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Malta, Thoughts

Malta, I love & hate you

June 2, 2019

I’ve been seated for a good ten minutes or so, pondering on whether sharing my thoughts on this subject would be at all worth the backlash. I realise the message I am trying to convey is far from positive, but I chose to sugarcoat none of it and speak my mind in a way I feel most people fear doing. This website of mine was originally built for the sake of sharing appealing visuals that are paired with honest writing – yet I seem to have shied away from the honest bit. Truth is, I am a very passionate person. I have been writing my thoughts on anything and everything since the mere age of six, but really never shared any of them. Over the years, I have come to realise my social media does not represent any of that – and the pretty pictures or constant fashion-related content does not at all provide a clear indication of who I am. I’d also say it’s boring. Therefore, I have decided to put this blog to good use and express my thoughts – but be warned, if you are an extremely patriotic Maltese or someone who is easily offended, this post might not be for you. 

I dislike Malta.
On some days, you could say I loathe it, even – but I’ve learnt to fight those thoughts and remind myself of all the things I do love. The sun, the sea, the fabulous parties and exquisite – yet affordable – restaurants, as well as the many friendly faces. It truly is a lovely place to visit! Returning to the island after months of being away always brings me joy; it is my home after all. 
But all that aside, I consider it to be an unideal country to reside in. This very morning, as I quickly exited the apartment and hopped into the car driving me to work, I found myself struggling to comprehend why or how I have managed a good twenty years on this rock. The first Maltese obstacle surfaced thirty minutes into my day, at 8am, a time when traffic is at its heaviest: four men casually strolling in the middle of the street while carrying objects, despite obvious room to do so by the side without obstructing the way for cars. As my driver politely suggested they do make way, she was hit back with a series of crude insults – and this is a daily occurrence. Although seemingly minor, putting up with this kind of behaviour on a day-to-day basis is infuriating and unfortunately, simply part of the reality of living in Malta. I could write an unending list of similar happenings, but what good would that do? All us native to the island are aware of the issue at hand – yet things do not improve. Rules aren’t cared for, let alone simply being considerate of others. And one could accept it, I suppose – but I have not, so I’ll write about it. 

I believe most things I do not like about daily life in Malta stem from an overall lack of manners. The few months I spent in Paris further reinforced my opinion. Living in the city of light is not easy, but oh do I miss the manners. I had found myself struggling to believe how an uber driver who would need to spend a minute waiting in the middle of the street for their passenger to show up while cars waited on, would then continuously apologise to the other drivers. Indeed, this is really just common decency – but more often than not, Maltese drivers seem to think causing other cars to queue up so they could chat with a friend in the middle of the street, is their right. A simple please and thank you, greeting when entering a store, holding the door for someone as they walk past or not being intentionally loud at all times – are these little habits so difficult to adopt? The traits I have mentioned are the less significant, commonly occurring, yet majorly accepted aspects that form part of living here. The greater unpleasant traits that have resulted in me choosing to write this blog post, however, are actually unrelated to the above.

Malta represents all that I oppose. Here, I’ll explain; I am a nineteen, soon to be twenty-year-old (Maltese) woman. I write for a living and spend my every remaining hour creating – whether that is through drawing, photography or just content creation. I am an agnostic and a women’s rights believer.

For starters, being a creative person residing on an island of limited educational and career opportunities for artists was the first dissatisfactory point for me. As is often the case for many, I got my head start by taking up traditional roles; I was coerced into studying accounting and economics in secondary school while teaching myself fashion design in after-school hours, and later landed a job in finance writing while juggling my freelance gigs in the few remaining hours. This is not to say that there aren’t ideal roles for writers or fashion designers, but they’re few and far between. As a result, I knew I pretty much wanted to leave Malta from the age of thirteen, or maybe even before that. I’m not a settler, I’ve never been one to accept a comfortable life, and I knew I wanted more than what Malta could offer. In general, creativity is not easily understood here. I remember telling adult family friends I aspired to work in design some years ago, and being told to stick to something like law instead. Law… in what world are the two career paths similar? Still, today, I find that a career in writing is incredibly limiting here.

I also, as an agnostic, never appreciated the way in which religious beliefs were shoved down my throat at an early age here. Religion was always taught to me in a very factual manner, not as though it is really no more than a theory; a personal belief. I firmly believe religion has no place in law, although Malta has not yet grasped that concept.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less accepting of traditional norms and the far too ridiculous values shared in Malta. Just last week, as I was on my way to the airport, I was driven past a pro-life billboard forming part of the Nationalist Party’s anti-abortion campaign; to then feast my eyes on a pro-choice billboard less than an hour after landing in London, and I shook my head in disbelief, in shame. Because I can no longer live here and remain silent of all I am so deeply passionate about, of all I find shocking and unbelievable in today’s day and age, of all I find to be hugely insulting and demeaning to us women – who have been rendered incapable of forming our own choices on the matter. 

Malta is often perceived as a safe country; and I consider it to be anything but. I have never, ever felt as unsafe anywhere in Europe as I have in Malta – I have been stalked here, followed home on multiple occasions and have had my drink spiked enough to lose all sensation from my waist downwards. Oh, I forget to mention catcalling and intrusive stares because those are just another daily occurrence. And no, as a girl in her early teenage years, I did not report any of those incidents purely because I had heard of how these cases are typically dismissed and are more likely to harm the victim than the perpetrator. Every single one of my female friends has had at least one similar story to share too – just because these cases are not reported, does not mean they do not occur. And why would they be reported? News like this does not provide much hope or comfort: 
https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20190520/local/long-periods-of-unconsciousness-undermine-girls-claims-of-rape.710510

What’s worse? The fact that we have limited access to contraceptives, the poorest notion of sex ed, and an abortion quite clearly seems to be more punishable than rape – even when a woman’s life is at stake, isn’t that all too ironic for those who call themselves pro-life? Because the truth is, most care about the foetus enough to dismiss the needs of an adult woman, but yet have no interest in advocating for the lives of children who end up in the foster care system. 

And to those people, I say: you see no situation in which aborting a foetus is a ‘suitable alternative to adoption’ because you are privileged, because you are not made aware of just how many children end up in the foster care system with little to no stability or without parents they can count on. Because your parents loved you, housed you, financed you and provided you with all basic necessities. Because you did not need to face the repercussions of a tumultuous childhood. Because you are so set on delivering your agenda to the masses, that you fail to recognise how many adult women this law is hurting and in some cases, destroying the life of.

So I do ask, what options do we really have? In fact, this has little to do with abortion, so let’s call it what it is – a war against women. 

And let me just pause briefly here to state that I do not believe Malta’s current abortion debate is simply a matter of opinion. I have come to realise that unfortunately, many Maltese individuals are simply slaves to the mentalities of those around them. There are facts, statistics and opinions backed by science – and then there are opinions based solely on morals, religion, and what your parents shoved down your throat. These are not the same, and if you cannot differentiate between facts and your personal beliefs, then I recommend you read no further. I refuse to beat around the bush – Malta’s current stance on abortion is a violation of human rights. 

Next on the list of points I’d like to tackle is xenophobia. Of course, it isn’t all Maltese who reason this way (and this applies to every other point mentioned in this blog post too) but racism and discrimination are alive and well in my country. Take this example, for instance: About a year ago, a young Maltese man passed away in paceville – and a Bulgarian man on the scene who was later revealed to be innocent and trying to help out the deceased, was wrongly assumed to be the murderer. Despite there having been no sufficient evidence to be used against him, the Maltese media tarnished his reputation and the public gathered to type away all kinds of offensive comments on social media; including death threats towards him and his family. 

By contrast, we see a case in which a young Maltese man drunkenly drove after a night out in paceville and consequently claimed the life of a foreign pedestrian and injured many others; yet was let off with hardly any notable charges and many of the Facebook comments, as I recall, excused his behaviour, dubbing it a ‘tragedy’ and ‘mistake’. 

So I ask you to reconsider what you mean when you say Malta is a safe country – because the reality? Malta is a safe country for privileged white men originating from generally likeable nations, for Maltese individuals who can break the law a thousand times and face little to no repercussions, for those who do not need to fear walking out at night, for those who do not need to fight for reproductive rights.

Malta is not safe for those who are not white and fortunate, for women who fall victim to rapists and receive no justice, for women who would like to make choices for themselves and their health. It is particularly unsafe for any minority group or individual who chooses to divert from the herd-like mentality.

My little island progresses at a snail’s pace, and not enough people question that. Actually, those who do are often faced with inevitable backlash stemming from overly patriotic nationals who cannot seem to acknowledge that change is needed, and urgently. I rarely cross paths with Maltese people who are willing to discuss the problems at hand, let alone advocate for change. In fact, I mostly find myself openly discussing these topics with expatriates in Malta. Why is it that so many people from my home country refuse to open their eyes and look past what they’ve been accustomed to? Instead, discussing Malta’s problems is perceived as a personal attack. 

I remember my seventh grade geography and science (foreign) teacher emphasising on her goal to educate us about the happenings outside of Malta, because a lot of Maltese people do not care to read about the cultural norms and beliefs outside of our island. Her comment stuck with me, and till today I believe it applies heavily to most topics. This “our way is the only way” mentality I far too often come across here, is what I have ridiculed time and time again. 

And as I write this, I await the oh-so-typical response: “If you do not like it, leave!” This is a fair comment. Nonetheless, problems should still be addressed. I have shared this on my blog for a couple of reasons – the first being that I hope to bring light to some of the above mentioned points while hoping things could improve, even if this is naive of me. The second reason is a selfish one, being that I could no longer bear to keep these thoughts to myself.

This is the real Malta, not simply the stunning images of turquoise waters splattered across your travel brochure.

Another common response? “If Malta is so terrible, why do so many foreigners choose to move here?” Well, as I mentioned early on into this writing – Malta has its perks. I can think of a myriad of reasons why the island would attract a foreign crowd; sea, sun, party life, low cost of living, relaxed lifestyle. But the truth is that most expats who do transfer their life to Malta tend to leave after an average of three years, because as I have been trying to explain, visiting and living anywhere are two very different things. It isn’t the worst country to live in, no – one could be far less fortunate. And some expats do genuinely enjoy life here and choose to remain. But more often than not? They’ll come to realise that the way of life here is actually intolerable and limiting, that the relaxed lifestyle translates into bureaucratic and judicial incompetence and that the cons outweigh the pros. (With that said, this is written from the perspective of a born and raised Maltese woman who surrounds herself with expat friends, but is not one herself. Actually, I would love if expatriates in Malta or ex-expatriates could message me and contribute to this discussion.)

Here’s the thing: We aren’t all cavemen struggling to adapt to society, unable to form our own educated opinions. There are more Maltese individuals, who just like myself, have had enough of the laws, simple-minded mentalities and beliefs bestowed upon us. The thing is, most of us shied away from sharing our true opinions in fear of being judged, threatened, or simply placed in an unsafe situation. This further reinforces the point of my whole blog post. We have doctors who fight for new IVF laws and are reprimanded with hate-filled tirades, politicians who dare initiate the conversation of abortion are made to remove their online presence for safety reasons and well, we all know the awful story surrounding Daphne Caruana Galizia. And this often stems from the ones who cheekily use religion and morality as their argument. So here is to taking a stand against all that.

Natalya Vukovic