Hello again. Remember me? I wrote a couple of articles about lesbians and bank loans a while back. Yeah. That one.
Before I go any further, a small update. Since my foray into bank loans - lesbian or otherwise - I have absconded. Fled the island. Run away. Packed up my books and my dog and my wife and my collection of novelty t-shirts and left. For the past few months, I’ve been living several thousand miles away from Malta, with no plans to return. Let me tell you, it’s been swell!
Before you raise an unimpressed eyebrow, waiting for me to launch into some condescending, cliched monologue extolling the virtues of Deliveroo and functioning public transport, I would like to say that this isn’t that kind of article. I mean yes, those things are great, but that’s not what this is about.
"For me, the downward spiral began in 2015. Since then things have, objectively and measurably, gone downhill."
This is about how my relationship with Malta has changed over the years, something echoed in the things I hear and read from people who still live there. Today’s news - a peaceful protest handled in a spectacularly terrible fashion by the authorities - was the latest in a long parade of upsetting and unsettling events that started a long time ago and now seems to have reached a critical mass of what-in-the-actual-fuck-ness.
My tolerance for this kind of nonsense hit breaking point about 18 months ago, when I made the decision to up sticks and bail. Enough was enough. Time to go. What I gather from talking to friends and family is that a lot of other people are discovering that they too are reaching the limits of what they are willing to tolerate, how much of their space and air and silence and justice they are willing to sacrifice before it all becomes too much to take.
For me, the downward spiral began in 2015, the year the country held a spring hunting referendum. A narrow victory for those who wanted to keep the brutish activity legal but a major blow for me personally. I felt that I, a mostly reasonable person with a mostly reasonable understanding of the basic principles of environmental conservation, was suddenly outnumbered by people with guns. The result of the vote felt completely discordant with what was going on in the rest of the world.
All over the globe, the alarm was being raised - we are fucking this planet up pretty quickly and are edging closer to the point-of-no-return where everyone dies of starvation and/or gets burnt to a crisp and/or drowns in rising sea levels. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.
And here we were, actively voting to keep shooting at already vulnerable species, not to mention the other unfortunate birds who are shot out of the sky by (somehow) unidentified individuals. May as well suffocate a dolphin with a plastic bag and shove a zip-tie up a turtle’s nose, for all we’ve learnt as a nation.
"Now I can read about the latest fuckery from afar, shake my head and get on with my day."
After that, the small, nearly imperceptible changes started to add up, becoming clearer. Since then things have, objectively and measurably, gone downhill. More traffic, more construction, more rent increases, more noise, more dependence on food banks, more corruption discovered. Less open space, less agricultural land, less tolerance, fewer trees. It’s as if once I had realised that the right thing isn’t automatically the done thing, I could see the signs everywhere.
That probably makes me sound naive and maybe I was. I just thought that, after the passing of divorce legislation and the introduction of civil unions, we were finally on the right track. Malta was finally making a place for itself in a modern, progressive world, and its citizens’ lives would be improved exponentially as a result.
Turns out I was wrong. The introduction of civil unions, for instance, was certainly admirable and long overdue. But it does not, in any way, shape or form, make up for all the other crap we had to put up with in the years since. You cannot claim to champion civil rights when the country has just been ranked the EU country with the highest rate of online hate speech. When people are kicked out of their rented accommodation and then offered zero help to find somewhere else to live. When the mental and physical health of your citizens is suffering because of the decision to put developers’ profits ahead of practical, logical and moral considerations for the people who actually fucking live there.
"Malta will always be the place I came from. But leaving has been a respite from the dust and debris of a country slowly burying itself beneath concrete and corruption."
But me? I’m fine now. I left the island for many reasons but no longer having to deal with this shit was a major one. I have solved that problem. I don’t have to watch, in real time, the place I grew up get torn down and rebuilt as a tribute to money and Dubai (apparently that’s Malta’s design #inspo now?).
I wouldn’t have to look away or pretend I’m not listening when one politician or another is discovered doing something shady, just so I can get on with my life without developing a rage-induced hernia. I wouldn’t have to live in a place where Catholic values are literally written into the Constitution (a problematic discussion for another time) but money and power are the only things that seem to matter.
Now I can read about the latest fuckery from afar, shake my head and get on with my day. The distance acts as a buffer, the Bonjela slathered on the ulcer, making the news hurt less, make me less angry, less despondent. It’s a blip from a past life. Now I am too far away to do anything about it. It beats standing right in front of the carnage and feeling completely and utterly helpless. I close the Times of Malta tab and move on. I’m not constantly living that reality any more.
Malta will always be the place I came from, the country that shaped who I am for nearly 30 years. You can’t wipe that away, even if I spend the next 31 years growing up somewhere else. But leaving has been a respite from the dust and debris of a country slowly burying itself beneath concrete and corruption.
I’m not suggesting that everyone should leave Malta. That’s probably not a very practical option for a lot of people. What I’m saying is that it shouldn’t have come to this at all. I envy those people who still manage to crack a smile as the airplane starts to make its descent over the bleached yellow stone, the cathedrals, the patchwork farmland of the place they were born. That doesn’t happen for me any more. It’s becoming harder and harder to recognise, never mind love, the place I once called home.
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