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Susan Boiko, MD, Upon Departing for Rwanda: If It Isn’t Yellow, Will They Let Me In?
Note: Susan Boiko, MD, is a Kaiser Permanente dermatologist in San Diego. She is about to leave for Bwiza, Rwanda, to perform relief work in support of the Pygmy Survival Alliance, a collection of nonprofit organization that connects pygmy villages in Rwanda with information, leadership, survival and health resources to enable them to transform their health and welfare. This is Dr. Boiko’s second mission to Rwanda.
About 50 years ago, for my first Brownie Scout meeting, I needed to bring 15 cents in dues. My mother gave me a 50-cent piece. Not recognizing it as a valid coin, I cried and carried on so much that the Brownies wouldn’t let me in with counterfeit money, that my mother fished out a crumpled dollar bill that I brought proudly to the meeting.
Flash forward 50 years to San Francisco International Airport on my first leg of my weeklong journey to a family medicine conference in Rwanda in 2010, where I was to speak on tropical dermatology. It’s 6 a.m. and I’m standing at the check-in counter and I realize I forgot my yellow shot record. Can’t leave to get one at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. I called my husband in a panic; he calmly suggested printing it out from kp.org. No business centers open at that hour so paid $50 to use the Admiral’s Club and printed two copies.
Still, doubts plagued me. If it wasn’t on yellow paper and folded into a booklet, would it pass muster at Rwandan customs?
I shared my fears with the flight attendant. Maybe at the next stop, JFK in New York City, there would be a travel medicine clinic and I could get a more official-looking document. The pilot actually radioed ahead- sorry, no travel clinic at JFK. No time to hop in a cab and find a doctor’s office. So off I went to Brussels, then Rwanda, a niggling fear that I might be turned away at the airport keeping me from dozing.
Sixteen hours of airtime later, I approached the bored young customs officer in the dimly lit terminal. He glanced up at my face, stamped my passport and said “Welcome to Rwanda.” My Brownie fears melted away. He had not asked for my shot record.