When we left off, my friend Denny and I had reached the port of Zanzibar and were making our way off the ship.
Throngs of people emerged from the boat and most were rushing out of the port through a single exit. There were no exit controls that we could see.
Time out. First a brief history lesson.
The United Republic of Tanzania is a union between Tanganyika (the mainland) and Zanzibar (the island). Tanganyika was like a hot potato during its colonial period, passing from Portugal to Germany to Great Britain before securing independence in 1961. Zanzibar was also initially occupied by Portugal but in 1699 Omani ships arrived and conquered it. Zanzibar became the hub for the Arab slave trade and remained under puedo-Omani control until the bloody Zanzibar Revolution in 1964. In reality, the British pulled the puppet strings after the Anglo-Zanzibar War in 1897.
The newly-independent Zanzibar government leaned communist and concerned western nations worked to forge union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar to create present-day Tanzania. Although there is technically only one nation, I observed that Zanzibaris pledge allegiance to Zanzibar first and Tanzania second.
Now back to our story.
As hundreds of people streamed through the port, it felt like a Tokyo subway during rush hour. All of a sudden, I felt a tug on my shoulder and a woman demanded to see my passport. 5’5″, portly and wearing a Kanga garment, I just ignored her. Denny was several paces ahead and she had no uniform, badge, or ID of any sort.
But like a bouncer at night club, she muscled up to me and blocked my path, grabbing me on my shoulder and physically stopping me from proceeding. I thought she would body slam me to the ground!
She identified herself as a representative of the “Zanzibar Health Ministry” and wanted to see my passport and vaccination card.
Uh, vaccination card? Not this again!
I told her that I did not have my vaccination card. She asked me if I had been to Africa before and I said yes. She grabbed my passport and started leafing through it.
HER: You liar. There are no stamps in here!
ME: Look at date of issue of the passport. I just had it renewed. I’ve been all over southern Africa and Arab Africa. I just got my vaccination shots in September 2014!
HER: I don’t think so! You’re coming with me.
She started dragging me to the left and I still had no idea whether she was legitimate or not so I shook loose of her, grabbed my passport and made a run for it!
By now most had alighted the boat and left the station, but a few “guards” in tan slacks and white shirts were standing around.
“Stop him!” she yelled.
And they did.
I was led into her office, which turned out to be a legitimate office in the corner of the ferry port.
I apologized to her. Explaining that I had been scammed so many times and did not see any ID or other indication she was official, I asked her what we needed to get me on my way.
“You can have a new shot now. It will be $50USD.”
I again explained that I really had received one just a year and a half prior and did not want another one. Perhaps foolishly, I asked why she had stopped me and not my friend.
“He’s an old man” she quipped.
For the record, Denny does sometimes use a cane to get around, but does not look like an old man as far as I am concerned…
Where was my vaccination card? Why didn’t I bring it with me? Good questions. Suddenly I remembered — I had left my vaccination card in my old laptop case at my parent’s house in Los Angeles.
I whipped out my phone to see if there was a wi-fi signal. There was! It was even free.
Thanks to FaceTime audio, I called home, hoping my parents were awake (it was a~6am in LA). My mother, bless her heart, answered and when I explained the situation she quickly located my laptop case and found my vaccination card inside. I asked her to send me a picture of each page and she did. Moments later the snaps arrived via iMessage.
During this time the health ministry woman argued with another American woman about the same thing. I handed her my phone and told her that my mother had sent me pictures of my vaccination card.
She studied them for several moments, then handed me back my phone and passport and told me I was permitted to leave. A Zanzibar stamp had been added to the passport.
I thanked her for sparing me another shot and apologized again for initially resisting her. She nodded, not at all amused by my flattery.
And then I quickly left.
The taxi touts were terrible outside, but we resisted and walked to the Park Hyatt. That was another mistake — it turned out to be a long 1KM…
Tips for Arriving Into Zanzibar via Ferry
There’s just one tip actually–bring your Yellow Fever vaccination card. In fact, just put in your passport case and take it with you wherever you are in the world. That’s the third time I’ve had a yellow fever problem (wait until we return to the other Africa report).
Zanzibar is semi-autonomous and has its own passport control and vaccination requirements. Yellow Fever is a serious problem and Zanzibar is serious about vaccinations, at least for younger foreign guests.
I felt bad that I disrespected that woman’s authority. At the same time, I wish she had a badge on or some other type of ID. Thankfully she accepted my vaccination card copy and did not retaliate in some other way for my initial resistance.
So there you have it.