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Polish mothers celebrate!

With Mum, at the beach in Bonaire, January 2013

26th May is known as the Mother's Day in Poland.

The celebrations in 2020 are going to be slightly more restrictive than usually, given that the COVID restrictions are still largely in place.

However, the restrictions, or I should the drama that we are experiencing in the world these days, makes me realise how lucky I am to have my Mum to be my Mum…

I genuinely do not know how to express my gratitude and love that I have to my mother… so perhaps, it is just better to just say that I am so profoundly grateful and happy for my mother's unconditional love, for her dedication, for her humanity, strength, bravery, sense of humour, for being so amazingly hard-working, for never giving up (especially on me), for her friendship, for her patience, smile, beauty, companion, forgiveness, and the list goes on and on…

The happiest holiday, Mama Ela! I love you!

May 2020 has nearly ended, and Panama still continues its strict confinement policies

The house in Casco Viejo, the old district of Panama City, where my flat is located. May 2020

It is well over two months since we have not been allowed to move around and are on the strict lockdown here in Panama. It is tiring and frustrating to everyone, but I think that people take the whole situation in a very mature and certainly understanding way. It is admirable, provided that thousands are left with no income, the state aid to the affected individuals is far from being comfortable, not to mention all other social consequences of the measures.

The good news is that the policies that were introduced, potentially have helped Panama avoid the situation where its health system collapses. It is stretched, things are stressful, but people are being given all the medical attention when needed and, the health personnel across the country heroically save thousands of lives, without leaving anyone out! My highest respect to everyone involved in making this happen for this!

There are signs that things may be changing soon.
This week, the government has finally allowed the public to exercise, jog, run or walk within one kilometre from their residences. Also, few businesses have been allowed to reopen on a limited scale. What's more, it appears there will be further easing-up coming next week, for which we all look forward to. More business should be given permissions to re-start, and if all goes well, the public will be able to move around more freely, as long as the individuals observe some basic principles of physical distancing and hygiene. The national airline, Copa, is preparing to relaunch its operations to some of the countries, which is crucial for us, so that we can deliver on our own work and obligations towards partners that we deliver the humanitarian operations in the region.

For me personally, the lockdown, has brought lots of adjustments to the way I lived and many new challenges that I needed to, or decided to deal with.

Given that part of my job deals with issues relating to civil protection, much of my work has been dealing with helping
arranging the repatriation flights from countries of Latin America and the Caribbean for the residents of the EU, who got stranded across the region. For various reasons, it has been a very stressful experience, though now, that most of the work is over, and most of the people are flown back to their homes, it feels good to have participated in this historic operation.

When it comes to humanitarian side of our work, recently we are extremely busy in arranging a big fundraising event for Venezuela, an event that we refer to as
'The Venezuela Pledging Conference', whose aim is to present to international donors the humanitarian needs related to the crisis in Venezuela, and encourage them entering into commitments to provide funds for the Venezuelans who need support. The event will take place in a few days' time, and I will write about it some time later.

I am also very busy trying to
understand the extent of the spread of the coronavirus in the Amazonia. You may have heard that South America, especially Brazil are now the epicentre of the pandemic. We are far from where we should be, when it comes to rolling out humanitarian assistance there, but there is lots of efforts when it comes to mobilising funds, logistics and partners to intervene.

More privately,
I have been very busy in following up on my personal project, assisting the migrants in Panama, the action that personally made me very happy, however small it is.

Finally, among all other things, I have been really strict in trying to perfect my Spanish, and when I look at it from the perspective of two months, I notice lots of progress!

I hope that next time I write here, I will be able to report on some progress in our work and on further steps of returning to 'normality'. Until then, please look after yourselves, and stay well and healthy!

And the lockdown blues continues...

Living-room in my apartment in Panama City, May 2020

I am quite disappointed, as I hoped that I would be able to get out of my flat this weekend and walk. The reality is different, as the Panamanian authorities have decided not to ease-up the restrictions to the public yet. It is already the beginning of ninth week, and it is increasingly difficult.

A friend of mine has managed to have a very interesting book to me. So, I am reading a fascinating however a bit depressing 'Winners Take All' by Anand Giridharadas. The author tries providing analyses and examples of why the wealthy and mighty entrepreneurs fail 'changing with world' and deal with the most urging problems that the humanity faces. So far, the book proves to be a thought-provoking and to some extent an eye opener to why the wealthy behave as they do. I also need to admit that the examples given make me think of that humans, in general, regardless of their economic status do like defending their actions. It is a natural thing to do. However, justifying your actions when you have disproportionally large amount of power over resources (thus lives of other people) is trickier to defend. Given this, in my mind, we all need to confront ourselves with questions on how our behaviour contributes to well-being (or lack of it) of the societies we live in. I may reflect more on what I have read, after I finish the book. For now, these are my first reflections.

There is a new development related to COVID in Latin America, which is catching my attention. As the societies in the region take a major hit in various levels, some individuals and organisations try finding scapegoats for their poor performance in dealing with the crisis. Sadly, it is the migrants that are often pointed the fingers at. We receive reports from countries across the region of increased xenophobia towards the foreigners, so much so that migrants become so scared that they go to hiding, or take risks to leave their 'newly adopted' countries in search of a better and safer future elsewhere. This is dramatic, exposes people to unnecessary suffering. Inhumane, by all accounts, as far as I am concerned. Very sad!

On a positive note, Mum and family in Nowy Sacz continues to be fine and safe, and so does Tahir in Toronto. This, definitely, makes me happy and puts me at ease.

I hope, you all keep well and safe!

Supporting migrants in Panama: an update on the project

Isa, Julio and their son Ignacio: one of the families that benefited from the project. Panama, April 2020

You may remember that some weeks ago, I issued a personal appeal, in which I pleaded for helping me in providing support to economic migrants and refugees in Panama, whose livelihoods opportunities were compromised or literally wiped off, due to the economical shock that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused.

For the sake of transparency, I thought that I would post here some updates on how the project is going. Here comes the letter that I sent out to friends, who had helped me in sourcing the funds to vulnerable migrants in Panama City:

Dear All,
I hope that the email finds you well!

In the attachment, you will find the latest update on the income and expenditure of our Panamanian project. You will have seen that we have already managed to support our migrant friends with nearly $4,900, and that we have together collected a bit over $5,800. I am so amazed by your support! Thank you so much!
I realise that one may argue that helping few people, given the scale of the issues that are being experienced, is not a lot. I, however, believe that we have managed to help 9 households from going into some major trouble in their lives. For nearly two months, we have provided means for them to get food, and in some cases pay for accommodation costs too! On top of everything else, there are few of our friends that received ‘one off’ payment, as they really needed a bit of support too. I think that you can all be very proud of yourselves to have extended your helping hand to people that need it. I do not want to sound pompous, but I really think you are all remarkable human beings! THANK YOU!
We have just received news from the media that Panama is starting its process of ‘return to normality’. It is meant to start on 13
th May, just two days away from now, and is divided to 6 phases. The first phase is not changing lots of things yet, so we are far of being out of the woods, but something has started to change. We do not have dates on when the following phases will be introduced, but I will keep you all updated.
Then, while I think that some of our migrant friends will be able to slowly start getting independent as things gradually open up, I am sure that some will need the support for a little longer. I am monitoring everyone from our ‘beneficiary’ list to ensure that I understand how much support they may need, and when they could become independent. At this stage (my own thoughts), I think some of the men will be able to get back to some activities earlier, as their jobs may be in demand sooner (guards at the parking lots, handymen, cleaner in private apartments). I am however more worried at the employment opportunities of some of the ladies from the list. They normally work in hotels as cleaning staff. The tourism has collapsed and will not recover anytime soon, I fear. I think, they may find it more difficult to become more independent. Everyone is at risk, but I think women are exposed to more threats and are likely to be pushed more easily to coping strategies that we would prefer not to see. From what I understand, going back home to the countries of origin is not a viable option for any of our friends. They are in Panama, as they needed to flee from oppression, maltreatment and extreme poverty from Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua and Honduras. Bottomline is that even if things are very difficult for them here in Panama, my take is, they are still better off here than they may be in their places of origin (they all come from extremely poor backgrounds).
So, once again, thank you for being so supportive. I am grateful, and very, very proud of having you as friends!
Sending warmest regards! Please do stay well and do send news, when you can,

A wake-up call?

Arriving to Panama City , on the flight from Buenos Aires, February 2020

I will not lie. I miss travelling, I miss it a lot! Eight weeks of the lockdown is becoming burdensome to my mind and makes me anxious and miserable. I miss being around people, I miss discovering, I miss challenges, I miss TRAVELLING! Yet, I am accepting that I will need lots of patience before things will start falling into its place, whatever 'its place' is going to mean in the future. However painful, I am also accepting that I may not be able to have a chance to meeting my loved ones, or visit the places that I consider to be home for a long time, perhaps even not in 2020. I do not like the thought of it, but I am slowly getting adjusted to a the concept that I will not visit Poland, Portugal or Canada in months to come.

It is interesting how the whole COVID-19 situation has challenged me… I consider myself to be a person, who is not too concerned with certain inconveniences which a lot of other people may be very uncomfortable with. I am not concerned with the physical pain that much, falling sick, or getting injured. The last decade or so has taught me to learn how to live in places where there are wars or conflicts. I think that I am able to find a balance and thrive in conditions that are trying. This however is only true, as long as I have people around me, and have a freedom to move around (even if not large distance). COVID-19 confinement is teaching me though that I am poorly prepared to live on my own, and live without the lifestyle that I have developed for myself.

Travelling, being with people, doing humanitarian work defines what I am, and has allowed me cultivate my identity. I still disagree with and hate the idea that someone or something may take it away from me…Yet, whether I like it or not, it is happening now! I am stripped from the essence of what I adore, and it hits me! I hope that what is happening in my life is not a permanent reality, but then, deep inside, I know that it is a wake-up call, it is an opportunity that I am given by life so that I can take steps to wean off from my dependency I am living. One thing that I have learnt is that it is good to have options and not allow yourself to be reliant on something that prevents you from appreciating other opportunities that may be around you. COVID-19 is proving that I have messed up here massively. I am beginning to comprehend that I may have put too much on my energy to some very limited passions, and have pushed myself to the corner with no way out. It is not a comforting realisation and I still do not know how to deal with it, how to move forward. Some first ideas are formulating in my mind, though. These are bleak, and far too feeble to share them at this stage. Not because I do not want to, but rather I am unable to do so. It is still too early to contemplate something in a way that would make sense to me, let alone to anyone else. The only hope I have at this stage, is that I will take a chance that I am being offered!

On a completely different note: good news is reaching me from Toronto! Tahir is writing that he is re-starting his professional assignment again. As of today, he is going back to work, where he is going to be involved in organising deliveries of medical supplies to hospitals and medical centres across Canada. Needless to say that I am very proud of him!

No signs of easing. The lockdown in Panama continues

Playing with the camera during the lockdown: the staircase in the building, where my apartment is situated, Panama City, May 2020

We are all a little disappointed here in Panama. Two day ago, we all hoped that the government would announce to the public a clear roadmap on how the country would start opening up, after the measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19. Today, we still know nothing, and the frustrations are growing. There are no indications of dates when the restrictions may ease up, causing concerns to the citizens and residents of the country.

Many of the country's poor are scared and left without survival means. Even if your family is eligible to some state support (80 USD/month/family), the amount is not feasible to survive on, let alone that the system does not incorporate large groups of the society, such as refugees or migrants, and does not always reach the people, who theoretically should be receiving this aid. The economic hardship forces people to go on streets and protest. We have seen the increase of protests in various parts of the city and beyond, as people demand creating conditions where they would have additional means for their families to survive on. The protests are increasingly violent resulting with threats to physical well-being of those, who already suffer disproportionally, but also, compromise the epidemiological gains of the confinement that Panama has imposed.

Given the above situation,
I am very grateful to my friends, who help me support some of the migrants in Panama City, who ended up stripped from their income as the businesses where they had worked before the pandemic closed down. I am very aware that eight families/households that benefit from the support is a drop in the ocean, but another way of looking at it, is that at least these people have less existential challenges. To those of you, who have managed to support the little project, I would like to direct my sincere gratitude. Thank you very much!

Easing up restrictions?

Cole Province, Panama, January 2020

The President of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo, announced earlier today that a special commission will be set up to lead the process of gradual abolishments of COVID-19 restrictions in the country. The dates have not been suggested yet, but it is believed that we should see some easing up of the measures as of the middle of May 2020. It is still around two weeks to go, but given that we are about to start the eighth week of the lockdown, it does bring some hope!

Keep your fingers crossed! It is time to leave the house!

Seven weeks under the COVID-19 lockdown

A view from the rooftop of my Panama apartment, April 2020

The COVID-19 lockdown continues, and the morale is going down a bit, I need to admit. I have been under the house-arrest for seven weeks already, and gradually it is becoming difficult to handle myself. Establishing the routine, making sure that I keep myself busy, eat healthy and carry out some physical activities is helpful, but finding motivation is trickier!

As I wrote in a previous post, soon we will be celebrating Tahir's second anniversary of arrival to Toronto. Some time back, the plan was that I would visit him in Canada to mark the occasion. We still have a bit of time to arrange it, and there is a bit of hope left, however as the world continues to have travel restrictions, it may be difficult to arrange for it. We will have to be inventive to have a good plan B! In the meanwhile, we have just learnt that two of Tahir's colleagues at his workplace contracted the virus, which also caused temporary closure of his company's operations. Also, together with the rest of the crew, Tahir underwent the COVID-19 test. The results should be made known today. In case, he was sick (as per my understanding), he would need to be hospitalised - even if there were no any major complications. Perhaps, this is not something that he is looking forward to, but I am so grateful that he is in Canada now, where the system seems to be looking after the people, regardless of how wealthy (or not) they are!

Here in southern part of the Americas, we are very concerned with the humanitarian situation of many various communities. Even without the pandemic, lots of people lived under various humanitarian emergencies. The COVID-19 makes things so much more difficult! News from parts of Ecuador and Brazil are extremely concerning. We also hear that more and more folks from Haiti to Chile loose hope that they would be able to cope, and decide going to the streets to protest. I am worried that these protests will be more common, more violent and very difficult to control with tragic consequences for individuals and entire communities.

We still have not heard any news, nor rumours on when Panama will start easing up its restrictions on life. So while home, in my free time, I am trying to keep myself busy with various activities. As the world, these days, keeps on speculating what may be happening in North Korea, I got a bit sentimental and went to look at my old pictures from my two trips to the country (in
2015 and 2019). I hope things will turned out well for the people of Korea, especially those living in a major humanitarian distress. People have suffered for far too long now!

I hope that you all keep yourselves safe and well, and managing the best you can. Do drop me a line, in case you feel like writing or talking!