Colon Province, Panama, June 2021
Here comes a copy of the seasonal greeting letter to family and friends:
I have not been writing for a long time, and since we are celebrating the Word Refugee Day, I felt it was a good opportunity to write a few lines and update you with the latest news here in Panama.
Like all of you, I am trying to cope with the 4th wave of the coronavirus and with the new reality that is emerging in the not-quite-yet-post-COVID-19 world.
Perhaps to state the obvious, I am still in Panama, slowly approaching the middle of the deployment, carrying on working for ECHO as the emergency rapid response coordinator for the Americas (including the Caribbean Sea) with some special extended responsibilities for Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
COVID-19, the political tensions in the continent (some of the tensions also derive from the COVID-19), and multiple disasters hitting the continent (earthquakes, volcano eruptions, hurricanes, floods or droughts, to name only some) keep us all very busy. My days are filled with attempts to understand how the pandemic may have affected poor indigenous communities, Venezuelan refugees, migrant workers, urban and rural poor… The issues are complex, sometimes very frustrating (as it is difficult to imagine any sensible solutions), but also extremely interesting professionally, but also on a personal level too. I continue to be extremely lucky, as even during the lockdowns, I somehow managed to travel to affected communities (although not as much as I would like to (and should)). Since my arrival to Panama, I have travelled around Argentina (indigenous communities of Gran Chaco), Chile (refugees from Venezuela), Bolivia (indigenous communities/rain forest fires), Brazil (indigenous populations in the Amazons and refugees from Venezuela), Ecuador (follow-up on earthquake intervention), Honduras (hurricanes) and also visited Costa Rica, Mexico and Canada (these visits were mainly visiting family, friends and having holiday breaks). As I write it, I am preparing to go to Saint Vincente and the Grenadines (volcano eruption) too. Clearly, I follow on quite a few issues here in Panama too (especially migrant issues) and try visiting various parts of the country during the weekends and time off.
As you can see, I can’t complain about lack of stimulation and issues to be involved with. As I mentioned, and you can imagine, not all is happy, and there are many frustrations relating to powerlessness, but this usually comes with the job that I chose to do.
The ongoing pandemic has definitely affected me in various ways quite profoundly. I actually need to admit that falling sick with COVID last September/October left me shaken a bit. While, I did not need to go to hospital (just barely), I was rather badly ill for around 14 days. Although, I physically recuperated rather well and fast, I seem not to be able to recover emotionally as well. I am not unwell really, but I am far from being my usual normal. I appear to get scared more easily and it takes much more pushing to get motivated to meet friends, go for walks or be social. It bothers me a little, but I am conscious of my state of mind, and working on it quite a lot!
What really kept me going and gave me a huge amount of motivation is my ‘Support Refugees/Migrants in Panama Project’, which many of you have heard – and generously supported (for which I am so grateful). The project successfully allowed 10 families to have access to food, medicines, clothes etc for 8 months, and helped to help various individuals at ad hoc basis, when they faced emergencies. Together with your help, we managed to channel over 18,000 USD to those who needed it! I am so appreciative that we are managing making these small differences, however little on the global scale!
Also, what makes me really happy and motivated is working on my Spanish. I got to like the language a lot, and now feeling very comfortable in working and socialising in the language. I still absorb a lot, but as I said I have no difficulties in using the language anymore.
Being aware that family are well despite their challenges makes the whole difference too. Mum, my brother and his family are all healthy and financially okay (somehow managed to avoid a major financial pandemic crisis). They are all vaccinated now and started moving around a bit more. You will be pleased to hear that Tahir in Toronto is doing great too. On 29th June, he will get the second dose of his vaccine as well. With some kind of major luck or mercy from heavens, he stayed employed during the whole pandemic as well. Not only that he did not lose a job, but he also actually appears to be doing better off than ever before in Canada. Yes, much of the success is still hard work and determination, but he makes me so very proud! Due to COVID-19 restrictions, he still does not have his Canadian citizenship sorted, but hopefully the process should speed-up soon!
Finally, my wonderful friends in Portugal are fine and healthy! I miss going to Portugal a lot, but if all goes well, I should be there in September 2021.
I do not want to make it too long, so I will log off here. Before finishing, as usually, I would like to remind you that you are welcome to peep in at the latest 'picture-galleries' at my page.
Please keep the messages coming!
Miss you a lot!
Warmest regards and greetings, Roman
A view over Casco Viejo just before landing at the Panama International Airport, Panama, June 2021
We are in the middle of the rainy season in much of Central America, as well as parts of northern South America. The rains are so heavy that the ceiling in my bathroom started leaking (my flat is on the top floor), and I will need to call the repairing team to fix the issue. My inconveniences are small though. The rains have caused major devastation to countless communities in Guyana, Surinam, parts of northern Brazil, and indeed here in Panama.
The rainy season also reminds us that we are entering the hurricane season in the Caribbean Sea. First alerts of formations of the depressions having a potential of converting to heavy storms have already been reported over the Atlantic - bringing me, and my humanitarian colleagues on our feet, trying to prepare for a possible crisis.
This hurricane season, similarly to the one of 2020 is still marked with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I am sure that many of you can imagine that dealing with consequences of strong winds, floods, or other occurrences in the middle of the ongoing public health emergency is far from being pretty. We are worried, as cases of COVID-19 seem to be raising in Central and South America, contrary to relative calmer situation observed in North America, Europe and parts of Asia. For the record, Panama is no exception in Latin America. We seem to be entering the 3rd wave of the pandemic, with new restrictions being announced on nearly daily basis (we have got the curfew reintroduced at 22:00 again). Stressful!
Despite complicated health situation, travelling seems to be a bit easier compared to last year though. I am guessing that the authorities and airlines have learnt to operate within the new reality and challenges… Although, there are tones of papers to fill out, and many restrictions to adhere to in most of the countries, I am actually able to plan for professional missions. Clearly being fully vaccinated helps too (here thanks go to Panamanian Ministry of Health)! As I write this, for example, I am planning my professional trip to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to be able to monitor the humanitarian intervention following the recent explosion of the volcano, which ECHO is co-financing. If all goes according to plans, I should be travelling during the final days of June and continue during parts of July.
Those of you, who know me, may suspect that I am extremely excited for the prospect of this mission. Working in the field, meeting affected communities, working with frontline responders is a bit like oxygen to my lungs… I can't operate neither professionally (nor personally, as a matter of fact), without being 'on the ground'.
So despite gloomy, grey and rainy days, I am really excited at the prospect of my next mission!
PS 1: I owe you an update on my 'Support of Vulnerable Migrants in Panama Project' that I am running, and that many of you have supported. The update will come soon!
PS 2: Also, I will soon give you updates on how Tahir is doing in Toronto!
Mexico City, Mexico, June 2021
I am in Mexico City! One of my childhood dream is coming true. But the capital is just a first stop. Tomorrow, I am heading northwards to Aguascalientes, where together with Carlos and his family, I will have a chance to get to know parts of the country that are a little more 'off the beaten track'.
My first impressions of the Mexico City are extremely positive. It is a huge city, yet somehow friendly and cosy (okay, I get it: I am only referring to the tiny part of the city, which I had a chance to visit). What I like so far is that it seems to be open. People are friendly towards foreigners, and make everyone welcome, regardless their nationality, race, religion, or gender. The sign 'Migration is a human right', which I found just outside of the hotel sums it up very nicely, I think.
Today, I will be venturing out to the Old City, which I am told is quite spectacular!
As I said, tomorrow the travel continues. I will be taking pictures, so that I can share with you later on!