Thoughts from an Island – Sliema, Malta

Thoughts from an Island

Sliema, Malta

into the unknown: the elusive Blue Grotto
into the unknown: the elusive Blue Grotto
We named it the Malta Experience.

It was, in fact, the sum of all parts, which actually turned out to be more vital than the whole (despite the practical proverb denying this). We appointed a name, however simple, to something too complex to designate it as anything else. The Malta Experience, as best we could determine, was just like the movie we took our new students to see each week in Valletta. The movie, a two-hour history lesson detailing the migration of the Sicilian farmers to the Neolithics and their temples to the Knights of St. John, the World Wars, the acceptance to the European Union, and everything lost in-between. Aptly named the Malta Experience itself, we identified ourselves with an unwritten history – adding our names, however briefly, to Maltese lips and eyes, changing history in just enough ways to allow it an impact whose outcome is yet undetermined. When we utter anything about the Malta Experience, it’s nothing in particular; it’s just a bit of everything that left us with feelings.

The Malta Experience, what it was, as fresh, new, alive, and vibrant as shiny shoes, will someday be erased by memory and years of life; the themes that never escaped us will continue to shape our lives and change our motivations in ways we could never expect or prepare. I wonder if, in the far distant future, too far for any one of us to ever imagine, whatever has evolved from humans will look towards our past with the same anticipation and reverence as I did to the Neolithic temples. I wonder if they will imagine our shadows dancing on the walls of the discos or parading down the sand in our bare feet, speaking defunct and bizarre languages. We, naturally, are in the midst of something strange, living in a terribly confused world that is on the precipice of scientific discovery, insane war and destruction, exploration and sensitivity to global culture, and the meaning of things. Limestone temples faded into the past; so too will our medieval churches one day become myth.

Interestingly enough, the relations I improved were of an American herself – after so much explanation, discussion, relating, and debating, I began to understand some things, however simple, about my race and my culture that infuse with my beliefs. I was never truly removed from my culture, whatever that word actually entails; perhaps just discontented with some of it. American culture is too widespread and pocketed to be any one thing – for the Alaskan American hardly has the same experience as the Floridian American. It isn’t uncommon to feel exasperated or removed with our own countries, regardless of nationality or racial color; it’s just the universal cry of the youth.

After all, wasn’t it I who fell in love with American rock bands, plastering their perfect faces over the white walls of my bedroom? Wasn’t it I who strolled the mall as a teenager without a driver’s license, looking for interesting things to do and interesting people to meet? Wasn’t it I who looked forward to the Fourth of July celebrations, mesmerized by the sparkles of color exploding from the dark sky and spending the day with friends? Wasn’t it I who had loved her job as a waitress, joking with the boys and going to parties after shifts? Isn’t it I who uses this unique interpretation of the English language, particular only to one country? These things seem particularly American, while at the same time representing parts of the human dilemma to feel connected to something.

And as I’m aware that these things are also particularly superficial, I have gained an interesting perspective of the way Americans perceive their world. I believe this view transcends not only my culture but for most Westerners as well, linking us together in more ways than the surface sometimes reveals. Americans, for example, are distinctly so because of their certainly isolated boundaries; not different, say, than Australia. Our access to other cultures is taught in school and not always experienced firsthand. Our races are significant and insignificant at the same time, depending mainly on the personal economic and educational level of those in question. Most of us have a relatively naïve and optimistic outlook on world affairs, honestly thinking that the majority of the world’s problems could be eradicated if only people would forget about their racial preferences and just work together. Most believe in democracy. Lots of us are angry with our government but feel powerless to change it; in a nation of millions, our place is miniscule.

meandering down the streets of Sliema, Malta
meandering down the streets of Sliema, Malta
Americans have a problem with getting out of their own skins; for most, it’s literally impossible to envision learning another language to the point of becoming bilingual – this is a cultural tragedy, and due to our mass communication systems. Efficiency is key in everything. We are informal with people, calling someone we’ve just met by their first names and having the option of embracing them upon the second encounter. On the whole, people expect business to be conducted with utmost dignity, having everything done legally and without meddling in illegal affairs like bribes.

The most revered are the entertainers, not the authors. Because we’ve never been conquered, we feel a sense of power unheard of by many places; arrogance rides not far behind. Our time is money; our money often scandalous and dishonest.

When we have meetings, ones that are sketched and starred in our books, we quietly mutter a practical excuse if we are five minutes late. Ten minutes runs on inexcusable, coupled with a lengthy explanation of the traffic problem or something comparable. Nothing is ever our fault. Going on an hour late cancels the meeting and any chance of recovery. This hardly applies to the Maltese concept of time. In fact, I’d come to believe that they didn’t even have a concept of time.

And, like the first nomads, our curiosity often leads us to surprising places, giving us spiritual renewals and the adaptation to something new. Our country blossomed because of intrepid daredevils, after all. How different are we really, then, from the dreams of the ancient peoples, the Maltese, the Egyptians, the Central American tribes? How different are we between cultures when we live in the same world, write about the same absurdities, and hope for the same interesting futures? How different can we really be from each other? When one day our present world is scratched into a more mature timeline of the Western conscious, where we are the middle ground and flow between extremes; where farther on all of us may someday have dwindled to total annihilation or vague memories, preserved only in museums and fossilized hillsides of remote places, our lives will be remembered as one.

As I drummed my dry fingers across this linoleum table, skimming through my journal and solidifying experience to memory, I became immersed in the lovely and remarkable sounds of the international airport, knowing that I was on the verge of something newly unfamiliar and unwritten. Although I could see that I had only survived a simple twenty-one rotations of the sun thus far in my life, I knew that the rotations couldn’t and wouldn’t stop once I finally do. They didn’t start when I did, and they certainly won’t end without something spectacular happening. We didn’t create the stars, and I still muse about why earth bobs around in a black sky like a puppet with no strings attached. We still cry about the sun, the melancholy moon, our smallness, yet we have not learned how to live in peace. We have unlocked the complexity of DNA, mapped the entire human genome, plopped aircraft on foreign planets and the moon; and yet, we haven’t found our place or our purpose. I suspect these are continuing problems.

our paths are forever unwritten; Bugibba, Malta
our paths are forever unwritten; Bugibba, Malta
Life takes interesting and often bizarre turns, as long as we allow ourselves the ability to keep our minds free and fresh and our motivations pure. Our 21st century minds are the product of everything before us, and one day we too will be the ancient world, where whoever remains to pick up our pieces will see us nondescript, strange, bizarre creatures, as I did as I stood inside history. I can’t even begin to imagine what Malta will mean to me in twenty years, in thirty, in fifty, tomorrow.

Those last few moments, as I spun around to tuck my journal into my bag for its last time abroad, with all its millions of scribbles and deviations, I could feel a light passing of my hair touch over my shoulder. This foreign feeling reminded me of long ago in my life, when my hair was long and full enough to spin around with me, and I suddenly felt as if time had never passed, as though I had just woken from one of those dreams that leave me a little disoriented when reality fades in. A bit shaggy, a bit disheveled, a bit outgrown, my blonde hair, in whispers, graced over my tanned shoulders as sweet, breathy kisses, and I began to cry. Seasons pass, perspectives change, suns rise, hair grows; everything comes full circle. The temples will one day crumble, giving their rocks to the earth, just as my hair will once again be long. There is hope in change, but there is something mystical in the cyclic.