Tahir in Panama City, January 2020
A few days ago, this is the message that I sent out to friends for the World Refugee Day:
The World Refugee Day is approaching. In order to honour the refugees and the displaced, who, as the group, in my mind, are the most vulnerable and the most unfairly treated people in the planet (if one can generalise), I would like to share with you (albeit many of you have already read these) some stories that I wrote two years ago.
These stories constitute my own experience with lives of refugees, in particular, the life of Tahir Rana (today a proud resident of Canada).
As you know, Tahir has become one of the most important people in my life, and certainly, to me is one of the most charismatic human being, who I have so much respect of, and is my best friend, to say the least.
It is Tahir, through his life, who opened my eyes to struggle that refugees and the displaced go through. He did it, by allowing me to experience and watch his suffering, fears, but also joys and successes in a very practical manner…
The journey that he invited me to participate in, has become one of the most stressful, yet the most wonderful adventures that I have had.
The stories below just reflect a small part of that journey, but in many ways are the most significant ones that I wanted to share with you.
You may want to read them from in the reverse order (starting from 4th July), if you prefer to have a chronological understanding of the story. As there are many of them, you may not want to read them all. If you were tempted to just read one, I would recommend the one of 20th July (Boys cry).
While I would like to thank Tahir for giving me the best lesson of my life, I would also like to thank you all (countless amount of people) for allowing Tahir’s story to come to a happy ending. The list is so long, but includes my friends, in Thailand, and so many other parts of the world, my work colleagues (in Bangkok, Dhaka and Brussels), my own family, Tahir’s family in Pakistan, and last but not least, Tahir’s official sponsors in Canada. You HAVE all made the impossible – to become reality. I will always remember your kindness and everything that you have done to help!
18th August 2018: Free at last
15th August 2018: Tahir’s last weekend in Thailand
9th August 2018: Waiting is so stressful
8th August 2018: Last hurdles cleared
4th August 2018: Eleven days to go
29th July 2018: Happy Birthday, Tahir
23rd July 2018: Four days of detention
20th July 2018: Boys cry
7th July 2018: Last weekend with Tahir in Bangkok
4th July 2018: Tahir is going to Canada soon
Staircase at my flat in Casco Viejo, Panama City, June 2020
I have not been writing extensively these days. I am in a bad mood. The extension of confinement in Panama, without much hope of that it would ease-up until August 2020; the horribly chauvinistic, anti-LGBT discourse coming from the authorities in Poland; their attempts of demonising refugees (yet again); depressing news from Brasil, Venezuela, Colombia and most of Latin America in regards to people's suffering from ever-growing COVID-19 pandemic… all makes me numb, discouraged and not very animated to write and stay in touch.
I realise that I am not positive and need to find a source of some energy. Before that happens, I will be a bit quitter for a while. Listening to some music, watching some news, and doing some reading should do the trick !
Please bear with me until then, stay well and keep in touch, when you can!
A view from my rooftop in Casco Viejo, Panama City, June 2020
The lockdown that we are experiencing here in Panama is taking toll on our morale. More and more people seem to be getting frustrated, or even depressed. For last 5 days, no a single day has passed without protests. The residents of the country find it increasingly difficult to survive the imposed restrictions. The feeling that I have is that while the society understands the seriousness of the pandemic, it also asks itself how to cope with challenges caused with loss of income and ability to survive. Paying bills, putting food on the table, ensuring that the basic needs are provided is already bad enough, but apparently other problems surface too. The national newspapers and Internet news services keep on highlighting the increase of suicide, domestic violence, petty crime, but also serious crimes such as homicides and looting. What is happening is worrying and is extremely tangible, as my own acquaintances living in Panama are affected. On daily basis I keep on receiving increasing pleas of help - financial and emotional. It is time that the authorities recognise it and deal with it with the same enthusiasm as the fight the actual COVID-19.
As things in Panama and elsewhere of Latin America appear to be dramatic, there are some first signs of things getting better in Europe. Today, the European Union has announced that the internal borders between the Member States of the EU will be abolished as of 15th June! Moreover, the EU is working towards opening its external borders too. This process will take some more time, and will be gradual, but it is such a relief to learn that things seem to be going in the right direction at last.
Poland in the same time is gearing up its campaign for the presidential elections. Sadly, the level of the discussion is not very constructive, and focuses on undermining your counter candidates rather than presenting your arguments on why one should vote for you. Not that it was unexpected, but sad nevertheless. We need to endure a little bit over two weeks of this madness.
Chancery of the President of Poland, Warsaw, Poland, July 2019
Yesterday, the registration of citizens wishing to vote for the Polish President, outside of the country was opened (in case, you are Polish living abroad, and wish to register yourself, so that you can vote, you may do so by clicking at this link). The first round of the elections is scheduled to be on 28th June 2020. As I am lucky enough to live in the country, where there is a diplomatic mission of Poland, it is relatively easy for me to vote. All in all, if there are no unexpected disturbances, I should be able to cast my vote soon!
In the meanwhile, after 5 days of easing up, the Government of Panama has return to the full lockdown of residents of Panama City. Again, we are not allowed to leave our houses/apartments, except for food shopping and emergencies (every other day). While I feel frustrated and disappointed, it is not about me. What we are all very worried about is the situation of the poorest residents in the country (Panamanian and migrants), who frequently find themselves without means to live. We just need to hope that the government has some tangible plans to support those, who really need it now.
Cinta Costera, Panama City, June 2020
We have been allowed to move out of the our flats for around 5 days now. The country seemed to have been ready for opening-up gradually. After three long months of one of the strictest confinement in the world, it was such a wonderful and hopeful piece of news.
Yesterday and today, the Panamanian Ministry of Health seems to be preparing us for some bad news. Clearly, the spread of the diseases is not stopping, quite the contrary, and there are fears that the country's health facilities will break.
All signs show that there will be some sort of announcement tonight, reversing back to the restrictions. We will still need to see, how bad it will be, but it seems inevitable.
The problems with Panama, as I see it, is that there is no good solution anymore. The people are desperate, people have no income, and really struggle. There is essentially no support to the poorest. Reintroducing the confinement and closing all the businesses again, without increasing the social protection package is likely to break the people, and is an invitation to the civil unrest. Let's hope that there is a plan in whatever is to come…
We have been very busy here in Panama City, as well as in our offices in Managua of Nicaragua, as we are trying to understand the needs of the communities, whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by the tropical storm, referred to as 'Amanda'.
We are experiencing a slightly atypical situation, as the winds associated with the weather are relatively slow, and do not cause massive destruction as such. What is however happening is that the storm is bringing extremely heavy rains, which have been falling over El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and parts of Mexico for a few days now. The information that we have, tells us that many parts of El Salvador (the most affected) received rainfall, which is an equivalent of an average annual precipitation, within just four days.
Entire communities in El Salvador and Honduras are destroyed by flooding and landslides. Around half a million of people are affected. Many people died, while thousands are displaced.
As the storm is happening in the midst of COVID-19 epidemics, the response to the needs becomes even more challenging (due to restrictions). Obviously, the communities already exhausted economically by the coronavirus confinement, will find it even more difficult to recover. Much attention and aid will be needed as soon as possible to help the most affected, but also, lots of work will need to be done in a longer term to help the people recover.
For now, it is still difficult to see how we will be able to assist the affected, as the rain still continues and is expected to make further damages for the following three days.
More news on this will continue in my following entries.
Black lives matter…
I am so sad about what is happening in the USA. Yes, I am aware that discrimination happens everywhere, but as the world, we have idealised the USA to be the country of freedom, equal opportunities, equity, justice…
United States has never been a perfect place, but many of us has considered the country to be going an extra mile to be able to be an example for other parts of the world to aspire to create the environment of the justice that we have believed that the USA represents.
It hurts seeing yet another icon being shattered. It hurts seeing dreams of THE BETTER WORLD to be just an illusion.
The USA and the world is going through some very sad and gloomy days. I can just hope that crises, frequently, mark the new beginnings… beginnings that are slightly better than the past.