Tag Archives: malta

My long lost friends

I can’t really say I’ve had a good summer this year despite having a lot of time on my hands. The unbearable heat has finally taken its toll on me, leading to more afternoons at the beach. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining in the slightest. But having so much free time also means I get to follow what’s going on in the world more closely. Sadly, we all know that thousands did not get to live another summer. These past three months have been marred by brutal atrocities in war-stricken countries. Although I feel utterly saddened by the boundless ruthlessness of mankind, I’m not even remotely shocked by news of war crimes. I was only eight when I was first introduced to the existence of war. Since then war victims have always been in my thoughts, hence the reason why I don’t get appalled by the occasional media coverage of the suffering of children in war-torn countries.

One afternoon in the summer of 1998, I noticed three girls playing next to our patio. I was super excited about having new friends to spend the summer with, so the following day I joined them for a game of hide and seek. However, I found it strange that they could speak neither Maltese nor English. In fact, I couldn’t quite communicate with them at first. Then I found out that they were from Iraq. Two of them were siblings, and if my memory serves me right, their names were Venos and Skiros. They had a younger brother, who at the time couldn’t have been older than five. The other girl, Shams, was eleven, and had two older sisters.

At the age of eight, I had never heard of Iraq before and I was curious to know why they had ended up in Malta.  My parents told me that our new neighbours were refugees, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. A few days later, the girls explained that they had to flee their country because Iraq was a dangerous and violent place.  Every time we met I asked them about their schools and their friends in Iraq. At first they were eager to tell me all about their life in Iraq, but after a couple of months, when homesickness started to sink in, they spoke of home with an expression of wistfulness.

By the end of summer they could speak Maltese fluently, yet their integration at school didn’t go so well.  They found it hard to make new friends and they underperformed in many subjects. I felt sorry for them and committed myself to helping them out with their homework. Just like any other children, we argued, became best friends again, and got ourselves into trouble. Meanwhile, my parents kept reminding me that my new friends have had a tumultuous life so far, and therefore I should always share my toys with them.

I don’t remember how long they were in Malta for, but back then I thought they would always be my best friends. A year later, their families and a number of other Iraqi refugees were relocated to the United States. The night before they left we embraced in a tearful goodbye. My parents tried to console me by telling me that they will have a better life in America, but I was in tears all night.

A few weeks after their departure, I received the first letter from Shams. We carried on writing letters and sending pictures to each other, until Shams suddenly stopped writing back. To this day, I have never heard from her again. Venos and Skiros never wrote to me, and Shams had lost contact with them after settling down in the U.S. Throughout the years I’ve tried tracking them down on social networks and online directories, but to no avail.

I don’t have a picture of Venos and Skiros, and I have just a vague memory of their faces. But when I see images of terrified children in Syria, Gaza and Iraq, it’s almost as if I’m looking into the eyes of my childhood friends.


Why I love October

I live in a country where summer rolls in like a slow tide, and then, suddenly, it hits our shores with an overwhelming bang. The postcard image of ‘a magical summer’ that you read about in holiday brochures is spoiled by overcrowded beaches, evening traffic jams, parking nightmares, promenades overflowing with tourists, heat strokes, jellyfish-infested waters, humid nights, and men walking around town in speedos.

But thankfully, summer in Malta starts around mid-April, when the strawberry season is at its peak, and runs up until mid-November as the first Christmas decorations start to appear in shop windows. So as school children file through the school gate and the last of the severely sunburnt tourists board a plane home, I can finally welcome the start of MY summer with a long-awaited sigh of relief.  And it all starts in October.

October is the month when I can find a comfortable spot on the beach to stretch out and enjoy the milder intensity of the sun’s rays.  It’s also that time of year when I can resume my evening power walks along the promenade without having to weave my way through the idle crowd.

However, October is not only about relishing the last glow of summer.  On a more personal level, October marks the beginning of new projects and commitments.  I find inspiration in the sudden tranquility that befalls the island. The land slowly recovers from the blistering summer heat and starts to flaunt its bright green foliage.  Malta’s magic is restored. And while this shift takes place, my favourite fruit comes along.

October is when I return to my ‘pomegranate ritual’: scooping out hundreds of the fruit’s ruby seeds into bowls and sitting down to watch the new episodes of The Vampire Diaries.

And the main reason why I love October so dearly?


Meeting the real zombies

Source of picture: http://uk.movies.yahoo.com

Two summers ago I had the opportunity to participate in what promises to be one of this year’s blockbusters.  When I got the phone call from the casting department to join the team of extras in World War Z, I wasn’t exactly eager to accept the offer.  It was towards the end of June, and the sweltering summer days had already started.  The prospect was made more daunting upon discovering that I would be dressed in a long-sleeved tunic and a veil.  But then again, being an extra in a popular production was something that I had always dreamed of, and so far every opportunity that had come knocking at my door had to be turned down due to the unfortunate clash with exam period.  After cogitating on the options over a few bowls of ice-cream, I decided it was high time that I stepped out of my comfort zone and did something a little bit ‘extraordinary’.

The seven days that followed have been the longest in my life so far.  The alarm used to go off at half past three in the morning, and by five I would be having breakfast with the rest of the extras at the assembly point.  Queuing at the costume department to have the veil securely pinned around my head was always a bit cumbersome, especially on those occasions when the effect of that strong cup of coffee wouldn’t have yet kicked in.  All extras used to be transported to the filming location by seven, but sometimes shooting wouldn’t  even have started until after lunchtime.  However, I was lucky enough to befriend a group of nice people, whose wonderful company made those long hours in the extras’ resting area waiting to be called on set more bearable.

Despite being shot in different locations around Valletta, we were always instructed to carry out the same action; run, scream, and run even faster.  But there was nothing to run from, and yet, some  were roughly jostled out of the way, ankles were sprained and twisted, and the weak got trampled on.

The day the special effects and a group of stuntmen were brought in was the day that left me feeling completely drained and disheartened to return on set the following day.  But as the evening sun shed its last golden rays on the fortresses bordering Malta’s panoramic Grand Harbour, and our coaches arrived at the gate to take us back to the preparation hall, we were duly informed that the filming was completely over. My heart sank.  I collected my time-sheet and bid the final goodbye to the place that had become my home for almost a whole week.

As I tucked myself into bed that night with my sore legs propped up,  I couldn’t stop replaying the day’s events in my head. The buses used on the set were forcefully toppled over and dragged for about five metres behind the sprinting crowd. Their windows shattered into thousands of sugar pieces at our feet. Helicopters circled above us, their deafening roars drowning our staged screams.  I jumped out of my skin at the series of shots fired by the soldiers surrounding us. At 8pm the assistant director finally called it a day. The set had been dismantled. My adventure was regretfully over.

Needless to say, the start of this summer was marked by my anticipation for the film’s premier. The day had finally arrived, but when I checked the schedule at the local cinemas, I was immediately struck by sheer disappointment and fury.   The film was out in 3D in all cinemas. As much as I had been excited to watch World War Z on the big screen, I was not willing to spend at least a good two hours battling against motion sickness. I managed to curtail my excitement for another two weeks until the 2D version came out. However, every second of the film was worth the long wait.

Fear clawed my heart. I sank into my seat, dreading whatever was about to happen next. A sense of doom engulfed me.  I witnessed terror in a fictional scenario, but something about the film made the horror feel extremely palpable. The film’s revolutionary take on the ‘zombie look’ has the potential to inject the audience with a new dose of fear.

Although the film follows a similar zombie formula to recent films and series based on the same paranormal subject, the zombies’ amplified agility and otherworldly strength in World War Z shocks us. The abnormal becomes outrageous. Our familiarity with this particular ‘Other,’ attained from previous zombie films, is completely erased. We are now dealing with an indestructible and destructible force, and humanity is on the verge of annihilation. This is the real terror of horror films. It doesn’t lie in unrelenting poltergeists, demonic possessions, black magic, or real hauntings. The zombies in the film represent an unforeseen and uncontrollable global crises. Just like the plague, it is a threat to our survival – a fear rooted in our primal instinct.

Earth Garden Festival 2013

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One of the many colourful stalls at the ethnic market
Daniela Frendo Photography

When it comes to attending local cultural events, I always try to predict the amount of pushchairs that will be bumping into me from all possible directions before deciding whether to go or not. It seems to be a local phenomenon how most parents find nothing wrong in taking their screaming kids and colossal pushchairs to every ‘child-unfriendly’ event that takes place on the island. They’re there at rock concerts, beer festivals, and in the scorching summer sun, clogging the passages through the crowd and creating more traffic.

Nothing, however, not even the fear of encountering an army of ‘Pushchair Transformers’ and an anarchy of spoilt kids, was going to stop me from attending this year’s Earth Garden Festival. On arriving at the venue, a wave of relief washed over me. Instead of the usual riff raff, I was in the company of comely, eclectic individuals, whose positivity radiated feel-good vibes throughout the park.

Strolling through the flamboyant ethnic market felt like a surreal experience. I made sure I stopped at all the stalls ensconced amongst the trees, admiring the colourful display of all things exotic. Some of the stalls were curtained by an array of beautifully crafted Indian throws, and showcased a collection of symbolic accessories and ornaments from various cultures. I ran my fingers over a Peruvian velvet painting which depicted traditional rural life, with peasants rearing their lamas against a background of straw-thatched huts. The softness of this handmade artifact, along with the sense of nostalgia that it conveyed, was enough to propel me into buying it.

When our feet had done about fifteen laps around the market, my better half and I decided to sit down and continue absorbing the blissful atmosphere. We nestled under a tree, sipping green tea and munching away on a giant chocolate cookie. The iridescent lanterns hanging on the branches above us danced with the cool summer breeze.  Meanwhile, a mix of psychedelic beats, live jazz music and the primitive hum of didgeridoos reverberated around us. But that pleasant background music was just the warm-up for the night’s main attraction.

At around 8, the amphitheatre located at the heart of Malta’s National Park in Ta’ Qali started filling up.  I am proud to say that I was part of that enthusiastic, vibrant crowd, who had congregated at the Greek theatre for the night’s star performance; Tribali. As the name connotes, the band’s music is a celebration of love, spirituality and peace, conveyed through a diversity of ethnic and oriental rhythms. Tribali’s pulsating performance, with their uplifting beats and breathtaking visuals, never fails to send the audience into a state of spiritual ecstasy. Hopefully it won’t be long until their next performance.

This year’s Earth Garden has truly been a magical start to Summer 2013.