Palu, Sulawesi Island, approaching for landing right after tsunami
May is coming to its end, and I am now getting ready for my last full month in Asia. Today, I have been busy finalising my handover plans, trying to make sure that nothing is forgotten with regard to final reports and pending issues. As a part of the handover, I will be travelling with my office colleague (who will partly be replacing me) to Indonesia, where we will be visiting some of our humanitarian projects, and also meeting people that she will be working with, when I am gone. Except Jakarta, we hope to be able to travel to Sunda Strait, where we supporting the communities in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami that hit the country over Christmas.
I am also planning to visit Manila for some days and finalise some of the administrative tasks that are pending.
June will also be a month of packing and sending some of my stuff to Panama! It will be a busy month!
I have just cast my vote for the EU Parliament election. I voted for a female candidate, who I believe, tries championing rights of refugees, ethnic, religious, sexual minorities; who welcomes foreigners; who believes in science; advocates for ending our dependency on carbon; who promotes public transport solutions; and who believes that unions between people are a good thing! I voted for someone, who I believe wants us to be open, not scared.
Go and cast your vote too! Make sure that you also make your voice heard!
The heat of Bangkok has eased a little bit with last few days. Rains started, and the national media officially announced that Thailand is entering the rainy season! The rains have an amazing impact on temperatures. More often than not it is bearable to walk around, although it is still very hot. We are now more likely to experience 32, 33 degrees Celsius rather than 40. As I say, still hot, but bearable.
As the weather becomes more favourable, I try restart my 'walking Bangkok' excursions. I love walking, as I think, walking the cities allows you for the best ways to learn the city and interact with it. I am even keener to do some extra walking, as I am slowly wrapping my deployment in the country… More often than not, my walks to certain parts of the city will be 'the last ones'… So as I visit different parts of Bangkok, I will try remember all what I like about them, so that I keep and cherish the memories of the city and its people in the future. Those of you, who know me, are aware that I love drinking coffee and everything that 'drinking coffee culture' involves. There are some really nice and charming coffee places in Bangkok. Some are very artistic, some are very simple, but with friendly staff and customers, some have amazing views of the river… And then I like some of the coffee places, just because they are near to where I am, and for practical reasons I hang around them often, and grew to love them.
As I say goodbye to Bangkok and Thailand, I am trying to get my head around my next phase of my life. Things are not going well on that front. I have not yet planned and prepared anything for my departure, and somehow, I can't get motivated to get started. I keep on postponing things yet another day, hoping that the muse for packing and leaving will come… It has not come yet. I guess, there will be some panic at the end of my stay involved.
This year, in the summer, we will be celebrating 25th anniversary of the graduation from my college in Denmark (where I studied for my bachelors). My friends took an initiative to arrange a gathering of the alumni to mark the occasion. The gathering and a big party will take place at the end of July in Hannover of Germany. The date is perfect, as I will be having my holidays at that time. I hope that I will be able to plan my things in a way that I get there. It would be wonderful to meet my favourite people and catch up with them and see how their lives are going… We are certainly a group of diverse and 'colourful' people .
I have just purchased my ticket to Krakow. I am flying out of Thailand in two months… flying out of Thailand for the last time, at least, while deployed here with my present organisation. Looking at the flight booking, once again, made me realised, how fast time flies. I have been in Asia well over 4 years, but it feels like if I just came here yesterday. Then again, so much has happened, so many memories, so many adventures. I will surely remember my time in Bangkok and in Asia very fondly.
Holding my ticket to Krakow also made me realise, how much work I still need to do before I depart, both professionally and on a personal level. Need to think about the logistics: packing, closing my Thai bank account, arrange for a shipment of my goods from here to Panama City. Then I need to ensure that people, who are dependent on me here in Bangkok (especially my housekeeper) have clarity over what will happen to them and that they will not need to suffer financially, when I am gone… This, in fact, is the most stressful part, but still manageable - indeed things should somehow work out.
I am also excited. I am clearly happy by the prospect of working in the Americas soon. Before that happens though, I will spend some time in Europe with family and friends! There are many attractive plans for this break arranged already, but one of the main highlights is that Tahir may be able to visit us all the way from Toronto. We still have not received his Schengen visa, but the prospects are positive. We should be able to successfully secure it, and he should be able to visit.
Work-wise, lots of things to do as well. Except following up on my usual responsibilities, I am planning for my handover briefings, and reports to ensure the smoothest possible transfer of responsibilities to the person that will come and do my present job, when I am gone.
With all of these preparations to take place, I am following up on the politics in the EU. We are having EU Parliament elections coming in 2 weeks, so I am trying to make my final decisions on whom I will vote for. Listening to the politicians in Poland and the rest of the EU is quite frustrating though. Most of the time, people seem to be highlighting the ills of the others, rather than focusing on what they are planning to do themselves. I guess, this is a reality in many places though.
A week in Laubegg in southern Austria has passed very fast. I came here so that I could participate in a training that was provided by ECHO, but also by Slovene and Swedish Civil Protection authorities, as well as Austrian Ministry of Interior, and Austrian Red Cross.
Together with a number of colleagues from all parts of Europe, we challenged ourselves with working out how to arrange for and deliver rescue and humanitarian operations outside of the European Union. We covered issues relating to cultures, security, legal framework, or cooperation with local and international entities, such as governments, NGOs, or UN agencies. We learnt about good practices within various technical sectors related to civil protection: search & rescue, neutralising chemical contamination, delivering water & sanitation or health services. On my part, I tried to challenge my colleagues on complexities of various humanitarian contexts in the world, and ensure that we all understand that when we deliver civil protection services, we consider issues, which humanitarians broadly refer to as 'protection work', meaning ensuring that aid reaches all people who need it regardless of their beliefs, political affiliation, gender, ethnicity, level of physical fitness, etc. The discussions and exercises were inspiring, and our trainers were simply fantastic. When you also take into account that we all enjoyed our new friendships and acquaintances, then you will understand that I have a satisfaction of a week very well spent!
While still thinking about some of the issues we covered, I am now sitting at the Airport of Graz, waiting for my Vienna flight. Today, I am going to spend a day with my high school friend: Marta, who happens to live in Vienna these days. In the evening, I am boarding the flight to Bangkok, and start my final stretch before I leave Thailand altogether at the end of July.
I will write soon again. For now, you are welcome to enjoy some of the pictures from my trip to Belgium and Austria.
I am packing again, so that I catch my flight to Vienna tonight. It is probably my last trip to Europe, while posted in Bangkok, so nearly feeling sentimental… I am starting doing lots of 'last things' before wrapping up my stay in Thailand.
I am going to Austria and Belgium for two reasons. In Brussels, I need to do my medical check-ups, arrange for some documents for Panama, and do some of my first debriefings from my present deployment in Asia. Then, when I am in Austria, I will be participating in the training of the civil protection teams from the EU Member States. The training is meant to help us all learn on how we could be working together when responding to humanitarian crises in third countries (outside of the EU). The training will be held and hosted by the Austrian Red Cross, and sponsored by the governments of Slovenia, Austria, UK and the European Commission and will take place in a small place near to Graz, in southern part of the country. I am certainly looking forward to interactions with civil protection services of the EU, and exchanges of protocols, knowledge and experiences. Hopefully, it will be useful and fun!