Sophisticated ant hill
When you approach Malta from the sea, it looks like a giant ant hill. It immerses from the ocean, on top of a solid block of sand stone. Malta has about 423.000 inhabitants on less than 316 km², not counting the over 1.000.000 tourists that visit the island. This makes it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
But like any good ant hill the hustle and bustle is only visible at particular moments (e.g. daily peak hour or the Sunday morning exit to the Marsaxlokk market). The inhabitants move around in a non-obtrusive, busy but orderly, manner at all other times.
The ant hill is also nifty and pretty to look at: Proud crusader fortresses and palaces towering out over it, lined with modern day or not so modern buildings, all made out of sand stone or painted in sand colour to ensure a nice blend.
Older than Stonehenge
Malta has been inhabited for 6000 years. The story goes that some prehistoric Sicilian farmers decided to row, drift, paddle or sail, to a soft sandstone outcrop 50 nautical miles further. Pots, pans, wives and life stock included. They picked Malta because of the moderate climate and fertile grounds and started building several Megalithic temples, most of them older than Stonehenge. It is impressive to see how people in that time already managed to construct temples out of solid stones, using all types of lifting techniques and no tools to speak of. Although the specific purpose of the cult is not always clear, a close-up of the intricate building structure reveals ‘windows’, ‘doors’ and carefully located gaps for rays of sun to indicate the time on the altars or illuminate specific rooms at specific times in the year. Like the Greek temples the megalithic buildings are situated in the most beautiful spots, overlooking the ocean, another island, … and make one wonder even more how they got all those big stones up there.
Home to crusaders
Malta has been inhabited ever since. Due to its strategic position to control the Mediterranean, Malta has always piqued the interest of the ruling tribes. After the Phoenicians, Vandals, Romans, and Arabs, the Norman rule started. Many remnants of all these different cultures can still be found and visited on the island. With it, many great stories are recounted.
For instance, Christianity was brought to the island when the apostle St-Paul got shipwrecked in St Paul’s Bay. He was on his way to Rome, to be tried. Before he was shipped off to Rome, he spread the Holy word. From then, Christian religion takes a prominent role in society.
Another one is that Charles V was looking for a suitable home for his loyal crusaders and their followers after they were forced to leave Rhodes (their base for the previous 200 years). In the 1500s he offered Malta to these Knights of St John. The successive grand masters guaranteed a time of great prosperity. They left the island littered with the great cities Valetta, Mdina, Rabat and numerous crusader castles, fortresses, palaces, and watch towers.
Malta served as the port of entry into the Christian world, and formed a bastion against Muslim invaders. The victory of the crusaders over the Ottomans is part of their proud history. ‘Rien n’est plus connu que le siège de Malte’ (Voltaire), especially as it cracked the Ottoman’s image of invincibility. The Ottoman threat has left a deep impression and was never quite erased from the country’s memory, resulting in a strong Christian heritage.
The small island also used to be the base for buccaneers. This is a type of ‘pirate’, appointed by his government, with an official mandate to attack enemy ships.
Geolocation also landed Malta smack in the middle of both world wars, as a safe haven, a refuelling, and storage place. It got the nick name ‘nurse of the med’ as all injured allied soldiers were sent there to convalesce. Because of its resistance during the heave bombing campaign it was awarded the King George cross.
Swell times in Malta
‘Magical Mawltaw’ warbles our favourite radio station. If you ask us why she deserves that name, then one thing is sure: sailors are guaranteed some swell times. But even more so, after playing around in the huge sea swells Malta radiates an aura of benevolent peacefulness.
This transpires on its people. Maltese are friendly, welcoming, and easy going. Modern day Malta is an example of multiculturalism and tolerance. The official languages are English and Malti. English is sung rather than spoken, in a laid back, melodious manner. Malti is an Arabic dialect with influences of Italian, French, and English.
What makes it ‘magical’ is the spirit of ancient civilisations, proud crusaders, and defiant islanders that lingers on. Apart from temples, palaces and cities straight out of a fairy tale Malta also has a few pleasant bays, adding to the magic.
A lesson from history?
Valletta was not only the base where we did most upgrades to our boat, it is also host to the ‘Happy Paws’ charity shop. The few items (ours or from the previous owner) that did not fit on the boat were dropped off there, and replaced by quite a few additions to our travel library. We picked up an interesting book there for the kids, on ancient civilisations. Reading through it with Gitane, it seemed mostly unclear why the great civilisations declined. Either it is attributed to forces of nature: a sudden climate change, persistent drought for a few years, a river that changes its course … At other times the civilisation is invaded or conquered by a stronger tribe. And less described but not less likely, the process where a society is slowly absorbed into another culture.
Being in Greece, seeing all the remnants of their great society versus the precarious economic situation they are in now, made us ponder the last option. How does the slide downhill happen? How do the people itself experience it? Is there an awareness of what is happening? Or is a general lack of interest one of the first signs? And it also makes us wonder where ‘Western civilisation’ is at at the moment? Or maybe, slightly easier: where is Europe at at the moment? And what are possible signs that Europe is on the brink of decline?
Taking a step back and looking at European society from a distance, we see the following signs of the process of decline setting in:
- We have created structures and hierarchies without purpose or reason. This diffuses power. But has as disadvantage that it clouds transparency, and prevents decision making (very often it is not clear who is allowed to decide on what) or problem solving approaches (the whole process becomes many-stepped, obtuse, and therefore very difficult to analyse and trouble shoot)
- With these superflues structures and hierarchies come rules. Many rules. Rules for the sake of rules. But do not dare to query them. The system, the machine of bureaucracy must be protected at all cost. Independent thought, creative thinking, voicing critique is not encouraged.
- We have been brainwashed for several decades with a socialist doctrine. This states that we are all the same and we all have rights. But, there are no responsibilities and no accountability. The social security system will provide. On the surface this looks comfortable and for some even desirable. But it comes at a price. As there can be no true equality and rights without responsibility and accountability. Self-esteem, respect for others, a goal in life, are tied in with accountability. Take accountability away, and the rest unravels… Not only is social security an untenable financial pyramid system, it is wide open to abuse. Because a supposed free gift does not have the same value nor gets the same respect as the hard-earned one. Our own hard-earned tax monies have been contributing for several generations to the system anonymously. For that long we feel no connection to it anymore, and we do not even think about the fact that 45% of our direct income goes to the shared piggy bank, called taxes.
- No longer feeling a connection does not limit itself to our income. It spreads further and turns into apathy. We feel disconnected from decision making. The normal response is not to go and hunt after happiness and look for Eldorado (the city of Gold) but to rather tend our own little garden (Candide by Voltaire). Or should we say, tend our fakebook. We spin ourselves a nice cocoon, hoping it will never turn into butterfly.
- Anyone with a background in teaching, educating, or psychology knows the importance of empowering the pupil. Confidence, independence, and critical thought can only grow from gradually bestowing more responsibility and decision power on an individual/ group/ nation. Taking away that decision power leads to a phenomenon called ‘learned helplessness’. Where the individual feels clueless and helpless to make even the smallest decision about his/her own life if they are not told exactly what to do.
- Another nice mantra with which we are brainwashed is that we have to be insured against every possible mishap that could happen. The underlying message confirms to an already ‘learned helpless’ and disempowered individual that (s)he is no longer able to handle any adversity.
In Europe we lead a comfortable life, perfectly safe and secure, … but everything comes at a price. The price Europeans are paying is extremely high: they have hollowed out their own culture. And because we are all the same and we all have rights, they opened the floodgates for tons of economic migrants that do not share the same values as they do in the hope that it will help to support the strained social security systems. The pyramid is busy collapsing due to the ageing population and sharply dropping birth rates. In their effort to do good and share their comfortable life with the rest of the world, they might have signed their own dead warrant. The incidents that at first filled them with horror (Islamic extremist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Berlin) have now become the new normal and are met by apathy. And like other great cultures they are unaware that theirs has crumbled and started its steep decline… They have turned into a flock of sheep, happily trotting along to the slaughter house.
The start of our crusade
So we ponder, setting off to Tunesia, and from there on the trip around selected parts of the world. The search for new impressions, areas that are less spoilt, where humans have not stampeded their footprints all over…
When we told a friend our Exodus would leave from Malta, she wrote back: how suitable to have the home of the crusaders as the starting point of your own crusade…