Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama, December 2022
New Year's Eve is just around the corner… An eventful 2022 is about to finish, and we are all looking forward to discover what 2023 may be bringing us.
Personally, I have had a very eventful year, an account of which, I have tried to sum up in my last blog entry.
I am sure that you all have had some amazing stories from past 12 months. I would actually love to read/hear some of yours whenever possible, so please feel free to send an e-mail or two . Better so, perhaps we could plan to meet and chat?
In any case, I would like to wish you all, wherever you are a very, very special 2023. May you all be very happy. If you manage to be happy, it means that everything else falls in places where they are supposed to. So yes… lots and lots of happinesses to you and your loved ones!
Look forward to interacting with you in 2023!
And just in case in next few weeks I will be travelling. It will be a packed schedule, but one never knows. Perhaps, I could meet some of you. I will be in the following places:
1. Nowy Sacz / Krakow area; Poland
2. Phafos, Cyprus
3. Brussels, Belgium
4. Warsaw, Poland (potentially, to be confirmed)
5. Miami, USA
Xmas decorations at the refugee camp in Iquique, Chile, December 2022
Here comes the Holiday Newsletter to my friends. I hope you enjoy reading it!
CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR GREETINGS FROM ROMAN
PANAMA CITY, DECEMBER 2022
It is Christmas Eve morning. The sky is blue, not a single cloud on it. It is blazing hot, typically for this part of the year in Central America and I am sitting at the desk in my living room at Panama City’s apartment, looking at the Pacific, listening to jazz styled Christmas Carols. Thinking of the passing year… and what a year it was… full of adventure, joys and preoccupations, some sadness, travels, getting to know new people and some hard work too.
In November, I turned 50! Realising that I am now over half a century old is a strange sensation, but somehow quite nice and liberating too. But before I get to the birthday celebrations, I will go back to be beginning of the year.
Stereotypically to my work, I entered 2022 on the plane, travelling from Panama City to Brazil’s Salvador (via Sao Paulo) to respond to humanitarian needs caused by the floods in north-eastern provinces of Bahia and Minas Gerais. Working in Brazil was a sweet-bitter experience. On one side, very impressed with my remarkable humanitarian colleagues, but also very frustrated with social and economic injustice, which at the end of the day is responsible for much of the suffering that one sees. Same, old story. It is the poor who are the most vulnerable and it is the poor who take the biggest hit, when disasters strike.
In March, I travelled to Argentina and Paraguay, where I travelled at the vast areas of Gran Chaco, looking at the devastations done by the ongoing droughts and the consequent forest fires. Northern Argentina and much of Paraguay are home to various indigenous groups, typically living in hard-to-reach villages, without roads leading to them, with little or no infrastructure of any kind, being totally dependent on what they can produce on their own farms, or fish they can catch in river. Life in Gran Chaco has always been tough for people there, but changes in weather patterns: severe droughts and Armageddon-style storms and floods challenge the livelihoods of these communities even more. I can’t stress enough how much people suffer from not being able to produce enough food for themselves. Crops don’t grow, rivers get dry, animals die of thirst. Consequences are easy to grasp. Entire villages become food insecure, people reduce number of meals, malnutrition soars. Things are bad really.
As I was busy with my work in the Americas, the war in Ukraine broke out, causing massive flow of refugees to many parts of Europe, including my native Poland. As you can guess, for my organisation, the conflict prompted an enormous build-up of humanitarian operations in Ukraine itself, but also support services in neighbouring countries such as Poland, Slovakia, Romania, or Hungary. The needs put an immense stress on all of us in the organisation, and volunteers were called to support the operations from other regions of the world. Naturally, I felt compelled to offer my assistance and after spending a very moving Easter with my family in southern Poland and northern Romania, I headed for a month to western Ukraine to look after some aspects of our functions there. The whole spring visit to Europe was such an emotional experience. Seeing an amazing, and often selfless response from thousands of European families across Poland, Slovakia, and Romania to help out millions of Ukrainians fleeing in search of safety made me feel thrilled in a way. I felt pleased and encouraged to see so many acting humanely, without expecting anything in return. What I experienced in Ukraine itself was a mixture of emotions as well. Being very impressed with how the communities in the west of the country organised themselves to help those fleeing the violence in other parts of Ukraine. I was also extremely angry and sad to hear thousands of heart wrenching stories of people’s personal miseries, loss, and tragedies. Being Polish, the war has some additional bearing as well. In some ways Ukraine resembles Poland a lot. Western Ukraine’s architecture, culture, food, music, customs… are to a large extent very similar to what I am used to at home. Whether I liked it or not, the war touched me being Slavic myself. And although I know that conflicts and wars are horrible to everyone, regardless of where they happen in the world, things were a bit different, given that I felt some personal/cultural connection to the people with whom I worked. To explain a bit better some of my feelings, you may appreciate a short and touching (I felt touch, at least) experience of a meeting with a young boy, during a missile attack on L’viv. Finally, what was wonderful when I worked in L’viv and Uzhorod, was meeting some old humanitarian friends from various parts of the world and getting to know countless new Ukrainian and international colleagues, whom I adored for being brave, selfless, but also very professional and simply wonderful human beings.
In June, I returned to the Americas, and straight away travelled to Recife of Brazil, for yet another flood response, where I had a déjàvu experience… thinking that I was back to January… very familiar situations, once more prompting some mixed feelings of admiration to my colleagues, and disappointment with an overall and overwhelming unfairness around the country.
Later, my professional wanderings took me to Bogota and eastern part of Colombia at the basin of River Orinoco, on the border with Venezuela. Among many humanitarian interventions in the country, much of our work in Colombia relates to preparedness to disasters and crisis situations. My mission to the country was precisely that: assess the overall levels of country’s preparedness to disasters on central level and looking at practical solutions applied in the areas along River Orinoco. I found the trip extremely interesting professionally, but I must admit that I fell in love with the beauty of the places I visited. Absolutely stunning nature and very kind and friendly people. I definitely would like to explore Colombia even more, if I ever have a chance!
The end the year, exposed me to two more humanitarian crises: one in the Dominican Republic and the other one in Chile. I travelled to both countries in December. While in Dominican Republic, together with UN colleagues, we looked at the humanitarian consequences of massive scale expulsions of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian-decent to Haiti. Without going to details, as the memories are still fresh in my mind, the trip shook me to the core, and caused outrage, as well as deep disappointment over how we humans, tend to treat one another. The level of hatred, xenophobia, unfair treatment towards Haitians, who simply try surviving and making lives for themselves and their children bearable distressed me and made me feel helpless and genuinely sad.
The stories of Venezuelans (mainly, but also other nationalities) walking to Chile across the continent show yet another example of human tragedy and misery, but also heroism. Migrants arriving to the country escape from inexplicable cruelty of injustice, and poverty at home, but also abuse, rape, intimidation, and exploitation on the way. Then on the other hand, there are many stories of resilience, human solidarity, and hope. It was good to see that despite many negative sentiments (and at times clear abuse), many Chileans do whatever they can to welcome thousands of Venezuelans to their new homes and show solidarity with less fortunate by denouncing acts of xenophobia and demanding effective and refugee friendly policies.
But except my professional life, I enjoyed a great deal of personal joys and good moments. I toured extensively in 2022 to do sightseeing, visit my friends and family. As such, I managed to travel around Panama a bit (see Album 1), but also to Dominican Republic, Argentina (took some time off, after a professional mission to the north of the country) Portugal (with a stopover in New York). The absolute hit was a visit to Argentinian Patagonia, which overwhelmed me with its beauty to the point of leaving me speechless and humble. Then the trip to Portugal to celebrate my 50th birthday with friends and family let me experiences that I will always cherish and remember (even if Tahir did not make it eventually, as he had lost his travel document just days before the trip!). Portugal is an amazing country, and I am ever so grateful to have it as my adoptive home!
In other news, you may want to know that Tahir is well in Canada and is enjoying his life there very much. He now owns a small carpenter enterprise (yes, you have read it right), which is successful, and is starting his own family with his partner Amna! I can’t describe my delight to know that he is doing so well and seems to be happy.
Finally, you should know that it seems like as of August 2023, I am likely to be moving to Caracas. Although, some more administrative work needs to finalise, it looks like I will be working as ECHO’s Head of Office for Venezuela. Needless to say, how excited I am to be having a chance to work among some of the most amazing and friendly people I know. Clearly, I am aware of the potential challenges (possibly frustrations) that are awaiting, however look forward to this new life’s chapter and adventures!
2022 has been amazing. Challenging, difficult, but also full of joy, professional satisfaction, personal adventures, friends, family, and lots of love!
I am now leaving you with wishes of the most wonderful Christmas and/or holiday and with wishes of prosperity, health, and happiness in 2023!
All the best to all of you!
 Album: Panama in 2022
 Album: Floods in Bahia Province
 Albums: Assessing the impact of fires in northern Argentina; Paraguay: an unknown destination in South America
 Albums: Easter and spring break in Europe; Working in Ukraine; An unexpected break at home
 Album: Recife foods
 Album: Basin of Orinoco River and images of Bogota
 Album: Lives of refugees in Chile
 Album: The Caribbean vibes of Santo Domingo and charms of eastern part of Hispaniola Island
 Album: North, centre and south of Argentina
 Albums: Birthday celebrations; Manhattan in four hours
Refugee Camp, Iquique, Chile, December 2022
I am on the plane travelling from Santiago de Chile back to Panama City. I am tired, as the mission to Chile proved to be hectic. The trip involved a great deal of travelling between various camps and refugee centres in Santiago and its surroundings, but also in Iquique in the northern part of the country. As you can imagine, I carried out dozens of interviews with the refugees, and held many meetings with authorities and humanitarian practitioners. All very interesting but also draining. I guess, it is fair that I am not just physically tired, but emotionally exhausted. The situation of the asylum seekers who arrive to the country is complicated, and at times hopeless. More often than not, when people finally manage to cross Chilean borders (after walking for thousands of kilometres across parts of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia), are sick from weeks of maltreatment, abuse, hunger and exhaustion. Stories that one hears are heartbreaking and frankly inhumenly cruel, shaking the belief of existence of goodness of any kind. Rape, humiliation, death of friends/family members, physical abuse, robberies appear to be reality of essentially all people I talked to. Yet, when they reach Chile, what is waiting for them is far from a rosy and comfortable future. Instead of peace of mind, people need to deal with xenophobia, lack of access to basic services, irregular migration status, poor work prospects and a very high likelihood of extreme poverty. Arriving refugees, perhaps are not sent back home, but are not allowed to regularise their residency and right to work either, and hence, remain highly vulnerable to abuse and destitution. Listening to horrific experiences of so many, and realising how dramatic their lives are likely to be, made me feel angry, powerless, and eventually wore me off. My disgust was even stronger, as the experiences and stories of forced displacement of Dominicans of Haitian descent to Haiti are still fresh in my mind, after my recent emergency mission to the Dominican Republic. All in all, somehow, I am not in a particular Christmas cheer mood, really. I realise I need to recover fast, and put my new experience to work for some positive change, rather than feeling miserable. This is going to be my main task for next few days!
On a much better note, I am really pleased to let you know that I have been selected to serve as the Head of Office for ECHO in Venezuela based in Caracas. There is still some administrative fine tuning to be done, but if all goes well as of August 2023, I will be moving to Venezuela for 4 years. Very, very exciting news!
I will still write before the end of 2022, so the Christmas and New Years wishes will come a bit later.
Sending you all my best regards!
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, July 2022
In a slightly unexpected manner, I have just found out that tomorrow I will need to be flying to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic with an emergency mission.
There is a severe humanitarian crisis caused by the detentions and deportations of Haitian migrants in the entire country. The problems are exacerbated by a very difficult situation in Haiti itself. All in all, as you can imagine thousands of people are left in a desperate situation with massive protection and humanitarian needs.
My job, during the mission is to learn about the severity and scale of the challenges and support the humanitarian responders in their efforts to lessen these stresses. Except Santo Domingo, I will be traveling to the border with Haiti as well.
I will be finishing my mission on Saturday, just in time to travel to Santiago de Chile, as already reported to you in my last post. Wish me luck! I will be reporting soon!
Christmas decorations in the Ocean Club lobby hall (where I live), Panama City, Panama, December 2022
However hard it is to believe, December has arrived already, and I am wondering how is it possible that 2022 has nearly passed and that we are preparing yet for another Christmas and end of the year celebrations. It has not been a boring year, when it comes to my personal and professional life, and certainly the world politics has managed to keep many of us on our toes. In any case, I am preparing a holiday message to you all, where I imagine I would reflect on some of the more significant highlights of the year.
In the meanwhile, I am trying to survive Qatar World Cup. I dislike football. Not a game as such, but what football has become when it comes arrogance, money it involves, brutality of some of the supporters and associated nationalism/tribalism that the games seem to spark. It is difficult not to pay attention at the games. All media feeds, and many of my contacts seem to be excited by the games. 'Vamos Argentina'; 'go Senegal'; 'Polska górą' type of messages drive me crazy. It is still well over 2 weeks of it left… Can't wait for all of it to stop!
On the other hand, I am quite busy with work. The end of the year always involves with some extra work: both in terms of closing up some of the projects, and preparing/planning for the activities for the next one. Tomorrow, for example, we are arranging a meeting with our partners from the whole continent, where we will be discussing about humanitarian challenges in next 12 months. I like these meetings. Frequently, the people participating draw my attention on issues that I may not appreciate or see in the same way, which is a very good challenge.
I am also preparing for my next work related trip. In a week, I am off to Santiago de Chile, and the Iquique in the northern part of the country, where I will be visiting projects which we co-finance, and are meant to provide some of the basic services for refugees and migrants arriving to Chile (mainly from Venezuela). Can't wait to go. Some of you are aware that I am very fond of (and a little proud, in a good way) our support of refugees in Chile. The humanitarian needs are very clear there, and I feel that our support makes a small but important difference to people who get it, but especially small children.
When it comes to Christmas (and New Year), if all goes as planned, I will be in Panama. Most of my colleagues will be travelling during the holiday season, but I decided to stay behind and have an eye on possible emergencies on the continent, ready to be deployed, if needs arise.
In January, I will be travelling to Europe again (using my untaken holiday from 2022). For a part of my visit, I will stay in Poland, with my family in Nowy Sacz, but also planning to spend a week in Paphos of Cyprus, where I should go with Mum (to escape the winter for a bit). I will also need to be going to Brussels for 3 days (work related) and on the way back, I am planning to stop in Warsaw and Miami to see friends. Certainly exciting and fairly busy trip, as it seems, and I look forward to it very much!