A sack with cacao produced at the plantation in Ambanja, Madagascar, July 2023
We have now safely arrived to Nowy Sacz from a week of an amazing trip to Madagascar (you can see the pictures from the trip here), and now recovering from a long trip, and thinking of the experiences in that far away place.
Both for my Mum and I, it was the first trip to the country (and for my Mum, it was a first time in Africa altogether), so undoubtedly, all of the experiences were extremely rich in every sense of it. I think that both of us really loved the visit. Madagascar, at least the northern part of it, has a 'paradise-like' nature with amazing views, fantastic plants and spices as well as some fascinating animals. We also were genuinely overwhelmed with people's kindness and friendliness. Malagasy people impressed us with their smiles, openness and being genuine. I guess, our experiences were even more enhanced because of obvious differences between Madagascar and Poland. The weather, food, culture, infrastructure, living standards, access to services are very different in both places, and whether you like it or not these differences are bound to catch up with you and make you think and challenge the systems we live in, and also our own roles within them. As you may remember, I decided to travel on 'all inclusive' deal, as it was easier to arrange it and to make it feasible for my mother to travel. To counterbalance it a bit, we made sure that we stayed in our bubble/luxury hotel as little as possible and tried exploring local markets, villages, towns and even managed to visit homes of local families as much as possible. We made sure that these adventures were done by using services of local guides, or local companies that appeared to be socially conscious.
It is however fair to mention that not everything we experienced and saw was easy to accept. The corruption mixed with extreme poverty of large parts of the society makes lives of the people to be very difficult, at times nearly unbearable. Learning that the average lifespan for the locals is about 55 years, or that most live on less that 2 USD in many ways is a mind-blowing realisation to many Europeans. It certainly was difficult for my Mum, (as well as to me, although because of my work, sadly it was no news to me). We wanted to deal with that in our small ways… perhaps out of necessity, or perhaps to kill our bad conscious. We therefore tried rewarding everyone around us with smiles, but also generous tips and made sure that our guides had always plenty of food and water when they worked for us. We also decided to commit to support a family of one of our guides, who seemed to be the most vulnerable by sending transfers of at least 100 euro for as long as we can afford it in the future, so that they have enough money to pay for their rent and food. We took an opportunity to buy a new affordable smartphone for them, so their lives could be a little bit easier (for receiving payments, communicating for emergencies, and simply for being able to be connected to the Internet). They could never afford to have a smartphone, so this present seemed to mean a lot to them. The contribution and the commitment is not a big deal to us, but we hope it should make it easier for the family to meet basic needs of life, especially when there are no incoming tourists in the rainy season and when the income to many literally halts to zero. I have to say I love that it is my Mum who is very enthusiastic about the project and that it is her that was the main force behind the idea.
I also wanted to highlight how ashamed we were of some of us, Europeans, whom we met along the way in Nosy Be and elsewhere in northern Madagascar. Again not everything surprised me, but made me sad nevertheless. Many of us Poles, Italians, Brits, Germans, Czechs or Lithuanians (and many others, I guess) are in my mind just a shame to humanity. I am not even going to brag about people who travel across the world and do no effort to explore and discover the new exciting environments, but stay at hotel swimming pool (not even at the beach). That is already bad enough, but not the worst. I was appalled by our arrogance, lack of empathy, at times by concealed racism. It was depressing to me. What really was blowing my mind for example, is lack of interest of some of us in how the employees of the service providers are treated, or what it may take for the locals to earn a few dollars for their families. We, the privileged, want discounts, good price and good quality of service. If this means that competitive price involves abuse of workers, their rights, dignity, or de facto slavery, we are not too concerned anymore. It was so clear that many of the employees (not all to be fair, although many, probably most), who served us, only live from tips rather than proper salaries, and are not even provided with food during their service hours. Having any social/health cover, or accident insurance is nearly unthinkable. It was so easy to grasp it and see it, yet most of us, who are so 'entitled', fail to see it, or perhaps, do not want to see it. That certainly was a darker part of the trip. Perhaps, a small encouragement is that I found some of the fellow tourists who felt similarly, and were eager to challenge themselves and do their best to be fair to our hosts. All in all however, I remain deeply disturbed on how many of us act.
Despite the negative, I think, it is very important to promote direct contact between people, and foster opportunities for face-to-face meetings and experiencing one another. Travelling to different lands, or enabling people from other cultures visiting you are important ways of building understanding and bringing some of the stereotypes down. We should encourage it, I think, but only as long, as we remain truly open in our minds, empathetic to one another and ready to give up some of the comforts to accommodate the needs of other human beings around us.
I grant you that this post has become a little too long, but those are the thoughts that I wanted to share with you, while I am still enjoying my time off here in Poland (you can see the pictures here), before I resume my work at the end of this week.
Transferring from Panama City to Krakow, Newark Airport, USA, July 2023
Four years working in Panama for Latin America have passed very fast. I am now sitting in my house in Nowy Sacz, thinking of my amazingly rich experiences I had in the American continent, but also getting excited about my new chapter in life that is awaiting for me in Venezuela.
My last few weeks in Panama were enjoyable, despite being worked out in administrative procedures related to my departure. My colleagues and friends kept on surprising me all the time with small gifts, parties and dinners: all wanting me to have great last-minute memories. I really appreciated and enjoyed all of it.
The journey from Panama to Poland went well and comfortable. Yesterday, I landed in Krakow airport, where my Mum waited for me. The holiday is starting now, and we have some exciting plans, as you may remember from my last posts. Except hanging around in Poland and Europe, together with Mum we will be travelling to Madagascar for a week. We are already leaving on Friday. I can't wait and we hope to have some fantastic time there.
I should start working again during first week of August, however, it is unlikely that I will travel to Caracas immediately. The Venezuela visa process is likely to take some time, meaning that I will probably be teleworking from my Nowy Sacz home. I am excited about it, and look forward to be able to stay in Poland some extra time: a very rare opportunity for me!
Sunrise, Punta Pacifica, Panama City, Panama, July 2023
I am entering my final moments in Panama. I am leaving in 10 days from now.
Busy and running around trying to prepare for my departure and more importantly prepare to my new deployment in Venezuela.
My colleagues have arranged an amazing farewell party for me last weekend. We had a great time and I got an amazing present (for details click here and scroll to the end of the album).
Then, I am also getting ready for my holidays in Poland and Madagascar. Now that I know that I am leaving, I can't wait to be travelling again!
More updates soon! In the meanwhile, sending best regards to wherever you are now!