So, my Joyce has a new nickname, thanks to a week in Malta. It came about while we were on a guided walking tour of M’dina, the ancient capital of the island. Our lovely guide, Christian was telling us about something completely different, when Joyce noticed a tree growing down a shadowy alley, in almost no soil. She asked Chris what it was and why on earth it would grow in such an inhospitable environment. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘it’s a Bougainvillea’, but in Arabic, it has a nickname, Miġnuna, which means The Crazy One’.
Now, I know that words like crazy are not good in the 21st century, but when I call Joyce Miġnuna, I’m not thinking about her as crazy, I’m thinking about that Bourgainvillea and how similar it is to Joyce’s life. She has chosen to live much of her life in the shadows, serving others, growing from strength to strength on very little emotional nourishment. Very few people appreciate my wife – most take her for granted (including me at times, sorry Miġnuna), and some outright vilify her for her inconvenient habit of loving people and expecting integrity, offering honesty and never flinching from an opportunity to advocate for autistics with average to high IQs, a very under-represented and misunderstood group. And yet she still blesses the world with the flowers of her labour. Am I biased? Yes – challenge me on it, I dare you!
In a world and work where mental wellbeing and work-life balance is a hot topic, our week in Malta pointed out to us that we are excellent at talking the talk, but not so good at walking the walk. We are so consumed by looking after the wellbeing of our clients, we often forget to look after our own. The sheer stress of whether we would even get to Malta, what with Covid restrictions, the need to arrange extra cat sitting as Kevin had just had surgery and the fact that we keep our trips secret until after the event for security reasons was unbelievable. So our tiny, unpretentious but beautiful studio apartment at Shamrock Apartments at around £100 for the week was a joy.
There are those who get sniffy about the Bugibba/Qawra area, and in the height of the season it probably is a bit Skegness with sunshine, but we love it. We walked and we walked and we walked; 50 miles in 7 days. We got the incredibly good value Tallinja Explore Card (approx. £21 for the week to access all buses on both Malta and Gozo) and we just rode and looked out of the window. Pro-tip – if you are already a stress head miġnuna, don’t hire a car in Malta. The Maltese are some of the most over- assertive drivers I have ever come across and would rather break their car horns than actually consider slowing down or giving way. The bus is a much more fantastic way to chill out and wind down.
The walking jewel
And then there was Chris. We may have fallen a little bit in love with Chris, in a protective, mummy/sister way you understand, not the inappropriate way. I discovered Chris’s walking tours before we left the UK via Airbnb, but he is launching his own website soon. Now, I’ve done some excellent walking tours in my time, but Chris is on another level. I’d already established that Chris was native Maltese with a great knowledge before we even booked, but I had no way of knowing of his passion for his country, his humour and his humanity.
Through Covid, Chris’s work has been a bit flat for the last couple of years, so being a constructive kind of guy, he had thrown himself into supporting his community, which in Malta mainly means being quite involved in activities organised by the Catholic parishes. He told us that he now takes the nuns to the supermarket and helps them in their gardens.
Chris knows everybody – born and brought up in Rabat, his relationship with the nobility of neighbouring M’dina is both endearing and amusing. While we were on the tour of M’dina, Chris took a phone call from the Arch-something or other of the Diocese. ‘The Pope’s coming to Malta, Chris, can you drive one of the cars for his entourage please?’ And yet not once did I feel religion pushed down my throat, just the old fashioned Christian love I haven’t experienced in donkey’s years. We did a second tour with Chris, his Three Cities tour, and we will go and do his Valletta tour when we go back in… well, I’m not going to say, am I, for security reasons!
That’s not to say Malta is perfect. I’ve already mentioned the erm… eccentric driving, and the Maltese have a strange relationship with their feral cats. They’re absolutely not strays, no way, they are feral, well looked after by the locals, but wild as they come. Nobody would dream of attempting to tame one, neuter them, address the number of kittens around the place. It’s not the Maltese way, and it kind of works. Pet cats are house cats, and ne’er the twain shall meet. And I get it, and I sort of like it, it fascinates me, while also knowing it could never happen here, and I’m OK with that.
A different culture
It is good to visit a different culture with a sense of observation, not judgement. It is good to interact with that community, not just use it as a sunbed. Chris is looking to develop his tours so that they give back to the community, via food tours that showcase independent restauranteurs, through interacting with the church schools a little more to help the children with their English and any number of ways I haven’t heard about yet. Go to Malta, or go somewhere else new. Go with the intention of re-charging your batteries, but go with an open heart and an open soul, a sense of observation and learning. Come back restored, ready to engage with your sense of miġnuna to work and play with integrity and love, regardless of the poverty of the soil and light the world might give you in return.
Joyce and I will be starting a Travel Vlog soon, The Wandering Biographers. Watch this space, or contact us for more details