Sunday, 27 May 2007

Malta-El Salvador: Building Bridges

Last Wednesday, my wife and I met Jose Roberto Andino Salazar and his wife, Patricia, at the Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana. We accompanied them to the Fortina Hotel, where we had a wonderful dinner at the Taste restaurant.

Mr Salazar is the Ambassador of El Salvador to Italy. This was the first time that a Salvadoran ambassador visited Malta!

After having dinner, we went for a short walk along the Sliema promenade. That evening, Milan won the match against Liverpool and the streets were filled with countless individuals honking their horns, playing Milan anthems, and waving huge flags. Mr Salazar and his wife enjoyed viewing the way many Maltese people celebrate on such occasions!

Following the walk, we invited the jovial couple to our apartment in Sliema. We showed them some of our books and talked about various matters. We mentioned a number of places worth visiting and agreed to meet again.

On Thursday, Mr Salazar presented his credentials to the President of Malta, Dr Edward Fenech Adami. This was followed by an exquisite lunch at the presidential palace in Attard. The ambassador later told us that while having lunch with Dr Fenech Adami, he mentioned us to the Maltese president! Mr Salazar informed the president that we were both working in the financial services industry, that my wife was from El Salvador, and that I was Maltese. When Dr Fenech Adami enquired about our names, the Salvadoran ambassador could not remember our surname (Cuschieri)! Mr Salazar's wife told us that she spent some time talking to Mrs Fenech Adami, who appeared to be very proud of the fact that most of the vegetables served during lunch came from the palace gardens.

On Friday evening, while attending an exhibition of various artistic works by Victor Diacono at the BOV premises at Santa Venera, my wife received a call from the ambassador. We were invited to have dinner with them at the Phoenicia Hotel. Since we had to less than an hour to get from Santa Venera to Floriana, we had to leave without being able to talk to Dr Fenech Adami, who was also present at the exhibition. We wanted to introduce ourselves to him as the individuals mentioned by Mr Salazar during the previous day's lunch.

We had a great dinner at the hotel. Mr Salazar and his wife entertained us with a detailed description of their encounter and the lunch with Dr Fenech Adami on the previous day. His wife was amused by the notion that hats appear to be so important during diplomatic events in Malta! Before we left the hotel that evening, we agreed to meet on the following day in order to visit Gozo.

On Saturday morning, my wife went to meet Mr Salazar and his wife at the hotel in Floriana. She accompanied them to Sliema. We then went to Cirkewwa to board the ferry to Gozo. The weather was quite warm, but there was a strong breeze which saved the day for us.
Moments after we left the ferry at the Mgarr harbour in Gozo, a number of taxi drivers swarmed around the Salvadoran couple like honey-chasing bees. One of them showed a postcard map of Gozo and tried to persuade the ambassador to visit a particular site. It was only after talking to the insisting taxi drivers in Maltese that they left them in peace.

We decided to visit Victoria, Gozo's capital city. After a quick visit to the local market, we had lunch at a beautiful restaurant close to Cafe' Jubilee. My wife and the ambassador had a pizza, I ordered penne alla carbonara, and Mr Salazar's wife followed my advice and ordered some "bragioli". They enjoyed the food very much. I smiled when they commented about the huge portions of food they were being served on the Maltese islands!
After lunch, we headed towards the Citadella. While touring the fortifications, we also went into the Cathedral and learned many interesting facts about its structure and history. Although this was not my first visit to the Citadella, I always enjoy the breathtaking views of Gozo that the place offers, especially when one climbs to the very top. Given that there are so many steps, I would not recommend a visit to these fortifications during the summer months!!!

The Citadella tour was followed by a drink at Cafe' Jubilee. Mr Salazar and his wife liked the place a great deal!

Shortly after our return to Malta in the late afternoon, we went to the Valletta waterfront. By that time, we were all quite tired. Indeed, we did not spend more than around thirty minutes there. Having said this, they loved the area!

We eventually accompanied them to the hotel. We bid our farewells to each other and promised to keep in touch. Mr Salazar and his wife were extremely nice, knowledgeable, and humble individuals. We all committed ourselves to do our utmost in the attempt to strenghten the relationship between Malta and El Salvador. Hopefully, my wife and I will be able to visit them later on this year in Rome!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

A World Citizen

Having lived and worked in more than one country, I consider myself to be a world citizen. As the saying goes, the world is a village and we can no longer continue to pretend that what happens in a remote corner of the planet will never affect several people living thousands of miles away.

Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, most countries seem to have embraced capitalism as the best economic model for a society. Countless individuals nowadays praise the free market economy as the ideal one that all world governments should seek to establish.

With so many countries that have their economy strongly based on capitalist principles, it is not surprising at all to notice how certain issues faced by a great deal of individuals in, say, Italy are also having an impact on the lives of vast numbers of people in, for example, Germany. To me, this shows how - once you remove the nationality clothing from a person - similar human beings are. Although Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs might be challenged, we all seem to have much in common, regardless of whether we were born in Australia or in France.

When we look at the world, rather than our own country, as our home, it becomes much easier to see how a solution to a problem in one area could benefit the lives of thousands of other people living in other areas of the planet. For this to happen, though, communication between human beings is essential. Fortunately, as the Internet becomes increasingly popular around the Earth, more people can exchange their views about numerous matters and work together to think about possible solutions.

We now live in a world where millions of people are exposed to the same magazines, TV channels, Internet websites, restaurants, and so on. As certain things, such as MTV, become universal, it becomes even more important to monitor them and to determine what sort of impact they are having on the lives of countless individuals. Is it possible to expect a teenager who watches MTV all day long to think about social problems such as homelessness?

Capitalism might have allowed businesses to flourish and customers to have more choices. Yet, as it spreads its tentacles across the planet, it is very clear that this philosophy is, ultimately, about money - not about people. My opinion is that when a society becomes more obsessed with profit rather than with human welfare, something is very wrong.

The most worrying thing of all seems to be when governments start becoming victims of a handful of ultra-rich companies or individuals. When that happens, a government tends to start losing its social consciousness.

As a world citizen, I am concerned about the poverty that exists in several African countries. As a world citizen, I am worried about the high level of crime in El Salvador. As a world citizen, I am sad to see the hardships that many young couples go through to buy their first property in Malta. As a world citizen, I am optimistic that a day will come when such problems will cease to exist. As a world citizen, I aspire to live in a planet which favours universal human welfare over money...