Intix Nisrani?    

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…hekk kienet il-mistoqsija s-seklu l-ieħor. Aħna konna nwieġbu għalenija, Iva, jien Nisrani għall-grazzja ta’ Alla. Lil ħadd ma kienet tgħaddilu minn moħħu li b’nitfa sarkażmu jgħid U ajma, mela kieku qiegħda hawn, nitgħallem id-duttina?

Iżda mhux bilfors li nkunu nafu xi tfisser tkun Nisrani, kemm meta nkunu żgħar kif ukoll meta nikbru. Forsi ta’ madwarna, li jgħidulna li huma l-Insara kif għandhom ikunu, ikollhom dejjem wiċċhom imqarras, donnhom belgħu tazza meraq tal-lumi.

Jgħidulna li biex tkun Nisrani ta’ stoffa trid tisma’ l-Quddies kuljum, issum nhar t’Erbgħa u nhar ta’ Ġimgħa u ma titkellimx pastaż. Ma tridx tilbes indiċenti jew ma tgħidx il-veritá u ma tieħux dak li mhux tiegħek. Bħalma qal dak il-ġuvni għani, aħna nwieġbu li dan kollu aħna nagħmluh jew aħjar ma nagħmluhx. Għax dak li suppost nagħmlu biex ngħaddu mill-eżami ta’ jekk jistħoqqilniex nissejħu Nsara jew le, qisha appuntu lista ta’ le, le u le.

Issa wħud qed jinsistu li r-rifuġjati wkoll għandhom jgħaddu minn tip ta’ eżami biex naċċertaw ruħna li d-din tagħhom hi bħal tagħna u li ma jkunux “minn dawk” li taħt il-geżwira jkollhom xi pakkett gliċerina li jtajjar kulma hemm.

Billi ma jkunux ilhom hawn ħafna, ma nkunux nafu jmorrux Quddies il-Ħadd u żgur li m’għandhomx mnejn jagħtu karitá. Mhux biżżejjed li jkunu raw il-Mewt isinn il-minġel, huma u jaqsmu l-ibħra u li aħna niftaħru li fil-Bibbja stess hemm kemm nilqgħuh lill-barrani. “Għax mhux għal xi ħaġa, aħjar ikunu Insara għax inqas hemm ċans li jkunu terrorist”, qaltli ħabibti.

Għalxejn semmejtilha l-Catholic Reaction Force/Protestant Action Force; il-Christian Identity Movements;  Il-Ku Klux Klan; il-Lord’s Resistance Army; in-National Liberation Front of Tripura; l-Antibalaka; l-Aryan Nation u l-Orange Volunteers… gruppi li żgur fuq li żgur mhumiex Musulmani. La ma kenitx semgħet bihom (ħlief il-KKK li qaltli li “spiċċaw”), akkużatni li qed nivvinta l-ismijiet biex indaħħaq.

Mela skont dawn, biex jidħol Malta, refuġjat irid juri li hu Nisrani. Nistaqsuh il-mistoqsijiet li hemm fil-Katekiżmu jew, ngħidu aħna, stejjer mill-Bibbja jew dwar is-Sagramenti u l-Kmandamenti u l-Preċetti tal-Knisja. Jekk ma jkunx jafhom, jintbagħat f’pajjiż fejn ir-reliġjon tal-Istat mhux dik Nisranija. U ma jindunawx li kieku vera kellhom jagħmlu hekk ikunu huma stess li awtomatikament weħlu mill-eżami.

L-ikbar Kmandament hu l-Imħabba. Li nħobbu wieħed lill-ieħor kif ħabbna Hu. Anqas ħaqq nippruvaw nivvintaw karta tal-eżami għal ħaddieħor meta ġa hemm waħda għalina. L-Opri tal-Ħniena juruna li kemm f’dawk li jmisssu l-ġisem kif ukoll f’dawk li jmissu r-ruħ, x’aktarx li baqalna sew x’naqdfu biex ngħaddu mill-eżami aħna, l-ewwel u qabel kollox.

Itma’ lil min hu bil-guħ; isqi lil min hu bil-għatx; libbes lil min m’ghandux ilbies; ilqa’ lil min hu bla dar; żur lill-morda; żur lill-ħabsin; idfen lill-mejtin… agħti parir lill-ħosbien; għallem lil min ma jafx; widdeb lill-midinbin; farraġ lill-imnikktin; aħfer il-ħtijiet; ħu pacenzja b’min idejqek; itlob lil Alla għall-ħajjin u għall-mejtin. Erbatax-il suġġeriment wiesa’ li mhux lakemm twettaqhom.

Tgħid kieku aħna ngħaddu mill-eżami qabel ma nippretendu li jgħaddi ħaddieħor?

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Media ethics: An oxymoron?

Friday, June 29, 2012, 00:00

In his message for World Social Commu­nications Day, Pope Benedict offers an uncommon challenge. As a general rule, communication is about making our voices heard; he indicates silence.

The Pope reiterates that inasmuch as the spoken word is essential in communication, silence is of equal importance.

The person who speaks but does not listen is not a communicator but one who dictates. And to listen is to be silent and harken at what has been said, rather than simply perceive sounds.

The Pope’s message was highlighted at a business breakfast themed Media Ethics, organised by the Church earlier this week.

Those present were treated – and I use the word judiciously – to a presentation by Fr Saviour Chircop, dean of the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences of the University of Malta.

Prof. Fr Chircop pulled no punches. In his inimitable style, he said that when we say we are independent, we protest too much. The collective we, being human, have already spent time in our private lives not going to sources to double-check facts, let alone gossip.

We might have agendas or affiliations our readers or audiences would not know about. We might pander to the salacious instinct of our audience and strive for scoops and the devil take the hindmost… deluding ourselves that we are doing this for the common good.

Sometimes, journalism – and this includes citizen journalism, a latter-day blessing or scourge, depending upon how you look at it – is no more and no less than a weapon in the hands of those who wielded it to their own ends.

Integrity flies out of the window because, alas, all is fair in love and war for ratings. We weave tangled webs and it takes a very sharp reader to detect the bias in an innocuous-looking clump of lead.

And, today, life in the fast lane is so full of clichés that we just skim over what is being force-fed to us and we do not bother to delve into what is being thrown into the mix.

We have heard countless stories of bribes and moles and double agents and how facts become malleable and subjective, so that a story taken from the same source can end up looking as if it happened on two different planets when you read it in – Prof. Fr Chircop said this with a wry smile on his face – different sections of the media.

Nothing is sacred… even social sites are trawled for juicy bits of information about people in the gunsights. We know the names, the proclivities and the friends of those who have been accused of crimes… but we do not learn they have been acquitted… at least not with the same fanfare.

Truth is the casualty.

Fr Charles Tabone, the Archbishop’s delegate for social communications, rightly finds that one can never discuss media ethics “enough”. He is so right.

The minute a journalist gets a slap on the wrist for doing something unethical, the message is passed on to the rest of us that there is no way we shall be stopped from doing the same, or worse.

Self-censorship is something we must all do, but what if I don’t think there is something to censor?

Media ethics, what crimes are committed in your name!

Mind your Language!

It was a sort of Urban Legend at the school I attended. A piece of paper once flew out of the textbook of a French nun. The girl who found it and picked it up recognised the beautiful script immediately – and the contents made it imperative that it be shown to everyone tout de suite.

There, in black on white, was a list of French phrases – with their English translations. Unfortunately, these were not the la plume de ma tante type, but more on the lines of “you are lazy”; “you will fail your exams”; “go and stand in the corridor until the lesson is over”, and so forth.

This nun insisted on what is now known as “the full immersion method” – but when she wanted to make sure we understood what she was saying, she used one of the above phrases, complete with Gallic accent that made lazy sound like leh-zee. All those of us who, over the years, had been on the receiving end of one of these choice epithets have now been vindicated.

The French Education Minister for Education, Xavier Darcos has had to admit that the international language is English – or words to that effect. Frankly, as we sued to say, Je ne care pas because we knew that anyway.

M. Darcos said that better English is the key to worldwide communications, no doubt antagonising the Académie Française as do Maltese people who antagonise L-Akkademja tal-Malti when they fail to observe its latest updates and insist on writing lakemm as two separate words.

Presumably, he wants to give the French attitude an overhaul, or, as he would say, un relooking. Or perhaps he has realised that of the 27 Member States in the EU, not too many of them are either Francophones or even Francophiles. He appears to have noticed that “all” international business is conducted in English, rather than in French or even Franglais – and to make his charges au courante with this type of progress, he ordained that French schools will now offer extra lessons to tout le monde – or at least those who want to attend the sessions, during the holidays.

This will offset the elitist system of going to other countries in Europe (including Malta) in order to learn English.

Globalisation, he said, means that not many people whose native language is not French, will be able to speak it. Not many people would know that Jacques Chirac , had studied at Harvard and worked as a forklift driver at Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis 50 years ago (and he says he still likes a Budweiser with his cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato, rather than with a biftek). So he probably understands English as well as the next man.

But many would remember the time he stormed out of an EU Summit session, together with Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Finance Minister Thierry Breton when Ernest-Antoine Seillière de Laborde addressed delegates in English “because that is the accepted business language of Europe today.”

At the time he was reported to have been ‘deeply shocked that a Frenchman would choose to address the summit in English’, and for this he was applauded by the Académie, which was established in 1635 to protect the purity of French…. in ways the rest of the world considered over the top.

M. Chirac had later expounded upon his original outburst by explaining that “France has great respect for its language; It has been fighting for a long time to establish the presence of the French language – whether it be at the Olympic Games, where it was contested for a while, whether it be in the European Union, or at the United Nations.”

Douze Points? Not from anyone who had to learn how to conjugate verbs in many, alas too many, tenses. Mr Seilliere had also put in his two cents’ worth, and recommended that EU leaders must “avoid a negative domino effect” when it came to the use of language.

There exists in France The Toubon Law (full name: law 94-665 of 4 August 1994 relating to usage of the French language), which makes it mandatory to use the French language in advertising, commercial contracts, official government publications, and other documents. To this effect, in 2006, the French subsidiary of an American company, GE Medical Systems, was fined over €500,000 plus an ongoing fine of over €20,000 per day for supplying its employees with computer software and documentation that was solely in English. So this is quite the U-turn.

However, learning English is not simply a matter of sitting down at a desk, or even riffling through a dictionary – which may be obsolete as soon as it is printed. New words evolve, or are created, all the time. Sometimes, old words are brought out, dusted down, and given new definitions; but using them on the wrong side of the Atlantic, or in the wrong context when you make a vain effort to be chic – can earn you a trouncing.

I would appreciate knowing what French, or even Franglais terms, Xavier Darcos and Jacques Chirac would have coined for brainstorming and blamestorming, electrosmog and mucous warriors, recessionistas and multi-slackers….

Not quite lavatory humour

The other day I received one of those e-mails that purport to be a joke; one of those mails that take a premise and belabour it to death and beyond.

Actually, I received it seven times from seven different people. For what it’s worth this mail tried to explain the ethos, and the praxis, behind why women go to the restroom in pairs, whether it’s during a lunch, a conference, a film, or any other social activity.

The punch line was that we need a friend to hold our handbag / watch the door / and supply us with tissues as well as company. This, of course, is all too true. But there are other, more salient reasons for this typical jaunt, which have more to do with bonding than carrying a spritz bottle of disinfectant mixed with bleach around given the questionable level of hygiene at some establishments.

Look at it this way. If you are sauntering about the lobby of a hotel, looking for the toilets and also lost, because you’ve never been there before, you will raise an eyebrow or two. Is she drunk? Has she fallen out with her partner? Does she want to be picked up?

Add a friend to this scenario, and immediately an aura of pseudo-purpose will descend about you. You can chat, and surreptitiously eye all the walls and corridor openings for the sign that indicates your ultimate objective. But of course, that is not the real reason why a pair, or sometimes a gaggle, of us, leave our partners alone (if there are any of them present on the occasion) and hie off to the bathrooms. The men assume, sometimes wrongly, that women want to talk about them; but that is not necessarily so.

Not always.

Not unless there is a new guy in someone’s life… and she’s already chosen the matching set of engagement and wedding rigs she wants. It does not matter whether we work in an office on the factory floor or in a bank – the fact remains that we often feel starved of real girl talk, and the women’s toilet is the place to indulge in it. Friends who are partial to this habit explain that it’s not about sneaking a cigarette away from the prying eyes of one’s mother-in-law. It’s about thrashing the bitch at the office – or sharing the juicy bit of gossip about whose baby Geraldine is carrying – or even the only way to cook octopus stew (i.e. boil the meat in wine to which you would have added a couple of squares of dark chocolate and lots of garlic).

One also goes to the restroom to get advice – on men, clothes, food diets, make-up, interior decoration, and sundry other things- think of it as an equivalent of the hairdresser’s chair, if you’re not choosy. I shudder to think of how many reputations have been shredded inside powder-rooms… by people who then fix their hair and their make-up, and descend upon their erstwhile victims like a ray of sunshine. They kiss air and praise fashion sense, a new hairstyle, or the fake suntan they would just have figuratively exploded into smithereens. Oh, how I love people watching.

The next time you don’t see a pair of legs beneath the door, which nonetheless appears to be locked on the inside, the chances are that one of my friends is inside. She has this endearing habit of squatting on the seat so that people will think the stall is empty – and tittle-tattle away. This is how she has been known to garner what I call her newsletter-fodder. So now you know.

Part of this trend is psychological. You have to pay attention to a presentation; you have to eat; or you have to make small talk. Then there comes a point where you cannot take it any more – you feel the urge to break away. You cannot very well escape home in the middle of an event – so you excuse yourself, and wink at a mate who follows suit. If you are at a party in a familiar house, you can wander into the kitchen and start washing the dishes; but you cannot do that if you don’t know the host well enough. Of course there still remain some of us for whom there is an obvious reason why we would want to use the bathroom.

That is where the aforementioned e-mail comes in. Yes, we do need someone to help us not feel gormless. We do need someone to save us from having to walking across the great expanse of carpet alone, feeling awkward and clumsy. And that is why we would appreciate being allowed to jump the queue, if the rest of you are intent on discussing Gabriella’s trout-pout and Maxine’s taste in toy boys.

An end of time?

Sunday, 25th April 2010

Once upon a time, on a planet far, far away that was so small there was only one country on it, a series of unexplained, unconnected, events happened. These led people to think that the end of the world – their world – was nigh.

The Year was 2012 – incongruously, they had the same calendar as us – but it was still January. According to their Prophets, The Three Pairs of Twins Nasa and Maya, Nostradamus and Merlin, Sagan and Siegfried, by 12-12-12, the Universe would implode. This was the first time they had agreed on anything.

This was going to happen because their Moon would move out of the Age of Aquarius and enter the Eighth House; but, more importantly, their Sun would be a part of a hat-trick syszgy where all eight planets in their solar system would align with it. This was something that had never happened since what they called The Dawn Of Creation, given the different speeds, orbits, and collisions with meteors that all the planets had undergone during the previous zillion years, which added up to a Hundred Long Counts.

This impending feeling of doom meant different things to different people. The orthodox religious wore sackcloth, grew their hair, and became vegetarians. Children argued that it was useless going to school because they were never going to get the opportunity to use their education in a career. People who didn’t care, one way or the other, whether the world ended or not, went about their daily business as usual, “living each day as if it were their last”. This meant that some did their duty – and some did not.

But there was a noticeable increase in the amount of pregnant women, since both natural family planning and contraceptives were abandoned.

The House of Parliament tried to maintain a semblance of normalcy, for after all, nobody was “sure” that the world would end – it just seemed that way. After all, before the End Times Movement had gained momentum, everyone had considered the (non-?)event to be one big joke. Suggestions to build a spaceship and launch the President and her husband towards Earth, Superman-style, had been laughed out of court by The Lady herself.

But, as usually happens, there was an amusing side to all this – if one can ever call dark humour “light”.

Now as we know, most fortune tellers are wont to say “I told you so” – when they can “prove” that one of their vague predictions could be said to have an inkling of prophecy in it. And this was no exception. Nasa and Maya had spoken of The Cloud of Obfuscation. An undersea volcano exploded, and the forces unleashed were enough to throw half-solidified gobs of magma far and wide. The sea became a seething mass of steam – and this, upon contact with the air, turned into a low-lying cloud that impeded the flights of airships, pods and hovercrafts. Bingo! They were vindicated. Some even said that airships with purple stripes had been carrying arms; this when war had been outlawed a century before.

Nostradamus and Merlin had been talking about Bridges to Nowhere. They did it, mostly, in quatrains, and these could be interpreted according to anyone’s agendas – as well as their own. So when the drunk driver of a double-decker bus took a wrong turned and jammed his vehicle under the bridge (and told the policeman who turned up that he had been trying to deliver the bridge to his cousin), and later, an electricity pylon fell on a footbridge and dented the railings, and, later still, a convoy of truckers tried to take a shortcut across a footbridge and it collapsed, they had their “evidence”.

Sagan and Siegfried had published a treatise called Poles Apart. And when physicists and mathematicians confirmed that there would be something called an optimal solar maximum and a superlative pole reversal, they all but smirked in the Press Conference.

The upshot of all this, of course, was that the sun rose on that purportedly fateful day … and twenty five hours later, it set again, without this world having ended.

There was a collective sigh of relief – for some. Fast-track legislation had to be enacted to issue permits for land reclamation, giving that the population would soon burgeon and additional land was needed to grow crops (and build homes). People recalled the fuss that had obtained at the turn of the century, when profiteering associated with The Millennium Bug (“Portable Nuclear Shelters!”) had been rife…

People are resilient – so by the end of the second month of the year following, it was business as usual.

So you see, all those who repeatedly mutter “Only in Malta” when something peculiar happens locally… are wrong.

Bearing false witness

Paul Tolmé, whose writing usually appears in nature or environment-related publications, has found himself the star – literally and figuratively – of a plagiarism scandal.And it’s all thanks to novelist Cassie Edwards, yes, the selfsame one who is lionized for her “painstaking research” when writing (or is it compiling?) books… most of the titles of which begin with “Savage…”

These books catalogue, as well they might, Native American history and lifestyles, and are gobbled up by aficionados of the historical romance genre. The bloggers on Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books do not call themselves that for nothing.

Apparently, Ms Edwards went above and beyond the copyright fair-use doctrine. She included information from an article by the afore-mentioned Tolmé, in such a non sequitor mode that they looked like an ill-fitting denture on a beaver- or, in this case, black-footed ferrets.

In Shadow Bear, published in 2007, precisely in Chapter 22, a hefty wedge of Tolmé’s 2005 article, previously published in Defenders, an environmental magazine, is sectioned off into a conversation between two lovers in the story.

The upshot is that Tolmé has garnered a wider audience – and, given the genre in which his work appeared, a good number of them are requesting snapshots of him – preferably posed bare-chested and holding one of the said ferrets. This incident has gained him more attention than “….I’ve gotten from anything else I’ve written in my 16 years as a journalist” said Tolmé.

But this is not the only incident where someone expected to be paid for work that was not, strictly speaking, their own – but a cut-and-paste job that wouldn’t even be acceptable for a secondary school project.

The Lonely Planet series of on-the-cheap travel guides that sells more than six million books annually, was recently beset by another scandal

Thomas Kohnstamm, in his book Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? recently admitted that he both plagiarized or thoroughly made up some sections of the books in which he collaborated with other writers (he did not even visit Columbia) – because he was not paid enough to cover expenses. He also went against the code of conduct for writers of this series, by accepting free travel and dealing in drugs to make up his shortfall for trips to The Caribbean, Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia. For the latter, he got the details from an intern from the consulate, whom he was dating at the time he wrote his share of the book. Lonely Planet’s publisher Piers Pickard said that the company had reviewed Mr. Kohnstamm’s guidebooks but failed to find any inaccuracies in them.

But that is not the point, at all.

Then we have the so-called memoir Don’t Ever Tell, written by Kathy O’Beirne, who at the time of publication had claimed that “the Devil himself could not have invented a better hell” than her childhood. The devils, however, now appear to have been all in her mind: so much, then, for the time her hand was plunge into boiling fat by her father, or the time she was raped by a priest, or imprisoned and tortured by nuns. In the book she even claimed that she had given birth at 13, and was made to give up her child for adoption.

The book fed, as thousands more do, the reading public’s predilection for shock-horror.

Another publication that fits neatly into this category is A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey. This one talked about substance abuse, and how the then 23-year-old junkie hacked it in a Twelve Steps-oriented treatment centre…

Hailed as “The War and Peace of Addiction” when it was released on April 15, the book was on the best-seller lists until it emerged, in January 29006, that it contained several trumped-up incidents.

Still another pseudo-autobiography was Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, an account of his time as a child soldier in Sierra Leone schoolhouse. A document found in the Centennial Secondary School, dated March 1993, when he was still in the second form and not, as he claimed, already a child refugee at that age. The school’s records were thought to have been destroyed when rebels occupied the town of Mattru Jong in 1995, yet inexplicably some examination results were preserved.

This book has earned Beah at least a cool $1 million, from over 650,000 copies. He says the “evidence” is ‘ridiculous and ill-motivated’. Beah resides in New York, having been pointed by UNICEF as an advocate for child soldiers. The plot is much more complicated than this, of course.

But explaining it would not have left me room to mention, in passing, yet another spurious memoir.

In “Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years”, which has been translated into 18 languages, the author made up a story of how, as a poor Jewish girl, Misha Defonseca, now of Dudley, Massachusetts, trekked across Europe during the Holocaust years, living with wolves.

In this case, it was documents unearthed by a genealogical researcher that spilled the beans. The records showed that Monique De Wael (Defonseca’s real maiden name) was baptized in a Brussels Catholic church, in September 1937. She had been enrolled in a Brussels primary school in 1943-44. The researcher also discovered that Defonseca’s parents, Robert and Josephine De Wael, were members of the Belgian resistance and were arrested and executed by the Nazis.

And that, at least, is a fact.

Children, by numbers

 

My pregnant friend and her husband, a very young-looking 30-year old couple, wanted to buy an SUV. They had all but signed the contract when the dealer told them “It’ll come in handy once the kid comes…” The man raised an eyebrow and informed him “Well, actually we already have three… this is our fourth one…”

The vendor laughed, assuming it was a joke (it wasn’t). “You’d have to be crazy!” he exclaimed. “Actually, my state of mental health is no concern of yours. What is, is that you’ve just lost a sale…” and with that they walked out of the showroom.

Is it anybody’s business how many children we have, how far apart they are spaced – and, above all, whether they were planned and how much, on average, we spend upon each per day?

Over the years, I have met all kinds of people – including those who have a child when the latest one of their siblings’ children would otherwise bring the number of nephews and nieces in that family to outnumber theirs.

There are those couples who have one child so that they would have “done their duty”; those who are open to life without bragging about it, as well as those who do; those who would have liked to have children, but had fertility problems; and those who wish they had never had any.

Just for fun, I contacted friends and friends of friends who have “large” families – taking the adjective to mean four children or more. I asked them whether they had ever had to face comments from people about the number of children they had – and I was somewhat amused to realise that there appears to be a script to be followed, even by perfect strangers, when they decide to meddle in other people’s affairs, albeit the questions are not always in the same order.

I tend not to reply to questions that ought never to have been asked. Yet multi-offspring parents tend to be more laid back and thick-skinned than the rest of us – perhaps because they have to be. So they have a draft reply to most questions at the ready, even if sometimes they have to doctor it a little, according to circumstances obtaining.

It seems that replying to a question with another is one of the tactics they use as often as the occasion warrants it.

Are they all yours? I think so – but I don’t really recognise that one. But wait! I think I left home with only six of them. Let’s ask them, shall we?

Are you in the Neo-catechumenal Community? Why? Do they have buy-two-get-one free there?

Have you ever heard of birth control? Yes, and I don’t like it. Do you?

Is this your second family? No, it’s just the logical continuation of my birth family.

Do you realise you are depleting the earth’s resources? I suggest you read up on how much greener large families are than small ones. Don’t you realise we reduce, reuse and recycle as a matter of course?

Were you actually trying? / Was it planned? Do you want me to explain NFP?

You must be very rich / you must have a slew of baby-sitters. Oh, it’s an in-house thing.

How do you feed them? They are old enough to feed themselves.

You must spend a fortune on them. Well, actually they are my fortune.

Do you have enough beds for them? They sleep in shifts or on the floor.

Are you trying for a world record? Do you think I should try?

Cynicism apart, some of the people who ask weird, intrusive questions may be genuinely interested in the set-up of a large family, especially if they would never have experienced it first-hand.

In a family where it is considered “normal” to have one child who is then showered with all the attention and worldly goods possible, it may be hard to imagine the possibility of anyone willingly wearing hand-me-downs and going without lessons in ballroom dancing and piano.

However, I am annoyed that people with less children than oneself point out (without knowing anything about you or the children themselves), how three/four/five children “are bound to suffer” when it comes to education, and how they will probably have to leave school ‘early’ to earn their keep.

Some people will also assume that you will “make” the children leave the house once they are eighteen years old, just so that their younger siblings “will not be stifled any more”.

This is not because values are any ‘better’ or ‘worse’ in either scenario, but simply because points of view differ.

No one has the right to make assumptions, or judgements, about anyone else. And the sooner we all realise this, the better it will be for all of us.

Għax qed ngħidlek …

Vinceienne dejjem għandha raġun. Jekk turiha silġa, hi tgħidlek ilma ffrizat. Jekk turiha libsa griża, tgħidlek li kienet sewda u tilfet il-kulur għax naxruha fix-xemx.

Jien nitbissem, nismgħha tirraġuna imma hemm nies li jgħidu li tagħmillhom demmhom ilma. Fix-xogħol tagħħa, iżda, hu meħtieġ li Vinceienne dejjem ikollha raġun. Tant hu hekk li meta iltqajna dan l-aħħar qagħdet tfehmni kif tagħmel biex, bil-hlewwa insidjuża tagħha, iġġiegħel lil dak li jkun jibda jaħsibha bħalha jew, almenu, ibiddel fehmtu.

Kulmin għandu t-tfal, ħadem magħħom jew almenu jaf xi tnejn, jaf kemm kultant ikollhom rashom iebsa. Iridu jilbsu jeans imqatta’ għat-tieġ tal-kuġin… X’taqbad tagħmel? Jekk tgħidilhom li jkeċċuhom, jgħidulek aħjar, ħalli jkomplu jilagħbu bil-kompjuter. Tgħidilhom li jkunu koroh fir-ritratti, jgħidulek mela ma nieħdux rirtatti. Tgħidilhom x’tgħidilhom, għandhom risposta.

Imma kieku Vinceienne tagħtihom għażla: jeans u ġimgħa bla baħar u bla kompjuter jew qalziet pulit u darbtejn baħar u darba bandli? Qed tirrikattahom iżda kultant hemm bżonn xi ħaġa drastika biex jobduk. U Vinceienne ma tathomx l-għażla li ma jmorrux it-tieġ.

Issa hi tgħid li min jagħmel hekk għandu jkun lest li jaċċeta li t-tifel jilbes li jrid hu għax lest li jiċċahhad mill-baħar u mill-kompjuter. Dak li jagħti l-għażla jrid ikun lest li iwettaq il-wiegħda mhux għax jitħassar lit-tfal jew jagħmlu xenata, iċedi.

Vinceienne taf li kulħadd, bla eċċezzjoni, ikollu jieħu għadd ta’ deċiżjonijiet kuljum. L-għan tagħha hu li dawn id-deċiżjinijiet ikunu kif tixtieqhom li jkunu hi.

Għallmitni li x’aktarx l-ewwel sentenza li nisimgħu taffettwana iżjed minn dak li jiġi warajha. Għalhekk fl-aħbarijiet nisimgħu ‘opinjoni’ u imbagħad min qalha. Jekk nisimgħu min qalha qabel, jekk l-isem ma jkunx idoqq għal widnejna, ma nagħtux kas dik l-aħbar! L-istess meta naraw prezz ta’ dar. X’aktarx li jkun għoli biex aħna niġġebdu imma f’moħħna jkollna dak il-prezz u “kemm se niffrankaw”.

Vinceienne għandha ħabta tgħidlek li “n-nies mhux bħalna” biex int taħseb li, bħalha, int membru ta’ xi klabb esklussiv li qatt ma tidħqu b’ħadd u li jistħoqqilhom l-aħjar. Tgħidlek ukoll li dak li qed tgħid mhux suppost qalitulek imma ħadet grazzja miegħek. U taf int. B’hekk isaħħaħ l-impressjoni li tkun tagħtek li intom membri tal-istess klikka.

L-ironija hi li ftit wara tgħidlek li “kulħadd hekk jagħmel” biex int tħossok sew li qed tagħmel dak li wasslitek għalih bil-ħlewwa falza tagħha. “Iva” tgħidlek u titbissem biex int tħossok ġenju li għamilt dak il-kumment. Fl-istess ħin tinjora dak li jidhrilha li int m’għandekx tkun taf bħal meta tmur tixtri kompjuter u meta tasal id-dar tinduna għax kien qisu qed jaħbi xi ħaġa tal-ħanut. M’għandekx Word u trid tħallas barrani biex tistallah.

Vincienne isserraħlek moħħok li jekk jinqala’ xi ħaġa “tirranġalek”. Ma tgħidlekx iżda kemm se tiswielek. Ma tgħidlekx, jekk taf tgħidlek, “Naf li għedtlek li ħa nirranġalek imma ma nistax, emminni…”.

Kos, qed ngħid, Vinceienne qisha x-xitan. L-ewwel tagħmik, imbagħad iddoqq it-trumbetta bik!

Death By Proxy

 

It all began when I was standing at the sink.

No, no, I tell a lie. It all began much before that; even before there was a power outage.

Probably, it began the moment I set eyes on my (ex!) husband – but for the sake of this story, let’s just say that it began after supper.

Just for the record, the first time we met he’d arranged my bangs and the collar of my blouse “just the way he liked them”, and, mea culpa, I never realised it was a symptom of the way that he would try to fix my life – and me – from that moment on. I was enthralled by his attention. The snide comments and hostile criticism came later.

But I digress.

I had spent the morning and part of the afternoon in bed engrossed in the first two books of different series I had won on a television Trivia Quiz – you know, the ones where they ask questions about obscure topics…such as what the name of the character Liam Neeson played in Taken, was.

War ‘n’ Wit and Tex, the Witch Boy had…well, bewitched me.

It was getting too dark for me to see to read – and when I went to switch on the bedside lamp I realised that not only was it 5.00 pm, but there was no electricity.

I had not even had breakfast, go figure prepared dinner – and my (ex!) husband was due home in two hours.

I realised I would have to move fast to avoid the usual Grumpy Cat running commentary.

I leapt out of bed and whipped the quilt into place. I half-filled a pot with water, chucked in one chicken and one Italian herbs stock cube, some brandy, a knob of butter, the four turkey drumsticks that had been soaking overnight in marinade, a packet of mixed frozen vegetables, and a handful of frozen onion rings. Then I prepared a bowl of instant mashed potatoes, and chopped up some cherry tomatoes, olives, and garlic cloves, and doused them in olive oil (I would drain them just before serving).

The dusk and the street light gave me just enough light to work.

I put some water and disinfectant in a bucket and went over the floors with a cloth wrapped around a squeegee, and switched on the ceiling fans.

While the food cooked and the floor dried, I changed out of my pyjamas, brushed my hair and pulled it back in a pony-tail, washed and flossed my teeth, put the books away, and leapt down the stairs three at a time.

I got out the votive candles that I’d bought for the Christmas centrepiece and lit them. They made eerie shadows dance on the walls, and of course I could not help playing about with my fingers to make some shadow animals.

My (ex!) husband always insisted that I do the newspaper crossword, daily, to “work my sloth-brain”, as he so courteously put it. So I took it out and called my genius friend Samantha to give me the solutions, as I usually did; I barter with her by keeping her kids while she is with her lover. I left out a couple of easy ones, so I would be able to act as if I had just thought of them while we were having dinner. I was – am – smug about the fact that my acting prowess never failed to take my husband in.

I grabbed the sponge to give my (ex!) husband’s breakfast mug and cereal bowl a quick rub-and-rinse, but as soon as I opened the kitchen sink tap, I screamed.

I felt as if someone had taken a steel sledge-hammer to my knuckles; not all of them, just six out of ten. My joints swelled, and my fingers throbbed and turned purple.

With tears pouring down my cheeks and biting my lower and upper lips alternately, I finished the task and sat down in front of the aforesaid crossword, barely able to hold the pencil… just in time, because the next moment, my (ex!) husband’s key turned in the lock.

I went to greet him, and he kissed me perfunctorily – as he usually did, and sniffed the air – and he likewise usually did. Smells good. But you’ve put in too much onion. I said it in my mind before he actually said it out loud, word-for-word, in exactly the same intonation.

He whipped off his jacket and draped it over the chair, and undid his tie, positioning it exactly over the middle of the jacket. Creature of habit, my (ex!) husband.

He had not even noticed my fingers. I showed them to him and of course, he assumed it was my clumsiness that had injured me. I told him what had happened, and he said that after he ate, he would take me to the clinic. Selfish sonofabitch.

He sat at table, and as he expected me to do, I asked about his day so he could boast about his wheeling and dealing. I was sick and tired of this charade – but it suited me, because I quite liked being the Lady of the Manor and not having to go out to work.

He happened to glance at the crossword, and pursed his lips. Not ready yet? I said it to myself before he did. “Oh!” I said, gingerly picking up the pencil, pincer-style like a Kindergartner, and dashing off the last five words without even looking at the clues, “I’ve been thinking about them while I fixed dinner…”

So, we went to the Clinic and the doctor said it was Gardner-Diamond syndrome. My (ex!) husband asked him – twice – whether I could have hurt myself shutting a drawer because she is so clumsy… and the doctor explained patiently how veins sometimes rupture spontaneously, and the red blood cells cause the contusions, and the swellings, and the pain.

The doctor said I must support each injured finger by taping it to the one next to it, and avoid extremes of temperature, and to wear mittens if possible.

We returned home, and the rest of the evening passed as it usually did – except for the part where he parked himself in front of the television set because we had wasted the time at the Clinic. Sex, showers, and bed. Did he care that I was in pain? Did he heck. The power came back at around midnight.

The throbbing pain kept me from sleeping, despite the analgesic balm I had rubbed on my fingers (and the whiskey I’d drunk).

As I sometimes did, to escape from my dreary existence, I let my imagination run riot. I idly toyed with the idea of drawing my rouge blood cells out with a syringe… and injecting them into the butt of my sleeping (ex!) husband, to create enough pain so he would not be able to sit down for a month of Sundays.

Ah! This would be the other meaning of Blood Doping, as per articles with facetious titles such as If I Did a Bag of Lance Armstrong’s Blood, Could I Bike up a Mountain? (without the rider ‘and what if said blood were spiked?’)…

I concocted plans to inject him with air, to create an embolism. Probably, though, I’d be rumbled, if they decided to do an autopsy, because he did not have a dickey heart. Maybe I could kill him with insulin…Reversal of Fortune style, but I’d make sure my approach would work. But there was nobody, of all my friends who have diabetes, whom I could trust to give me a pre-drawn syringe, and keep mum about it. Oh, to delegate the whole enchilada to a hit-man. Or a cat’s-paw.

And that’s when the idea hit me. My (ex!) husband usually spent Saturdays entrenched in the greenhouse, fiddling about with his beloved orchids. He sold each bloom at about €50 a pop. Not because he needed the money, but just because he could.

It was Monday. Time enough. Maybe… My plan was sketchy…it was a long shot…it might not work… but it was worth a try. No one would suspect me, what with my quasi-disabled hands and restricted movement-span.

When replenishing my kitchen freezer from the one in the basement, I had noticed a wasps’s nest at one corner of the ceiling. They’d probably been grateful for the box of newspapers I saved for the once-a-month recycling collection, because it meant they did not have to forage far for material with which to build it.

I poured a good measure of honey inside a big bin bag, and made my way downstairs. There were no wasps flying about, and I heaved a sigh of relief. I manoeuvred a table just under the nest, keeping one eye open for the insects, and placed a chair on the table.

Then, I cautiously climbed on the table, and stood on tiptoe, on the chair, placing the opening of the bag over the nest. I knew I was risking a broken leg or two, but I was on an adrenaline high and nothing could stop me. Using the outside of the bag to shield my hands (I thought it would be better not to use gloves, since there would be some kind of residue on them), I detached the nest from its anchors and nudged it into the bag.

There was such an angry surge of buzzing that I nearly overbalanced. Apparently, the wasps were quick to notice the honey, and they quietened down almost immediately.

As best I could, I held on to the neck of the pulsating, droning bag while putting the furniture in its place again.

Next stop: The Greenhouse.

I took the bag and went in through the back door, just in case one of the neighbours was looking out of a window; and anyway, the orchids were nearer there than the front entrance.

Gently, very gently, I upended the bag and out rolled the nest, sticky with honey. Some of the wasps had died a sweet death by drowning – alas, there was nothing I could do about that. The others appeared lethargic. I hoped they would recover in time to carry out their duty.

I have always been taught that unless you act aggressively towards wasps, they will not attack you. So I kept calm when some of them flew toward me to examine me; and true enough, I was not stung.

I grasped the bottom of the bag and turned it inside out, making sure that no wasps were stuck to the plastic, turned it back sticky side in, and folded it into an oblong small enough to fit into my jeans pocket. I left the greenhouse, walking backward, in slow movements, just in case, and nonchalantly walked around two blocks, hands in pockets – discarding the bag into the street litter bin farthest from the house.

The strain nearly killed me.

Just as the wasps killed my (ex!) husband.

Around the time he left for the greenhouse, as I had planned, I was standing, not a hair out of place, at the delicatessen counter at the supermarket, selecting cheeses for the weekend, as I always did.

It had been my original plan to walk back casually, do some light chores, and then call him on the intercom to say that dinner was in ten minutes. I had stopped scheming at that point, since I would then play it on the wing, so it would appear to be a spontaneous thing.

However, my plan was dashed when one of the neighbours met me halfway. She had been running, and her words came out in between her gasps for air. Wasps… husband… urgent… stings… come… ambulance… swell… heart-attack…

I really should be nominated for an Academy Award.

I grabbed her by the arm and shook her, asking her to explain what she was on about. Taking a deep breath, she said that she had heard shouting and the sounds of breaking glass, and had run out of the house just in time to see my (ex!) husband reeling about in the middle of the street, wheezing and lurching, holding a hand to his throat. His face and hands were covered with angry red welts. With great difficulty, he had whispered my name and “supermarket”.

She had pounded on the door of another neighbour, explained the situation and told her to call for an ambulance, and ran to fetch me. It had been faster and easier than I thought it would be. Indeed, I later found out that wasps do not die after stinging someone, since their stingers are not barbed like those of bees, and are therefore not pulled out of their bodies when they attack.

I was told that probably, since the attack on my (ex!) husband happened in an enclosed space, the whole nest had been mobilised to sting. In these cases, unless antihistamine treatment is given within minutes, the victim dies of severe anaphylactic shock.

It could be that he had swatted one of the insects, and it had released a pheromone that warned the others that there was a threat, and caused them to attack him.

I will never know. Not that I want to. The Coroner’s Report states “death by misadventure”.