk she was sitting behind. I slipped the money in the drawer and she closed it.
‘You must not tell anybody about this. I like my job.’
‘No problem.’ I said. I thought to myself, well you are ripping me off. I would rather give my money to the crippled beggars in the street than you.
Meanwhile and unbeknownst to me, Naomi from Heiress Films – the documentary makers who’ve been following our journey – had been filming through the window. I also wearing a microphone which I had completely forgotten about in all the kerfuffle. The entire interaction was picked up and recorded. We got through customs, as did Morton, who slammed his $20 US on the woman’s desk when she asked. We rejoined, Matt (who had travelled across before us) as we exited the building and entered the glare, dust and archaic beauty of Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar.