When you become a legal resident of Panama you receive what is known as a “carnet.” It is an official state-issued identification card complete with an unrecognizable photo of yourself. Actually there are two kinds of state-issued i.d.s. One is called a “cedula.” That’s what citizens have. It resembles a driver’s license in that it is a solid piece of plastic whereas the “carnet” is a cheesy card sadly laminated in cheap plastic. A cedula is permanent while the carnet is tied to your passport number. That means when you get a new passport you have to change your carnet so the numbers match. It recently became possible for extranjeros (expats) to obtain a cedula and avoid having to change things when you get a new passport, but since it will be seven more years until I have to worry about that I 1) don’t know if I’ll even be around in seven more years and 2) I don’t want to spend the several hundred dollars and the jumping through hoops I’d have to go through to get my carnet changed into a cedula.
There are several things that having either a cedula or a carnet does for expats. If you fly into Tocumen airport, PTY in airlinese, with your card and your passport you can enter the country in the much shorter “residents” line instead of the “tourist” line. About an hour east of David there is an Immigration check point and if you’re driving or taking a bus you have to show your i.d. there. Citizens show their cedulas, expats show their carnets. Everybody else has to produce a passport.
You also have to show your carnet do get the numerous generous discounts that are offered to old farts like me. Discount for things like bus and airline tickets, hotels are supposed to give you a discount, and of course restaurants are required to do that too. The most important, and the time I use it most, is for discounts on medicines.
Yesterday, when I went to do my grocery shopping, I pulled out my billfold to present the cashier my “Puntos d’Oro” card. That’s “Gold Points,” sort of like computerized green stamps, and when you accumulate enough “puntos” you can redeem them for “valuable prizes” as they say. As I was digging for my blue “Puntos” card I instantly noticed that my carnet was missing. Shit! GeeZUSS!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
I had no idea what could have happened to it. I tried to remember when I had it out of my wallet the last time. The only thing I could remember was early last month I got on the bus to Rio Serreno on one of those “let’s see where this ends up” bus rides I take from time to time. It was a two hour ride way up into the mountains to a dirtbag little border crossing town on the Costa Rican border. I had to take it out to show the driver so I could get my “jubilado” discount. But I was sure I’d put it back in its place.
I searched all over the house even though I would have absolutely no reason to take it out of its resting place. All I could think of was what a hassle it was going to be having to go to Immigration to straighten things out. I don’t know how computerized they are yet, but since you can only obtain a Panamanian driver’s license if you’re a legal resident I could show the people at the David office that I was, in fact, legal. Of course there was also the dreaded thought that I might have to travel all the way to Panama City to resolve the situation.
Then, as so often happens, just as I was drifting off to sleep, I remembered that a little more than a week earlier I had been to Arrocha to get my blood pressure meds. Surely I must have taken it out then to show the cashier. Hadn’t I? Could I possibly have left it there? There was always the hope, and hope springs eternal.
So, this morning I got up, scrapped the stubble off my face on the chance that I might have to visit Immigration and get a photo taken and took the two requisite buses to the Paza Terronal where Arrocha is located. For a change there wasn’t a line at the pharmacy counter. I told the cashier that I had lost my carnet and explained that I thought I might have left it there. All in Spanish, of course. The chief pharmacist lady, hearing me talking to the cashier, glanced at me and proceeded to the back of the stacks of drugs. There, attached to a shelf by a clothes pin, hung my carnet. HUGE WHEW!!! Immigration showdown averted. I bought my next month’s supply of Zestril and asked the cashier if she wanted to see my carnet. With a big grin she said, and I translate, here, “No. That won’t be necessary today.”