A view from my quarantine hotel, Santiago, Chile, October 2021
For some reason the quarantine in Santiago has proved to be more difficult (emotionally) than I expected. It felt like it was a very long week, but luckily, today is the last day of my 'detention', and I will be able to move around as of tomorrow.
While being under my lock-down, I tried keeping myself busy. Except getting acquainted with documents and reports relating to the migration crisis in the north of the country, I have been busy studying Portuguese for my language exam. I also did watch quite a lot of Netflix movies, and did some plans for my next holiday!
You might be interested to know that at the beginning of November, I will be travelling to Toronto for 10 days, so that I can visit friends (including Tahir), and enjoy a bit of Canadian autumn. This should be lots of fun, and I am looking forward to this a great deal!
But before the Canadian adventure becomes a reality, I am still here in Chile. On Saturday, I am flying to the town of Arica (border with Peru), and then will be driving southwards to Iquique and finally to Antofagasta, visiting places where Venezuelan and Haitian migrants enter the country or gather during their journey to their desired destinations. After reaching Antofagasta, I will fly back to Santiago, so that I have my final debriefings before returning to Panama City.
Whenever I have a chance, I will update you on what I see, and I will try to post some pictures too.
Antofagasta, Chile, March 2021
Here comes my recent newsletter sent out to friends by email. Hope you enjoy it.
This time around, I am writing to you from above Ecuador, en-route from Panama City to Santiago. I am travelling to Chile, for a short visit to get more in-depths on the ongoing migrant crisis in the northern part of the country.
You may be aware that one of the most severe humanitarian calamities in the Americas is related to the political and economic instability in Venezuela, which produces millions of its citizens fleeing to other countries in search of safety and better lives. As Chile enjoys relative stability and economic prosperity, it is also attracting a substantial number of refugees, who would like to settle and build their future there. Yet, as in many parts of the world, Chile has become less accessible and willing to accept refugees, which in turn have turned into a precarious and dangerous conditions for thousands of people who try entering the country from Bolivia and Peru.
As the flight between the two cities is quite long, and there are not many passengers near me, I enjoy quite a lot of space around me, and indeed some free time, so I thought that I was going to write an update on the latest developments.
First, I should report you that things have been much better when it comes to issues related to COVID. Luckily, I seem to have recovered completely from the disease and I do not seem to have any longer side effects of it, despite of all the drama that I went through last year. Like many of you, I guess, I have now managed to get my vaccines, which I hope keep me and those around me a little bit safer. A fact that I have my vaccination certificates facilitate my work substantially. Despite lots of restrictions being in place in various parts of the world, I am now able to travel to projects that I oversee (as proved by my current trip to Chile) and follow them as I used to before the pandemic. This makes me happy on a personal level (yes, I still love my work 😉), but also hopefully brings a much higher quality of my service, as getting the first-hand information on what happens in the field, by far allows you understand lots of humanitarian sensitivities that reading reports from other organisations can’t provide you. Except for Chile, my recent professional dealings (already after COVID erupted) brought me to Argentina (Indigenous Population crisis in the north of the country), Honduras (response to a hurricane), and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (response to a volcano eruption).
Recently, I also managed to travel to Europe for holidays. Some weeks ago, I returned from Portugal and Poland, where I spent nearly 1 month. This was an amazing trip, during which I managed to meet many of my friends, and my family, but also successfully obtained my dreamt permanent residency in Portugal! When in Poland, an exciting (however emotional) experience was meeting my Afghan work colleagues who had just been evacuated from Kabul two weeks earlier (some of them were offered a resettlement to Poland). It was really special to meet them and listen to their dramatic account of their hardship during the evacuation from Kabul, and also distressful learning about their sorrows, and indeed worries of what their lives may look like in a new, and strange to them country, without understanding its rules, culture or language. I am trying to ensure that I support them the best way I can from distance, but it is quite challenging, given the language limitations (we do not have a common language, and need to communicate with a help of an interpreter or a translator).
I keep enjoying my work and life in Panama. My Spanish is good enough to offer me opportunities to get to know new people and gives a new quality to friendships that I already have had for a while. Some of you may be interested to learn that all migrant families that some of us have supported financially during the lockdown are all well. Now, we managed to ensure that all have work (even if not completely stable), and that means that they do have income to cover the daily necessities. Now the challenge is to find ways to pay their huge debts that they had accumulated during the time when they had no jobs (debts arising from not being able to pay for their accommodation, electricity bills, etc.). Sadly, as they make just enough to survive, the dues are likely to ‘enslave’ them (literally) for years to come, as they are simply unable to save money (sad reality for most of poor migrants, not only in Panama, I am sure). So, as I have decided to officially end the support project that many of you participated, I am still working with our friends to help them repay their liabilities (some of you decided to carry on helping with it too, for which our friends and I are very grateful). Here, once again, I would like to thank you all for responding to positively to those who needed your help!
You may be interested to read that last week I went to see the laryngologist or an ear-doctor, if you prefer. My hearing problems have been giving me lots of misery in my private and professional life. With a little push from some of you, I got my courage to go for tests. It was a long affair, as I spent with my doctor (really friendly) nearly three hours. She made dozens of various tests and came to a conclusion that my hearing is indeed relatively bad. With all sound frequencies that we tested and humans normally perceive, I was below the average in all of pitches. The best I could score was 80% of normal hearing, but then some frequencies I was not able to hear at all (0 – 10% of normal hearing), while other pitches were between 40 – 60% of the healthy hearing, with my left ear being slightly better than the right one. The doctor told me that she was very surprised it took me so much time to decide to do these tests and suggested that ‘I might have lost lots of amazing experiences’ by not being able to hear properly. She however told me that she was impressed I learnt Spanish well despite my relative deafness! The visit ended up with a test of some hearing aid (it was 30 minutes of the ‘near crying (for me) experience, where I felt like the whole world was full of wonderful sounds that I can’t hear). The next steps now are getting approvals for the purchase of my hearing aid from my insurance company (these apparatuses are really expensive, mind you), and if all goes smoothly, I should be able to collect and start using them on my return to Panama from Chile at the end of the month. I am really excited, and I hope all will go well with the insurance indeed! Keep your fingers crossed!
Finally, I should mention that in months to come, I will be trying to arrange for a meeting with Tahir (either by visiting him in Toronto, or by bringing him over for a visit to Panama). You will be pleased to know he is well and happy and soon be able to apply to become a citizen of Canada!
Talking of citizenships, I will soon be taking my Portuguese language exam, so that I can apply to become a citizen of Portugal as well, as my path to the citizenship application opens on 26th February 2022. In case you wonder, the plan is to keep the Polish citizenship, but acquiring the one of Portugal, which from my perspective makes lots of sense, given a fact that I now I have a bit of my own space there.
This email is becoming slightly too long now, so I will stop.
It is needless to write that I look forward to hearing from you, and sending you my warmest greetings and lots and lots of love,
As the situation of the refugees and asylum seekers gets worse, I am now preparing for a trip to the country so that together with partners working on issues of migrants, we could strategise on what is it the we could do to adjust our operations to protect the most vulnerable better.
If all goes according to plan, I should be travelling to Santiago on 7th October. I will then need to be quarantined for 5 days, and then once this is done, we should travel to various locations in the country (especially in the north), where large groups of migrants arrive and live.
As usual, I shall report on the findings, as the mission goes on.
Arriving to Tocumen International Airport, Panama, September 2021
My trip to Europe has come to its end and I am now in a full working mood: energised and working out pans for weeks to come, despite suffering from the jet lag!
The scanning of my professional emails yesterday made it clear that COVID has taken a major toll on lives of vulnerable communities across South America, causing sever food insecurity, loss of income, contributing to localised conflicts, depriving people from mobility (just to name a few of the concerning headlines). This translates into humanitarian sufferings of many literally in all of the countries of Latin America, but it is Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Chile and indeed Venezuela that keep on appearing in my 'list to do' issues. In addition, we are still extremely busy with the response to the earthquake in Haiti and worried about the hurricane season that is ongoing in the Caribbean Sea.
In view of all of what is happening, I am trying to prioritise my projects and field visit missions. As it seems initially, I would be trying to visit Chile (migration crisis), Brazil (COVID related projects) and Argentina (support of the indigenous communities) sooner rather than later.
As things become clearer, I will surely be updating you on how things develop soon!
Lublin, Poland, September 2021
I should have expected it from the beginning… My holiday, both in Portugal and Poland turned out to be really busy. Busy however, does not mean to be stressful or unpleasant; on a contrary: I have had a wonderful time, full of laughter, meeting new people, emotions, and discovering new places.
First of all, I should report that I was successful in dealing with my Portuguese permanent residency. The interview with the immigration officer in Cascais was rather a pleasant experience, and resulted with granting of the document specifying that I am now entitled to live and reside in Portugal indefinitely, as long as I keep returning to the country at least once every 2 years. Soon after, I also received my first Portuguese identity card! As you can guess, I am really happy! Now, I can start preparing for applying for my Portuguese nationality as well - the process that I can begin with in February 2022.
While in Obidos, I was very lucky to receive some friends who live in Cascais, and also friends from Brussels (including my friend (and colleague), who works with me in ECHO). We were very lucky to be able to enjoy good weather, which definitely helped our good mood, wonderful conversations, and a feeling of happiness! My time in Portugal, once again, reaffirmed to me my love for that country (see pictures from my Portugal part of the holiday here).
After nearly 3 weeks in Obidos, I started my second part of the break in Poland. Soon after arriving to my native Nowy Sacz, together with Mum, we decided to travel north to the Polish Lake District called 'Mazury'. We stayed in the nice spa, in the forest, and we had a great time, having massages, swimming, enjoying jacuzzi, walking in the forest, cycling and then taking a boat trip in lakes and canals around Ostroda.
My report would not be complete without mentioning my visit to the 'Centre for Foreigners' in Bezwola in eastern part of Poland. You might be interested to know that some of my Afghan colleagues from my organisation, who has worked in the office of Kabul got evacuated to Poland (offer of the Polish Government) and got resettled in Bezwola Centre (around a week ago) for the time when their asylum applications are being considered (a process that should take another 3 - 4 months). Two families were brought to Poland (8 people altogether), and as soon as I heard about their stay in the country, I decided to go and visit them. As Bezwola is quite far away from Nowy Sacz (around 5 hours drive), I needed to plan for a night somewhere on the way, and in this way I also ended up in the City of Lublin, near to the border with Belarus and Ukraine.
The trip was amazing. Meeting my Afghan colleagues, somehow a bit scared and confused in their new situation was very emotional. I was so very pleased to have visited them! Also, I enjoyed meeting a young Afghan student of the University of Warsaw, who kindly agreed to help me translate to my colleagues and his Ukrainian friend, who decided to join us in Lublin for a splendid evening together. Absolutely delightful time with them and discovering charms of the city, which I visited for the first time.
Now, until Thursday (my time of return to Panama), I am in Nowy Sacz, where I am meeting my family and friends, and spending time with Mum, who is spoiling me with food, and caring for me! It is great to be at home and I am enjoying every moment of it (here are some pictures from my Poland's part of the trip: will be updated until 24th September, the time of my departure from the country).
Nazare, Portugal, August 2021
I am enjoying the late summer in Portugal immensely. It is such a nice country and welcoming place, and I feel so privileged to be able to call it home!
Today is my first day of holidays, and I will be able to get out a bit more and visit some new places, which I may not know yet. I am very lucky, as despite travelling to Portugal from Americas (2 weeks ago), I was exempted from the undergoing the quarantine, due to my up-to-date COVID-19 vaccination status. That meant that I was able to enjoy the daily pleasures of Portuguese life, outside of working time, including weekends, which has been brilliant.
This weekend I am spending with friends north of Obidos, in a town called Figueira da Foz. It is a city on the coast, popular with beach-lovers and very near to the magnificent city of Coimbra. It should be lots of fun to visit some of the surroundings and enjoy the company of friends.
Next week, on Monday, I will be visiting the Immigration Services of Portugal to deal with my permanent residency status. I am a bit nervous of the prospect… I just dislike dealing with immigration, but then I am also hopeful that the process of getting my permits should be smooth, and I would soon be getting my papers sorted for a longer period of time. Keep your fingers crossed! I shall certainly let you know the outcomes of it all!
An evening walk at Cinta Costera, while preparing for the trip to Europe, Panama City, Panama, August 2021
Covid test, check; bags packed, check; out of office message set, check…
I am ready to be travelling to Portugal tomorrow. It is a stressful and busy packing. The earthquake in Haiti has put lots of pressure and additional work on us, and it has been hard to follow everything, I need to admit, also because my attention and mind is in Afghanistan these days…
There is so much being told about Talibans and the country, and clearly it brings my memories from that country too. Some of you know, or may remember that I used to live and work in Afghanistan in 1999 (for a year), meaning that I have some experience of life under the rule of Taliban.
You will not be that surprised to read, I gather that I join the opinion of mistrusting the recent statements of the Talibans on respecting rights of women, or not taking a revenge on people who had thought against them. I still vividly remember their ill treatment of people who dared thinking differently and cruelty of punishments that they exercised on people, who had committed crimes within the framework they established. Above all however, I remember Taliban being corrupt and not respecting the rules they established themselves. So no, I do not believe they have miraculously changed, and yes, I am dead worried about the fate of so many people in the country, especially girls and women, needless to point out.
Let's see what life brings, but I hope that the least that we all can do is supporting actions and forces that would enable those who decide to and manage to flee Afghanistan in creating the new beginnings in their new homes. I wish we all have maturity and compassion to make this happen.
Nazaret, Portugal, April 2019
I am really excited today. I just got my ticket bought, and all the arrangements done for my holiday trip to Europe! I am leaving Panama on 20th August.
Given the COVID restrictions and quarantines, I am not sure whom I will be able to visit, but the minimum plan is to travel to Obidos, and stay there for some weeks. While there, I will be visiting friends, but also I would like to make sure that I will succeed extending my residence permit (if all goes according to plan, I would become a permanent resident of Portugal).
Then, there is a good chance that I will also fly to Krakow and then proceed to Nowy Sacz for few days too, but it depends on a level of restrictions imposed by various authorities. Then finally and ideally, on the way back to Panama, I would like to fly via Toronto in Canada, even if for just 2 days, so that I could visit Tahir!
Let's see what life brings, and what I am able to achieve, but very excited with whatever may come up!