Author Archives: Daiva

Things I would take with me for moving countries (I)

The headache of packing a huge suitcase before the trip. The compulsory journey to Ikea in a new location. The equations and calculations – how many clothes, how many decorative items, if any, how many things for daily life… I certainly don’t miss any of those. These were my chores of moving to a new country, and I’ve lived in quite a few – usually for various short-term projects or interships. The stay in Malta is my longest, and perhaps it’s a good chance to contemplate how I would do it differently today.

Moving to Sweden in 2006 and moving to Malta recently are worlds apart in terms of logistics and my skills in moving around. When my bestie at the time and I set off to our Erasmus adventure on the opposite ends of Europe, we dreaded the thought of having to buy various utensils, bed linen and the like. My friend decided to take as much stuff as she could possibly carry, and I thought I’ll freeride on the shared kitchen. When I arrived, I found out that the previous student had left some bedsheets behind, which I happily used. In Budapest two years later, I bought some simple things at Ikea and left a box for a student I knew when I moved out – I was told the box travelled for several years to come from one Lithuanian student to another. Buying mugs, forks and pillowcases in each new country is annoying.

Since then I am continuously working to optimise my luggage when I travel, and so moving into a new life abroad would not be tremendously different from a trip on a low-cost airline. These are the tips I’d like to pass on to movers of today.

  1. Think about the various occasions you are likely to have in your new country. Will you be required to wear formal clothes every day? Are you excited about some outdoor activities your adoptive homeland will offer? What will the weather be when you arrive? Start following it on your weather app two weeks before the trip.
  2. Modify your travel kit. These are some of the things I would certainly take with me if I was to move countries again.

1 – large scarf, which doubles as a blanket, a shawl or a cushion when needed. 2 – a black wrinkle-proof blouse. I’ve had it since my first big trip to Japan. It’s easy to combine with any colours and suitable for formal-ish occasions. 3 – ‘hippie’ trousers to wear at home or at the beach, or to put on top of something shorter when you need to enter a temple or something. 4 – fast-drying Adidas trousers I got for my trip to Thailand. 5 – something small and practical given to you by your friends or family. Your new home might look sterile and lonely for a while, so it’s essential to have something that brings good memories. At the same time, there’s no reason to clutter the luggage and the new place. In my case, I brought an owl-shaped jewellery box given to me by my habitual travel companion, Ugnė. 7 – there’s no way to be without a pair of jeans, especially in winter.

8 – a set of smart towels: beach, hand and body towels optimised for travel (fast-drying, extra compact, etc). 9 – sleeping bag liner to avoid frantically searching for bed linen around your new place, for staying with friends until you find a place, or for various other occasions. Plus the other things I got for my trip to the US. 10 – a top that is actually only connected sleeves. It transforms a T-shirt into a somewhat smart-casual long-sleeved top. 11 – a silk blouse, which takes next to no space and makes me look effortlessly chic. 12 – a nostalgia item. In my case it’s a monkey photo peg, in which I keep printed photos of people I love. 13 – a dress, and I say this as someone who doesn’t like dresses. There are some occasions where a dress is extremely practical, and the beach is one. In my case it’s a thin wrinkle-proof summery dress which can be transformed into something more formal with No. 10 and a necklace, or sort of smart-casual with No. 14. 14 – my new most amazing amazingness, a linen blazer which looks respectable but is comfortable and wind-proof. Its previous owner, who sold it to me at a clothing swap in Malta, told me that I’ll want to wear it all the time – and I do. 15 – a windbreaker jacket. Thin enough for late spring and Northern summer, it can be boosted for warmth with some sweaters underneath.

And yes, the rest of the space reserved for clothing in my suitcase would be turtlenecks and a couple of sweaters. When it comes to shoes, I’d say, winter boots (yes, I need them even in Malta), running shoes, ballerinas, sandals and some kind of formal shoes, and/or anything that the seasons demand.

Once you make a set like this, you’ll be good to go for at least a few weeks in your new location, if not longer. And you’ll also have space in your suitcase for exotic goodies from your country to surprise any new friends you will make.

Unpublished stories: Archaeologist of corruption assassinated in Malta

Shortly after the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, I had my pitch accepted by the Equal Times, which turned into an article about the murder and DCG’s place in the society. As Malta marks half a year since her death, below I’m posting an edited version of the bits I prepared while doing research on her work last year but ended up not using in my article.

Experiences like [those quoted in the article] show how divided Malta remains under the public displays of unity in protests that rock the country’s capital demanding justice and resignation of the very officials Caruana Galizia used to criticise on her blog. Caruana Galizia had made enemies not only with her poignant writing about politicians, but also her unconcealed contempt for the Maltese working-class subculture. In her columns, she insisted on holding public personalities to standard in taste just as much as in transparency. “I am fed up of living in a society dominated by savagely aspirational hamalli,” she wrote in her blog post about the Prime Minister’s wife’s dress.

The blog, Running Commentary, subject to 42 pending libel suits at the time of the author’s death in a country that criminalises libel, was known to disregard the principle ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Yet Caruana Galizia made it clear that the concept of ‘proven guilty’ was elusive in the country where magistrates are politically appointed, people without a clean criminal record can still be recruited into the police force, and politicians with offshore companies keep their jobs. The blogger reported receiving threats, but refused police protection.

Switchboard of information

Having chosen archaeology for her university studies, Caruana Galizia could probably sense that she will be known for a different kind of digging. Before graduation, she was already a newspaper columnist. Her career spanned three decades, with her signature style developing in her columns for The Malta Independent. In 2008, she set up a blog, which soon surpassed established media houses in readership. Many Maltese not only turned to her blog for sharp, scathing reporting on the powerful, but also sent her tips on Gmail and WhatsApp whenever they saw the powerful overstepping any boundaries.

Using leaks and social network profiles, she sourced juicy stories and allegations about the lives, friendships and style choices of politicians and their family members, about journalists, and various officials small and big, leading her targets and opponents to withdraw from public life, explain themselves, or try to financially ruin her with lawsuits. The latest World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders places Malta on the 47th position globally, with criminalisation of libel as one of the main concerns, citing an incident when Caruana Galizia’s bank accounts were frozen “at the Economy Minister’s behest”. In the latest narrative report on Malta, Freedom House also points to lengthy legal proceedings.

Writing in a bipartisan country

Caruana Galizia started her career during the last years of the turbulent era of Labour Party’s government (1971-1987) in the two-party state. The Nationalist Party, currently in opposition, returned to office in 1987, but lost to Labour in 1996. The short-lived swing was enough to freeze the archipelago state’s EU bid, which drew much criticism from Caruana Galizia.

When Nationalists came to power for another 15 years and saw Malta become an EU member State, Caruana Galizia’s PR company, Proximus PR, received a governmental contract to consult the government on international outreach. Criticised for partisanship, she firmly believed that the centre-right party had a better record of honour, integrity and good taste. While frequently standing up to human rights, Caruana Galizia worried that these victories will preempt critical analysis of the government’s performance with regard to corruption. In January, she slammed Aditus, a human rights NGO, for extending the formal address, “Dear Prime Minister”, to the man she so despised.

One of her early columns (21/09/1997) proclaims that her anti-Labour views “are a result arrived at by means of rational thought, and not irrational sentiment or misplaced historical loyalty. That is freedom.” In the same column she promised that should the Nationalists take an anti-EU turn, she would withdraw her vote and ‘stay at home’. Her romance with the Nationalist party ended when it elected a new leader this year. Caruana Galizia went on to uncovered his association with members of the underworld, his offshore bank account and alleged dealings with a brothel owner in London. Delia denied holding offshore accounts, although he admitted being involved in the business dealings with the said client.

Being subject to many personal attacks had taken its toll on the relentless writer. Already in 1997, writing for The Malta Independent about government officials’ lavish trips abroad during Labour’s brief return to power, she confessed: “I am tired as hell.” (14/09/1997). “The problem with democracy is that WE can end up getting the government YOU deserve,” she wrote on her blog in 2008.

Drawing on mini canvas

I bought a few mini canvases from Nanu Nana on my last trip to Germany. I love using them outdoors in Malta.

In San Anton gardens

Near Hagar Qim temples

Ordering a coffee in Malta

Coffee is one of the greater joys of this life. But it’s important to know the cultural norms of each place to avoid disappointment – I learned it the hard way.

Rule No. 1 is easy: never order a coffee by saying just ‘coffee’. In Portugal, ‘coffee’ means ‘espresso’. In Luxembourg, Lithuania and many other places, it means a regular black coffee, which is a less diluted version of americano. In Malta, by default, ‘coffee’ it means tasteless instant drink. Fair enough, despite being so close to Sicily, this is what local people seem to enjoy. But if you, like me, like the continental style black coffee, espresso lungo is as close as it gets.

Rule No. 2: if you are in a very traditional place and ready for an instant coffee, don’t forget to remind them if you want it without milk. In traditional pubs, coffee or tea is served in a glass and with milk unless instructed otherwise.

Rule No. 3: if you want your coffee after the meal, better order it after you eat and someone comes to clear the plates. In Lithuania, I am used to ordering everything in one go, and it will most likely be assumed that coffee comes after food. As delicious as a meal can be, I prefer to leave with a taste of coffee. Many waiters double-check to confirm that the coffee should be served after the meal. Not here. When I ask for coffee after the meal, they often forget it. When I order everything in one go, I’m left with a cup of coffee to drink on empty stomach.

I don’t blame them – it’s just a very different culture, and I am slowly adapting my habits and informing others how to get what they want. So far ordering the food, waiting for the plates to be cleared and then ordering my espresso lungo seems to be the most efficient way to get it the way I like it.

What other coffee-related cultural practices should I know of?

Reducing plastic waste in Malta

A local blog entry on living plastic-free a whole month has been on my mind for a while. Being in the Mediterranean makes me more aware of plastic waste. In Egypt, gorgeous observation points and splendid buildings were often marred by piles of plastic waste accumulating around them. In Israel, all vendors insisted on packing everything in plastic. I collected these bags and took them with me to the market, but even with my restrictive habits, I had to vacate a full cupboard section of plastic bags before I moved out.

Now in Malta plastic bags are typically given by default, and they are not like the super useful Lithuanian plastic bags with handles, that can be used for carrying stuff and are easy to tie. On a windy morning, carelessly discarded garbage becomes a chaotic orchestra, with papers swishing about, cans rattling and plastic bags rustling. The news came out today that recycling has dropped in Malta, one of the least recycling countries in the EU, and so the crowded beautiful island is drowning in garbage. I’d like to imagine that perhaps the figures quoted in the newspaper are partly to do with people using less plastic and having less to discard, but I strongly doubt it.

To be honest, I think that plastic bags are generally a great product. They are excellent for separating things and keeping them clean. They protect stuff from the elements. I always try to have plastic bags with me and reuse them for many purposes – protecting my stuff from spills in my suitcase, isolating anything that may spill or doesn’t smell right (including brushes for oil colours), protecting my laptop of I suspect that my backpack may be vulnerable to strong sideways rain, protecting my feet if I feel that my shoes have started leaking, and there’s still a long way to go, storing seasonal items that may be exposed to dust, and transporting all kinds of objects. I really wish that one day we have a cheap biodegradable product to replace it.

I think that with growing awareness the problem of plastic bags will be easier to solve than others. After all, plastic bags are easy to clean, reusable and very useful at home. I would argue that packaging is a bigger problem. Looking at various products at a supermarket today, I realised that the majority of them had at least a patch of plastic. Also, things like cheese are rarely sold in anything else than plastic. I remember once seeing someone selling Maltese gbejnet from an open container, exposed to flies. It looked quite unappealling, so it would take a genuine commitment to plastic-free life to choose this over the neat two-piece packs at shops.

Plastic boxes used used for strawberries and various other fruit or vegetables are not a huge problem. I’ve always found it easy to give them away to vegetable vendors in Malta.

Plastic tubes, bottles and vacuum packaging are a bigger problem. Even organic products are sold in plastic. Theoretically some of it is reusable, but I’m yet to see an organic shop that offers refills.

So I guess it means back to the good old upcycling and reusing for now.

Valletta allows people to have fun for free, businesses predictably pissed

In anticipation of the opening of the Valletta – European Capital of Culture 2018 programme, the city of Valletta prepared a full list of activities for residents and visitors – local and foreign bands, an acrobat flown around by a giant balloon, interesting characters walking in the crowd, colourful projections and, finally, fireworks. As ugly as Mediterranean winters can be, the day was exceptionally nice, with almost no wind. Predictably, many people chose the main square of Valletta to meet the new year – it is estimated that there were around 85,000 attendees, which is around 13 times the population of Valletta!

Continue reading

Sustainable shopping in Malta at Tiffany’s SWAP

I thought it will be one of these events I click ‘interested’ on and never attend, but I was glad when a notification popped up as I was already in St. Julian’s. Tiffany Malta’s SWAP winter edition was the best shopping experience in Malta and I hope it will be repeated.

If you follow my blog, you probably know that shoppaholism is just about the antonym of me. I’m all for decluttering, reducing, reusing and living sustainably. Over this year I only went shopping for clothes in Malta twice, the other time being at a charity shop in Sliema with my friend. Yet charity shops in Malta are very far in quality from second-hand boutiques in Vilnius or other cities. The choice in local shops is limited, prices are high, and I pretty much have everything I need. But I enjoy supporting events like this, especially because it allows barter. Continue reading

Chocolate festival in Hamrun

I will not touch any chocolate again for at least a week, I thought, coming home from a sweet tooth trap in the South of the island, cheerfully chatting with my companions in Japanese. Friends from other countries told me that the now-annual chocolate festival in Hamrun is something you see once. It’s enough. This being my first year in Malta, I used the opportunity to experience this event, as each of its components sounded fun – sweet treats, festive atmosphere, and participation of diverse communities.

Continue reading