“Why in Malta?” Tolga Temuge: “Once we happened to evacuate a tiger when cleaning Lower St. Elmo for a backstage”

Tolga was born in Turkey in 1967. After his graduation in business administration, he worked in international trade for several years until he joined Greenpeace. He sailed on Greenpeace ships and became the co-founder of Greenpeace in Turkey. He was then appointed the campaigns director for the organisation’s regional Mediterranean office. Tolga has been actively working on environment, human rights and peace campaigns for over 20 years. He was the executive director of BirdLife Malta between 2006 and 2010. His company, East to West Communications, provides service on communications, campaign and project development and management to non-profit organisations in Malta and abroad.

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WM: You were born in Turkey and had visited many countries, what made you settle in Malta?

TT: The first trip to Malta was related to my job with Greenpeace. At the time I was part of the Greenpeace Mediterranean Regional Office. Besides Malta, we had offices also in Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel, but none of these locations was suitable for setting a headquarters as we couldn’t organise staff meetings all together due to hostility of most of these countries towards each other apart from Malta. Thus, the Greenpeace Mediterranean headquarters office, previously located in Mallorca, was relocated to Malta. I remember my first arrival to Malta in 1994, when, on board of “Rainbow Warrior”, we entered the Grand Harbour. My jaw dropped! The Grand Harbour is the most spectacular natural harbour in the world! In 2000 I met my partner at the time in Malta who is Maltese and had started working for Greenpeace. I moved to Malta temporary in 2003, as I thought, but I have been living here for many years now – eleven to be exact.

WM: Do you think life in Malta influenced you in a way?

TT: Living in any place for over ten years influences a person – you cannot isolate yourself from the surrounding. Malta certainly did it in a very positive way. Here I have learnt to take life less seriously and a bit easy too. Istanbul is a highly populated place (with a population of fifteen million) and life there is way too fast. At the beginning, it was difficult to get used to this easy lifestyle but, as time passed, I started appreciating it and understood that living fast is not the right thing to do for one’s health.

WM: Do you feel a mentality difference between Malta and Turkey?

TT: Since Malta is a Mediterranean country, I am less exposed to cultural shocks here than, say, people who come from Northern European countries. It is true that here it takes so much long before something is done, and yes, it was difficult to adapt to that. However, the main thing that struck me, as an environmental activist, is the attitude of many Maltese towards nature. Do not take me wrong, Maltese are very respecting towards both, each other and foreigners, yet often this respect stops once they leave their home towns and villages. There are many examples of such lack of respect to nature, or, to be specific, to the countryside: hunters, fireworks enthusiasts, campers etc.

WM: In your opinion and from your personal experience, is it an advantage or a disadvantage for Malta to have foreign residents?

TT: Definitely, it is an advantage for any country. Malta, as a small island state, benefits genetically from the influx of foreigners. Another advantage is in experiencing other cultures. Many Maltese travel abroad and get a chance to see foreign lands but it also is great to be able to learn about foreign customs and traditions here, at home. Besides, foreigners bring new ideas and professional experience. It is especially true when speaking about NGOs, this sector lacked experience in management – just one example from the NGO I worked for BirdLife Malta which became a truly professional NGO over the years thanks to the involvement of many professional foreigners who worked for BirdLife.

WM: Do you prefer to spend your spare time with Maltese or with foreigners?

TT: Mostly with Maltese.

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WM: Which experience in Malta would you classify as “ultimately Maltese”?

TT: There were many curious incidents; one of them was especially memorable. In 2004, after having moved to Malta, my partner and I decided to organise the first world music festival, for which we brought famous musicians from all around the world. Lower St. Elmo was chosen for a venue, as we wanted to bring this place to life. It is a magical, mystic historical place, which also served as a set for “The Midnight Express” and it could be used as art space. Sadly, Lower St. Elmo was used as a dump site for many years, the amount of garbage estimated in truckloads! As we were preparing the venue, a curious accident happened. Once I received a phone call from the stage manager, telling me “We have a tiger here! What are we going to do with it?!”…

WM: a real tiger?!.

TT: Yes, a very real tiger! We heard that the animal’s owner bought the old tiger from an Italian circus (the information was not officially confirmed) and just kept it there, at Lower St Elmo. It sounds unbelievable, but when we were cleaning the place for a backstage we had to move the tiger out! Besides the tiger, there also were other animals – donkeys and pigs. We kept them though, to keep the atmosphere.

WM: Do you plan to stay in Malta for long?

TT: I do not make such plans. I never had an idea where I will be a year after. I always dreamt about living in Barcelona but so far I am enjoying living here. I will see what life will bring.

“Why in Malta?” Edouard Michel: “Malta is the perfect place to be surprised”

Edouard Michel and I met at the University of Malta. Having learnt that Edouard came from France, I could not resist asking him to share his experience of living in Malta.

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WM: How did you come to Malta?

 Edouard: I came to Malta for my job. After a work experience at a regional office of the UNEP, at the end of 2012 I was looking for a job and had applied for a vacancy which was for a Programme Manager for the Mediterranean at CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research). I noticed the job’s location was in Malta and decided to go for it, although at that time I knew nothing about Malta. I had to move here very quickly as my contract in Malta began only two days after the end of my other contract. I was living in Nice at that time and had to move some things back to my parents’ place before leaving France. It was hectic! Same thing will happen again at the end of September: my current contract in Malta finishes the last day of September and on the 1st October I start working in Paris.

I knew nothing about Malta and its people. Yes, I had heard about the knights but not much apart from that. I was aware that the population speaks English well because years ago, I had seen a newspaper advert for Maltese English schools. I had lived in Greece before and could picture life on small Mediterranean islands.

WM: What was your first impression about Malta then?

Edouard: In terms of architecture and landscapes, it reminded me very much of Syria and Lebanon. I have never been to Sicily so I don’t know if it is in any way similar to Malta but it felt like Middle East to me. Besides, I speak a little of Arabic and Maltese language is similar to Arabic, which make this impression even stronger. I was also surprised by the density of population and the lack of open spaces.

 WM: What do you like most about Malta?

Edouard: It might sound funny but I love the fact that in Malta you have to be relaxed. When I try to rush things, it does not work. On the contrary, when I leave things by themselves, it works. Of course, it works at its own pace but the final result is usually good.

… And the weather is fantastic here!

 WM: Is there anything you do not like in Malta?

Edouard: I would not say there is something in Malta I really dislike. Yet I miss nature very much. By nature I mean mountains, forests, open spaces and hiking paths… Friends tell me ‘Come on, Malta is famous for diving, there is underwater nature to discover!”. But I am rather a ‘land’ person.

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 WM: What are the most amusing things in Malta in your opinion?

 Edouard: Recently, I have made a discovery. Right now it is too hot for a hot shower so I turned off the heating system. To my surprise, water from the cold tap is warmer that water for the hot water tap; it heats up in the tank on the roof! Therefore, I use water from the hot tap to have a ‘cold’ shower. I think it would be more rational to switch hot and cold water sources: hot water tank could be placed on the roof where the full use of solar energy is made.

And another amusing thing is the transport system! It takes an hour and a half by bus to cross just a half of Malta. The first month here I tried using buses but they always were too slow, with many stops, traffic jams, or even never showing up. Traffic is crazy here! Then I decided to walk to the University from Sliema; it takes about 30 minutes and yet it is still faster than taking a bus.

WM: If you asked about Malta in Paris what would you say?

 Edouard: I would say it is so completely unexpected. When I came here I was surprised by the place: it is a small island and, at the same time, it is a country. I travelled a lot but had not seen a place like Malta; it is different from everything I had seen before. When looking at Malta closely, you would not expect such a difference: there are slight differences in culture and traditions, architecture, food, everything still feels close enough. However when everything sums up, it becomes very different in total. If someone looks for broad sandy beaches or untouched nature then Malta would not be their thing. But if you are curious, if you are looking for new impressions then Malta is the perfect place to be surprised.

 WM: What would be your brightest memory about Malta?

 Edouard (thinking and smiling): It is not so easy to answer. I would say, waking up in Xlendi after spending a night on the flat rocks, and seeing only the sea – unbelievably beautiful scenery.

WM: Do you think Malta lacks a broad variety of cultural events?

 Edouard: I knew I was going to stay in Malta temporarily so I have not missed it, but on for a longer time, I probably would. In Paris you are surrounded with cultural venues, however, any place has its own ‘museum’ to be discovered. For Malta such ‘museum’, besides the actual ones, would be any town or village, and especially during the “festas” which transform familiar places into something completely new.

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“Why in Malta?” Fritz Grimm: “Malta taught me there is something very special in the Universe”

Something tells me this edition of “Why in Malta?” will be especially popular among ladies. Fritz Grimm, who is an aspiring photographer, a very handsome guy and just a charming person, kindly agreed to share his story of becoming Maltese. We recommend you take a look at his photography website http://www.fritz-grimm.de and his page on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fritz-Photography-Malta/453777761357867?fref=ts.

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WM:  Fritz, your home country, Germany, is a dream country of many. How did you decide to change it for Malta?

Fritz: I would say I am different from the most people in Germany. They are so close-minded and live so much ‘in the structure’. It is pre-defined that a person gets a job and then keeps working, buying, and spending. I never liked this lifestyle, especially when a lot of people in the world are living in much worse conditions. When I was younger, I used to dream about living by the sea in a warm country and imagined Caribbean, something like paradise, but those dreams were not realistic. I never seriously thought about leaving Germany until some time ago because my daughter was still too young for me to leave her. Now she is 9 years old and comes to visit me from time to time.

WM: Why did you decide to move to Malta and not to any other Mediterranean country, say, Italy, Spain or Greece?

Fritz:  At the end of 2011 I met a Maltese girl in Thailand. We became close and in the beginning of 2012 we decided to be together. We visited each other a few times: I came to Malta twice and she came to Germany. She could not imagine working there; a whole day at the office, besides there is a language barrier – finding a job without knowing German is unrealistic. For me it was fine to move, I was prepared; I liked the country and the people.  By the time I moved to Malta, however, our relationship became unstable; we spent some time on and off. It did not change my plans to move to Malta, though.

WM: What do you miss about Germany the most?

Fritz:  Greenery, forests, hills, my daughter and my family. I cannot say I miss friends; they always can come over to visit me if they want, and they can afford it. In fact, some friends come to visit, others promise to come but do not. In that way I can see who the real friends are and who are not.

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WM: Did Malta teach you something new?

Fritz: It is a good question… Yes, I would say Malta taught me there is something in the Universe, something very special and particular. Maybe, it is God…

WM: Was it the country’s lifestyle that gave you this experience, or the people?

Fritz: I think it is a mix of factors: the place, the people and how they live together. Maltese are so relaxed, sincere and warm. They are not always polite, but, at the same time, not as mean as some people in other countries. Germans in comparison are too negative, close-minded and consumerist. When it happens to share business ideas with them, the negative response just shocks me sometimes.

WM:  What do you do in Malta apart from photography?

Fritz: Although, photography is a big part of my life, it is just a hobby.  I work part-time for a company where I am responsible for quality management system.

WM: Is there anything that makes you uncomfortable in Malta?

Fritz: I can see many things are not well, but I am a foreigner here and I do not think I should teach the locals. One thing is particularly unfair: electricity and water rates for foreigners should not be higher than for Maltese. It is a big deal to get resident’s rates. If Maltese cheat on foreigners then foreigners have every right to cheat back, which is not a good situation.

 WM: Do you prefer to spend your free time with Maltese or with other expats?

Fritz: With Maltese. I live in Tarxien and do not know other foreigners living there, it is so peaceful and quiet. I cannot imagine living in Sliema – a busy tourist area which looks the same in many countries. It has no true spirit of Malta.

WM: Do you feel the mentality difference?

Fritz: Yes, the Maltese mentality is different; the people are relaxed and not so exact. I can understand this, however. It happens to me not to be on time too because in Malta you cannot plan well. One day it takes you 10 minutes to get somewhere, another time on the same route you can spend half an hour looking for parking.

WM: Do you think to stay in Malta for long?

Fritz: I do not make plans, but certainly, I cannot imagine going back to Germany. It is too alien for me now with its consumerism and predictable life.

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“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.