Chiriqui, Panama, December 2019
Being on your own, and managing your, and only your, company for an extended period of time does wired things to you. I, too, am becoming a victim of turning into COVID-19 lockdown oddities…
I am not bored. In fact, the situation that we found ourselves in, keeps me very busy professionally. After all, my job is all about emergencies, and frankly, one could not think of the more challenging and interesting crisis environment that we are experiencing now. Essentially, the whole world appears to be on fire, in ways that some of us struggle comprehending. The crisis that we are experiencing seems to have reached entire societies, countries, continents, but also individuals that we know and love. It affects our health, sanitation, social structures… This emergency is melting out economies down, create unrest, violence… and makes many of us anxious in one or another way. A nearly perfect storm, I would say!
Yet the situation, despite being rather stressful, is also widely calm. Yes, I get this… it is an artificial calmness, but this is really how it feels to me today, and although, I largely hate being placed under this house arrest, for being stripped from many of my liberties, which I take for granted; I also admit, I enjoy some extra time to be left with your own thoughts.
Being able to do it, in the situation where the world you know, seems to be disappearing around you, makes a rather unique experience in more than one way, I think. In my case, one of the unexpected manifestation of this uniqueness is that I commenced conversing with my own plants!
Also, I have quickly come to learn that my conversations (I underline: conversations, not monologues) with the plants are both useful, and therapeutic. Plans prove to be patient listeners, and, I found, are able to teach you how to relax and take things easy on yourself.
My ferns and palm trees, for example, are capable of being able to hold discussions on a variety of topics. Although, through my arrogance, it is always me choosing the issues to be contemplated, they do not seem to mind! I noticed that it is particularly my ferns that display the most patience. We talk about everything really… politics, family, economy, climate change, happiness, disappointments, love, sex, desires, poverty, inequality, people whom I miss.You name it! Life experiences seem to provide you endless thoughts.
While frequently, we end up laughing at ourselves; having a great time remembering pleasant situations, kind people, crazy passions or amazing adventures; sometimes, I am unfair to my plants and dump on them my fears and worries, too. Really, I can be quite rough, and challenge my listeners with questions that do not have easy answers to: why wars, why inequality, why fear, why they don't like me the way I want them to, why do we need to confront finity of people and situations that we wish never ceased existing, why being weak, why not being able to stand up for things that I believe in, why not being respectful enough, why not doing enough, why being being lazy… These considerations do make me upset, and at times, leave me with feelings of helplessness… Yet my ferns and palms are very patient, and at the end always have all the winning arguments! I am suspecting that their strategy is to make me tired and exhausted. They just let me speak and vent… and when I reach the point when I can't anymore, they just slowly start asking me to look at them, and admire their beauty. They tell me to look at their growing stems and leaves, and appreciate the mystery of life that is able to regenerate. So they teach me that it is okay not to have a grip on everything, just the same way they do not have a control over their dying leaves. But, they also tell me that things do get better again, they same way, when things stabilise as new branches grow, leaves get greener and flowers blossom.
They keep on teaching me that it is great to have fun, but it is okay to be scared and feel helpless, too. The lesson that I like the most though, is that no matter what… whether you have got control over things, or not… eventually, things stabilise and find a right place in your existence, so that they are beneficial to you. Life goes on regardless… and will give us plenty of opportunities to find peace within us.
Ah… one more thing! My new handsome and tall yuccas tells me that they appreciate my friendship. They like when I water them and look after them. They tell me that when I care for them, they thrive and it is easier for them solve their own vulnerabilities. Yes… you have gotten it right… Stop reading it, get up and show someone that you care for them and love them! Who knows, they may grant you some amazing conversations too!
Trying to cook while on the lockdown #covid19, Panama, March 2020
The COVID-19 lockdown continues. So far, today, it has been the most difficult day since we are on the lockdown… For some reason, I have been feeling particularly down. I am glad the day is coming to its end. Time to bed soon, and tomorrow is another day - hopefully a bit more cheerful.
We still do not have a clue how long the lockdown in Panama will go on for. My take is that at least 3 more weeks, but possibly more. The peak of the outbreak has not yet arrived to the country, and from what I understand it should happen in around 10 - 12 days.
Even if I am down today, I also realise that I have nothing to complain about. At the end of the day, I am fine, safe and well looked after, unlike many people in the city and in the country, who already start getting desperate. The economic hardships which are caused by the COVID measures are tremendous across the whole continent. As thousands lose their jobs and the authorities do not step up providing any kind of social assistance, many people go into debts, and simply do not have enough to eat. This shows… Panama is already experiencing first examples of shop looting and unrest. If no proper assistance arrives, I am afraid the unrest will continue, and individuals and communities at large will pay a very high price for the poor management of supporting the most vulnerable. Now, if this is already a reality in Panama, I am trying to imagine what it must be like in countries which are less fortunate, here in America, or elsewhere in the world. Just yesterday, I had a chat with a colleague of mine, who told me that in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, the situation is desperate as well. People are frustrated for not being able to have access to food and medicines. In the whole of Ecuador, she tells me, the humanitarian agencies estimate that 5 million (yes: 5,000,000) people in urgent need of food assistance… I do not dare contemplating other countries.
And now, we are reading that COVID-19 is making its way to Africa too. I was just trying to comprehend what it will mean for communities over there. What is going to be the level of suffering, unrest and economic fall-down; or how severe will the health/sanitation crisis be in cities such as Kinshasa, Cairo, or Lagos? Just a thought of it makes me absolutely terrified.
Then, while international community and governments do not seem to be stepping up (with some notable exceptions) to the challenge of solidarity, there seem to be lots and lots of examples of such on the community and individual level. And this is across the world, regardless of people's status. It is perhaps not enough yet, and we definitely need need much more effort of the politicians and decision makers of all of countries and international institutions, but these examples of humanity and selflessness offer hope!
I do not feel like writing about what we do professionally to address the challenges of COVID-19 today. I am tired of dealing with work, so I will skip it for another time. Today, I just wanted to vent…
Good night and stay strong, safe and well, wherever you are!
I am very uneasy about this message, but I feel that I have to do something, even if this is not going to change the word, and even if some of you may be fed up with my never ending pleas and appeals…
The COIVD 19 is a scary thing to many of us… but it affects some of us more than the others. We are all worried, but some of the people are hit much, much harder than the others, also economically.
I know live in Panama, the country where there are thousands of refugees and poor migrants from Venezuela, Colombia, Central American countries, you name it. Many of these people come here and work without papers. For more than a week, like many other countries, Panama has introduced tough measures to limit the spread of the contamination. Like everywhere in the world, this means misery to lots of people, as they lose jobs temporarily or in some cases perhaps permanently. Waiters, taxi drivers, people doing ‘low paid jobs’ are the first one to take the hit… so far nothing different compared to other parts of the world. The Government of Panama is trying to mitigate some of the hardships, but these seem to be addressed to people having papers… Panamanian citizens, and residents with papers. While this is understandable, thousands of people, the already poor and vulnerable ones are left with nothing. The migrants (especially those without proper documents) are really left with nothing… and are desperate to find ways to survive and bring food to themselves and their families.
I am sure that in all of the places where you are, you may be confronted with similar stories. I am not expecting that you will be able to chip in, as you may have decided to help people closer to you, or you may be in trouble yourselves! This is absolutely okay, and it makes sense to concentrate on giving a hand to people nearby. This being written, if you were wanted to consider supporting the idea, this is what I am planning to do:
- I am setting aside 500 USD from my monthly income (until this situation stops, and as long as I can afford it) to help two refugee/destitute migrant families to meet ends during the crisis (this is on top to my commitment to the person that works for me as a cleaner, who will not be able to work for some time, but I will pay his salary),
- The families I will be supporting are of Jeison, his wife (sorry do not know her name) and his daughter of 8 months; as well as Julio, his wife Isa and their son Ignacio (3 years old). Jeison normally works as a guard in a private parking, next to my house. He is now told that the business is shut, and he will not be able to work for some time, and will not be compensated anything when he is out of work. His wife never worked, as she never managed to find anything, and she is looking after their new-born baby. Then Julio works in a concierge of the hotel, next to my house and he lost his job, as the hotel closed down for some time… and his wife Isa lost a job in an Italian restaurant, which was also forced to closed down. In all cases, the business that they work for are either unable to pay them compensation, as they are nearly bankrupt themselves, or unwilling to do so, as they are simply… take advantage of the undocumented migrants. At the moment, they are not eligible to receive any support from the government of Panama, for their status… Both Julio/Isa nor Jaison and his family already struggled substantially before the COVID crisis, now they are facing eviction from their homes, and they simply do not have anything do eat…
- I am planning to find more families like the ones referred to above, but I could only do that if there is more resources to do that. In case not enough funds are mobilised for taking care of additional families, the aim is to at least provide to the ones that I have identified in the most complete way,
- I can commit and promise that I will be as transparent and honest with your potential donations as humanly possible. If you want to participate however, it is a small project based on trust to a large extent. If you have reservations, and cannot or do not want to entrust in this action, it is ABSOLUTELY fine, and understandable. If you do however feel that you can and would like to help out, I would need to ask you to give me a degree of trust for managing the resources that you entrust to help the vulnerable migrant families here.
As I say, I am writing to you, as I think that there is an opportunity to offer a very much needed support to families/individuals, who are in major (hopefully short term) distress. The situation is that in order to survive, many of the migrants here will be pushed to debts (potentially wrecking their lives for a long time), or worse so to engage in coping-strategies that may be detrimental for their health, dangerous for themselves and their families. I do hope that once the worse is over, they will be able to resume their ‘normal’ activities and provide for their families (even if it takes time and will be gradual).
Once again, I know that the whole world is in despair, and you may be in trouble yourselves, or already be engaged in helping people around you. In fact, I think it is best and the most sensible that you first help vulnerable people around you! However, if you felt that you have some spare income, and believe/trust in my little project, please do consider joining in your forces!
We are all aware that this undertaking is not going to save the world, we may not even be able to make a lasting change in lives of the people that we temporary support, but I believe that it is worth giving it a try to help some individuals from a danger of slipping into the absolute despair from the already very difficult daily reality they live in Panama.
Whatever you decide, do write to me… it will be so good to hear from you and how you are coping and doing! It will be great to catch up!
Sending you all lots of love and strength in this challenging time!
Buenos Aires Airport, February 2020
The whole COVID-19 pandemic is translating into situations that none of us could have imagined, just a few weeks ago: both when considering your personal life, but also work challenges.
In recent days, I have been helping in arranging repatriations of the EU citizens stranded in various countries across South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean region. It is daunting… within last week or so, we have managed to arrange the repatriation flights for around 30,000 people, and there are many more to come. The flights are being organised anywhere between Dominican Republic, Cuba, Honduras, Peru, Brazil or Argentina. Also, we are arranging for the flights from Panama too. Within next week, we are expecting 8 flights to depart to Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Prague and Madrid. You can just imagine all the mess and stress that organising of these flights involve…
But then, there is our usual work as well… I mean work that we are meant to carry out, as our mandate: assisting vulnerable communities to withstand humanitarian crises. Even without COVID 19, we have been struggling with supporting our partners in delivering basic humanitarian services to the vulnerable in the continent. Indigenous communities, refugees, victims of violence, natural disasters… you name it! COVID 19 makes everything so much more complicated, in every possible sense. The pandemic has a tremendous sanitary, social and economic impact on individuals and communities, which already have been extremely vulnerable, and now on top of that, the situation is creating millions of new people, who are slipping into extreme poverty and will eventually depend on humanitarian support to withstand various crises that the pandemic (and other causes) will inflict on them. I think that none of us has yet managed to comprehend the consequences that we will need to be dealing with. All what I know is that we need to be prepared for the major challenge for all of us, the challenge that will either bring us to the world conflict, or that will teach us the essence of human solidarity. I trust that the latter will materialise rather than the global upheaval, but I also know that we will all be tested to our limits! Let's all of us get ready. We will need each other more than ever!
My apartment in Casco Viejo, Panama City, March 2020
The lockdown on your own gives you some free time at hand and it gives you time to think and ponder.
Observing my own reality around me here in Panama, reality of some of my friends in other parts of the world, reading emergency reports from my colleagues trying to manage the situation, being involved in developing various scenarios and contingency plans, and finally reading the press and online services on what is happening around the globe, it is difficult not to come to a conclusion that we are dealing with a moment in our existence that will have a profound impact on our future. First few days, I still thought that things may get back to normal soon, now I am convinced that we have passed the line, where it is impossible.
We are witnessing the moment in the history, where the world that we know has ended.
Perhaps, we are not realising it yet, but COVID-19 has and will have changed all of our lives, as individuals, communities, but also when it comes to the way we interact with each other as nations, international bodies. Everything is and still will be challenged. Things will not get back to 'business as usual'.
In the same time, I believe that we are given a great opportunity to create something better, and that 'not going back to business as usual' does not need to be a bad thing. No, I am not saying it will be easy. On a contrary, we are about to enter a global earthquake where we will be tested to the very end of our limits. Lots of us will suffer terribly… many of us may fall sick, will deal with sad personal tragedies relating to health of ours, or health of people that we love and care for. We will be tested when it comes to various securities and things that we take for granted. Our job security may be at stake, we may face severe financial problems and we many of us will be confronted with systems breaking down. We may be disappointed by our politicians, administrations, religion leaders. There will be protests, there will be violence, there will be abuse of power, abuse of our basic human rights, in the name of 'security and perseverance of nations'. Things are likely to go really bad and wild. Clearly, we will not be affected in the same way, as we live in various parts of the world where protection systems and safety nets work in a different ways, but I have little doubts, it is all coming, and we will need to deal with it whether we like it or not. We are all in it, wherever we happen to live and come from.
I think however that we will be given plenty of opportunities to make our world to be a better place eventually. There will be plenty of threats too, and as a humanity we will need to navigate together to make it right, or else face even more dramatic consequences.
How we can do it? I genuinely do not know. I just have thought about what I should do, trying being a bit more constructive and helpful and this is a list of commitments that I have come up with to me.
- I will try looking after my needs, after my body and mental health. I will try to be better in finding a better work/rest balance, especially when during a lockdown situation,
- Do my professional work/duties the best that I can. I will do whatever I can to seize opportunities to deliver services that I am responsible to as many people as possible,
- I will try not to get defensive. If people are critical to me, professionally or personally, I will try not to get upset, but look at the critics with an open mind, and judge whether it actually make sense,
- I will do whatever I can, to promote that we all are in this together, and we are all vulnerable and potentially worried regardless of where we come from, regardless of what our social or economical status is. I will try challenging back the discourse of that 'my country…, my community…, my people…, are better, or have done it better, or are more important… I really think that we are not in competition, we need to look after each other! All of us!
- I recognise that at least today, I have more means that many other people around me. I will do whatever I can to share my resources with people who may be in trouble. I will keep on supporting the most vulnerable people and families around me, even if they can not do anything in exchange for me: I will not stop paying salary to the person who helps me at home (even if no service is possible), I will keep on sending support to my favourite waiters, people who washed my car for as long as I can afford it and for as long as they are unable to find new work (most of them have already lost the work),
- I will try being careful and not spread information that is not confirmed and/or that may increase anxiety or panic,
- Finally, I will call the people that are important for me, and talk to them and try supporting them, and accept that they may be worried about me too.
I believe that we need to be extra kind to one another now, and be reactive to populism, egoism, lack of empathy. This alone will not change the world, but perhaps will contribute to creating something more sustainable for the future for all of us?
Please write to me, if you feel like it is something that you would like to do! I will be happy to read or hear from you!
Greetings to you all, and stay strong!
Empty streets of Casco Viejo on Friday night (normally full of people), Panama City, March 2020
The lockdown over Coronavirus has reached Panama, and our office in Panama City. As a result, I am not moving out of my flat, except absolute necessities (emergencies, occasional shopping), and spending time writing emails (professional and personal), reading, watching Netflix, talking to my plants, and sitting at my balcony watching nearly empty streets.
Panama has banned lots of fights for time to come, but so did Poland, and many other countries, so travelling (even after the lockdown) looks like a bit of an unknown. Clearly I am not going for my work conference to Cartagena anyone, and they have cancelled my flights to Poland in April. I am now trying to work out some kind of a plan B, but given that plans of other people have changed too, and that call centres of airlines are impossible to reach, it will take time to work out what next.
My life is good though, and I cannot complain really. My employer is great, I have a really good health insurance, and I genuinely do not have any reasons to complain, so except being a bit frustrated, I try shutting my month up and not whinging, so that I am not a pain to other people.
Tahir in Canada is doing well too. He is taking it easy, and although he still goes to work, his employer reassured him that if he feels unwell, and needs to stay home, he is welcome to do so, with full pay! Wonderful piece of news! Mum and family in Poland are well too. We are a bit concerned about Mum as she is over 73, but then she is on the self-imposed lockdown too, and she is in a good health… With a bit of luck, we hope, she will be okay.
The Coronavirus makes me uneasy and furious on many other fronts. I am really upset at how many of us treat it. Without trying to diminish the significance of the situation, I find it really hard to resist the thought that there is so much panic and concern, only because the wealthy people/societies are not immune to the potential problems. There are so many other issues that are equally or more worrying, but we fail acting the same way as in case of Coronavirus, simply as many of us do not feel threatened. Ebola, locust infestation in eastern part of Africa, or parts of Asia, displacements caused by fighting… The consequences of these stresses frequently outpace the problems of the pandemic that we are experiencing… Even with the Coronavirus pandemic, we just report on what is happening in wealthier parts of the world, forgetting the needs of the most vulnerable communities (for example the displaced).
Staying at home leaves me with time to think of this stuff, and it does not cheer me up. Let's hope, we move on with whatever we need to move on with soon!
One of the quieter streets of Casco Viejo, Panama City, February 2020
It is hot here in Panama City, hot and dry! This is however normal here, as we are still at the dry season, at least until the end of March.
Panamanians seem to enjoy their summer, even if it can be blazing hot. I enjoy observing the city in the summer, and I especially like the evening, but I do find it too hot, and I secretly miss the rain!
This summer is a bit odd here, but I guess it is not just here… it appears that the whole world is in panic mode over Coronavirus. In Panama, we are still unaffected with the virus itself, but there are signs of people and institutions being worried. Friends cancel their travel plans, worry if they actually need to travel, many stock up on goods and food. It is a wired feeling.
For me personally, I am more worried of that I will be forced to postpone some of my trips, as they may cancel flights, or introduce some restrictions on where you are allowed or not allowed to move. My trip to Cartagena (for work) is still on, and so is the trip to Poland, but as things are very fluid, there may be some last minute changes (which, I hope will not materialise at the end of the day).
As the world is getting winded up on Coronavirus, I am much more concerned and appalled with the refugee situation on the border between Turkey and Greece. Once again, the politicians use humans for their own games, and wherever you look at, they [politicians] are only too keen to spark fear and rather than sit and offer tangible solutions for the refugees and the communities that could care for them. It is possible to do it in a manner that is safe and beneficial to everyone. It really hurts to see that we are not ready to do it, and that many of us are actually proud to dismiss the problems, and show off how much 'we care about our own societies'. I have written it many times before, and I will do it again. Shame on us, shame on us all!