Having been on the move overseas working on international human rights issues, I’ve often found myself in the remotest of places yet even then, I’ve come across a Maltese person or someone who knows one. They say that there are six degrees of separation between every person on earth. At times like those, I think there are even fewer.
Once, I was on a secluded beach in northern Colombia. I had just come back from a conflict zone and decided to chill out a bit. Getting to the Tayrona area required a very long journey on some rickety buses. Once I got to my chosen secluded bus stop, I walked for about four hours and arrived at a beach. Without piped water and electricity, it was totally cut off from the world… or so I thought!
I met an Irish girl who was living in a nearby little village and when I told her I was Maltese, she said: “Yeah, I know a Maltese guy who lives in the nearby village of Taganga. He’s a diving instructor!” The guy turned out to be the son of a friend of mine who owns the bar next to my house in Malta. I’d once shared a hospital room with him after smashing my knee.
Another time through my job, I met a Maltese priest who was working in Burundi with the same humanitarian agency I was. While in Africa, he’d met a Maltese nun who was working in Tanzania – the sister of my mum’s best friend.
I was once in London for a meeting, and since I was working for a low-budget NGO, I decided to stay at the house of a former colleague; an Australian who’d worked with me in India. As I was preparing to go to the airport, an English friend of her flatmate walked through the door. During a brief chat, he said he was pleasantly surprised to find out I was from Malta, and told me he knew a Maltese person very well. It turned out his friend is the brother of a former class-mate of mine.
On a train in London, without me even opening my mouth, a little Maltese kid looked at me and told his mum: that guy looks Maltese! But how can a Maltese person be recognisable from other Mediterranean people without us even opening our mouths? Indeed, I can generally tell a Maltese person from a Sicilian or a Tunisian (our closest neighbours) – but somehow the only people I mistake for Maltese without them being so are the Lebanese. Perhaps our Phoenician roots are evident after all.
Maltese people are everywhere! And soon we may also have the first Maltese on Everest. It’s probably the only spot on earth never to have been set foot on by a Maltese person; but not for long!
Photo: Walter Lo Cascio