By Delilah Derringer
I was mistaken for a prostitute on my first trip to Panama.
It was March and I wondered: had the Midwestern winter made me a little too eager to shed my clothing? Was my Spanish so good I could pass for a local? Or was every young woman in Panama City employed in the sex trade? I had to find out.
I said something to my husband like: “Honey, I want to go back to Panama to visit with the prostitutes.” He said something like: “Okay.”
Our taxi driver/underworld tour-guide delivered us to two brothels where, he emphasized, the girls were “clean” and “nobody” would “bother” us. We encountered four girls that night.
At the fancy, French-owned brothel—where the girls wore a uniform of white-lace bra and matching boy-short and gathered around the patrons on the hour to do a Latin-American version of line-dancing—we sat on a red velvet couch. Women kept sticking their aureoles in my husband’s ears. My husband, who does not speak Spanish and is uncomfortable with aggressive women other than me, was drinking heavily to cope. He kept yanking my arm to point to this or that girl and say “she keeps putting her boobs in my ear.” Meanwhile, I was trying to find out what I had in common with “Julietta.” Julietta was an unsmiling 22-year-old Colombian woman with thin brownish hair of middling length, bad posture and braces on her teeth. Julietta was understandably preoccupied with the practicalities of the evening. “I don’t sleep with women,” she said. Repeatedly. She followed this up by saying, “I will sleep with your husband for 240 dollars.”
I thought we might end our visit with a table dance. Julietta did not sleep with women and she did not give table dances. She called her friend over to dance for me. Her friend’s name was “Giuliani,” also from Colombia. I tried calling her Giuliana, because I felt ridiculous calling the most beautiful (and compellingly nude) girl in the world “Giuliani,” but she corrected me—sternly. As sternly, anyway, as a nude 18-year-old can correct anyone.
I was getting restless. I had not been mistaken for a prostitute on the basis of anyone’s having met Julietta or, for that matter, Giuliani. Was it really as simple as my looking like my Colombian mother?
I needed a few more—as my engineer husband would put it—data points.
The second brothel was much less, er, fancy and the cover charge included an all-you-can-drink special. The women here had uniforms, too, but they performed in stage shows with elaborate costumes—think Carmen Miranda—and the girls here smiled.
I beckoned a young woman named “Katzumi” to our table. Katzumi was attractive—not show-stopping like “Giuliani”—but lissome, dark-haired and even-featured all over.
Katzumi had none of Julietta’s hang-ups. She would have been happy to service us both for 450 dollars. She spoke cheerily about her daughter back home in Colombia, her fiancé, her hopes for the future. She even invited me to go dancing with her—as friends. I was busy falling in love with her when her colleague, “Tequilarosa,” showed up. Tequilarosa was a lively, big-boned girl from Calli, Colombia who planted herself directly, uninvitedly, in my husband’s lap. The arm-yanking resumed in earnest this time. “She keeps grabbing my dick. Help me!” pleaded my very drunk husband.
I was loath to interrupt my conversation with Katzumi. I said to Tequilarosa: “You’re making my husband uncomfortable,” and continued chatting with Katzumi. Yank. Yank. “She’s still grabbing my dick.” So I said to Tequilarosa: “My husband wants you to stop touching him,” and turned back to Katzumi. Yank. Yank. Only this time it was Tequilarosa yanking my arm. My husband had fled to the bathroom and Tequilarosa sat alone in his seat. She turned my face to hers with her hand. She said: “You have a very good husband or he’s very afraid of you.”
I am only half Colombian, born in the USA, but when I speak Spanish it is with a Colombian accent. The sad truth is many Colombian women enter Panama on temporary “work” visas and are “sponsored” by “nightclub” owners. The average office worker in Colombia makes 240 dollars—a month.
The happy truth is that I do have a very good husband.