Today Eric drove us a short drive to this 1 hour circular walk. Simply beautiful. Ħajt tas-sejjieħ glowing in the Maltese sunlight with fields of green, mimosa and almond trees well and truly in the spring of their life cycles. Birdsong everywhere and a sky to die for. As I walked I tried to make sense of the sizeable number of people all over social media who attempt to shame people like us who continue to spend time in the Maltese countryside in the time of Covid-19.
It’s not like we’re at risk of becoming infected with Covid-19 in the countryside. We’re used to being outdoors; it’s something we have always done as a family. Obviously we practise social distancing and the odd time we see people in the distance we make sure that we are more than 2 metres away from them when we pass them.
It’s not like we’re breaching any measures introduced by the Superintendent of Public Health, Prof Charmaine Gauci either. This is what Legal Notice 112 of 2020 has to say about being outside:
The Superintendent of Public Health hereby orders that, in public spaces, groups of more than three (3) persons are prohibited including in queues and bus stops:
What do people understand by the word countryside, I wonder?
When I think back to the days before Covid-19 I remember the busy Sundays when we used to encounter picnickers by the roadside with everything but the kitchen sink – barbecues, picnic tables, chairs, the radio in the car full blast – having a wonderful time with their extended family and friends. Five minutes away from this cacophany of noise and there’s hardly anybody crossing your path.
Is this where the confusion lies? Do most people in Malta have a different idea of what is meant by ‘countryside’? Is this what they imagine constitutes a visit to the countryside?
And then I understand. Most people have become detached from nature. They see it as extraneous. As though human beings have absolutely nothing to do with nature. As though human beings do not essentially depend on nature. The trees taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Maltese agriculture producing our vegetables, our fruit and indirectly our meat. We get most of our food from abroad, don’t we. Agriculture is unimportant. We can get by without it. Or so people think.
The people who do not see anything wrong in mature trees being chopped down to make way for wider roads to accommodate yet more four by fours are the same people who think that going out in the countryside simply means taming it to suit your needs, to park the car in a field or by a food stall. Do they move any distance at all from their car? No, not at all.
I take this thought further still. Of course, this is the reason why the Maltese Planning Authority is allowed to continue with its trail of destruction everywhere it stamps a dirty APPROVED all over the paperwork. People are ok with state sanctioned attempts to tame the earth.
Most people do not appreciate nature. It’s as simple as that. They don’t understand that, for some, being in touch with nature is an essential. It’s healing. It’s as essential as the oxygen you breathe and the food you eat.
Now imagine if most people did appreciate nature. If they did roam the countryside and marvel at its beauty. If they didn’t stop by the roadside just to mimic their living rooms.
How I wish Covid-19 would make people understand the fragility of our existence. How one minute you are lording it over Planet Earth, abusing it, wrenching trees from it, polluting it with pesticides, spreading concrete over it, building in valleys... And then the next you are forbidden from seeing people other than the people in your own household. All because of a microscopic pathogen. If only every single person roamed the countryside, and marvelled at its beauty, we would maybe then stand a better chance of living in harmony with nature. We would maybe then respect our place in the circle of life which includes so many other living organisms. We are not the be all and end all.
If we are not good at understanding that we share the planet with thousands of other species, we are also not good at showing solidarity with members of our own species who need help. Our leaders are letting us down again. Prevaricating about the saving of lives. I am numb with the constant failures of leadership everywhere I look. How do we deal with this? I so hope that when I wake up later on today, the crisis has been averted and social justice prevails.
Today I had a glimpse of what our education system will look like around the time I retire. No, I don't mean that our students and teachers will no longer be in a physical classroom. All I can say is that I can see how the technology out there, that I didn't even know existed, is going to augment and organise our learning and teaching into something more manageable and, at the same time, infinite, in its scope to reach and engage all pupils.
Today, I attended the last 2 of the 3 webinars on Microsoft Teams. This was a taster. The objective was to show the possibilities and not to make us proficient. That will take years. It had to take the tiny pathogen Covid-19 to kick start a shift in the way we use available technology to enhance the learning and teaching experience in our classrooms.
After the heavy rain of a few days ago, our electric oven was tripping the circuit breaker every time I put the oven on. A reminder that all is not well with our electrical wiring. This is not the first time it has happened. Like the last time, the oven eventually - once the wiring dried, I suppose - stopped the tripping. How I'd love to gut the kitchen and start again, wiring and all.
I find the idea of finding an electrician to do some work daunting in the best of times. In the time of Covid-19 I didn't even bother going through the motions of looking for one. I recently read about a woman whose washing machine broke down. Her new washing machine was delivered to her doorstep but the person delivering it refused to enter the house so there it remained.
All this made me stop and think of my grandmother's generation. My grandmother had 5 children under the age of 7 during World War II. She went on to have 3 more after the war. How on earth did people manage the hurly burly of running a household with that many children, without a washing machine or the internet or any number of things we take for granted?
I suppose you make do if you have to. You make the best of things. I'd already identified some hob recipes - kusksu, froġa, soups... My mum reminded me about qarabagħli mimli in broth today. I think I'll still go ahead and put it on the menu for next week.
For years now I haven’t felt quite right. I find it hard to switch off. I’ve gone from somebody who used to enjoy her holidays after intense terms at school to somebody who doesn’t get as much enjoyment from them any more. From the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, I feel wired most of the time. It’s like there is a before and an after. I’m still trying to pinpoint the event in my life which came just after the before and just before the after. I suspect it’s the years of grind, of relentless struggle, the days after that day in August 2013 when I stood at the check out with my son and the bottom of my world fell out.
It’s as though my physiology has become accustomed to the adrenalin, as though I’m in a constant flight or fight response. It doesn’t help that there hasn’t been resolution to all the conflicts. It doesn’t help, of course, that I am surrounded everywhere I look by people even more traumatised by the dysfunctional malevolence of the Maltese state. Every time some calamity befalls another person, I’m there feeling that blast of callous, indifferent malice with them.
My only reprieve is when I’m out with my family in the countryside I love. Or in the sea. Or lost in a book or a good film.
So, this Covid-19 quasi quarantine would be a good time for me to get to the bottom of this, once and for all, I've been thinking. A time where I could be kind to myself and find some way back to being the person I used to be, if that is at all possible.
I will get there. But maybe not this week. Distance teaching is more time consuming than I thought. There are also possibilities to explore, skills I want to learn. Microsoft teams, for example. Paperless learning – I’m intrigued by the possibilities of that. The distillation of a lesson into its essence. With all the anecdotes to illustrate a teaching point, the questions, the examples...
This evening I watched Immanuel Mifsud recite his beautiful poetry. So generous of him to distract us away from the trials and tribulations of this period in time. Later we watched Marriage Story on Netflix. Amazing performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. All in all an emotional evening.
These are a few of the major news stories of the week:
If Steward Ltd contract is rescinded, ex Minister Konrad Mizzi has fixed it so that the Maltese government - ie. us - will still have to pay Steward Ltd 100 million euro.
Yesterday was the first month anniversary of the death of Miriam Pace in the rubble of her own home.
On Monday, 6th April, it will be 1 year since the racially motivated murder of Lassana Cisse.
There is a huge data leak of various personal details of 337 384 voters compiled by C-Planet IT Solutions Ltd for PL, with an indication of voting preference .
Everything has been turned on its head by Covid-19. Yesterday was meant to have been Senior V’s last day at school. There is huge uncertainty as to what’s going to happen re their SEC exams. Today Minister of Health Chris Fearne announced further measures to reduce the rate of infection by Covid-19. One of them is the mandatory lockdown of chronically ill people under the age of 65 and all people over 65. We are going to have to find a way to make sure that mum’s needs are met whilst at the same time keeping our distance away from her.
Today wasn’t as productive a day as yesterday. Yesterday I was on a roll, moving from task to task efficiently and with motivation. Today, not so much. I think a walk in the early morning should help with this.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to get to grips with the maths of Covid-19. My maths never progressed beyond O level. However, I have always been fascinated by numbers. In a way, numbers speak to me. All the contact tracing described by Superintendent of Public Health Professor Charmaine Gauci in her news conferences reassures. For some reason, an image is conjured up of a fire break in a forest, stopping a fire from progressing further. Every one of the infected people identified and quarantined is a fire break in my head.
A few days ago I came across this Channel 4 News clip of Professor Hugh Montgomery comparing the contagiousness of the influenza virus with that of the Covid-19 virus. In this video clip, Professor Montgomery describes how one person with influenza will infect on average 14 people if the virus is passed on ten times. Whilst one person with Covid-19 will infect on average 59 000 people if the virus is allowed to be passed on ten times. So I used Excel to do the maths because I couldn’t quite see how there could be this huge difference. And, of course, he’s absolutely right. Hence the importance of the contact tracing. Every infected person stopped from infecting anybody else will mean that they will not be responsible for the potential infection of 59 049 more people with Covid-19.
A virus replicates itself exponentially. The contagion of Covid-19 grows exponentially. One person gets it and then infects 3 people on average. The 3 becomes 9, the 9 becomes 27… Before you know it, the 19 683 becomes
59 049. Every contagion stopped is a victory.
The name of the game is flattening the curve. When the number of cases of Covid-19 is plotted against time, you get an exponential growth curve. The graph isn’t a straight line because the increase in the number of cases is not constant. Instead the rate of infection increases so the slope of the graph increases too. This is what creates the upwards curve. If no measures were taken to control the rate of infection, then the graph would be extremely steep, rising to a peak well above the country’s healthcare system capacity. We’ve seen this in Italy and other countries. We need to flatten the curve so that the peak is never beyond the Maltese healthcare system capacity. Yes, this means that we’re going to have to live with Covid-19 for a longer time but better this than what we see happening in Italy and elsewhere.
Thursday, March 12th was the day we were told that our school was closing because of Covid-19. Therefore we’ve had 11 days of a new normal.
Today I scanned solutions to the questions I set for one class last week and posted them on our school management system. Yesterday I prepared an independent learning lesson plan for another class. A 40 minute lesson took hours to prepare. You see, I had to write about stuff I would normally elicit from the class. Or write about analogies that I would come up with during the lesson to drive the point home. There’s always the unexpected question or the Eureka moment when I or the students understood what the sticking point was. The dynamic of class teaching is ever changing, fluid and provides constant feedback. Distance learning is a completely different ball game and is taking some getting used to. The jury is out on how effective it is. It doesn’t help that we went from classroom teaching to distance learning overnight. I must say that I very much miss the banter and the dynamic of a lively classroom.
We’re trying to limit the amount of shopping trips we have to make. Apparently slots for internet shopping delivery are currently available two weeks away so today I bit the bullet and did a much needed food shop for mum and us. My temperature was checked before I entered the shop and sanitiser was availed of. People wore masks and gloves, and kept a wide berth. In a matter of days shopping has become an altogether surreal experience.
Today my world was small – family, shopping, mum, school work, chats with colleagues… I thought I’d have a lot more free time on my hands but today I found myself falling asleep on the sofa at 8:30 pm. Time to consolidate, regroup, concentrate on the essential.
Mum’s blood sugar level was all over the place yesterday. So my brother and I spent the day with her, trying to get to the bottom of what was going on. What sparked concern was that her first blood sugar level reading of the day was 30 mmol/l, immediately followed by one which was much lower. So we consulted a doctor who wondered whether the test strip had been contaminated. Mum was observed putting her fingers near her mouth. Saliva contains the enzyme amylase which begins to convert starches to sugars in the mouth. So mum retested after washing her hands et voila! – her blood sugar level was now 15 mmol/l. I love how science can provide definitive answers to puzzles like this.
Euronews was on in the background as we set out to organise the kitchen, do some food shopping and prepare some diabetic appropriate meals. All over the world, we have social distancing measures gathering apace. The situation in Italy – heartbreaking. Covid-19 deaths in Spain reaching 1000. What are we to do if the situation worsens in Malta? Would we be able to see to mum’s needs in the same way?
Mum gave me her bananas that had turned overripe. Today we made a banana bread. Tasty, although the boys weren’t too keen on the coconut. Next time I think I’ll substitute the coconut oil with butter and make one larger loaf instead.
Covid-19 dominates the agenda of the day, the country and the world. It masks the previous dysfunction and agendas. It’s on everybody’s mind. The many priorities of urgency shifting rank before our eyes and to our dismay.
One of my flights of fancy is that the Covid-19 emergency will somehow force a solution to the many systemic and structural problems in the way our country is run. I feel uneasy at how all the pressing problems before Covid-19 hit Malta have been put on the back burner. I feel angry that all the politicians and people implicated in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia have not yet faced justice. That Miriam Pace died in the rubble of her own home when we had so many lucky escapes by so many people a few months prior to that. That all the people who lost their homes in these months have not yet had any redress or access to justice.
The politicians are not yet humbled. I want to see them humbled. I want them to be racked with guilt and remorse. But no. They continue with the outrages. They continue with their unholy alliances with the entitled lobbies. The contractor who worked on the construction site adjoining Miriam Pace’s home, still working away on building a road. This collapsed a few days ago. Silvio Schembri, Economy Minister, announcing that any foreigner who lost their job would be deported immediately. Just like that. Let’s use you and then discard you when you have nothing useful left for us to use. The leadership in this country is abysmal, the pits.
I’ve felt this ever since I stepped foot back in my country of birth. This disdain, your discarding once you have been used up and serve no further purpose. It’s not only directed at ‘the foreigner’. This lack of valuing beyond what you can take, engenders the individualism, the lack of a collective. Mostly, it’s under the surface, hidden, unconscious. But when it comes to ‘the foreigner’, then why don’t you earn some brownie points and pander to the lowest common denominator of humanity?
Will Covid-19 be the great leveller we need? World War I and World War II, ushered in huge social and economic changes to the way we lived. Will Covid-19 do the same?
The adjustment to life in the time of Covid-19 continues. Routines are being slowly created and the possibilities of this very different existence are being explored. I cannot help but think of my grandmother and her stories of her life in World War II with 5 children under the age of 7. One day I must record her stories for posterity.
The attempts to limit the visits to the supermarket have had unintended consequences. Making do and stretching leftovers to their maximum has meant that we have even less organic waste, we’ve saved some money and we’re eating healthier. Ordinarily, finding a good work / life balance is impossible. Towards the end of every term – and lately even towards the middle – I am running on empty, going through the motions of meal preparation, shopping lists and general housework. So the chicken carcass goes straight to the bin and we treat ourselves to a take away even when the fridge is bursting with food. The spirit is willing of course, but the flesh is weak.
This last week, two whole chickens were transformed into 3.5 meals – roast chicken, roast chicken sandwiches, chicken curry and a chicken noodle soup made from the chicken carcasses. It feels good to enjoy cooking again.
One of the possibilities we're exploring is for the boys to learn more life skills. Today we are preparing pizza. As I write, the pizza dough is proving and the tomato sauce is simmering. The boys were treated to a rendition of instruction with an Italian accent, although they would beg to differ. A mixture of Russian, Scottish and Malti was their verdict. Mimicry was never my strong point.
I catch myself marvelling several times as I watch them kneading, chopping garlic, opening cans of tomatoes and stirring the sauce. How good it feels to have time to do this. When the time of Covid-19 is done and dusted, life as we know it is surely going to have been transformed into something else, something so much more human and sustainable? I so hope this.
The humiliation will forever be seared into my memory. When we arrived in Malta in 2010, my 15 years’ UK teaching experience was completely ignored when it came to the calculation of my salary, and I was placed on Rung 1 of the Maltese Teacher Salary Scale. It takes 20 years to get to the top of the Teacher Salary Scale in Malta. In that first year, despite his best efforts, Eric was finding it difficult to find a job in his field of journalism. After rent and Arms bills on the incorrect tariff, our family of 5 was meant to live on €300 per month that first year in Malta. Those were difficult times and my eyes were opened to the completely arbitrary way in which an ordinary individual was meant to navigate the unjust dysfunction of Maltese administrative policy, completely on their own.
Some lovely strangers on social media were very liberal with their advice: Work as hard as me and then you’ll be able to buy your own property, they proclaimed. It’s the market, innit; a landlord can ask for whatever rent they want. You want ALL the salary arrears owed to you? – You’re being cheeky to want ALL your salary arrears, don’t you think? You had some guts to ask to have your prior teaching experience recognised.
Our financial situation is fine now but I will never forget those years. My heart goes out to people who are in precarious financial positions in these times.
It’s heartwarming in this last week to see the best of humanity. Landlords reducing the rent, people offering empty hotels or cheaper rental accommodation for health workers to use… It’s also an eye opener to see exactly who is being thoughtful and generous. All the household millionaire names are conspicuous by their absence in this fabulous exercise of generosity. I suppose this isn’t L-Istrina or some public relations exercise. When their belts have been tightened one notch and their ill-gotten gains are possibly stalling, for a while anyway, they’re going to forget about even the proportionally paltry sums of money they dish out on L-Istrina, for all the world to marvel at their “largesse”
The last few weeks have shown us who the true heroes are: the nurses, the doctors, health workers in general, the stackers of supermarket shelves, the employees at the check-out…What an upside down world we live in, where the entitled few get richer by the minute when they slap concrete everywhere and destroy our planet. Whilst the essential workers get paid a pittance and are easily dispensed with when no longer required.
All of a sudden we are living a life unimaginable only a week or so ago. It evolved slowly in a fast week. One minute we were dismissing Covid-19 as 'just a flu' and then days later, as we watched with horror the witness borne by many Italians of the catastrophic impact of Covid-19 on their public health systems, we were compulsively washing our hands and feeling fearful at the slightest dry cough.
Now both Eric and I are working from home. Finally we have set up the home office we always wanted. The boys are off school and need to be kept busy with chores and school work. Every nuance of our lives is under scrutiny to see how we can minimize social contact. It's tricky with a diabetic mum living on her own and a granddaughter who of course we simply have to see.
I've decided to keep a journal of sorts. One, it helps me maintain a good frame of mind. Two, it will be good to have a chronicle of these remarkable times in the years to come.
Covid-19 is on the lips of many people all around the world. A tiny virus having such a huge impact. It knows no race or border. It hits indiscriminately, wherever it can get to.
In my opinion, we were due a humbling by such a tiny pathogen. We have become arrogant and of the idea that Planet Earth is ours for the taking, to the detriment of many other species which have become extinct or endangered due to our irresponsible behaviour.
I love it that we can only beat this virus if we act as a collective and not as individuals. It's as though the gods are trying to tell us something. Fanciful, I know, but I do like to imagine that there is some force out there imposing order when things have become impossible. ____________________________________________________________________
I wasn't happy to see that Dr Musumeci was involved in the reform put forward for consultation by Lands Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius on the regulation of estate agents and property brokers.
Dr Musumeci amended the legal notice on third party properties after the 3rd property collapsed in 2019. Clearly this amendment is not worth the paper it is written on. On the 2nd March, 2020, we had a fourth building collapse. Miriam Pace, 54, died in the rubble of her own home.
Konrad Xuereb - an architect working in the UK - describes the rights of third parties, enshrined in UK law, in this Times of Malta article dated the 8th March, 2020. For emphasis, I've enlarged and emboldened the font in the excerpt below:
Once planning was granted, the developer had to appoint a party-wall surveyor to make sure that all the criteria set out in the UK Party Wall Act were abided to.
Did Dr Musumeci think of looking at how other countries legislate to protect third parties adjoining building works? It's not rocket science, you know. Collapsing buildings are a rare thing in many countries around the world. I would imagine 4 collapsing buildings adjoining construction works in a matter of months is rarer still.
Yes, Covid-19 is on everybody's mind. But we haven't forgotten Miriam Pace. Or that there is the possibility of more building collapses on the cards. Because the 2019 amendment to the legal notice on third parties is clearly not a good enough deterrent for negligent developers / contractors / architects.
So, no, it's not good that Dr Musumeci is involved in the estate agent reform. Why on earth was he not dropped like a lead balloon by the powers that be? Bad law riddled with loopholes kills people or makes people's lives miserable. We need good law writers. With no conflicts of interest . Who do not put the interests of some powerful stakeholders over the interests of other not so powerful stakeholders.
Our statute books are full of such law. Do the powers that be honestly think that they can continue with this status quo? We need to see a complete overhaul of our legislation all the way from the 21st September, 1964. We need good, impartial law writers who take pride in their work. Robert Musumeci clearly doesn't fit the bill.