This evening, village cores all around the island come to a halt for a few hours in light of the holy processions dedicated to our Lady of Sorrows. These are intended to commemorate the sorrow of Our Lady, who had to witness the death of her son on the cross, but in reality, we usually speak of seven sorrows of our blessed mother, which range from the prophecy of Simeon, just when Jesus was still a newborn, to his burial. Our island is no less than a mother to us Maltese; if on this day we had to think of our country as the Sancta Malta Dolorosa, what would her seven sorrows be?
The island is a tiny one, but the number of vehicles clogging up our roads is a scary one. Rush hour has now been extended by an extra two hours, morning, afternoons and evenings, and there’s no longer such thing as a heated-summer-traffic-argument. The daily increase in the number of vehicles on the road, congested diversions due to unexpected incidents, an old infrastructure, an inefficient public transport system and our obsession to reach all our destinations by private car, all add on to our island’s sorrow.
We’re a country of extremes. Our major political parties are only two, and they still hold exclusive representation in parliament. Our feasts are riddled with pique, and if you do not support one band club, then you’re automatically in favour of the other. You’re either blue or red, left or right, wrong or right. There is no room for ifs and buts. You must take sides and the sooner you do so without much discussion, let alone a critical or an intelligent one, the better. We’re indoctrinated to believe something outright and to follow someone without any questioning, rather than formulating our own line of thought and lead.
This one has always been, but leaks by the media about some of our politician’s dirty habits are making corruption the number one factor that is making many lose faith in politics. Whether it’s about alleged cases of rewarding our politicians with gifts to buy their silence, investments in Panama, the exploitation of public land given away at an impressively reduced price, ministers occupying their post without a portfolio or duplicated ID cards issued by Identity Malta, the list is endless.
We are known as one of the safest countries to live in, and to a certain extent this is true. However, casting doubt on such a perception are the many car bombs happening around the island from time to time, even in broad daylight, exposing not just the victims but many bystanders to unexpected dangers.
Our small size is a convenience for most aspects of our daily life, but having a large number of pastizzeriji adorning six of the eight corners of our village cores doesn’t make things better in terms of a healthy lifestyle. From time to time research confirms our dominant position at the top of EU obesity rankings. We are not consuming the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and as a result we are at a greater risk of suffering a heart attack, diabetes and cancer. Besides, the exorbitant number of restaurants scattered all over the island in contrast to insufficient public open spaces encourages a culture of entertainment reliant on restaurant-eating. As rightly put by blogger Josanne Cassar in a Facebook post, our two national hobbies must be shopping and eating: “Vision for 2020: eternal traffic jams as we attempt to drive from one shopping mall and restaurant to the other to indulge in our favourite national hobbies, eating and shopping.”
Abuse of the Environment
A small island with many concrete blocks, very little trees and even less open fields can hardly ever serve a breathing ground for fresh air and peaceful respite. And if that is not enough, we’re still tempering with the fate of Manoel Island, specifically with the proposal of setting up a hotel at Fort Manoel; a shopping complex and a casino-hotel at the historic 18th century Lazaretto; retail outlets and luxury low-rise apartments; a helipad; and a superyacht marina. Views are now being obstructed, and despite the need to provide housing to the many expats residing in Malta, a considerable number of townhouses are either being left vacant or else demolished, leading to the further loss of typically Maltese housing which otherwise would still be brimming with extensive gardens.
This is not about blaming immigrants. This is about the fear, the exclusion and the humiliation they have to face on a daily basis. Our waters have seen thousands of immigrants hoping for a better life, trying to make it to the heart of Europe where they can safely settle and turn over a new leaf, away from all the turmoil and devastation that war brings along with it. But how understanding and compassionate have we been in front of such a harsh reality? In an attempt to show that we are no push overs, there was even a time when some of us thought it’s wiser to invoke a push back. Surely, the recent arrest of immigrants from Mali with the view of deporting them raised questions with regard to Malta’s efforts to secure its human rights obligations and protect human dignity. Are we a warm-hearted a bunch as we were made to believe?
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Clifford Jo Zahra