Monday, August 31, 2009

Relapses are made of this…

Anyone with ME knows that relapses are a fact of life. I should have seen it coming, the gradual increase of fuzziness in my head a warning sign, but optimism always wins and two weeks of feeling better (if not exactly ‘normal’) had led me astray.

Yesterday began almost as usual, except for feeling tired as I unzipped the mosquito net. The dizziness began unperceived, until at a certain moment I felt as if I’d tried walking around wearing a pair of half-inch thick glasses belonging to a myopic friend. From there I began to wonder if I’d been practicing my whirling dervish act for too long, and after a short phone call at around 10 am I had to give in and lie down.

I call these “lost days” – the days when I remain horizontal the whole day. If I’m lucky I can read a little. Mostly I sleep until the feeling of two bottles of wine too many along with a blow to the back of the head with a blunt instrument has begun to wear off, leaving me with a simple headache and low-grade fever.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ice Cream Heaven

I must admit to a passion for very good ice cream. When I was young my mother made ice cream at home using tins of sweetened condensed milk that I eagerly dipped a teaspoon into when I could get away with it. She had no special machine, but after an hour or so in the freezer, the tray would be brought out again, the icy mixture beaten in the Kenwood mixer, and then placed back into the freezer. The soft-serve ice cream in a cone with the “99 flake” from the summer ice cream van was a novelty, but the taste didn’t compare to my mother’s.

In the US my favourite ice cream is Ben & Jerry’s with wonderful wacky flavours such as “Chunky Monkey”, “Cherry Garcia”, and “New York Super Fudge Chunk”. Hilo Homemade in Hawaii was another favourite with flavours adapted to local taste: ginger and green tea among them! Here in Malta there’s clearly Italian influence at work; although the supermarkets are full of commercial brands of ice cream, locally made ice cream can also be found in the holiday resort areas. Here where I live – which could be either Qawra, Bugibba, or St Paul’s Bay depending on your interpretation of local maps – a narrow side street hides the best ice cream parlour I’ve found: “sotto Zero”, a gelateria making their own artisan gelato fresh daily on the premises, in full view of happy customers.

Sotto Zero is about twenty minutes’ walk from my flat, going at a slow pace. I can only get there when my energy levels are up and I’m feeling better than usual. One evening, a couple of weeks ago, I set out and had to give up half way there – my legs just wouldn’t carry me, and, disappointed, I had to admit that forging ahead was not in my best interest. The evenings I do make it, and can enjoy the delicious hazelnut and chocolate “Baci” gelato, I enjoy a double treat: the ice cream, and the pleasure of knowing I was well enough to make it there.

Hmmm, not sure about the blue smurf, but their vanilla is made with eggs and real vanilla bean - delicious!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Where in the World?

If you could choose to live anywhere in the world, where would you like to be? Why do you live where you are now? Is this where you were born and grew up, where your parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles live? Or have you been transplanted here in the search for work, for security, for a better life?

But if you could choose, and had the freedom to move, what would the criteria be? A good job, never mind the environment? Or clean air, quiet country lanes, a mountain view? Maybe the excitement of city life with theatre, concerts and shopping close by?

My own itchy feet are beginning to tingle again. The flat I'm renting is in the process of being sold and I'll have to move out around six months from now. I thought I'd just look for another flat close to this one - until I saw a notice of planning permission sought for the building next door. Construction in Malta is no joke, and is impossible to avoid. It's noisy - really, really noisy - thanks to the machines used to cut limestone blocks and tiles; it's dirty for the same reasons, the thick grey dust coats my windowsills even now; and it's slow and never stops - even in this recession. Ernle Bradford, writing about the Knights of St John in 1972, noted "Malta is in fact a giant stone-quarry... and from neolithic times onwards it seems as if this mass of easily-quarryable stone has induced a paroxysm of building in the island's inhabitants." (The Shield and the Sword: Ernle Bradford, p.204)

If you have the perfect place in mind: peaceful (in all senses of the word), with green trees, a blue ocean, glorious mountains, and - of course - affordable accommodation, let me know where it is!

Sun setting behind Gozo, viewed from Qawra, Malta - not as peaceful as it looks.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Where were you on the 31st July 1966?

I'm not a football fan, but the sense of excitement watching the World Cup final between England and Germany, which went into overtime, on that sunny summer Saturday afternoon has never left me. I was at the house of a school friend in the leafy green sleepy town of Harrogate, back in the days when I could take off for the afternoon on my bike, no questions asked.

The years and other World Cups slipped by without my noticing. It was only in 2002 that I became aware of the international soccer tournament again, this time because I was watching in the compound of UNTAET - the UN mission to East Timor. There were supporters for every team in the audience around the TV screens, always someone ready to cheer on their countrymen. I managed to repeat that experience while working in DR Congo in 2006, surrounded by MONUC peacekeepers.

In 2010 the World Cup will be held in South Africa. Hundreds of thousands of South African children will be watching the matches at the stadiums and at home on television. That thrill and exhilaration will be something to remember for the rest of their lives.


Football for Peace: teenage girls and boys from different villages get ready to play in South Kivu, DR Congo, 22nd September, 2007. Most children in African countries play in their bare feet using a football made from plastic bags tied up with bits of string.

The girls' team with their coaches.

The boys' team is ready to play.

Only one of these girls is wearing football boots.

Opposing girls' teams line up: note the state of the pitch!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Buses take energy

About once every four to six weeks I feel like I've saved up enough energy to undertake an activity more demanding than my usual routine. This always, without fail, ends in another crash - but I go anyway. Yesterday I took the bus into Sliema, a 25-minute bus ride from here. There is actually a printed schedule for this service, posted up at the bus stop. I arrived ten minutes early, because you never know your luck. The bus came ten minutes late. I sat next to my neighbour, an American who lives in Paris and is working here for the summer at the Mediterraneo Marine Park which the bus passes on the coast road towards Sliema. He and two other park employees rang the bell for their stop. The driver, ignoring the bell, rattled past and only slowed down several hundred yards later. The three young people were not amused, but didn't waste their time complaining.

Two hours on, well into the heat of the day, my shopping done and visits concluded, I headed for the bus stop at the Sliema Ferries, only to see the bus I was hoping to catch pulling away - on time, of course! The next bus was due in twenty minutes. It never showed. The scheduled bus after that finally came along ten minutes late. The driver must have done his training in a dodgem car and I seriously wondered if we'd make it back to Qawra without hitting another vehicle.

My brain was fried for the rest of the day. For hours I gazed stupidly and unproductively at the computer screen instead of taking a proper rest. For dinner I ate half a packet of corn cakes with butter instead of eating a sensible salad. When I went out to drag in my unwilling cat from the garden I almost got into a fight with a neighbour because I had difficulty explaining that I had not done what she thought I had done... and now I'll begin saving up my energy for the next escape from my prison with a view in six weeks' time.

Maltese bus - photo taken by a friend visiting in January.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cat Companions

My two cats, Fynn and Rushdie, have totally different characters. Fynn, the younger one, is totally a morning kinda guy. Up at the crack of dawn, meowing outside my bedroom door, he can't wait to get out into the garden below and start enjoying the day. Rushdie doesn't do mornings. She ignores Fynn, ignores me. Highly communicative, affectionate and lively later in the day, the early morning finds her still dozy on her favourite armchair.

Early morning yawn from Rushdie.

Fynn chasing the laundry.

Good Companions

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Polish Couch Surfer Writes Malta Blog!

My two Polish Couch Surfers moved into their own flat last night. One of them, Peter, is a 21 year-old student of International Relations and has begun writing a blog about his experiences here in Malta. I often find it interesting to read about what other people find quirky and strange in a place that I know well. If you're interested in such musings too, Peter's blog can be found here:

I'm impressed by his writing skills in English. I wonder how many British, US or Australian 21 year-olds can write as well in a second language? The general lack of second language skills among young native English speakers is a sad indictment of the arrogance of the English-speaking world.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hot and Humid

This is the time of year in Malta that reminds me of Timor. I'm pouring sweat just sitting still. Yesterday I was out for my fortnightly trip to the supermarket in Birkirkara (often written B'kara) with my friend Lenore, and we were reassuring each other that the end of summer was in sight, "only four more weeks of this weather", and "the sun's setting earlier these days". Yes, I complained all winter about how cold it was, and now I can't wait for summer to end! But at the moment I'm stuck indoors most days from around 9 am until 7 pm because the sun is simply too strong and too hot for my body to take - even equipped with dark sunglasses, hat and parasol (well, my umbrella). Roll on September!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Elephant in the Room

I really, really need to get into the habit of writing short blog posts - if not, my blog will simply shrivel up and disappear, just like I'm doing. My challenge is to find a new direction for the blog. When I began it I was working in Rwanda and fully expected to continue living the interesting and challenging life full of great photo opportunities for some time to come. The purpose of the blog was to share some details of that life with family and friends, and to avoid writing those annual e-mail messages to everyone, where I tried to cram everything into one letter. I don't actually (in spite of recent posts) want this to become a blog all about myalgic encephalomyelitis - I'd like to get beyond that, even though it's the elephant in the room of my life.