One thing I’m up to here in Panama is starting a gluten-free baking business. Right now, I have a few small cafe customers; in order to sell to larger vendors like supermarkets, I need a Carnet de Salud. Mom researches this health certification process and informs me that it includes getting a pap smear. I don’t think much about this requirement until I mention it to my friend and doctor sister, both of whom ask, “What does THAT have to do with preparing food?” Good question.
Ali tells Mom I can complete a pap exam along with the other steps of the process at one of the local health clinics. The closet one is in El Chorrillo, a neighborhood that suffered greatly during the 1989 US Invasion of Panama. Today Chorrillo is poor and dangerous. Mom and Dad got lost coming home one night and were stopped by a police officer who asked what they were doing. After Mom explained, he told her to lock the car doors and to drive without stopping until they reached home. Needless to say, no one in Chorrillo is going into my vajayjay.
Mom becomes interested in the reasoning behind this protocol as well and asks a doctor friend. According to her, the requirement exists because the carnet can be used by both food handlers and prostitutes. So in order to safely prepare muffins one must also be safe to perform sexual acts for money with strange men. Makes sense.
Fortunately, we discover that I’m able to submit pap results from my own doctor. I maintain that the pap requirement is bogus, but since I need to establish myself with a gynecologist here anyway, I go ahead and do the exam privately. With results in hand I head to the next closest clinic in Paraiso. What a nightmare. Even though I am prepared with all of my paperwork it takes me 3 separate visits totaling 6.5 hours to have blood drawn, receive a dental exam, receive 3 vaccinations and put up with generally poor attitudes and inefficiencies by clinic employees. I’m also subject to a rather intrusive medical history wherein I must give information about the year of my first menstruation, the date of my last period, whether I’ve ever had an abortion and asked to name the relation of any family members with disease. I don’t generally have privacy issues but feel that this too much. I also sympathize with the woman who wants to work at a bakery, for example, and has to answer very personal questions about her body in front of a stranger in order to do so.
If you live in Panama and happen to have additional information on this process or know someone who can fix it, please let me know.
In the meantime, I now have my carnet. If this baking venture doesn’t work out, I suppose I’m *pre-approved* to engage in the world’s oldest profession.