Lovin Malta spoke with Denise Camilleri – a 29-year old Maltese woman with Down Syndrome living in Malta. We chatted about life, work and everything in between whilst she tried to bring our pottery-making skills up to a presentable level.
Denise Camilleri's face might not be new to some readers. She's 29 years old now, but formed part of the popular Maltese show Dejjem Tiegħek Becky cast when she was around 17 years-old – she played a teenage girl with Down Syndrome called Denise. The writers really pulled the originality out of the bag with that one.
She's since quit TV, but her life hasn't slowed down much – she takes drama classes, goes to the gym, works two part time jobs, and owns a property. She also does pottery. Which is handy, because Lovin Malta was just about due a pottery-tutorial.
Denise has been making pottery for a few years – she's got a bunch of finished works to show for it, which her pottery teacher is quite eager to show off to us. As we tuck into a fresh lump of cold and muddy clay, we're keen to get some home-truths from Denise about what it's like to live in Malta with Down Syndrome.
“I do things, and have fun doing them,” Denise says, describing her outlook on life. When she lists all the activities she's involved in it would be easy to assume she'd have a frenzied demeanour about her. But she doesn't. She's super laid-back. Her ultimate aim seems to be to live a relaxing, fulfilling life – and her idea of relaxation is pretty well-defined. “I don’t like the beach that much," she says. "I prefer pools to the beach – too many people.”
"I do things. I have fun doing them"Denise Camilleri
We wanted to know more about how Denise feels about people in Malta – besides from the fact that she doesn't want them around at the beach – we asked whether they treat her differently because she has Down Syndrome.
“Sometimes when I go out people act funny towards me and act like they are better than me. I feel uncomfortable with that,” she tells us. “They're slow – they talk so slowly to me. They think I don't understand things, but I understand everything.”
But generally Denise doesn't seem too worried about this kind of treatment. From what she tells us, it's the exception to the rule – the rule being that people are mostly nice, and treat her normally.
"People think I don't understand things, but I understand everything"Denise Camilleri
She does have one pet peeve though – "when people call me a ‘miskina’". She asserts that there's absolutely nothing to feel sorry for her about.
We'd have to agree. Denise works two part time jobs – doing admin for a tech company and working in an HR office in a hotel. She believes she's a good employee – she works hard, does her best, and most importantly brings the party to the office.
"We laugh and joke all the time – we have fun."
"I saved up, I got a house loan, I got insurance, and I bought a flat"Denise Camilleri
But despite her jovial attitude, Denise is very serious about the goals she sets for herself. She sat for her European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualification – a computer literacy certification programme – when she was just 16. She's also been saving money for ages, and last year she bought an apartment.
“I saved up, I got a house loan, I got insurance, and I bought a flat," Denise tells us, talking about this life-achievement as though she were describing making toast in the morning. "My parents helped me with the deposit.”
Denise seems utterly content with her life in Malta, with legitimate reason. She spends her spare time traveling around Europe, Australia, and has also travelled to California and New York – where she's been mistaken on a couple of occasions for Lauren Potter, the actress who stars in Glee. Although she didn't bother denying the mistaken identity - “I just shut my mouth and let them believe it.”
We asked her if there's anything she feels she still wants to tick off her life list.
"I want to go to the X Factor. I want to go to Poland. And I want to meet one of my favourite singers – Ronan Keating. I’d like to meet him, maybe sing with him a bit, and give him a chance to get to know me.”
We actually can't think of more solid ambitions. We do remind her that Ronan is a bit on the short side though...
“It’s not a problem if he is short," Denise assures us. "I have no problems with that.”
Special thanks to Mariz Cassar for letting us use her pottery studio for our class!