Category Archives: Analysis and commentary

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.

Building Friendships event in Msida

The first day of September was rich in intercultural events: Appogg (the governmental youth agency) and UNHCR Malta brought several communities together to share food and traditional music in Msida, targeting mostly families in their Building Friendships event, and Spark15, a young migrants’ NGO, publicized a contemporary music and games event in Valletta. It was a tough choice, but Msida and Valletta being relatively close, I expected to make it to both. The first one was attractive for the opportunity to meet organized diaspora communities in Malta. The second one promised an energetic and youthful vibe.

Msida, home of Malta’s junior college, is a well-connected town by the sea. With the event taking place opposite the church, there was a good chance that passers-by would spot it and spontaneously decide to join. The center of the square was kept free for folk dancing performances, and several food stalls were arranged in a semicircle, offering Palestinian/ Levantine, Bangladeshi, Ghanaian, Maltese and Somali food, with face-painting and drums workshops in between. Continue reading

The dangers of NOT being a happy camper while living abroad

One day I was browsing the Expats Malta Facebook group, when a discussion about pros and cons of living in Malta caught my eye. The group is too active for me to find it again, but basically (<- that′s a strongly beloved word among the locals) it was a flood of reactions to a British person criticizing healthcare, streets, and people′s attitudes in Malta. Soon enough she was told to go back to her country.

It inspired me to draw this comic. Continue reading

Hot & cold, or how a New Yorker article explained Malta to me

When I came across an article about a glossary of positive emotions in the New Yorker, the idea was far from new to me. But this important quote is worth rethinking:

Lomas has noted several interesting patterns. A handful of Northern European languages, for instance, have terms that describe a sort of existential coziness. The words—koselig (Norwegian), mysa (Swedish), hygge (Danish), and gezellig (Dutch)—convey both physical and emotional comfort. “[…] In contrast, more Southern European cultures have some words about being outside and strolling around and savoring the atmosphere. And those words”—like the French flâner and the Greek volta—“might be more likely to emerge in those cultures.”

This theme comes up in many of my conversations about perceptions of cold with Mediterranean people. I certainly relate to the Nordic idea of doing one′s best to feel hyggelig as much as possible, if not most of the time – this, however, doesn′t apply to British people, who seem to like exposing themselves to cold as long as the sun shines on them. Continue reading

Maltese festival, Armenian violinist and habitus questions

Social theorist Pierre Bourdieu famously defined the sum of acquired tastes and various dispositions as habitus – not exactly an over-structure where individuals merely participate, but neither an individual portfolio of competences, crafted upon a free choice among components. Although this theory is about everything and anything, I find it very useful both academically and in my own observations about societies.

On April 20th a friend and I went to see a free concert in Valletta – a part of the Malta International Music Festival. The concert hall, hidden somewhere inside the Mediterranean Conference Centre, looked long and small, and we wondered where we could enjoy the best acoustics. The crowd looked cheerful, and there were several dressed-up children with excited parents, suggesting that the Russia-based duo, Karen Shakhgaldyan (violin) and Natalia Sokolovskaya (piano) are not the only stars of the evening for some.

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False news, world literature maps, and why not anything goes for small countries

Culture reporting is every bit as serious as war reporting.
– My friend Alexandra Belopolsky, a culture reporter

Several of my Facebook friends shared this map, which claims to represent each country’s favorite book. How does one measure that, the creators did not bother to explain too much. A reddit list became the primary venue to crowdsource this information, but clearly the author came up with the list out of the blue and did not quite respond to comments. Some of my friends were pleased to find respectable works of literature representing their ancestral or adoptive homelands. Lithuanians, it seems, were left puzzled. Continue reading

Open day at Kaunas mosque

The community of Kaunas mosque provided an opportunity for anyone interested to go inside the unique Tatar mosque of Kaunas, to see a Muslim prayer, look around and enjoy food from various countries and cultures. The mosque has become an important contact point for old and new Muslim communities, the latter consisting of foreign students, workers, spouses of Lithuanians, expats and local converts. The 3000-strong Tatar community has been around for centuries and is can help their sisters and brothers in faith with accessing Lithuanian institutions, networking and, most importantly, feeling at home in this relatively homogeneous European society. Other functioning mosques are in distant small towns. Vilnius doesn′t have a mosque, and the current mayor, Remigijus Šimašius (liberal) made it clear that he will not do anything in his power to help establish one, even though, when Syrian and Iraqi refugees are resettled according to the EU scheme next year, the Muslim community in Vilnius will grow. There is not a single Shia mosque (most Shia Muslims are apparently from Azerbaijan), but Shia believers can attend Sunni services.

The weather is ugly in Lithuania, so I'm using a photo I made in spring

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Cyprus impressions: ancient ruins at your fingertips

As my travel companion Ugnė wrote (in Lithuanian), Cyprus is rich in well-preserved and accessible ruins, particularly in Famagusta, which she calls the capital of antique ruins. As I wrote in my earlier blog post, people interact with objects in a very direct and laid-back way. Sterility of museums seems to be alien to the local culture. There are museums, of course, but even in them visitors can come closer and interact with objects more directly.

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Cyprus reflections: a Middle Eastern collage

I continue blogging about my recent trip to Cyprus: all posts can be found using this tag. This post is inspired by my considerations as to where to put Cyprus on my travel map. It’s beyond geographical Europe, but South Cyprus is in the EU, so I categorized it as Europe. Still, traveling there made me think about the position of Cyprus in relation to its Middle Eastern neighbors.

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Cyprus reflections: relating to objects

The trip to Cyprus was long and adventurous enough to prompt all kinds of thoughts. But before I start describing specific places visited, I am planning to write a few posts on general observations from both sides, the North and the South. One of the observations I made during the trip is about how people relate to where their stuff comes from. I thought this relationship was more direct and genuine than I’ve seen in most of my travels. In Cyprus one is rarely too far from the source of things.

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