08 February 2018
Category : Interview
FIIAPP Expatriates: Manuel Marión
"There is a lot to see in Kiev, many attractions. It is the unknown city of Europe"Manuel Marión on one of his trips to Tanzania
We discover Kiev (Ukraine) with Manuel Marión, deputy director of the UE-ACT project seconded to the city. He tells us some anecdotes and about his work within the framework of this European Commission-financed project that is managed by FIIAPP and aims to improve cooperation against drug trafficking and organised crime.
How have you adapted to this country?
It is easy to adapt to Kiev, its a large city where you can find everything. In front of my house I can buy good ham – it is not as expensive as you would image given that it is an imported luxury – and I can also buy olive oil and oranges from Spain.
Kiev has lots to see, many attractions: ballet, theatre… it is the great unknown city of Europe. And it would be worth investing in renovating some of the old buildings that are in the same style as those in the centre of Vienna, where I lived for ten years.
For me it is an advantage speaking Russian, I can more or less communicate with people. Despite the political situation and the promotion of the use of Ukrainian, everyone speaks Russian. The people are affectionate, although they do have a hard time opening up. Most of my neighbours do not even say good morning when you meet them in the lift, unless you know them from somewhere. There is a culture of mistrust, people think that everyone else is a spy or an a government agent who wants to pry into their private lives.
What was most difficult for you and what was least difficult?
It has not been the cold that has been most difficult thing for me. Perhaps understanding the logic used to number the buildings and entrances. On one occasion I took my dog to the vet and I could not find the entrance because it was camouflaged, until I saw a small sign in Russian saying: “Yes, this is the door!”
Is this your first experience outside Spain?
I have lived in different countries for many years: El Salvador, Guatemala, Vienna, Ukraine, etc. with spells in Spain and short periods in the Balkans. Your first experience abroad is the one that marks you in a significant way. The poverty – sometimes it is more misery than poverty – that there was in El Salvador made a great impression on me. I lived in a very rural area. I was amazed to see so many boys and girls walking to a distant school in the mornings, wearing immaculate white shirts.
In Guatamala I lived in the capital and what worried me the most was my family’s safety. There were a lot of kidnappings, a lot of people were “finished”, as they used to say on the news when they murdered someone.
What is your work like and your daily routine?
I travel a lot outside Ukraine, to Central Asia as well as to Africa and Europe. I am abroad for about half the month. I attend meetings we organise as part of the project to discuss the drug problem, mainly in five countries: Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Ukraine, Pakistan and Tanzania.
We have an office in Kiev, where I work with two other experts. I prepare reports, read those written by our experts, I support their activities, etc. Everyday I use Skype, WhatsApp or Viber to talk to various experts and counterparts who are in other countries and, of course, with FIIAPP in Madrid. Email is my main work and communication tool.
I recently spent two weeks in Tanzania, coordinating a team of experts from various countries to assess their ability to investigate the growing trafficking of drugs – mainly heroin – that arrive by sea from Afghanistan and then come to Europe. I also looked at their policy on drug use and the treatment of drug addicts. Incidentally, there is a Spanish NGO there working on their rehabilitation.
What is your relationship like with headquarters in Madrid? What about with your colleagues in Ukraine?
Friendly, without any problems. I mainly spend my time working with María, the programme coordinator, as we have an almost daily “battle” against bureaucratic red tape.
Every country has its customs, and the truth is that in Ukraine when you ask for a formal invoice everyone runs a mile. It is impossible. And I have to tell María that I urgently need some services or materials but they will not give me an invoice…
The team is Marta, Iván, David, and Mónica. They are all very nice and efficient in trying to help out. I should also mention Ana and especially Sara, who are a great help in the personnel department. I have worked with both of them for over ten years on other FIIAPP projects. I must also not forget Charo, in FIIAPP’s communications department.
How would you evaluate your experience of working as an FIIAPP expatriate in Ukraine?
It is a unique opportunity. Due to my frequent trips I do not spend much time in Kiev and I would like to get to know more about its culture, its beauty spots, museums, theatres and its surroundings. Kiev allows me to practice my Russian, which I have been studying for ten years. I travel to many Russian-speaking countries with the project and I am really pleased that I can speak their language. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and those times still have a great influence on the country, you have to live in these cultures to get to know them well.
Do you have any experiences or anecdotes about your arrival in the country?
One thing I noticed when I first arrived was seeing grandfathers and grandmothers working. Elderly people, retired people, their pensions are tiny and they cannot live on them. They have to keep on working at whatever they can, until they cannot work any longer as they are too old: they sell fruit, vegetables…so they can scrape together a few grivnas to live off.
At the bottom of the stairs in the metro stations there are old women “watching” to ensure everything is going well. The building caretakers are usually grandmothers, aged 70 or older. And it is impossible to see how they can do their job…The caretakers in my building – there are four who work in shifts and they work day and night – they subjected me to an interrogation to see who I was.
I was also struck by the fact that people are usually very reserved and seem sad. Although – and it can be contradictory – they like to party, just like we do, and there is a lot of night life, although not until as late as in Madrid. I really like salsa music and dancing and few cities have so many venues with Caribbean music and people to go dancing with.
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