Updates and news

Being quarantined, yet again!

The Mariners Hotel, Arons Vale, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, July 2021

The second attempt of travelling to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, an archipelago in the eastern part of the Caribbeans has proved to be successful. After transferring through Miami (see a gallery of pictures from Miami here), I am now at my hotel in the place called Arons Vale, just outside of Kingstown, the country's capital.

As we know, however, life is never perfect, and some frustrations remain. Although I managed to get to the country, before I am allowed to start working, I have to complete 7 days of quarantine. I think, it is still a considerably small and an understandable nuisance. The authorities do not want to take chances, when it comes to spread of COVID, given the limited resources the country has to support its health infrastructure. And frankly, my view (see the picture above) from my quarantine hotel makes things as pleasant as humanly possible. When you add good food, and friendly staff, then there is really nothing to complain about. Except lack of physical activities, which is a bit boring, I am not actually complaining of having nothing to do. I carry on working, catching up with working reports and reading details of the project that I am going to visit (
as you may remember, this is a project related to the response to the powerful volcano explosion, which took place around a month ago).

If my second COVID test gets negative, I should be out of the quarantine this coming Saturday. I will then start moving around the island and will report to you what I will have managed to experience (both in and out of work). Until that happens, stay safe and well!

Another attempt to travel. Will it work this time around?

Approaching the Tocument International Airport, Panama City, June 2021

After the unsuccessful attempt of the mission to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), I have been dealing with the consequences of the 'false negative' COVID test (mainly forced self-isolation), and trying to re-arrange the trip from the scratch.

Now, after writing dozens of emails back and forward, additional new COVID tests (all negative), I am set to try travelling again on Friday.

Not all of the obstacles are out of the way yet. Before boarding the plane, I will need to carry another COVID test on Wednesday. I am a bit worried of it, given that experience shows that the laboratories can mess-up, and indeed, if it happened once, it may happen again!

However, if all goes according to plans, I will be in Miami on Friday, stay there for an afternoon and the night, and then continue travelling to Kingstown, the capital of SVG on Saturday.

Then, I will be in the country for 2 weeks, before returning to Panama. I will write about the mission more, already from the country, if I get to reach my destination! Wish me luck!

New design of the website and updates from last few weeks

E362B3F5-2E09-479D-83A8-9CD9501644CE_1_105_cMy flat in Casco Viejo, Panama, July 2021

I have decided to modernise the look of my website a bit, so that it is (hopefully) nicer to look at, but more importantly easier to navigate and use. While, the desktop/laptop version should be very similar to what you are used to, I believe that there will be substantial improvements when using the site on your mobile devices (as it is designed to fit the mobile phones better).

On other news, I am getting absolutely distressed and depressed about news coming from Poland. The ongoing attacks on free press, undermining the institutions meant to guard the rule of low steadily take place in the country. Despite some clear good work that the present government has managed to do, when it comes to development of infrastructure of economy, it is so sad to see how much the country has regressed on freedoms and human rights values.

Finally, on a more cheerful note, I have restarted my preparations for travelling to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,
after the cancellation following my false positive test on COVID-19. If all goes according to plan, I should be travelling on 23rd July. Keep your fingers crossed, so this time around, the trip will be surprise free!

False positive

False positive

As it seems, the mystery of the COVID-19 infection is solved. I run to additional tests for COVID-19 infection, the following day, after my initial test returned positive, just to find out that I have no COVID, and that there is no infection in my body (this included PCR test, as well as the blood test). In the same time, the blood test confirmed that I have very high level of anti-bodies, which suggests that I am responding well to the vaccines that I had received (here is good news).

The doctor believes that my initial test was a 'false positive', due to potential mistakes that had been done while taking my samples/carrying out the initial test.

Whatever the reason, the consequences are substantial: cancelled (important) humanitarian mission (as I could not board the plane), costs of tickets, costs of cancelling the hotels, frustration on a part of my hosts (UN, IFRC, and the host authorities), temporary closure of our office in Panama, panic of my mother, a major uspet on my side.

Not only the above, it seems like, even if the authorities of Panama recognise that I am negative (and the initial test was most likely 'false positive'), I am under the obligatory quarantine of 14 days, and it is unlikely to be lifted.

I will spare you from bad language, but you can only imagine how upset I am not to mention the disappointment…

The positive is that the situation trains my patience, teaches a bit of humility, as it forces you to deal with stuff that you have absolutely no influence over. And yes, it is good to know that I am healthy and it was a false alarm, after all!

Second COVID-19 infection or a false positive test?

Sunset from the rooftop of my flat, Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama, June 2021

Really bad news today, which made me upset and extremely frustrated!

As I was packing and getting ready for my trip to Kingstown in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the results for the PCR test for COVID-19 returned to me, and disturbingly, with a mark: DETECTED, meaning that I am potentially carrying a COVID-19 virus.

The news is ever more disturbing, as I have already had COVID-19 last year (quite severe, as some of you may remember), and more so, I have received two doses of anti-coronavirus vaccine, with the second dose being administered a little over a month ago (thus technically, it should have created the antibodies). Then, I am also feeling really well, and I have no symptoms whatsoever… thus being even more unsuspecting… All in all, I had to cancel the trip and deal with the potential infection - meaning that I will be under quarantine again.

My doctor here in Panama, tells me that it is unusual to get reinfected, and wants to pass new tests tomorrow, including the PCR test, to make sure that the today's result is not 'false positive', which allegedly happens occasionally. Whatever the result, I am clearly stuck for at least some days, and very distressed and frustrated that I can't carry on with my work.

In case, I am genuinely reinfected, I am very grateful that I got my vaccines working on me and protecting me - clearly preventing me from suffering physically (as I mentioned, I am really feeling well).

So the lesson is: do get your jabs, if you have a chance! You are likely to be better off, in case of infection, and clearly, the more of us having it, the quicker we manage to reduce the numbers of the sick people, and return to some sort of normality.

Get your jabs, avoid crowds, and stay well!

Checking in from Panama

Colon Province, Panama, June 2021

Here comes a copy of the seasonal greeting letter to family and friends:

Dear Friends,

I have not been writing for a long time, and since we are celebrating the Word Refugee Day, I felt it was a good opportunity to write a few lines and update you with the latest news here in Panama.

Like all of you, I am trying to cope with the 4
th wave of the coronavirus and with the new reality that is emerging in the not-quite-yet-post-COVID-19 world.

Perhaps to state the obvious, I am still in Panama, slowly approaching the middle of the deployment, carrying on working for ECHO as the emergency rapid response coordinator for the Americas (including the Caribbean Sea) with some special extended responsibilities for Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

COVID-19, the political tensions in the continent (some of the tensions also derive from the COVID-19), and multiple disasters hitting the continent (earthquakes, volcano eruptions, hurricanes, floods or droughts, to name only some) keep us all very busy. My days are filled with attempts to understand how the pandemic may have affected poor indigenous communities, Venezuelan refugees, migrant workers, urban and rural poor… The issues are complex, sometimes very frustrating (as it is difficult to imagine any sensible solutions), but also extremely interesting professionally, but also on a personal level too. I continue to be extremely lucky, as even during the lockdowns, I somehow managed to travel to affected communities (although not as much as I would like to (and should)). Since my arrival to Panama, I have travelled around Argentina (indigenous communities of Gran Chaco), Chile (refugees from Venezuela), Bolivia (indigenous communities/rain forest fires), Brazil (indigenous populations in the Amazons and refugees from Venezuela), Ecuador (follow-up on earthquake intervention), Honduras (hurricanes) and also visited Costa Rica, Mexico and Canada (these visits were mainly visiting family, friends and having holiday breaks). As I write it, I am preparing to go to Saint Vincente and the Grenadines (volcano eruption) too. Clearly, I follow on quite a few issues here in Panama too (especially migrant issues) and try visiting various parts of the country during the weekends and time off.

As you can see, I can’t complain about lack of stimulation and issues to be involved with. As I mentioned, and you can imagine, not all is happy, and there are many frustrations relating to powerlessness, but this usually comes with the job that I chose to do.

The ongoing pandemic has definitely affected me in various ways quite profoundly. I actually need to admit that falling sick with COVID last September/October left me shaken a bit. While, I did not need to go to hospital (just barely), I was rather badly ill for around 14 days. Although, I physically recuperated rather well and fast, I seem not to be able to recover emotionally as well. I am not unwell really, but I am far from being my usual normal. I appear to get scared more easily and it takes much more pushing to get motivated to meet friends, go for walks or be social. It bothers me a little, but I am conscious of my state of mind, and working on it quite a lot!

What really kept me going and gave me a huge amount of motivation is my ‘Support Refugees/Migrants in Panama Project’, which many of you have heard – and generously supported (for which I am so grateful). The project successfully allowed 10 families to have access to food, medicines, clothes etc for 8 months, and helped to help various individuals at ad hoc basis, when they faced emergencies. Together with your help, we managed to channel over 18,000 USD to those who needed it! I am so appreciative that we are managing making these small differences, however little on the global scale!

Also, what makes me really happy and motivated is working on my Spanish. I got to like the language a lot, and now feeling very comfortable in working and socialising in the language. I still absorb a lot, but as I said I have no difficulties in using the language anymore.

Being aware that family are well despite their challenges makes the whole difference too. Mum, my brother and his family are all healthy and financially okay (somehow managed to avoid a major financial pandemic crisis). They are all vaccinated now and started moving around a bit more. You will be pleased to hear that Tahir in Toronto is doing great too. On 29
th June, he will get the second dose of his vaccine as well. With some kind of major luck or mercy from heavens, he stayed employed during the whole pandemic as well. Not only that he did not lose a job, but he also actually appears to be doing better off than ever before in Canada. Yes, much of the success is still hard work and determination, but he makes me so very proud! Due to COVID-19 restrictions, he still does not have his Canadian citizenship sorted, but hopefully the process should speed-up soon!

Finally, my wonderful friends in Portugal are fine and healthy! I miss going to Portugal a lot, but if all goes well, I should be there in September 2021.

I do not want to make it too long, so I will log off here. Before finishing, as usually, I would like to remind you that you are welcome to peep in at the
latest 'picture-galleries' at my page.

Please keep the messages coming!

Miss you a lot!
Warmest regards and greetings, Roman

In the middle of the rainy season

A view over Casco Viejo just before landing at the Panama International Airport, Panama, June 2021

We are in the middle of the rainy season in much of Central America, as well as parts of northern South America. The rains are so heavy that the ceiling in my bathroom started leaking (my flat is on the top floor), and I will need to call the repairing team to fix the issue. My inconveniences are small though. The rains have caused major devastation to countless communities in Guyana, Surinam, parts of northern Brazil, and indeed here in Panama.

The rainy season also reminds us that we are entering the hurricane season in the Caribbean Sea. First alerts of formations of the depressions having a potential of converting to heavy storms have already been reported over the Atlantic - bringing me, and my humanitarian colleagues on our feet, trying to prepare for a possible crisis.

This hurricane season, similarly to the one of 2020 is still marked with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I am sure that many of you can imagine that dealing with consequences of strong winds, floods, or other occurrences in the middle of the ongoing public health emergency is far from being pretty. We are worried, as cases of COVID-19 seem to be raising in Central and South America, contrary to relative calmer situation observed in North America, Europe and parts of Asia. For the record, Panama is no exception in Latin America. We seem to be entering the 3rd wave of the pandemic, with new restrictions being announced on nearly daily basis (we have got the curfew reintroduced at 22:00 again). Stressful!

Despite complicated health situation, travelling seems to be a bit easier compared to last year though. I am guessing that the authorities and airlines have learnt to operate within the new reality and challenges… Although, there are tones of papers to fill out, and many restrictions to adhere to in most of the countries, I am actually able to plan for professional missions. Clearly being fully vaccinated helps too (here thanks go to Panamanian Ministry of Health)! As I write this, for example, I am planning my professional trip to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to be able to monitor the humanitarian intervention following the recent explosion of the volcano, which ECHO is co-financing. If all goes according to plans, I should be travelling during the final days of June and continue during parts of July.

Those of you, who know me, may suspect that I am extremely excited for the prospect of this mission. Working in the field, meeting affected communities, working with frontline responders is a bit like oxygen to my lungs… I can't operate neither professionally (nor personally, as a matter of fact), without being 'on the ground'.

So despite gloomy, grey and rainy days, I am really excited at the prospect of my next mission!

PS 1: I owe you an update on my 'Support of Vulnerable Migrants in Panama Project' that I am running, and that many of you have supported. The update will come soon!

PS 2: Also, I will soon give you updates on how Tahir is doing in Toronto!

Migrating is a human right

Mexico City, Mexico, June 2021

I am in Mexico City! One of my childhood dream is coming true. But the capital is just a first stop. Tomorrow, I am heading northwards to Aguascalientes, where together with Carlos and his family, I will have a chance to get to know parts of the country that are a little more 'off the beaten track'.

My first impressions of the Mexico City are extremely positive. It is a huge city, yet somehow friendly and cosy (okay, I get it: I am only referring to the tiny part of the city, which I had a chance to visit). What I like so far is that it seems to be open. People are friendly towards foreigners, and make everyone welcome, regardless their nationality, race, religion, or gender. The sign 'Migration is a human right', which I found just outside of the hotel sums it up very nicely, I think.

Today, I will be venturing out to the Old City, which I am told is quite spectacular!

As I said, tomorrow the travel continues. I will be taking pictures, so that I can share with you later on!