This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.
I awoke in Malta to a new a racist, misogynist, and xenophobic regime in my poor country. Of course that’s just my opinion and I’m one of those elitist, city-dwelling liberals who believes in facts. Who needs facts when you have someone telling you what to think?
Based on the American news, I had expected to see hordes of refugees in Europe. I follow the liberal news sources, and the scenes we see are of throngs of swarthy, dusty people behind fences, their fingers entwined in the chain links as they call out to be released from whatever camp they are in. Cut to scenes of dark young men sitting on the sidewalk in some European city, looking like they’re plotting something. Then there are the close-up shots of dusty, tired-looking women (always wearing hijabs) holding young children who have one tear rolling down their dusty cheek.
The impression we get from even the liberal news is that refugees are invading in massive numbers. Specifically, Muslim refugees. Now, I don’t know the exact numbers but since I work for an organization that serves refugees, I know there are many thousands of people seeking asylum in Europe. However, the images we see didn’t play out for me in Europe. I never saw crowds of refugees—unless they were wearing Prada and I mistook them for Italians.
I may as well say here that my American image of Italians as being dark, short, and well-dressed were confirmed on this trip. The Maltese were also dark, even shorter, and while not as impeccably dressed as the Italians, I didn’t see many people wearing jeans or sweatshirts. Many of the Maltese I saw also had beautiful green or amber-colored eyes. Was this a result of the mingling of many nations that had taken place over millennia?
I could count on one hand the number of women I saw who were wearing hijabs. I saw more nuns than black people during the entire three-week trip in three countries.
As I wrote on Election Day, I did meet an Ethiopian immigrant in Malta who went to the immigration office with me to find out if I could claim political asylum or just buy my way in.
After I learned that I couldn’t run away to Malta forever, I decided to at least see as much of it as I could in one day. I had been up drinking espresso since 4:30 am and had had very unsettling news; what a perfect mode in which to explore a new country!
I found the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus, which is a great way to get the layout of a city without having to figure out public transportation. Here is the map:
I ran to catch the bus, then sat for 45 minutes and talked to the driver and ticket seller until starting time. Both of the men appeared to be in their early 40s. There were no other passengers, and the rain drizzled down continuously while we waited.
The driver didn’t have much to say but the ticket seller was up for talking. Topic number one was the American election, and they were as shocked as I was about the outcome.
“Probably some people here are happy about it,” the ticket seller said. “Malta is a very conservative country. Very Catholic. Abortion is illegal and divorce was only legalized a few years ago. Gay marriage? Don’t bring it up.”
Maybe it hadn’t been such a great plan, me moving to Malta.
“But things are changing. We’ve only got 400,000 people and of course a lot of the young ones have different ideas.”
Finally, the bus got going. We stopped at a few hotels and picked up more passengers. The first “stop,” if you could call it that, was in Tarxien, just outside of the capital city of Valletta. The street was so narrow and congested that the bus basically slowed to a roll while some of us leaped off. The driver waved his arm to the left and yelled, “Hypogeum!” then to the right and yelled, “temples!”
I was hopelessly lost within five minutes.