Sunday, 17 May 2020

After the Last Breath

Millions of people around the world are familiar with the Oscar awards ceremony held once a year. A part of this event includes paying tribute to a number of prominent individuals who were active within the movie industry and who passed away sometime during the interval since the previous ceremony. Those few minutes make it possible to think about and to appreciate the contributions of those persons that have crossed over. The memory of those individuals will surely remain strong as their movies continue to be watched, as biographies about their lives are published, and as numerous articles are written about them.

Whilst thinking about this yearly tribute, one may wonder about the thousands of people who die annually without any tributes being broadcast all over the world. As suggested above, when a famous person dies, various items remain which allow others to acknowledge their existence. To mention just one example, the grave site of such an individual may be visited by hundreds of people every year. 

What, on the other hand, is left after a less popular human being takes their last breath? There is no doubt that hardly anyone alive at the time of writing this article would know anything about Andreana Cuschieri (nee' Micallef). The latter is my paternal great-great grandmother. 

Following some research that I had carried out, I discovered that Andreana lived in Valletta. She was Giuseppe Cuschieri's second wife. She was the mother of several children, one of whom was Professor/Fr Anatasio Cuschieri. The only photo that I have seen of her was on the memorial card printed sometime after she died. She is buried at the Addolorata Cemetery, but there is no head stone to mark her final resting place. Similar to countless women who lived during the late 19th and early 20th century, most of her time was probably devoted to raising the children and engaged in other activities that were traditionally associated with womanhood. 

Andreana was not a famous actress or writer. She was never in the limelight. At first, one could say that nothing much was left behind after she took her last breath at her home in St Lucia Street (Strada Santa Lucia) in Valletta in 1913. To what extent, however, is this argument really accurate?

In actual fact, whenever a person dies, some things do remain. Going back to Andreana Cuschieri, her physical remains are possibly still buried or they could now be part of other organisms or objects. Some of her genetic material lives on in her descendants, which include myself. Her name together with some other biographical details can still be found on the death certificate which could be obtained from the Public Registry. Various contracts signed by some of her children feature her name to confirm their identity. The memorial card showing her photo still exists. The Addolorata Cemetery also has some information about her. Some of the objects that she owned and treasured may now be in the homes of one or more of her descendants or in the homes of persons who decided to acquire the said items. For those who believe, her spirit is also somewhere in the universe. 

Unfortunately, I have not come across any detailed written material about Andreana's character. I do not know what food she liked to prepare or eat, whether she had the patience of a saint or whether she was short-tempered, and I also lack information about the medical conditions she may have struggled with throughout her life. If such details are not recorded and preserved, it will be extremely difficult for future generations to know this information.

After a person's last breath, some activities are indeed interrupted. If, say, someone used to attend Mass in a specific church on a daily basis, death will interrupt that activity. It is, however, mistaken to think that once a human being dies, nothing remains. Death can never negate the fact that a person existed for a given period of time and that certain things continue to exist even after the last breath.

I would like to conclude by quoting a few lines from a very moving book entitled My Lovely Wife: A Memoir of Madness and Hope. I finished reading the latter fairly recently. Written by Mark Lukach, it is largely about the author's experience in taking care of his wife who suffered from several episodes of mental illness over a number of years. There were times when the author's wife talked about committing suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge into the San Francisco Bay. Whilst contemplating the scenario, Lukach focused on her continued existence following her physical demise: "She would still be in my life, in both her presence and her absence. Her clothes, her possessions, her hair in the drain of the shower, even her smell on the blanket she wrapped herself in every night. Her absence would be everywhere. I would miss her in everything. I would tell people about her and keep her alive in my stories. She would not be done. Her body, whether discovered or not, would join the land and the water and return to the elements, from dust you are and to dust you will return. Nothing dissolves into nothing. We are never done..." (pp. 104-105)  

Thursday, 30 April 2020

One Person's Garbage Is Another Person's Treasure: The Fascinating World of Antique Objects

We are surrounded by objects. We may have purchased many of them to decorate our homes. Other items such as chairs or lamps would be there for functional purposes. Some objects might have been given to us as gifts or inherited from a person that has passed away. Several items become such a fixed part of our environment that we rarely stop to think much about them.

Not all the objects in our lives are equally old. Some might have been manufactured fairly recently whilst others may have been produced over a century ago. As time goes by from the manufacturing year, an item may be classified as an antique. Depending on its degree of usage, an object would normally exhibit signs of how it was handled or kept after a certain number of years. 

There are occasions when relatively old items are regarded as junk. This tends to happen when an object's owner wants to make space and purchase or obtain newer items. Countless objects are also considered as garbage when a furnished property is sold off and the new owners dislike many of the old items left behind by the previous inhabitants. One can only imagine the number of objects that are disposed of in such circumstances.

Regardless of what a person wishes to do with a specific item, there is no doubt that every object has its own unique story. Indeed, apart from an item's movement from place to place and from one owner to another, all objects contain various types of information. In particular, the analysis of an object could reveal details about its manufacturer, the country of make, its production year, its chemical composition, and so much more. 

Some antique objects may end up thrown away because of a lack of knowledge on how to restore them. In the eyes of certain individuals, an item that looks battered or used may no longer seem attractive or functional. This perception increases the possibility of an object finding its way in a garbage can.

Although countless antique items are disposed of each year, there are people who are actively interested in acquiring such objects. There are TV shows such as Salvage Hunters which show how numerous items that would have been written off by many others are restored and sold for a profit. When watching these programmes, it is interesting to note that even a heavily-worn table in a dilapidated building might still be worth a few hundred Euros in its current state. To the untrained eye, such objects may be considered as having no value at all.

In view of the above, rather than condemning an object to the garbage can, one may want to consult an antiques expert first. This would allow the owner to obtain a clearer idea of an item's current value. It could also enable the owner to become more familiar with the group of individuals who may harbour an interest in acquiring a specific item.

There is definitely a market out there for all sorts of objects. Indeed, it is possible to argue that there would be, at least, one person for every item that one could think of. There are many people who have collections of different types of objects. Such persons would surely treasure several items that have no value to others. 

When talking about antiques, it could also be said that their conservation is important for historical purposes. There would surely be numerous objects that are no longer produced or widely available. Consequently, the careful preservation of such items would allow a broad spectrum of researchers to analyse as well as document the role that they played in previous times. Some antiques become so valuable that museums acquire them as part of a collection.

One last point: in a world whereby there is a greater awareness about the need to decrease pollution, the retention and conservation of countless items would prevent them from being incinerated or dumped somewhere. In this way, the proper care of antiques could also be considered as a means of safeguarding our environment.

Having read this article, it is hoped that many people will think twice before throwing away numerous objects. If an item does not interest you, try to donate or sell it rather than chucking it into the garbage can. Remember that an object that you might consider as worthless could be another person's treasure!



Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Moving Away From the Left

     I was born and raised in a family that supported the centre-right political party in Malta. Most, if not all. of my paternal ancestors were fervent supporters of the Nationalist Party. Same applies to my maternal ancestors. I myself was a big fan of Dr Eddie Fenech Adami for several years and I enjoyed attending political mass meetings. 

     When I moved to Spain in 2003, my political views started to change after my first few months living there. Financially-speaking, my situation deteriorated from bad to worse. Although I was working as an English language teacher, I was given very few lessons per week. I was hardly earning enough money to cover my monthly rent (the rent was that of € 180 for a small room in a shared apartment which lacked heating and other comforts). The apartment was located in a part of Madrid called Pan Bendito. The latter was definitely not considered by many locals as a wealthy area. Not too far from my apartment, there was a park where drug trafficking was fairly common. Money was so limited that I would order the cheapest baguette from the cafeteria that I normally visited. Whenever I would go shopping for food (usually from a Dia or Lidl outlet), I would often spend quite a long time trying to decide whether I really needed something that I wanted. For example, I would grab a bag of chocolates and then ask myself whether I could buy something that would last longer with the same amount of money. The only clothes I had were the ones that I took with me from Malta and they were not much. Unfortunately, I had no money to acquire new clothing items. When I faced my first winter in Madrid, I was feeling so cold that my Spanish roommate allowed me to borrow one of his jackets.

     As I struggled to keep a roof over my head and to obtain sufficient food, many of the students that I taught occupied management positions and were clearly fairly rich. Whilst I was racking my brains to choose whether to buy one food item compared to another, most of my students would be talking about the expensive shops they visited. Exposed to such a situation, my instinctive reaction was one of resentment: was it fair for them to be living so well whereas I was struggling to make ends meet?

     In 2004, the Spanish electorate was called to vote during the country's general election. Although my Spanish was still far from fluent, I could understand some of the basic things that were being said during the electoral campaign. The PSOE, Spain's centre-left party, was talking about increasing the minimum wage and about improving the plight of hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in the country. The party leader, Mr Zapatero, also promised that if he was elected Prime Minister, he would withdraw Spain from the Iraq war. During that time, I was bitterly against the said conflict; I felt that the main reasons to go to war had been largely fabricated by the US government and that little good would be achieved from the participation of various countries in various battles. My beliefs were strengthened even further when I watched Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.

     Although I found myself agreeing more and more with the PSOE on a number of issues, I had still not explicitly rebranded myself as a leftist. That happened when I moved to El Salvador in early 2005. I spent less than six months in the latter country, but political positions were far more polarised there and I was strongly exposed to a great deal of socialist and even communist literature. Apart from the staggering poverty which was clearly visible in El Salvador, the country had one of the world's highest daily murder rates. Indeed, during my short time there, the average rate was that of eleven murders per day! 

     When I returned to Malta in early June 2005, I considered myself to be a Marxist-Leninist. I even had a key-chain showing Che Guevara's face. I spent hours browsing on the Internet as I hopped from one communist website to another. When I talked to people, I did my utmost to teach them about the horrors of capitalism and to persuade them that communism was the only solution to a better future.

     By the time that my Salvadoran girlfriend came to live with me later on in 2005, my financial situation had not improved much. I had found a job within one of Malta's largest insurance companies, but I was earning minimum wage. Furthermore, since my girlfriend was not from an EU country, she was unable to earn a living in Malta until such time that we got married. As time went by, my meagre salary had to cover rent, food, medicines, and many other essential items. My Mum, the only person who had bailed me out whenever I was practically penniless, was diagnosed with a terminal illness; she was in and out of hospital until she passed away in March 2006. 

     My financial situation eventually improved, but I still considered myself to be a communist. I still believed in a glorious future where all people would be free to engage in their preferred activities without any human exploitation. Poverty would cease to exist as every person's needs were satisfied without the need to spend any money at all. 

     My support for the communist cause even brought me in contact with a number of locals who had been active within the Communist Party of Malta for several years. Many of the people that I met were friendly and truly tried to mould their own lives on socialist principles. As an organisation, the party was in shambles and there was never any formal or official membership structure. There was no conceivable way that the party could aspire to make much of a difference on the Maltese political scene. 

     As a result of my interactions with the Communist Party of Malta activists, I also had the opportunity to meet a number of DPRK citizens who were working in the local construction industry. I also met some who were working in a Korean restaurant in Bugibba. A handful of DPRK citizens were also working inside a Korean fusion restaurant in Gzira. 

     Apart from meeting several individuals from the DPRK in Malta, I was also invited to attend the 100th birthday celebrations of Kim Il Sung in the DPRK itself. This happened in 2012. I travelled to and from Pyongyang via China. 

     During my time in the DPRK, I was treated very well. There was always a great deal of good food to eat and the hotel room was large as well as comfortable. I could write a whole article concerning the days I spent in the DPRK, but that would go beyond the scope of this blog post. It is, however, possible to state that it is true that I could not leave the hotel on my own. It is also true that the foreigners who attended these celebrations were exposed to whatever the authorities wanted us to see.

     Over time, my interactions with the Communist Party of Malta activists decreased. I found some of their attitudes to be way too rigid. Furthermore, there was such a shocking degree of disorganisation that no real projects could be carried out successfully. I also found it very difficult to digest certain concepts such as the dictatorship of the proletariat. The visceral hatred towards various wealthy individuals exhibited by a number of communist supporters both locally and worldwide made me uncomfortable since I did not feel capable of such destructive emotions. 

     In March 2013, I voted for the Labour Party. I was truly happy when the latter won a landslide victory against the Nationalist Party. Having said this, as a communist person, I always kept having several reservations about Dr Joseph Muscat's pro-business approach to politics. Indeed, I formed part of a group of 26 leftist individuals who signed a letter that was sent to Dr Muscat to express our collective disagreement concerning various issues (I wrote a separate blog post about the meeting that I then had with the Prime Minister together with some of the other signatories in December 2014).

     Fast-forward to 2016. By that time, I no longer had any contact with the Communist Party of Malta activists. I came to agree with Tony Blair who once said that "There is an arrogance and self-righteousness about many of the groups on the far left which is deeply unattractive to the ordinary would be-member...There's too much mixing only with people [with] whom they agree." 

     My perceptions concerning life in the DPRK had also changed quite dramatically. I felt that the provision of certain essential items by the government should not be a reason to justify the terrible control that the authorities showed vis-a-vis the country's inhabitants. I found it ridiculous to note that in the 21st century, millions of citizens in the DPRK were not allowed to use the Internet and/or to communicate freely with other people around the world. I also stopped trying to fool myself that all the negative things being stated about the DPRK were merely the fruits of capitalist propaganda.

     For the first time in many years, I also stopped to think about the importance of individual freedom. I realised that wherever and whenever socialist governments have ruled, there was practically always an emphasis on having a relatively strong State which limited or controlled several freedoms enjoyed by the individual citizen. As I learned more about the experience of the Soviet Union and about those countries that declared themselves socialist, I was appalled to witness the gargantuan efforts exercised by numerous States to try to force all people to behave and think in a specific way. Furthermore, it became clear to me that since one person is so different from another, even the concepts relating to the ideal socialist citizen varied from place to place. During the 20th century, several governments came to ideological blows with one another simply because they could not agree on which country adopted the "purest" version of socialism. I considered such battles to be fairly silly since a country's preferred socialist model was frequently a reflection of the leader's belief system. Once the leader had been deposed or passed away, countless changes would be introduced.

     I eventually realised that when talking about capitalism, it is impossible to talk about just one model. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to discuss several capitalist models. And each one has its costs as well as benefits. Consequently, when some people recite various statements against capitalism, I am tempted to ask them: which version of capitalism are you talking about?

     Capitalism - like any other economic model - is surely not perfect. One could write pages about its flaws. Having said this, capitalism allows citizens to enjoy a degree of freedom that cannot exist in a truly socialist society. In a capitalist society, the average citizen can aspire to engaging in various economic activities that would not be possible in a socialist country. Moreover, capitalist models encourage people to think freely and not to waste time trying to get everyone to behave in a rigid as well as limited way.

     My material circumstances also changed from 2016 onwards. For the first time in my life, I was able to involve myself in a project that would have allowed me to earn more money. I also educated myself about investments and their potential to improve one's income. 

     As my material situation improved, I developed a growing resentment towards the many fixed costs imposed by the government. I strongly believed that it was unfair to be taxed here and there in respect of a person's hardly-earned income. In particular, I thought that the capital transfer duty (could be regarded as an inheritance tax) was terribly unfair. This is a tax applicable to immoveable property (such as houses) that is payable to the government by the heir/s at the time of inheriting the said property. If the person who passed way had various expensive properties, the heir/s would not only be struggling with the loss of a loved one; they would also be penalised with this tax that could go up to thousands of Euros! 

     At this stage, one could say: what about all those poor and vulnerable people that you once campaigned for or tried to help? Have you forgotten all about them just because you are now living a better life? I have definitely not forgotten my own battles with poverty and I have also not brushed aside the daily torments of those members of society who lack countless essential items to live comfortably. I have, however, changed my beliefs about the best way of helping such individuals. I no longer believe that a country's government should be the main entity that is responsible to provide many types of assistance to the poor or vulnerable members of society. As populations continue to grow and as the life expectancy for millions of people continues to increase, governments would need billions of pounds, dollars, or whatever currency you want to talk about to keep funding numerous social programs. For governments to be able to obtain this money, they would need to retain or add countless taxes. My question is: what is the point of helping the poor by impoverishing those that are wealthy? 

     Many prominent persons such as Senator Bernie Sanders in the US have argued that increasing taxation on the country's billionaires would still allow them to remain sufficiently wealthy to be able to go about their daily lives without any hardships. The points that people like Sanders fail to see are as follows: if the country's richest people are heavily taxed year after year, a day may come when they will witness a massive deterioration in their wealth since when it comes to business activities, there is no guarantee that today's billionaire will still enjoy the same wealth in the future. Furthermore, by being so wealthy, the world's billionaires create thousands of jobs. The more money one takes away from these billionaires, the less jobs will be created. And, frankly, unless a person suddenly earns enough money to start a business, jobs are the key drivers to earning a living for most people around the world.

     I believe that no person should ever be homeless or go hungry. Yet, I believe that each country should have a sufficiently strong civil sector so that whenever a human being is in need, there are well-organised charities that can step in to provide all the necessary assistance. Charities usually provide most types of help for free and they do not force anyone to give them money to fund their activities. Moreover, from my experience, numerous charities tend to be more knowledgeable and dedicated to resolving various social problems than a government bureaucrat who is active for a few hours a day and whose main interest is that of earning a salary at the end of the month. A government should continue to help only until such time that one or more charities can take over once and for all.

     Nowadays, I enjoy describing myself as a compassionate conservative. Politically-speaking, I like being a centrist to avoid labels. Although I have moved away from the political left, I am still a Roman Catholic Christian (this is being said since I had once described myself as a Christian Socialist). I believe that the welfare of the individual should be at the centre of any political thinking or analysis. I think that individual freedom should be championed provided that it does not cause explicit harm to others. I believe that capitalism provides more solutions to improving one's life than Marxism or Marxism-Leninism. And I definitely cannot ever see myself going back to the leftist person that I once was. As stated by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then."             



Thursday, 6 February 2020

The Importance of Collective Memory

When we ponder the history of certain famous buildings, we often marvel at how they have remained standing throughout a number of centuries. Compared to such architectural attractions, the life of the average human being is quite short.

Indeed, during the relatively few years of our earthly existence, there are various milestones which are often expected – attending a specific school, earning a living as an employee or as a self-employed person, getting married, having one or more children, and so on. Many of us will interact with and influence – to a certain degree – the behaviour of some other people.
Regardless of all our achievements, a day will come when we will pass away. Following this unavoidable event, we may have a memorial card printed and distributed to relatives, friends, and acquaintances. A photo capturing a significant moment of our life story may be displayed in someone’s home or stored in an album. Nowadays, it is very likely that countless photos will remain saved on a mobile phone or on a computer.
The ordinary mortal may continue to be mentioned here and there by some other people for a few weeks or months following the funeral. Yet, as the living go on with the struggles of their daily lives and as the individuals known to a person that has passed away also die, most people will hardly ever be talked about any longer or even remembered. Put differently, unless a person manages to do something quite extraordinary during their lifetime, they will be virtually forgotten following the passage of a given amount of time after their death. To make matters worse, key details about a person’s life may no longer be available when various items pertaining to someone are disposed of or when no effort is made to preserve them.
Historians as well as genealogists, amongst others, could easily understand the frustration of trying to answer numerous questions on the basis of relatively little information. Although some people may have been particularly close to individuals that eventually gained national fame for one reason or another, this does not mean that there would be a considerable amount of information still available about their lives several years after their death. In the case of those people who never shone in the limelight like more prominent persons, unearthing biographical details about them could turn out to be a fairly painstaking process.
As an example, I would like to mention Mr Albert William Mizzi. The latter was the son of Dr Angelo and Ms Eleonora Mizzi (nee’ Farrugia). He was born in Tripoli (Libya) in 1890. One of his brothers was Mr Alfred Mizzi; the man whose name lives on as a result of the many works carried out by The Alfred Mizzi Foundation.

Albert Mizzi became a part of my family history. More specifically, he got married to Carmela (also known as Carmelina), who was the daughter of Antonio Cuschieri. My great-grandfather, Pio, was Antonio’s brother. Albert, a legal procurator, must have known Pio to some degree since he signed the latter’s passport application form as a character witness in 1924. He did the same thing for Antonio, his father-in-law, in 1931.
Mizzi was also fairly active within the Nationalist Party for a number of years. Indeed, there is a photo bearing the caption “Mizzian invaders of Gozo to break up the 1921 Meeting” whereby Albert Mizzi is standing between Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici (also known as Il-Gross) and Enrico (also known as Nerik) Mizzi. Giovanni Cuschieri, son of Antonio and Albert’s brother-in-law, also appears in the said photo. Furthermore, an article published by The Times of Malta on the 7th April 1932 stated that “…all the Nationalist leaders are well known. We know Messrs. Mizzi, Mifsud Bonnici, Adami, Masu Fenech and Albert Mizzi and all the rest of them.”

Mizzi’s name also surfaced in association with a couple of newspapers that were in print for some years prior to the end of the 1930s. One of these papers was called Mercurius; the editor was Albert’s brother, Alexander, and Albert was listed as the printer. The other newspaper was entitled Mid-day Views. Even in this case, Alexander was the editor and Albert was the printer. The registered address of both newspapers was Mercurius Press, 17, Strada Zaccharia (Zachary Street), Valletta.
At some point in time, Mizzi switched his allegiance to the Malta Labour Party. Shortly after Mizzi passed away in 1951, Dom Mintoff penned an article in The Knight. He wrote that “Our friend, Mr Albert Mizzi L.P., was an intelligent and fearless man – a born leader in a country where leadership is denied.”

In view of all the material featured in this article, it is quite disappointing to note the myriad difficulties encountered in trying to obtain more detailed information about various aspects of Mizzi’s life. For instance, how did Mizzi feel whilst working with Enrico Mizzi? Or what exactly caused Mizzi to move from the Nationalist to the Malta Labour Party? If doing so is still not always easy in our times, let alone making such a move many decades ago! Two history professors were contacted during my research process, but neither one of them was able to provide any assistance.
This is the part where the importance of collective memory deserves to be mentioned. The latter involves the participation of each and every person. More specifically, it is up to us to document, to collect, and to preserve all those items that would allow us to weave the tapestry that features as many aspects of one’s life as possible. By doing so, we would be contributing to the preservation of the information about a human being long after they have died.
As is often said, every life represents a unique story. Regardless of the fame or rank achieved by a person during their earthly existence, each story is valuable. And as all those stories are preserved, we ensure that no person is ever forgotten. Furthermore, as the memories associated with the departed are kept alive, it becomes easier to understand our historical development as individuals and as a species.    

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The Social Housing Issue

Every so often, we come across an article in the local media concerning a person or a family that is living in terrible conditions. The place they live in may not have the basic resources to be able to live comfortably. The building may be old and require a great deal of maintenance which is way beyond the budget of the current inhabitant/s. This issue is not something new. Indeed, we have come across stories involving extremely poor living conditions under all types of governments.

Whenever an individual or a family is living in conditions whereby they lack electricity or water, urgent action needs to be taken. Telling such persons to go knocking on the doors of the Housing Authority to wait until an alternative dwelling place is allocated to them is definitely not an acceptable solution. According to an article which appeared on the Times of Malta in October 2017, the waiting list for social housing exceeded 3,200 applicants!

Over the last few months, the government has been talking about the construction of new apartments as part of its efforts to reduce the need for decent accommodation. I am quite sceptical about this type of solution. The building of new apartments costs a fortune to the taxpayer. Furthermore, given Malta's size, there is a limit on the number of new apartments that could be built; constructing even 700 new apartments will not be sufficient to tackle a waiting list of thousands of applicants! Moreover, notwithstanding all the talk about the system that is in place when allocating an apartment to a needy applicant, who could guarantee that no corruption would be involved during the allocation process? How could one be sure that no applicant is being favoured more than others simply because of one's political allegiance or because of family connections?

Another issue that is hardly mentioned when talking about the construction of new government housing is that of the maintenance cost. As time goes by, things start to fall apart or to crack. If the persons living in such places can barely afford to make ends meet, won't the taxpayer have to foot the additional millions of Euros that are required to carry out all the necessary repairs?     

Rather than spend millions of Euros taken from the citizens by means of taxes to build more apartments, I believe that alternative and hopefully more cost-effective ways of dealing with the need for decent accommodation could be identified. Until such time that local NGOs could provide emergency shelter to all those that can no longer continue to reside in a particular place until it has been repaired, the government could work on a different strategy. More specifically, the government could issue a tender to seek a contractor that is willing to carry out all the necessary repairs on a place that is no longer safe or decent to live in. Whilst the repairs are being carried out, the government could first check whether the inhabitant/s could live in housing provided by an NGO or it could cover the costs of alternative accommodation in a place that is equipped with the basic resources. Once the repairs have been concluded, the inhabitant/s could return to live in their former home.

Furthermore, it is also highly recommended that the government as well as local NGOs work together to offer training relating to home maintenance skills to all those who have received assistance. In this way, the inhabitant/s would be better able to prevent damage to their properties and to carry out a number of repairs themselves.

The above may sound quite simplistic. There are various cases and different circumstances that one needs to consider. True. Yet, it is often said that the longest journey starts with a step. And if we do not make any steps or, even worse, if we step in the wrong direction, many more people will continue suffering.  

Photo Source

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A Meeting With the Prime Minister

A few weeks ago, an open letter signed by 26 individuals was sent to Dr Joseph Muscat, the Leader of the Labour Party as well as the current Prime Minister of Malta. The persons who signed the letter included Dr Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, one of the country's former prime ministers. I also agreed to sign the letter. 

The letter attracted some attention in the media. More specifically, the links relating to a number of publications have been posted at the end of this blog post.

Following the articles which appeared about the said letter, I was informed that Dr Muscat wanted to meet with us to discuss the points that were raised. The meeting was going to be held on 1st December at 4pm. The venue was the Auberge de Castille in Valletta. 


Out of the 26 individuals, around 16 turned up for the meeting. We met outside the Auberge de Castille shortly before 4pm so that we could all go in together. 

After being led to a large meeting room right next to the Prime Minister's Office, Dr Muscat came out to shake hands with each one of us. Clean-shaven and wearing a white shirt, the Prime Minister then walked to his chair to start the meeting. We sat down around the oval-shaped table.  

Dr Muscat went through the letter and expressed his reaction concerning each point. As expected, his response to virtually all the issues was characterised by various references to the government's positive achievements following the Labour Party's electoral victory in March 2013.

Surrounded by the portraits of the country's previous prime ministers, almost every person who attended voiced their views regarding a number of topics. I told Dr Muscat that I wanted to speak as a university graduate who was working in the financial services sector, an area that has often been praised as one of the most successful in the current economic climate. I said that even though I managed to qualify for a mortgage, the thought of paying the bank until I was 65 was quite daunting. Previous generations were reportedly often able to pay off their home loans within around 10 to 15 years. Being in debt until the age of 65 led to more pressure and anxiety; if I could no longer keep up with the monthly payments for one reason or another, I could end up losing my home.  I expressed my hope that the government could do something to help ease this burden for the thousands of people living in similar circumstances.

I also expressed my disagreement concerning one of the narratives that had been promoted by the Labour Party even before the 2013 election. More specifically, I told Dr Muscat that I totally disagreed with the notion that there was no longer any conflict of interests between the employer and the employee. My own experience and that of many other workers clearly demonstrated that employers typically squeezed their employees as much as possible without giving fair remuneration. I added that the issue of the conflict between employers and employees formed part of the basis of leftist thinking. I argued that it was, therefore, practically impossible to identify with such a political viewpoint and reject the existence of the said clash of interests.

With reference to the housing issue, Dr Muscat did not offer any reassurance at all. No mention was made of any government scheme aimed at helping existing and potential home-owners to pay off a mortgage within a much more reasonable time-frame. Furthermore, the Prime Minister said that the aspiration to own a home would soon no longer be sustainable given the country's environmental constraints. He added that renting will need to become more popular in the future rather than opting to have one's own property. 

Dr Muscat's reaction was quite disappointing. His response totally neglected the hardships associated with living in debt for most of one's life just to have a stable roof over one's head. Moreover, simply encouraging rent as an alternative does not offer much relief to the countless individuals who wish to avoid the fear of losing one's home as a result of not being able to keep up with the monthly payments. 

Turning to the class warfare issue, the Prime Minister was quite succinct. More specifically, his view was that any focus on the said matter would be counterproductive.

The meeting lasted for around 90 minutes. Dr Muscat concluded by saying that even though his door was open to everyone, he could not guarantee that he would accept every request that was brought to his attention.

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Image 2 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Letter To W

Dear W,

I should have seen the dark clouds gathering on the horizon.  I should have been able to forecast the massive storm that was unleashed in early October 2012. The signs had been there since, at least, Christmas 2011. 

Christmas is normally a time when family members make an effort to be with one another. It is a time when millions of people around the world celebrate friendship, peace, and love. It was one of our favourite times of the year. Do you remember how excited we used to be as we decorated our home? And how we looked forward to opening our gifts? Beautiful memories!

You surely knew how much I loved the Christmas season. You were definitely aware of how I yearned to spend it with you. Sadly, you ignored all that and thought only about your own interests. Although we did not have the funds to go abroad as a couple and in spite of the fact that you knew that I could not take vacation leave in December, you insisted on wanting to spend Christmas Day abroad. Ignoring all my objections, you decided to leave me alone on Christmas Day. 

Leaving me alone on one of the most important days of the year was not enough for you. Where did you spend your Christmas Day? At the place of one of your ex-boyfriends in Spain!!! As you very well know, he was not any guy. He was the guy with whom you had lost your virginity! Even just writing about it makes me feel sick! The total lack of respect shown by your actions is still so hard to believe! I was so ashamed that when I attended a family party on the evening of Christmas Day, I told my inquisitive relatives that you were unwell in an attempt to explain your mysterious absence.

Why did I endure your Christmas abandonment? I seriously cannot imagine too many guys putting up with such behaviour. I decided to let it slide since I genuinely loved you. And true love is hopeful; it never stops believing that things will get better no matter how bad they are today. Sadly, you never saw love in the same way.

2012 was expected to be a great year for us. Among other things, it was the year during which we both hoped you would be able to acquire your citizenship.  You were granted citizenship in August 2012. Do you remember that last interview prior to becoming a citizen? Do you remember talking favourably about our relationship? Most importantly, do you remember asserting that you would get married to me again if you were given the choice? I wonder if you still ever recall that interview whenever you think about the disgusting actions that occurred less than two months after acquiring your citizenship.  

It was certainly during the summer of 2012 that you started removing one brick after another from our marriage until the whole thing collapsed. During that time, your work circumstances brought you in contact with the guy with whom you are presently living. He already had a girlfriend and they were supposed to get married in 2013. They had been together for 10 years! 

Having talked to two girls who allegedly witnessed the way things developed between you and him, you were the one who seduced him. Even though you were married to me and although you knew that he had a steady girlfriend, it seems that you went after him like a heat-seeking missile. When you were at home, he increasingly dominated your conversations and I regularly found you chatting with him online. 

The farcical birthday celebration of his girlfriend should have continued to alarm me. Instead of sitting next to his girlfriend as well as the person that he was supposedly planning to marry, he went to sit a few chairs away from her! It was such a blatant act of disrespect that practically everyone present commented about it. 

As time went by, things got worse for me. One of the key moments when I noticed that big trouble lay ahead of me was when you had called at around 8pm one evening to tell me that you were keeping him company as a friend following his decision to break up with his girlfriend. I had prepared dinner for you that evening and I was so hurt by the fact that you preferred to stay out till almost midnight! I remember storing your dinner away in the fridge. You never ate that food and it became such a terrible symbol of those dark days that it took me around 2 months until I finally got rid of it. Every time I used to see it in the fridge, I just did not want to touch it. 

I cried so hard that evening. I looked at so many of our photos taken during our trips abroad and during various celebrations. We looked so good together. So many happy memories! So many sacrifices endured together in order to build a better life for both!   

The next few days were characterised by your spending more and more time away from home. I was terribly worried and I made it very clear that I was not happy about the time you were spending with him. You kept insisting that you were just friends. 

As you pursued your interests without showing much concern for my welfare (lack of respect once again!), I was getting ready for the holiday to Florence and Pisa that we had planned a few months before. We had been to Florence in 2011 and it was surely the best holiday of my life! We had celebrated your birthday there. We were both so happy and we returned to Malta committed to return there the following year.   

Sadly, the holiday that I had been looking forward to for several months turned into one of the worst nightmares of my life. We left Malta on the 4th October. Contrary to our holiday in 2011, I ended up making most of the travelling arrangements on my own. You slept throughout most of the flight. Furthermore, you were quite cold as well as distant as we walked around when we got to Florence. 

The 5th October was our last full day together. We went to visit the Uffizi Museum. I remember that I was holding your hand at one point in time and I told you how happy I was feeling. In the evening, you were very cold once again and you did not hesitate to rush to chat with him on the iPad once we got to the hotel. It was the iPad which I had given you for your birthday and which took me a year to pay off! 

On the 6th October, after visiting the convent where Fra Savonarola had lived, you told me that you wanted to talk to me. I immediately sensed trouble. Very big trouble. Without betraying any sadness, you informed me that you were no longer happy with me, that this other guy was very much in love with you, and that he had bought you a ticket to join him on his holiday in Spain. The shock was so great that I could not hold back the tears. Devastated by the pain, all I wanted to do was to return to the hotel. Once we got to our room, I just locked myself inside the bathroom, fell to the floor, and cried my head off. I could not believe that you were capable of doing something similar to me! 

Before you left the hotel to go to the airport, you told me that you would make a choice at the airport about whether to go to Spain or to return to me. I cried until I had no tears left and then forced myself to go out to eat something. My eyes were so red that everyone was looking at me strangely! Even though I was so hurt by your words and deeds, I hoped to open the hotel room door and find you there saying that it was all a big mistake and that you wanted to be with me...that we would stick together through thick and thin...that our love would help us to fight against all the problems that we had! Alas, this did not happen. I opened the door and there was nothing but darkness. The darkness of an abyss. 

As you know all too well, I spent the rest of the "holiday" on my own. I forced myself out of bed to try to visit some places and to continue eating properly. As I toured places that we were supposed to visit together, I was often overcome by a tremendous feeling of sadness. For instance, as I walked through the beautiful Boboli Gardens, there was - at least - one occasion when I had to sit down to cry since the pain was too strong. All this pain whilst you were having a wonderful time in the company of your new partner.

When I returned to Malta a few days later, I cried for a long time when I saw the two pillows on our bed. More specifically, I looked at your pillow and realised that your head would never grace it again. I grabbed the pillow and held it close to me, hugging it tightly. It still had your scent. My body was shaking as I cried on the bed.

During the first few weeks and months following your hasty Florentine exit, I went through pure hell. You might recall that my manager had left the company I was working for in October. This meant that apart from dealing with your loss, I also had to find ways to cope with an increasing workload (by December, I had over 150 emails in my inbox!). Every morning, I had to pull myself out of bed to go to work since I had to earn my daily bread. It was either that or face total collapse. 

The evenings of those first few weeks and months were among the darkest in all my life. Whilst you were enjoying yourself with your new partner and draining our credit card to furnish the apartment you were living in, a heavy stream of tears normally flowed down my cheeks onto my clothes as I saw the many beautiful photos we had taken together, read the first emails we had exchanged with one another when we decided to get together romantically, and thought of all the plans we had made for the future...On those lonely evenings and nights, I remembered how we had both clawed our way up - making countless sacrifices - from the poor days of 2006 to the relatively comfortable lifestyle that we enjoyed at a later stage. Do you remember how we were so cash-strapped in 2006 that a colleague of mine had lent us a pair of trousers for you to wear at my mum's funeral since we could not afford to buy one? We had come such a long way since then, but you clearly could not care about the achievements we had made and what they represented for the future!

When recalling your many acts of disrespect towards me, it is quite amazing to think about how you tried to brush all the pain you caused me aside and expected us to still be very close friends. When you came over on one occasion to collect some of your things from the place which was our home for a number of years, you even asked whether I could prepare a burger for you! On another occasion, you tried to hug me before leaving, but I refused. Just because your love for me might have died ages ago did not mean that I shared the same stance towards what had happened between us. Notwithstanding all the hard times, all the acts of disrespect, all the fears and anxieties that we faced, I never stopped loving you. Even when I felt terribly wounded by your behaviour, I kept believing in a brighter tomorrow since I always thought that true love never gives up.   

Where exactly did I go wrong? Yes, there was an intimacy problem which became harder to resolve as I felt increasingly under pressure to "obtain results". Till this very day, I cannot pinpoint the exact cause/s of my problem. It was probably the result of performance anxiety, stressful work conditions, boredom with routine, and a state of mild floating anxiety when confronted with the fact that we were so vulnerable here for many years. You should know that for most of my life, I always felt the need for an external support system - whether it is family or some type of organisation. Like most other human beings, feeling relaxed and confident of having that support system would have surely helped me to feel less tense in my everyday life. I am also quite convinced that the ways in which you reacted to my problem together with the fact that you never made an effort to make certain changes which could have led to some progress contributed significantly to my intimacy issues. I know that you will strongly deny this last point stating that just because certain things happened in 2005, they could have continued to happen in the same way without the need for any particular changes. All I can say is that every time you failed to listen to my feedback and every time you decided that only your analysis was correct represented additional acts of disrespect towards me. Over the years, your pride and self-righteousness became so inflated that you could hardly ever admit making a mistake. You always had to have the last word. 

There is no doubt that the intimacy problem plagued our marriage for many years. It is, however, a total lie to say that we lived like brother and sister. Brothers and sisters would not usually have been sexually intimate with one another. And they would not normally walk around holding hands or massaging each other intimately. 

We spent over 7 years together. I was often anxious about the fact that you were very unhappy about the intimacy problems, but I always believed two things. First, I strongly believed that the solution to the problems had to come with the work of both partners with little to no external help. Second, equipped with the hope that things would eventually get better, I thought that the rest of the marriage was strong enough to ward off the possibility of a total collapse.  

In retrospect, I believe that my problems did not necessarily have to lead to the breakdown of our marriage. I think that our relationship broke down gradually as you stopped showing respect towards me. Your decision to spend Christmas away from me in December 2011, your insults and threats whenever we talked about our problems, your reckless spending, your total lack of interest in making the slightest effort to help me overcome my difficulties, your lies during the summer and autumn of 2012...those are the factors that brought our relationship to an end. You frequently said that you tried to find a solution by taking the initiative to see a psychotherapist. True, but as I had told you on many occasions, a psychotherapist was unlikely to be able to resolve the type of problems I had. Just to give you one example - if fairly long hair was very important for me on a woman, how was the psychotherapist going to deal with that? It's not as though I was living with her! You ignored the feedback that I had been giving you for so long that there was even a time when you cut your hair really short notwithstanding the fact that you knew all along how important long hair was for me! Once again, your interests came first. To hell with what I believed or told you!

Before I forget, do you remember how you had sometimes remarked that some of the problems in our relationship might have been due to the fact that our courtship was limited to the phone and to the Internet? You occasionally complained about the fact that we started living together without the chance to date for a while before deciding to live under the same roof. Notwithstanding all that talk, what did you do after you left me? You immediately moved in to live with a guy that you barely knew! Indeed, by the time you started living with him, you had only "known" each other for around three months!!!! And you went straight from me to him; there was no interim dating period!    

To conclude, we could argue for months about who should have done what and when. The bottom line is that you and only you were the one who threw in the towel. You were the one who disrespected me once again by making plans to go to live with another person. A most disgusting form of selfishness prevailed in your life. You withdrew over EUR 2,000 from our credit card account to sustain your new relationship and never repaid that money. You initially made promises to continue paying your share of the debts which we had accumulated over a period of time, but you then quickly found a number of excuses to avoid honouring those promises. As you withdrew money from our credit card to go abroad in December, you surely never spared a thought relating to my financial welfare. You just thought about your own interests without giving a damn about the person who had stood by you through thick and thin for several years. 

You and I are clearly extremely different when it comes to our understanding of what it means to love a person. To me, love is best expressed by the following words written by St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." I was willing to be patient, to be kind, to avoid pride, to avoid disrespecting you, to trust, to continue hoping, and to persevere in spite of all the difficulties. You, on the other hand, were surely not willing to act in the same way.