“Why in Malta?” Anna Koroniak talks about Maltese architecture, buses and house wives

I met Anna in one of those delicate June evenings at the Upper Barrakka Garden. The light was soft, water purl in the fountain and subdued hum of couples sitting on the benches perfectly harmonized with the soft-spoken girl, holding a cup of coffee, and her gentle smile. I was not mistaken, expecting an interesting conversation.

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WM:  How did you find your way to Malta and for how long have you been living here?

Anna: I came to Malta almost 2 years ago, in September 2011 and there was a bunch of reasons for that. In 2010, I spent a whole year in Tunisia and was absolutely charmed by its lifestyle, there was so much life going one, so many activities and things to do. I would say, in Poland people are too much focused on their work and career, they do not have much time left to enjoy life. When I returned to Poland after the year in Tunisia, I felt as stranger, could not find myself there anymore. I needed to come back to the Mediterranean, and it was the main reason for me to come to Malta. Besides, it also was difficult to find a job in Poland. So, when I came to Malta to visit my sister, who was an Erasmus student, it was enough to get affection to the island. I also started following a course on journalism with the University of Malta.

The lifestyle in Malta is strikingly different and so are the people. I find Poles very sad, as if they have, or almost forced, to live. I absolutely love the Mediterranean lifestyle and mentality.

WM: Which part of Poland do you come from?

Anna:  I came from Poznan, a city in the West of Poland, which is only 3 hours away from Berlin. It is a place of free spirit and “know-how” for a reason of opportunities. The liberating and non-conformist spirit in Poznan is stronger than anywhere else in Poland, I guess. It is also a city of youth and students, they actually make a half of the population. The vibes of youth allow a real freedom of expression and sexual choices, with many gay clubs and parades for equality.

WM: At the moment, are you studying or working?

Anna: I work as a private English teacher and I also worked in the World Aviation Group.

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WM:  What do you love the most about Malta?

Anna (smiling): Most definitely, architecture! Wherever I walk in Malta, be it St. Julian’s, or Valletta, or Rabat, the architecture amazes me. I am completely perplexed by the way houses are built, by the absence of any general plan. At first, when I came here, I thought I would never get used to this chaos of styles and types of buildings, it seemed crazy and messy. Now I am in love with it. Another thing I love very much is the Maltese tango society. The most interesting people in Malta and my best friends belong to this society.

WM: Do you prefer to socialize with the Maltese or with compatriots?

Anna: For me, it does not matter where a person comes from, but at the same time, I almost consciously avoid Polish people, there is too little in common between us now. Here, in Malta I made friends with people from different countries and many of them are Maltese.

WM:  What do you find most amusing in Malta?

Anna (laughing): I have already thought about it! It may sound funny, but I have to say, it is Maltese housewives. Please, do not take me wrong, I have nothing against them at all! (laughing). Or should I say, it is not the housewives themselves but the sense of propriety and the competition between them? In fact, my aunt is a housewife, however, of a very different mentality. I know, in some small remote villages, women have particular ways of hanging laundry, they sort it by colour or by type of items and it is almost a rule. If a housewife steps back from this rule, she will be labelled lazy and condemned by others. This urge for perfection in drying laundry seems very amusing to me, especially, the judgement made for such a reason. I was also amazed to know about a ‘dark room’ in many Maltese houses.

WM: A dark room??!

Anna: Yes, a room which is always kept in the best way possible, dusted every day and left with curtains shuttered. It is done for guests: in case they decide to visit, the room will be in perfect order, displaying diligence of the housekeepers (smiling). Some people even have a set of dark rooms. I have never experienced it anywhere else, Maltese are so much keen on the opinion of other members from their community, they are afraid of judgement for untidy rooms.

WM:  Must say, when I heard a similar story, I took it as a joke! What is the funniest accident that happened to you in Malta?

Anna: I cannot recall many accidents. Once I went on the bus and the driver asked me what number of the bus she was driving.

WM:  Is there anything in Malta you cannot get used to?

Anna Buses. In terms of logistics, they are uncomfortable and very difficult to get used to. Another thing, maybe, is anonymous living. In Malta it is very hard to be an anonymous, completely by yourself.

WM: Are you going to stay in Malta for long?

No, unfortunately. I am leaving Malta in two months. I am going to miss it and my friends a lot, but the most important, that I understood what I want to do in life and where I want to be.

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Why in Malta? Introduction to the project and the authour’s story

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Photo taken from malta.cc

Malta is not only a beautiful island in the Mediterranean; it also is a truly international place with 36 thousands of its residents of a foreign origin. It makes 8% of the whole population which slightly exceeds 450 thousands people. In many European countries ‘immigrant problem’ is close to a boiling point, far right movements are gaining popularity as well as cases of national and religious intolerance are more frequently reported by the media. In Malta, it seems, expats and Maltese manage to co-exist in peace, with only a few exceptions reported. So what does make Malta unique? Why does it attract so many foreigners, wishing to settle down on the small island state? Is its charm reserved only to the heavenly climate and beautiful landscapes? These and many other subjects will be discussed with expats who now call Malta their second motherland.

Being an immigrant myself, I regularly meet interesting people from different countries and cultures, who not only find harmony in living in Malta but also contribute to making this country a unique place. The aim of the “Why in Malta?” initiative is to share stories of foreign residents living in Malta, to discover and unveil their impressions from the country. I believe, real life stories speak lot better than discussions on tolerance to different cultures or efforts of political correctness.

 Why in Malta? The Author’s story

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Photo by Martin Galea de Giovanni

 I came to Malta for the first time in November 2007 – my first experience of a Western country, or, in other words, of a non-Russian speaking country. It was a very short stay to attend the international conference Pacem in Maribus (PIM) and, despite a short term, it still managed to change my life completely. In the beginning, it was very embarrassing for me to communicate with the other participants due to limitations of my English. I could only say “my name is…” and “I am from…”, the rest of time I had to smile and nod without clear understanding. But it was only in the beginning. On the second and the third days of the conference, my communicative nature won over the lack of English and I managed to talk (mostly, using signs and primitive words) with many influential people from all over the world. Coming from a Southern province of Russia, before the PIM experience I had not have a chance to meet foreigners, and could only rely on the impression of others, who often described foreigner people as “too pragmatic” and “soulless”. In 2007 in Malta I found out it was so untrue.

Another reason why I will always remain grateful to Malta is because it managed to breathe life back into me. Two previous to 2007 years were quite dark and desperate, but the darkness vanished under Maltese sun. For two more weeks, already back home, I did not bother to notice the gloomy, rainy weather, and still could see the palms, the sea and the boats on the horizon. Yes, the impressions all together worked wonders.

Realization of how important it is to know English was an immediate advantage of that short stay in November 2007, and so I made an effort to learn it as quickly as possible. Naturally, we tend to return to places where we felt good, and so did I. A short holiday in Malta was needed to explore it more, and the memories of the sunny and warm January days kept me warm until April. The third visit to Malta happened in November 2008, one year after the first one. This time it was for a 5 week course on Ocean Governance (which became the first stable bridge between me and Malta), followed by another course on ecological modelling few months later. Almost miraculously, during my prolonged holiday in Malta after the course in June 2009, the University of Malta issued a call for a post that matched my expertise precisely. Important things always come at the right time; it was one of such cases. In October 2009 I arrived to Malta to stay and work, having no detailed future plans but with an intention to stay here and to become a part of the country.

The story would not be complete if I do not mention another very important reason for me to come to Malta. I happened to meet a Maltese guy who I fell in love with. The distance between us, entry visas, and international bureaucracy were a big challenge. I always believed that home is where the heart is (even though my heart had a tendency to change ‘locations’). That time it seemed worth the enormous struggle with obstacles, and I was fully ready for the adventure. Those, thinking it is easy for a non-EU citizen to move to Malta, cannot be more wrong. The road led me to Malta was rather full of thorns, not rose petals.

After almost 4 years of living in Malta I have become as much Maltese as possible for a Russian person. All friends of mine, with a few exceptions, are Maltese. It might sound funny, but I picked up many Maltese words and I constantly mix them with English once or say them even when speaking Russian (!). Another amusing fact is that, somehow, I learnt to swear in Maltese too and, even more amusing, proud of it. Despite their utter vulgarity, those emotional sentences are made in such an unimaginably creative way that it leaves me astonished. Concluding the story, I would say, yes, I do call Malta home now, there are too many connections with the country and its people, that I would rather be here than anywhere else.

The easiest way to change the world … by not wearing glasses

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A painting by Philip Barlow, an artist who finds the world seen by short-sighted people inspirational
http://www.philipbarlow.com/

My eyesight started decreasing when I was 10. Before, I could see every petal, every butterfly on grass, every pebble as clear as it is only possible for me now if wearing glasses. I also remember the moment when I realised the objects on the far background became of a smoother shape, blending with each other, as if somebody just covered them with semi-transparent glass. My short-sight was earned by reading almost non-stop, often in the dark with a small torch, in other words, it was inevitable. By the age of 14 it went down to -4.5 and by 20 – to as low as -5. My mother desperately tried to improve my eyesight, paying doctors for various physiotherapy treatments. How could I disappoint her? Instead, I cheated – learnt all the letters and signs on the opticians’ test board (fortunately for me, it was a standard board, used by all opticians in the country) to amaze them with the results of the “improvement”. Bet, they did not expect such miraculous results.

philip barlow
A painting by Philip Barlow, an artist who finds the world seen by short-sighted people inspirational
http://www.philipbarlow.com/

Without glasses, objects farther than 30 metres away turn into colourful spots, their edges dissolve in the air, making shapes softer. Feels a lot like an impressionist painting which easily can be turned into a clear image simply by putting glasses on. Technology of the modern age gives a helping hand to those uncomfortable with glasses. Laser surgery and contact lenses provide perfect eyesight but, at the same time, deprive of the chance to see the world of glints and merging lights at a distance, the world in which passers-by look younger and more mysterious.

I got used to walking without glasses so much that I do not feel an urge to see better, I see enough. Sometimes, it leads to funny incidents and adventures, like taking a wrong bus and ending up in the other side of the city, or not recognising a friend or, on the contrary, waving at a stranger, confusing him with a friend, or saying hello to a mannequin. Once I tried to pass through a door without realizing there was glass, but it only made a day funnier. Otherwise, I love the idea of having a choice between the world of abstract shapes and the world of well-defined lines. The easiest way to change the world around is to take your glasses off. Try it!

N.B. I certainly see far clearer pictures then those the paintings depict. No suicide intended.