We, as a nation, are among the first to find fault with ourselves. We are far too critical and truly adept at finger pointing. We are ready to look down at whatever is Maltese, and are often critical of what we may have.
I am no exception. I, like most Maltese, do love my country, and what it stands for, though like most find I find it easy to fault.
So it was quite a pleasant eye opener to be reminded of just how special we can be, especially through the eyes of a visitor to our islands from far away Australia.
My cousin and her husband were sitting in our sitting room, sharing their experiences of Malta, on the day that it half the island flooded bringing all to a stand still. A day a truck passed them by in a Balzan street swamping father and five-year-old son. Swamped enough in foul smelling water to have to return home for a quick shower and a change of clothes.
I have not yet found reason to invest in a car, so have depended on the bus service as run by Transport Malta. On the whole I do not have much to complain about, its cheap, and I pay for the service that I get.
It is not often punctual, it’s very user unfriendly leaving young, old, healthy and infirm, waiting, standing in the scorching summer sun, or cold drenching windy winter, while drivers are either late, or keeping everybody waiting while they have a quick cup of tea, or, during the festive season, a quick celebratory whisky. I have seen them being offensive, racist, bullying, reckless, penny pinching, short changing, rabid thugs. Some simply do not care.
Yet if truth be told, with the exception of waiting at the mercy of the elements, most of the drivers are courteous and yes, often kind. It took my cousin to remind me of this when she shared two very positive experiences she had.
The first was when asking the driver how to get to the Valletta Waterfront, the driver not only showed them how to get there, but actually stopped the bus and followed them on foot for a short distance, while passengers waited on the bus. The passengers may not have been happy, but neither would they have begrudged the kindness being shown to a foreigner.
On missing the stop at Balluta and reaching the terminal, the bus driver asked my cousin to stay on board while he took the return trip explaining the different areas, St Andrew, Swieqi, St Julian, Balluta, as he took them back.
I was reminded of the times I’ve seen bus drivers helping elderly people off or on the bus, once even getting off the bus to help one old lady to cross the road.
Whether we want to accept it or not, bus drivers are not a breed unto themselves, neither do they come from a different genetic pool. Bus drivers are representative of us as a nation. We are as kind as we are bigoted, as understanding as we are bullying. We are as sympathetic as we are racist. We are not bus drivers, but we ALL Maltese.
Another positive example was at a small take-away where they ordered chicken burgers. My cousin was surprised that the chicken burgers she ordered were an actual chicken breast. When she pointed out to the owner cook that he may have made a mistake, he simply smiled, pleased, saying that he likes giving value in his food. She was also surprised at the low cost of the meal.
A far cry from many large and small eateries that not only are pretentiously over priced, but some also greedy enough to over charge foreigners.
Our island nation, with its proud history, can truly be magnificent; the village festa; the people sitting on the doorstep talking to their neighbours late into the warm summer nights; the marching bands, the shouting, swearing, the kindness, the screaming mothers and the crying or laughing children, playing football, tag or soldiers in the streets. These are what makes us what we are.
This is the experience my cousin referred to as a trip into the heart of the nation – differences among us, yes, but still one nation if two, or more, faces.
Photo: Gege Gatt