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Checking in from Panama

Colon Province, Panama, June 2021

Here comes a copy of the seasonal greeting letter to family and friends:

Dear 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 4
th 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 29
th 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