Streets of Caracas, Venezuela, September 2023
Here comes the latest newsletter, I have sent out to my friends:
Finally, I am getting in touch. I am aware that the letter is long overdue, but better late than never!
I am writing to you from Caracas. It is difficult to believe, but I have already been here for over the month. Settling into a new place, and learning about your new job makes time fly so fast that it is nearly scary.
I am very happy in Venezuela. When I reflect on my experiences in this country, I can’t think of anything else but my sensation, when I got to Sudan/South Sudan for the first time in my life. It is love at the first sight. People are so warm and friendly here. Yes, it is also a beautiful country with amazing nature (mountains, sea, deserts, waterfalls, colourful birds, amazing animals), fascinating architecture, cultural opportunities, but it is Venezuelan people that make the trick for me and make me like this place so very much. Of course, life in here is challenging for most. The crisis is real and at times brutal. After all, there is a reason, why we work here, but I am not going to write about this today, as I prefer to show you a face of Venezuela that is happy, vibrant, youthful, and unbelievably friendly. You should all consider visiting me here! I have a large place to live, and I am sure that I will be able to accommodate you, when you come! In any case, if you are interested, you can peep into my ’Settling in Venezuela’ gallery, should you wish so: https://photos.app.goo.gl/63SrcghpMoC2bzZv6. If all goes as anticipated, I should be here for next 4 year, so there is a bit of time to plan the visits!
My summer, the time before arriving to Venezuela was very special too. I spent some wonderful time with my mother. We enjoyed moving around Poland, and we also went to Madagascar for a week. The trip to Nosy Be (in Madagascar) was amazing for so many reasons. What I particularly liked about it is a fact that it was Mum’s first time in Africa. Madagascar did not disappoint us, and I think made Mum really impressed on so many levels. After initial shocks of differences between her own environment and what she saw on the island (which I loved noticing), she fully and bravely embraced her opportunity to get to know a new place that is so exotic, beautiful and friendly. So we spent time on exploring nature, but also local markets, villages, and made friends with local residents, who also invited us to their homes and introduced us to their families. I think we both liked the trip a lot, and I am already looking forward to more trips with her. Mum is a great travel companion! Again if you wish to peep in to our trip to Madagascar, here is a link: https://photos.app.goo.gl/GNEHaZZCkyGdYNaw5. Also here is a list of links to other albums from recent trips (including holidays in Poland and the farewell in Panama): https://www.romanmajcher.eu/blog-2/files/a84015e1320a5f0da8209020fe166e01-100.html.
And for those interested, I should report that Tahir is doing great in Canada. Just this morning, I come across the old correspondence just to get reminded that 7 years ago, we started the process for his resettlement to Toronto (with some amazing Canadian friends), that I know Tahir for 10 years, and that he has already lived in Canada for nearly 5 years. I think he has done an amazing work in Canada. He has created an independent and happy life, travelled a bit (including visiting me in Poland and Panama), and more importantly starting his own family too! And while, it is Tahir that has responsibility for his life, and seems to be doing well in this regards, I will always cherish all of you, who helped so immensely to give Tahir a push to have better opportunities. I will never stop being grateful for this. THANK YOU.
Voila… I will stop now, but look forward to hearing from you whenever you can.
Miss you all. Sending love,
Office of the Delegation of the EU, Caracas, Venezuela, August 2023
However unbelievable it sounds, three weeks have already passed in Caracas. It feels like, I just arrived yesterday, as everything is still new, largely undiscovered and very exciting.
My first weeks have been filled with arranging my life here in the city and getting familiarised with my new work. Employing my assistant (Leo is an amazing person), shopping for some essentials for my flat, walking in my neighbourhood (so I get to know it well), visiting local bars , but also carrying out countless meetings to learn about my work, and work of the partners that we work with. Soon, I should be able to start travelling out of Caracas too, so that I actually understand a bit better the realities of life of people that we try supporting and serving.
I really, really like Caracas and her people. It is a lively and exciting city full of culture, dance and colour. The nature around is breathtaking and most importantly, I find the people very hospitable. I feel lucky to be able to spend here a part of my life!
Ah… today, there will be my welcoming party, arranged by the colleagues from the EU Delegation. Need to have my hair combed so I look dashing
Arriving to the airport of Caracas, Venezuela, August 2023
My time in Europe (and in Africa for that matter) has come to the end, as my holidays finished. I am now in Caracas, starting a new chapter of my life: 4 years humanitarian deployment for ECHO.
Those of you who know me are all aware how excited I am to be able to live and work in this country. As usual, I will be updating you on my experiences and adventures. To start with, I have created a photo album, where I will be posting new pictures from the country throughout 2023.
But before Venezuela, I also wanted to underline how wonderful holidays I managed to have in Poland and Madagascar. I spent tones of time with Mum and I really loved it. She is such a great travel companion. Very special.
I also did travel a bit for work (trip to Warsaw to get my Venezuelan visa). I appreciated it and experience this amazing city that is changing so rapidly and in a way that is absolutely phenomenal.
I also had an amazing treat in Bardejov of Slovakia, as I met there unexpectedly my two wonderful friends, who live in Australia, but were on a family visit to Kosice.
Finally, I had a chance to spend a little over a day in Lisbon, while travelling to Caracas. Lisbon, as usual, impressed me with her beauty and made me fall in love with the city and Portugal even more!
Stary Sacz, Poland, July 2023
My holidays are officially over (see pictures from Europe here, and from Madagascar here) and I am now teleworking, and preparing for my next deployment in Venezuela. As you might have gathered from my previous posts, I have had a great time so far and enjoyed every moment of the time spent with my mother, family and friends. This being written, I am equally excited for weeks to come. I am now reading briefings for Venezuela, and also arranging all the practicalities for my travel. On Monday, for example, I will be travelling to Warsaw to the Embassy of Venezuela to get my visa stamped to my passport. I am also looking at the flight tickets, and finally making sure that I do some shopping for products that may be harder to get in Caracas. If all goes well, I will be set to travel and on my way to Lisbon, and then Caracas the following Saturday. Very excited!
Although my holidays are over, there is still one weekend ahead of us and we are planning to ensure that it is fun. Tomorrow, together with Mum and friends, we will venture out for a day trip to Banska Stiavnica in Slovakia, allegedly a pretty town in the middle of the country (we have not visited it before) and then on Sunday, planning to meet with my old friend, Basia, who lives in New York, but is currently visiting her family in Nowy Sacz. I really enjoy talking to Basia, so look forward to meeting her soon again!
As my trip to Venezuela gets closer, I might write again and update you on the latest preparations before I actually travel.
A sack with cacao produced at the plantation in Ambanja, Madagascar, July 2023
We have now safely arrived to Nowy Sacz from a week of an amazing trip to Madagascar (you can see the pictures from the trip here), and now recovering from a long trip, and thinking of the experiences in that far away place.
Both for my Mum and I, it was the first trip to the country (and for my Mum, it was a first time in Africa altogether), so undoubtedly, all of the experiences were extremely rich in every sense of it. I think that both of us really loved the visit. Madagascar, at least the northern part of it, has a 'paradise-like' nature with amazing views, fantastic plants and spices as well as some fascinating animals. We also were genuinely overwhelmed with people's kindness and friendliness. Malagasy people impressed us with their smiles, openness and being genuine. I guess, our experiences were even more enhanced because of obvious differences between Madagascar and Poland. The weather, food, culture, infrastructure, living standards, access to services are very different in both places, and whether you like it or not these differences are bound to catch up with you and make you think and challenge the systems we live in, and also our own roles within them. As you may remember, I decided to travel on 'all inclusive' deal, as it was easier to arrange it and to make it feasible for my mother to travel. To counterbalance it a bit, we made sure that we stayed in our bubble/luxury hotel as little as possible and tried exploring local markets, villages, towns and even managed to visit homes of local families as much as possible. We made sure that these adventures were done by using services of local guides, or local companies that appeared to be socially conscious.
It is however fair to mention that not everything we experienced and saw was easy to accept. The corruption mixed with extreme poverty of large parts of the society makes lives of the people to be very difficult, at times nearly unbearable. Learning that the average lifespan for the locals is about 55 years, or that most live on less that 2 USD in many ways is a mind-blowing realisation to many Europeans. It certainly was difficult for my Mum, (as well as to me, although because of my work, sadly it was no news to me). We wanted to deal with that in our small ways… perhaps out of necessity, or perhaps to kill our bad conscious. We therefore tried rewarding everyone around us with smiles, but also generous tips and made sure that our guides had always plenty of food and water when they worked for us. We also decided to commit to support a family of one of our guides, who seemed to be the most vulnerable by sending transfers of at least 100 euro for as long as we can afford it in the future, so that they have enough money to pay for their rent and food. We took an opportunity to buy a new affordable smartphone for them, so their lives could be a little bit easier (for receiving payments, communicating for emergencies, and simply for being able to be connected to the Internet). They could never afford to have a smartphone, so this present seemed to mean a lot to them. The contribution and the commitment is not a big deal to us, but we hope it should make it easier for the family to meet basic needs of life, especially when there are no incoming tourists in the rainy season and when the income to many literally halts to zero. I have to say I love that it is my Mum who is very enthusiastic about the project and that it is her that was the main force behind the idea.
I also wanted to highlight how ashamed we were of some of us, Europeans, whom we met along the way in Nosy Be and elsewhere in northern Madagascar. Again not everything surprised me, but made me sad nevertheless. Many of us Poles, Italians, Brits, Germans, Czechs or Lithuanians (and many others, I guess) are in my mind just a shame to humanity. I am not even going to brag about people who travel across the world and do no effort to explore and discover the new exciting environments, but stay at hotel swimming pool (not even at the beach). That is already bad enough, but not the worst. I was appalled by our arrogance, lack of empathy, at times by concealed racism. It was depressing to me. What really was blowing my mind for example, is lack of interest of some of us in how the employees of the service providers are treated, or what it may take for the locals to earn a few dollars for their families. We, the privileged, want discounts, good price and good quality of service. If this means that competitive price involves abuse of workers, their rights, dignity, or de facto slavery, we are not too concerned anymore. It was so clear that many of the employees (not all to be fair, although many, probably most), who served us, only live from tips rather than proper salaries, and are not even provided with food during their service hours. Having any social/health cover, or accident insurance is nearly unthinkable. It was so easy to grasp it and see it, yet most of us, who are so 'entitled', fail to see it, or perhaps, do not want to see it. That certainly was a darker part of the trip. Perhaps, a small encouragement is that I found some of the fellow tourists who felt similarly, and were eager to challenge themselves and do their best to be fair to our hosts. All in all however, I remain deeply disturbed on how many of us act.
Despite the negative, I think, it is very important to promote direct contact between people, and foster opportunities for face-to-face meetings and experiencing one another. Travelling to different lands, or enabling people from other cultures visiting you are important ways of building understanding and bringing some of the stereotypes down. We should encourage it, I think, but only as long, as we remain truly open in our minds, empathetic to one another and ready to give up some of the comforts to accommodate the needs of other human beings around us.
I grant you that this post has become a little too long, but those are the thoughts that I wanted to share with you, while I am still enjoying my time off here in Poland (you can see the pictures here), before I resume my work at the end of this week.
Transferring from Panama City to Krakow, Newark Airport, USA, July 2023
Four years working in Panama for Latin America have passed very fast. I am now sitting in my house in Nowy Sacz, thinking of my amazingly rich experiences I had in the American continent, but also getting excited about my new chapter in life that is awaiting for me in Venezuela.
My last few weeks in Panama were enjoyable, despite being worked out in administrative procedures related to my departure. My colleagues and friends kept on surprising me all the time with small gifts, parties and dinners: all wanting me to have great last-minute memories. I really appreciated and enjoyed all of it.
The journey from Panama to Poland went well and comfortable. Yesterday, I landed in Krakow airport, where my Mum waited for me. The holiday is starting now, and we have some exciting plans, as you may remember from my last posts. Except hanging around in Poland and Europe, together with Mum we will be travelling to Madagascar for a week. We are already leaving on Friday. I can't wait and we hope to have some fantastic time there.
I should start working again during first week of August, however, it is unlikely that I will travel to Caracas immediately. The Venezuela visa process is likely to take some time, meaning that I will probably be teleworking from my Nowy Sacz home. I am excited about it, and look forward to be able to stay in Poland some extra time: a very rare opportunity for me!
Sunrise, Punta Pacifica, Panama City, Panama, July 2023
I am entering my final moments in Panama. I am leaving in 10 days from now.
Busy and running around trying to prepare for my departure and more importantly prepare to my new deployment in Venezuela.
My colleagues have arranged an amazing farewell party for me last weekend. We had a great time and I got an amazing present (for details click here and scroll to the end of the album).
Then, I am also getting ready for my holidays in Poland and Madagascar. Now that I know that I am leaving, I can't wait to be travelling again!
More updates soon! In the meanwhile, sending best regards to wherever you are now!
View on Costa del Leste, Panama City, Panama, June 2023
It is hard to believe but I am leaving Panama in less than a month. I will surely prepare a small write-up of my four years in Panama and on this continent in some days, but wanted to update you all that all goes well here.
I am now in full swing of preparing everything for my departure, but also for my holidays and then arrival to Venezuela. So I am arranging the handover of my card, packing my belongings, dealing with administrative stuff, but also writing up my professional handover report, and preparing my briefings with people that will be taking over my responsibilities from me.
At the same time, I am quite busy coordinating with Mum on preparing our trip to Madagascar… trying to make sure that we have our malaria tablets, vaccinations ready, and also that we actually prepare ourselves in terms of planning the trip so it is fun and interesting.
Finally, I am trying to make sure that I am not lagging behind with arrangements for Venezuela. Now, the biggest challenge is to get my visa for the country, so I can actually legally enter Venezuela and start my new duties, hopefully in August. Most of the visa process will need to take place remotely in Caracas, but physically, I should be getting the actual document stamped into my passport at the Consulate of Venezuela in Warsaw.
Everything seems a bit chaotic at the moment, but eventually things progress, which is the most important.
Finally, you may remember that my friend, Christine, was visiting me here from Atlanta last weekend. It was absolutely great having her here, and show her a bit of my favourite parts of the city and its surroundings. Clearly, the best part was staying together, chatting and catching up. These few days with Christine made me remember again, how much I value and appreciate her! Can't wait to meet her again soon somewhere! Before that happens, you might want to check out some pictures from our time together (click here to access the album).