So here I am on a piece of arid land completely surrounded by sea at the edge of Europe called Malta. Most people don’t know exactly where it´s located. This piece of arid land is a holiday island to many. Whether you are here to study English or party hard, or both, want some civilised family fun or wish to combine culture with good food in Mediterranean setting, I guess this island can please almost all if the crowds of tourists of all sizes and ages from all corners of the globe are anything to go by.
There are a fair amount of Brits on the island and (also) due to British colonisation a lot of Maltese have terribly English names. That doesn´t make Malta a piece of Britain in the Med, though. To me Malta and its people very much remind me of Arab culture. The Maltese in general are quite conservative to some standards and rather religious or culturally very much influenced by religion. There is – perhaps therefor- a strong focus on family life and values. There is also a sense of hospitality, which might edge to indifference towards the many foreigners that have resided on the island throughout its history.
Despite the many – many- churches on this island, all seemingly active, I somehow expect to hear the muslim call to prayer, an ubiquitous element of the soundtrack to my life at the African side of the Med, any moment of the day. With exactly one mosque on the entire island – and one synagogue- that is not likely to happen.
Malta is what is has become exactly because of its location. First considered as useless land at the edge of the civilised world it became the epicentre of the battle between the Christian ´West´and the Muslim ´East´. Despite the dominance of Christianity, the Arab and Ottoman influences still very much show. Malti, the local language spoken along side English and an official language of the EU, is a funky mix of Arabic, Italian and English.
The way people drive reminds me of road conduct in Egypt. Like the Brits they drive on the left and they don´t hoot their horns as much as they do in Egypt and many other countries. Motorists don´t tend to indicate where they are going, which is a nuisance and there is very little deference paid to pedestrians or cyclists of which only a few, local or imported, in normal gear or totally lycra-ed up, are venturing out on two wheels. Besides motorists´ total lack of respect for cyclists, the island is quite hilly for me to think bike, which makes me appreciate the joys of walking again, if only to avoid the slightly alien concept of public transport. Although the bus system is by no means bad everybody is complaining about it and as the operator is called Arriva many puns are made. To get around in a more effective manner a car comes in very handy and there are a lot of them. This being one of the most densely populated countries in the world space is an issue and parking space is space to be fought over too.
Many mention that Malta is small, which I guess it is, especially for a nation state. As I´m finding my way around this island I still know very little. With an international mix of people rivaling hubs like London, locals who are either welcoming or indifferent, fab weather and a lifestyle that is so much more laid-back I can tell you, at the moment, it´s more than good enough for me.