“What?!” you gasp, reeling from the news, for how could it be true.
“Dr. Black is dead?”
Days, weeks, maybe even just moments later, your thoughts return to the circumstances surrounding Dr. Black’s death. Isn’t it suspicious that a classy, social climber like Miss Scarlett would find herself snooping around in the basement? And why aren’t the local police force taking an interest in this case? Something fishy is going on and anyone aged eight or above should be interested in finding out what.
At least this was the premise behind introducing Cluedo, or Clue, to my students in Chengdu. But why introduce it at all? This goes back to a particular event taking place at my ESL school, Vertigo.
We had an entire week of “homestay”, or living with your teacher, to bat activities around. There were only so many times we could get the kids to race through activities like making the bed (a great game by the way), formal lessons, exploratory walks through the neighbourhood, and craft sessions. Most of these tending to be appropriate only during the day (see photos below). So then, what to do with long evenings? Board games.
I was fortunate to be working with Yoyo, a passionate language teacher of vivacious character. We had been teaching phonics together and had been focused on developing educational activities for the kids that would engage and interest the children. We were teaching kids aged from 3 to 9. Due to a lack of English language comprehension in our students we found that physical activities with verbal prompts produced a better level of engagement as well as a higher frequency of use. We saw this as using language in context. Games became a cornerstone in our teaching methods.
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Many of our activities were site based and used the materials immediately available to us. So in that respect we didn’t always need to create materials. For the youngest children, learning the interplay of nouns and verbs meant following instructions or giving instructions that resulted in funny outcomes. Sometimes this was revealing of the children’s perspective, many children loved saying things like, “Can you stand on the table?” because it was strictly prohibited otherwise. Or, as in the case of one little boy, “Can you kiss Teacher Sharon?” displaying what we supposed was an infant crush.
We had began moving to board games after we had played around for some time with floor mats. We had began looking at classic games and because of the upcoming “homestay” excursion, an oxymoron I know, I put together an adaptation of Cluedo which is available here for download.
The purpose of recreating it was simple; to fill time. The idea of teaching vocabulary was actually secondary and a bit naughty of me. I should have adapted the language to be simpler but became carried away.
The primary school children enjoyed playing the game and picked it up well with supervision. However I would recommend adapting the vocabulary further if you have the time and means to do so.
I’m providing in indesign file (via MEGA) and a PDF. The indesign file would require Adobe software to edit but if you are looking for a quick fix, the PDF should suit you fine. In either case, the file was designed to be printed on A4 paper then stuck together. We laminated ours.
* Updated on 24/11/2013. Original post: March 7, 2013.
NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 2012.
Libya. A country still struggling to come to grasps with its recent and evolving revolutionary history.
If you visit Libya, there is a fair chance that you will experience those cliches that are thrown about when speaking about Arab states. It is also likely that you will not see a the fighting that is brought up in the news, you won’t see life as it is lived on the fringes of Libyan society, and instead you will be shown the things that Libyans are typically proud of.
My portrait above was photographed towards the end of my 3 month stay in Libya and was when I had began to venture out more freely. Upon arriving the image that I had of Tripoli was not positive and still I would be lying if I left Libya with a merry impression of the national situation. However as I began to spend more time exploring the city my initial impression of life in Libya changed dramatically. I want to share with you the simple things that comprised my life here.
Keeping an open mind is good though it is often immediately blinding. It can mean assuming the best whilst not really understanding the problems right in front of you.
It was late in October when we went for a picnic at sunset along Triq Shott, the coastal road. This was interesting because on the one side was the sea, a strip of coast and litter, then on the other lay two three lane roads of traffic that was being monitored by rebel officers at the traffic lights. We were a group of five, having a picnic on the lane of grass between coast and road. Apart from one, we were all Europeans and the conversation kept returning to the various experiences that one or another of the Europeans had been through towards the end of the revolution. There was some talk of friends being mugged on the public buses. I had just arrived so I didn’t have a story to share. It was the first and last time we did something like this.
This image appears in another post but I am reusing it because previously I neglected to mention our car contained myself and three other Libyans. When we drove past these men they were extremely excited to find out who these troops were. They were particularly curious to discover whether they were American troops. To their disappointment it turned out that they were rebels in uniform and they were performing one of the many routine road checks that are made in an attempt to find war criminals who might be trying to travel around or escape the city.
Whilst not the best photo, I wanted to make an observation on the rapidly changing face of the suburban areas that I visited. Housing projects and extensions, one, two, or three, floors rising from the tops of old and established shop buildings. Either the government was easing laws on building development or businesses were were taking advantage of the fact that there would no-one enforcing development laws.
The Gharyan mountains are home to a number of interesting things including a number of underground cave homes. There are a number of renovated and modernised homes that can be found in the mountains though there are also many that have been neglected or used in a less interesting fashion. I was shown this example of a home early in November. Many of these examples of Libyan troglodyte architecture remain the property of neighbourhood families but, as in this case, the family elders don’t want to develop the space. In some cases these spaces are used as rubbish tips. This one hosts chickens.
This abandoned Italian church occupied a beautiful location though it had been ransacked over time. There was a little graffiti and a lot of bird poo. A few exquisitely tiled bathrooms were still in recognisable shape. This is the central church hall.
The trip to Sabratha proved the city ruins themselves to be more interesting than those of Leptis Magna which is the larger ruin near Tripoli. The reason for this was that Sabratha proved to have more little quirks than its larger sibling, including the fragment of a sculpture and the train tracks that were neglected by the Libyans and left by the Italians. Curiously, my Libyan companions assuredly told me that the tracks were Roman. Though this was questionable information, I trusted them when they told me that many of the sculptures had been stolen and that the mosaics were being continually reduced in number as tourists pick at them and take pieces as keepsakes.
We almost didn’t get to see these ruins because I didn’t have a copy of my passport with me. The security guard told us that he couldn’t let us in, however, the country being in the state that it is/was in he was persuaded that it is better to let the western foreigner in. The logic is still kind of lost on me although I understand that there is a sense racial prejudice at play.
My apartment was above a garage and was sandwiched between two slummy patches of ground. Both the front and the back of the house had been cleared in preparation for a building project that had been due to take place prior to the revolution. Since then, all international building contractors had left the country and government projects need to be reviewed by the new government before being resumed. Behind the strip of garages and houses that I lived on grew another strip of illegal quick build garages. Almost all of these were homes for the people working in the garages. They couldn’t have been there long but they had fairly continuous business.
The wasteland was occupied by a large number of stray cats and dogs and a considerable number of rats. On my first night I went shopping and purchased tomatoes. I decided to keep my vegetables outside and came to learn my first lesson about rats. They love tomatoes. I woke up late at night to see 8 or so grey blobs moving in the dark on the balcony. I was utterly confused as I went outside to investigate, the roundish blobs scattered across the balcony made no sense to my sleepy head. Picking one up I realised that they were my tomatoes that were on the floor and they had all been nibbled! I had to discard all my vegetables and I made note not to do the same thing again.
A few weeks later I had convinced myself that the rats would not be able to get onto the balcony. I had blocked the drain with a heavy sheet of glass. My belief was shattered when I saw one of the big black creatures scale the wall next to the balcony. No relief.
I’m an artist and Libya is not an obvious destination for people of my profession. However I had lived in Malta and had heard a lot about the country, I was curious to visit. The recent revolution in Libya also interested me, what did people think about Libya’s past and potential future? These questions burned in me and I wanted find answers that could also liberate Libya’s community. Incredibly I met a man on Couchsurfing who offered me an opportunity to work with him on developing his new business. This opportunity would not offer financial gain but could present me with a way into the community. I devised a project that would consist of a series of video workshops and would result in locally created short films that would reflect the state of the nation and give voice to a society that was struggling to be understood by Europeans at that time. After some consideration I contacted the British Council in Malta who in turn encouraged me to contact the BC in Libya to establish a connection so I could have support and so that the project could be realised. I also made preparations to leave Malta for Libya.
I arrived in Libya and my project was unable to be realised, the Libyan British Council didn’t once return my mail. My appreciable host in Libya covered my rent in Libya, though we had agreed to build his businesses image together since he was unable to pay me he chose to act more as an employer than a friend. Working for him under the Attomouh Company (Facebook) he paid me £150 a month for 8+ hours of office time a day 6 days a week. I had agreed to help develop his company so I took work home when I could and developed his website amongst other things. Unfortunately our relationship turned sour, in retrospect this was probably because business didn’t receive the expected boom from having a Westerner involved, and he began to inform me that I was useless every now and again.
Whilst conveying himself as exploitative, my “employer” had a curious side to him. He was actively involved what I perceived to be a genuinely valuable form of social development, creating proposals to help draw attention to problem areas in contemporary Libyan society, such as the elevated sense of community division that had resulted from the revolution. He also worked with members of a Libyan women’s rights group and appeared consequently in international news and also had connections with a number of other proactive and important groups working with the community. Whilst we didn’t exactly see eye to eye, and neither did our business end well, I would have to applaud his human rights projects and I hope that he can lead some to fruition.
Another interesting experience acquired whilst driving in Libya followed a minor collision between our car and a small truck. The vehicles came too close as they drove side by side, the damage sounded bad but was minor, only our wing mirror was lost.
A long and heated argument ensued wherein the drivers of both vehicles argued and accused each other of dangerous and negligent driving. After a while the tone changed. Since we had the only vehicle with damage the driver from the other vehicle was making sure that we had his details in case we wanted money to have it fixed. Then the conversation flipped, both drivers were mildly accepting that they could have been to blame, the truck driver can cover it, he is sorry, we are denying the offer, life has to go on, everyone shakes hands and we go on our way. I often saw incidents like this where dangerous driving, or EXTREMELY dangerous driving, leads to an argument and then an amicable hand shake. It’s how things roll in Tripoli.
Tripoli is peculiar. It is a capital city yet it is very quiet. There is a central square where protests happen (Martyr Square), where children rollerblade and skate (often holding onto cars and trailing behind them), where adults perform on motorbikes, swirling donuts, pulling wheelies, drifting and sustaining endo’s. I kept this picture of the bench in case someone asked whether Libyans have public seating. I quite liked the orange rope.
Libyan’s often joke that if a Westerner comes to Libya, and if he wants to survive, he should avoid Bazin. The joke refers to Christopher Stevens, the American Ambassador, whose last meal was Bazin before his murder following an attack on the American Embassy, September 2012. Bazin is tasty although very messy because it is eaten with ones hands. Libyans have a breakfast that is made by mixing the same flour used in Bazin with water and olive oil. My housemates had this breakfast with figs and olive oil. I enjoyed both, though it does take some getting used to.
Alcohol in Libya is either homemade or bought on Tripoli’s black market.
The alcohol in this image is quite typical, it is kept in a water bottle for the reason that water bottles are inconspicuous and can be sold, brought, and carried practically everywhere. The only problem is that no-one can tell you that much about what you are actually drinking, where it came from, or how it was made. It tastes like a harsh vodka or whisky.
Before visiting Libya, I had believed that the British had contributed shortcrust biscuits to Maltese cuisine and had caused thick pastries to exist there. The long and influential relationship that Libya has had with Malta became self-evident after living in Libya for two months. I note that identical slang is used in both countries.
Libyan brides have their own chair and their own party, all girls, no guys at all. Whilst the girls party hard, and flirt around with, well with each other. The guys have their own party somewhere else. Bizarrely, the rule determining that women and men do not met strangers of the opposite sex with the household is extended to include procedures throughout the wedding ceremony. There can be no congratulating both the bride and groom, one may only make a predetermined and engendered decision on who you do.
True the world over, the Libyan’s wedding day can be intensely emotional. Family members and even friends might be saying congratulations and goodbye to a bride for an unknown period of time. Especially if her groom lives outside of the city or if she marries to a particularly protective husband. During one personal experience of a Libyan wedding, I heard one of the brides brothers cry as he declared of the groom, “he is stealing her”. The bride was driven a few hours out into Tripoli’s surrounding countryside to the house where guests took a tea and a biscuit and the groom fires a few rounds off his M16 into the sky. “Its stupid and dangerous” the grooms father mutters rolling his eyes at the sound of the gun. The grooms father used to work for a British oil company but retired from the oil business 8 years ago. “We couldn’t celebrate like this under Gaddafi”, he adds, “now people are letting themselves go a bit.”
Leptis Magna is the biggest of the two roman sites outside of Tripoli. Unfortunately many of the sculptures have been stolen. However the site is still spectacular, the main gate is perhaps the highlight though with its ornate decoration.
These last photographs were my shared home for two months. The bedroom was good except the electricity was faulty, the lighting strobed, the plugs stopped working reliably, and the fridge turned out to be a freezer and wasn’t really good for fruit, vegetables, cheese and milk.
Sitting toilets were prevalent although toilet sets were rarely attached if present at all. Curiously some of my housemates appeared to use washing detergent, the kind for clothes, as soap.
Lastly my housemates were lovely. All guys, they only ate one dish, Macaroona. The oven was used for pasta storage and the fridge contained the other three ingredients; oil, tomato paste, and chilli.
As a friend once said when he visited me in my room, “You are living the simple but good life.”
An empirical review of the social and political concerns that characterise Libyan society. Observations of a society in transit, remnants of the fascist regime, between revolution and stability.(2377 words)
It is December in Tripoli and I am taking the public bus out from the city centre. I’m standing above a seated woman in her mid-20’s who has taken out a one dinar note that will be handed to the driver when she disembarks. I look on past her scarfed head as she deliberately folds the paper note in her hand, running a crease through Gaddafi’s printed body. Then with long painted fingernails she pinches Gaddafi’s face from the paper. Resting the note on her lap, she proceeds to shred Muammar Gaddafi’s face until the extract becomes too small for her to tear anymore and the pieces fall and scatter beneath her seat.
The one dinar note that boasts Muammar Gaddafi’s portrait is widely vandalized, an act that in many ways epitomizes Libya’s sustained hatred. A hatred for the previous leadership and a sign that the country is still living with the memories, reminders and traumas of that period. Despite being routinely defaced, the Dinar’s has not collapsed although purchases including bus fares are often twice the price they were during Gaddafi’s dictatorship. Muammar Gaddafi’s regime collapsed over a year ago but, as world media attests, Libya remains troubled by internal conflicts.
On Tripoli’s streets, concerns are voiced by regular office workers and students alike over extreme religious groups seizing influence amongst the desert people in the south. Rebel police perform routine car searches at road blocks in a hunt for wanted Gaddafi loyalists. As I was frequently warned by the Libyans whom I lived with, elsewhere in Libya rebels have turned vigilante, exploiting the lack of government organisation and absent social security. Even inside the capital city of Tripoli where I was based for two months in 2012, fears of gun crime remain high. A concern exacerbated by speculative knowledge of the number of weapons currently in circulation. Peculiarly, strangers will often boast of their weapon stash, I can recall the second day that I spent in Libya when I met a car mechanic who unexpectedly took me for coffee so he could practise his English. I never met him again but he bragged about his anti-tank weapon, his RPG, that “could be put together in seconds”, and yes he had used it.
Despite attempts to encourage weapon handovers, most households have stored weapons, from Kalashnikov’s to rocket propelled grenade launchers. Symptomatic of being a stranger in an unusual place, a wide variety of people will often come and speak with you. Sometimes the exchange is just to say something predictable as with one group of Benghazi rebels, all in their 30’s, on Martyr Square who wanted to see where I was from and state that they had fought against Gaddafi. Other interactions can result in longer relationships as with a group of four medical students, all 21, that I met on the bus. They too had guns and had fought in the revolution, though the sentiment from these young men was quite apprehensive of the sense of change the war had brought. As one put it, it is intimidating to shoot a gun “but once you have done it you are no longer scared”. Whilst it is widely trusted that the Libyan people will not carry or use these guns and as even those young students told me, “people are tired of fighting, we want to see things go back to normal,” there exist people who do use these weapons to commit crimes.
It seems thought that the worst of the revolution is over, business has resumed, entrepreneurs are taking opportunities, and people shop and participate in leisure activities. As this goes on though, government’s ministers repeatedly reassure the Libyan community that they are in a process of change; the country is restoring social security. More precisely, they mean to say there is no social security.
In December 2012 Libya democratically elected and decided upon a government. Libya’s appointed state leaders, elected ministers and political representatives, appear indisputably new. However Libya has been represented by supplementary ministers in many of its departments since before Muammar Gaddafi’s death, including those members of Libya’s transitory council. Those ministers who took occupations during the leadership of the transitory council of Libya are in most cases maintaining their positions. This is rising contest amongst some civilians who see the new government as failing to take the initiative in organising the country anew.
The immediate concerns being expressed are to do with Libya’s longterm future, its potential to function effectively as a democracy, and ultimately to do with risk of unethical practices by the country’s officials. The arguments being raised stress the importance of profiling ministers. If not by the current leadership, then internal security forces need to investigate the backgrounds of all political active figures and know where and from what background have they come. How did they acquire their role, did they experience or contribute to Gaddafi’s hierarchy of power, and how have they acted politically previously? In regards to this, members of the transitory council and the elected government are criticised for carrying out an obvious power seize. It is also contested whether the government should stringently reveal and remove ministers filtering through from the Gaddafi regime. The current government however does not appear to be interested in this question. Instead it has passed legislation protecting officials from political relegation if they’d aligned themselves oppositionally to Gaddafi before 20th March 2011. The publication of this legislation received some public disapproval though very few people rallied in protest.
The poor turnout, stated members of the protest, made them nervous and demonstrated a public lack of faith in protesting. Moreover it demonstrates how little the people want to participate in protests at a time when a concern for political transparency is questionable. Those Libyans present there on Martyr Square on the 16th of December were largely a mixture of international Libyans, working class civilians and members of society who had been criminalised by the Gaddafi regime. They insisted that Libya seeks to implement a policy of transparency as to prohibit the growth and dominance of corruption and social divides in the nation’s development. Led by a few louder members of the group, they protested that a new government should not allow Gaddafi ministers to take positions of power inside or outside of the Libyan government where it is within the power of the government to do so.
Clearly the issue of ethical practises when governing a country is a fundamental one. Gaddafi’s regime infamously propounded poor ethics that determinedly led to the revolution and Gaddafi’s demise. Character traits including moral corruption, money laundering, and exploitation of power, prominent during Gaddafi’s leadership, will not dissipate immediately. They will remain in the system as long as there is insufficient protection against them and whilst those who already have power and money are still able to use it for personal ends. As few government office positions are necessarily revealed or affected by elections, the government needs to act to apprehend and deter individuals who might be willing to corrupt the country’s development. This is not to suggest that government ministers should be paranoid of their colleagues, the government above all else must seek to maintain its internal effectiveness in cooperatively running the country. In other words, an important question needs to be answered: how can the public be sure that the government is acting in their interests?
Due to the Libyan government’s history of corruption, as well as the repression of creative or opinionated expressions, many Libyan civilians are sceptical of their government’s honesty, are disenchanted with the merits on offer, and are generally pessimistic of their career prospects. I lived with 10 Libyan men who all worked as if they were in the lower echelons of society as taxi drivers, car mechanics, and teachers. These men occupied jobs that in Britain or many other countries they would be relatively well off. This is certainly true for the status of a teacher. However these men were atypical of this bleak view on the future. Their work appears futureless and the surrounding culture oppressive, and from the teacher’s perspective, the students and the future population of Libya too unconcerned with its future, perceiving learning was an unnecessary chore to life. In this light it is clear that Libya still has a long way to go before it’s revolution is truly over and that in many ways the fight has not ended with Gaddafi. Over the next few years the government should be asked by its people to develop the national identity of the Libyan people, to improve the education system and increasingly to address the problems caused by political, racial, and sexual divisions that currently reside within Libyan society. These are by no means small tasks and solving such problems will mean transforming the way that the Libyan population thinks.
In regards to division, the post-revolution period has seen little change for women except that over the past few years women’s rights groups and awareness groups, such as the GBV program: International Medical Corps have been able to establish themselves. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by affairs affecting a young Libyan female acquaintance of my own who was employed on the GBV program until December 2012, even women’s rights groups are internally affected by unfair sexual politics wherein men are able to casually incite libel and usurp the authority of female workers. Not only does this inadvertently discredit the women involved, but detrimentally affects the course of women’s rights work. Significantly, the effect of the revolution altered racial and political divisions to much more noticeable effect.
With the release of a newspaper in the Tuareg language, Tifinagh, it appears that racial differences may be given space to relax. Libya’s varying indigenous ethnicities are relieved of direct repression against their identity. However, given that Malian Tuareg’s were employed by Gaddafi as mercenaries, Tuareg populations are still cast with as much mistrust and disdain as they ever were. I had a short stint in a student recruitment office called The Attomouh Company just outside of the city centre, the manager there was prone to state his mistrust for anyone Tuareg but it was not this that surprised me. Opposite the office on the other side of the road there would accumulate a great number of immigrant workers, they would place a symbol such as a hammer or brick near the road to tell drivers what skills they had to offer. Drivers could slow down and pick workers up for the best possible price, sometimes taking as many as 12 men on the back of a truck. Occasionally rebels or police would drive up and the workers would run away in fear. Later I was told by a work colleague at Attomouh that “the police were supposed to arrest them” but they would occasionally take the opportunity to “beat them up.” She told me,”sometimes they kill them, yes, its no problem, no-one cares.”
The great number of sub-saharan African immigrants to Libya add only to social prejudices. Illegal workers, South African’s, including Malian émigré, do not just hire themselves for work at a reduced rate but they also risk a number of abuses including questionable attacks by police forces during raids targeting illegal workers.
Perhaps the most complex social phenomenon is the political division that has torn apart entire communities. Whole families have been uprooted from their homes, extradited from their community, and then forced to relocate to another area. This group is distinguished by its support and loyalty to Gaddafi and its affiliations with Gaddafi sympathisers. A significant proportion of this community is composed of the wives and children of Gaddafi Loyalists. In the suburbs of Tripoli there are purportedly three such communities, or rather camps, that are host to these politically displaced Libyans. One in Felah, West Tripoli, is said to be host to a community of displaced Libyans from Tawergha.
These camps are cramped. Inhabitants of the camps live in metal buildings and each of these will host more than one family. These communities are largely segregated from, and distrusted by, the surrounding neighbourhood, are perceived as dangerous and thriving with thieves and drug dealers. The reality is that the people in these camps are often families who simply need a home and a community in which they can survive. Whilst security conditions have improved, human rights NGO’s within Tripoli, including the IMC’s GBV program, report that women and children in these camps have often been raped or abused.
In regards to trust and responsibility in the public domain, the pattern for corruption and exploitation appears to have been duplicated from the image set by the previous government. An observation that presents a new problem. How to maintain an incorruptible government when the public domain is wrought with corruption? Moreover how can we recognise this corruption and how does it manifest itself? Gaddafi’s dictatorship itself was thoroughly corrupt, money had been the key to power, and that which could not be won over by skill or aptitude could be won over by coercion or by financial means. On an important note, a polarised landscape appears to have formed wherein generosity and sincere kindness is brought into ever closer proximity with bribes, exploitation and poor employment ethics. Formal monetary transactions appear to receive a deficit of respect to the effect that some Libyans, as employees at a central Tripolitan coffee store on Istiklal Avenue informed me, demand and take payment for a days work at the end of the working day.
Libya can appear as though it’s slipping a downward spiral in a chase for money despite it’s changing face and new attitude towards itself. This observation though would not be giving Libya any credit for what it has overcome. The characteristics of Libyan society have been cut into shape by its history and only now can changes come about. Not only are there the old problems left behind by Gaddafi’s leadership but the revolution has borne its own ugly children. Some of these children are more the uglier for the fact that the government has yet to establish social security within the country. The question is whether the new leadership is able to address the country’s problems and lead it forwards, encouraging unity, national identity, and providing social security, education, and, most importantly, futures for Libyan citizens. Or will it attempt to restore an image of law and order that the population is familiar with, i.e. by reinstating a facsimile of the previous authoritarianism. These outcomes can only be seen with time. As acknowledged by many Libyans, they know there are many years of change to come. A popular piece of advice from shop owners, taxi drivers, the students I met, and my housemates, to all travellers is, “Libya is not a good place to visit. Come again, in five to ten years.” “Then,” they say, “Libya will be the new Dubai.”
Today the sun rose behind a soft blanket of clouds. It could have been any ordinary day in England however I was in Malta and an adventure was promptly due to take place. This adventure intended to reveal the location of a good source of freshly ground flour in Malta. Why, you might ask, would anyone consider this an adventure? If you are to say to me that it is not exactly the most challenging task to find flour, I would tell you that you are wrong, and if you tell me that this is not hazardous enough to be considered adventurous, I would say that on the contrary this is an adventure because the exploration into the unknown and the unknown can only be hazardous in that it is not definitively hazard-less. At any rate, during the early hours of morning on the 4th of April I burst out of the house in Valletta to begin an expedition documented by the retrograde camera on my mobile phone.
Valletta was in its usually faux-busy pre-business preparations for a day of selling pasta, jewellery, tea and ice cream to tourists. I passed the “Master” outlet situated on the marginal stretch of land between Valletta and the bus terminal. “Master”, for those who do not know, sells freshly made ricotta cheese. This might seem strange to those who would normally relegate such a small kiosk to the limited sale of cigarettes and soft drinks. I am afraid that people who do this are sadly misinformed.
According to my map I needed to catch a bus towards Saint Paul’s bay that would swing around Mosta. On the outskirts of Mosta their would be a small church in the middle of the road that divides it into two parts. I would disembark here and I would discover a granary, a mill, and freshly ground flour of the white and brown variety. Rumour has it that this granary is also a bakery and as bakeries are an integral part of social life it should be easy to locate with the help of the local people. I felt optimistic as I climbed onto the number 31 bus and sat right at the back so I could take a quick photograph.
The bus set off and I thought the woman’s hair in front of me should be documented. Note that she has dyed short hair, this is something of a vogue hairstyle for aging women here.
The roads are quite long and not very interesting but this has to be documented in some way shape or form. We also went past Mater Dei, this is a central hospital that is situated next to the university building.
After this I daydreamed a bit and looked for a majestic church that would sweep into view with a bakery clearly standing in close proximity to it. This never materialised and after passing a stumpy and squat little building with San Lawrence written at the bottom of it I began to realise that I had not only completely missed my stop but the bakery was not easy to spot.
I dismounted from the bus outside of the Mosta dome and set about walking back in the direction that I had came. My plan was to find the small church and then find the bakery. I felt as though good brown flour was not far away and this would be a turning point in my relationship with Maltese culture. When the brown flour runs through my fingers I will be not only deeper in my relationship with the raw foods in Malta but I will have found a place that is preserving and producing for the Maltese people and I will have reached a new level in my own understanding of the mechanics of the social food system.
Then the building veered into view as I turned the corner.
I verified it against my map.
My map seemed to be upside down and back to front but at least I was in the right place.
So I walked up and down and bit and I couldn’t see a bakery or a building that could double up as this bakery. I passed a mill but the mill has converted and not used as a bakery anymore. I began to wonder whether I had to get off the bus further down the road and walked along a little more. I found a confectioner who told me that the bakery where I could buy flour was across the road opposite a pink building. I went across the road, excited, this was the end, this was where the flour was, the bakery and it was very cool.
A set of 4 shops set opposite the pink building, two mini-markets, a butchers and one of those shops that sells plastic things like mop heads and buckets. There was no baker but on one grocer there was written the words confectioner. So I went inside. There was bread, there was brown bread, brown maltese loaves with oats and other loaves too. I looked for some evidence of baking but there was none. I asked the shopkeeper about bread, bakeries, mills and flour. He had never heard of any such thing in this area or even in Malta. But he sold flour brown and white.
I went to the shelf. I think I have found my Maltese treasure. I am not sure it is what I expected.
Disappointed I decided I had better by some flour because I hadn’t found it in Lidl and otherwise I would not be able to make flat bread, perogi, gnocci, ravioli, pancakes or any such thing. To console my shattered soul I brought a pack of dates and a pack of dried figs and left the shop. The figs were ok but I found a dried maggot in my second fig. Then I read the packaging and to my conclude to my dismay I realised the figs were 4 months out of date.
Butterfly balloons, Snow White, regal dress, fast food, techno, garish floats and bright sun. This is Carnival day in Valletta.
Techno, short skirts, jumping sailors, school girls, bright lights, big speakers, alcohol, burgers, sausages and stars. This is Carnival in Floriana at night.
Carnival in Valletta is widely perceived as being tame. Valletta’s partner in these seasonal celebrations is Gozo’s town, Nadur, which is considered to offer most authentic Carnival parties. Smaller events take place around the island but these are typically small scale periphery events. As a celebration Carnival is not new, in fact it precedes the arrival of the Knights to Malta and most likely precedes Christianity on the island. As such, similar to the origins of the festival’s Prinjolata, Malta’s Carnival celebrations seem to start nowhere. There is no clear date for why it started or where it comes from.
Due to close links with North Africa, Malta’s belief system and culture was heavily influenced by Egyptian and Arabic Culture. This is evidenced by artifacts that are a part of the Museum of Archeology’s unpublicized collection that were unearthed around Malta. This is one idea of many. Research into the origins of Carnival will bring you across articles such as this from suite101.com:
Such floats also rolled in Babylon, in honor of the God Marduk, and in Egypt, for Isis, the queen-goddess of life and light, who opens the year. Elements of this Isis-cult persevered in early Christianity (Isis was even connected to Mary). They point to Carnival’s nature as a celebration of the waning of winter, the return of a new year, and fertility.
The quote comes from an article by Katrien Vander Straeten and the floats that she talks about are the same as those that we see today. Note that during the British occupancy, the use of floats was banned for a period of time and this will have affected the way in which floats would have been used upon their reintroduction decades later.
In Christian history, it follows that the festival existed before the knights arrival in Malta. In 1530 when the Knights were granted the island of Malta by the King of Spain the festival was promoted and it’s popularity boomed. The use of masks is said to have been introduced to allow the knights to indulge in carnal activities though there is another proposition that appears. Namely that a great number of Christians were brought to the island and consequently festivities were themed to include masks so that people could celebrate together in an uninhibited manner. Despite this, it is possible that masks were all ready characteristic to the celebration as history suggests the event orientated around the fulfillment of carnal desires. In which case the masks would allow revelers a repose from their identity and their inhibitions.
It is quite easy to pass comment on Carnival’s connections with what are today the surreal and often grotesque. Though the infamy of Gozo’s festivities is worth thinking twice about. As a Christian celebration Carnival seems bizarre, the activities it promotes are quite unlike anything else the church suggests it has introduced. Another common suggestion for the roots of Carnival is that it was a Pagan festival, one that would celebrate Spring, Sun and Sex. But in a politically correct world this is quite in appropriate, and in a religiously conservative society such an idea is preposterous.
Vicki Ann Cremona has contributed writings of her research into Carnival in a number of publications (read: Two Hundred Years of colonial laughter in Malta). Her observations note that the modern day events have been shaped by the presence of the British forces in Malta. Particularly the introduction of Pantomime has played a key role in this cultural shaping. Other than Pantomime another key word that describes the occasion at Valletta is Modernism.
Carnival might be traditional but the customary presentation of prepubescent girls dancing to Pop music that is predominantly about female sexual objectification is arguably not. However the proceedings are curious displays of cultural identity. In particular, the contemporary identity of Carnival appears culturally young. If there was carnival music (circa 1400-1900), then it must have been live music, if there were dances then they must have been Maltese, if there was fancy dress then it must have been homemade. Today the music plays from speakers, the music is European and American, the dancing is mutually European and American, and the costumes are typically purchased from shops. The Maltese imagination and culture is clearly failing to make an appearance. Most saddening for the fact that it means that Western commercial values are taking precedence over Carnivals original objectives and the appearance of the event changes correspondingly.
Despite this lack of identity or heritage, the upbeat and casual Pop music blasting from expensive sound-systems at audiences who look on at young girls and boys dressed as dalmatians, dwarfs, burlesque performers and French Can-Can dancers, angels, super-power rangers. Is actually quite enjoyable. Only, you can’t take it seriously.
Arguably the most traditional aspect of this festival is the dear old Maltese lady, perched in her enclosed balcony, sat at the window. A mug of something in her hands. Two eyes over the window sill.