Written by Szidónia Lőrincz
So why did you come to Malta? I have heard this question various times, from locals and foreigners as well. I have been thinking a lot ever since, until I realized that it wasn’t really the question. My coming here was mostly a series of coincidences (call it fate, if you will), so the real question is, why did I stay?
It’s been a year since I arrived to this tiny jewellery box of an island, and it seems that I’m staying for the time being. It’s high time I answered this question to myself. But in all fairness, I have a couple of questions I need to answer before that. Simple questions, like where I am from. Uhm, well… good question, it’s hard to say. I am Hungarian, but not from Hungary. I was born in Romania. In Transylvania to be more precise. You know Dracula? Exactly! So yes, Hungarian, but different kind, from a different country, proud and confused. I dare you to meet me for the first time and try to indulge in small talk with me! This identity crisis is a major factor when it comes to relocation. There is no strict contrast between two ends of a scale. I have three different cultures behind me, choosing even one as the “main” is a challenge sometimes.
But how did I get here? About a year ago I went on a journey, trying to get away and find my way back to my roots. Malta was supposed to be one station of it. But in some way it got its claws in me, and there is something that is bringing me back to it, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it yet.
I was in Sicily when I got the phone call that there is a full time photography job waiting for me in Malta, and they need me NOW. Strange enough, who ever heard about a full time job in photography? In Malta. Where is that exactly? Oh look, sea and palm trees. And 300 days of sunshine. I must be the target of some practical joke! What can be more like fate than this? Of course I’m coming!
I realized soon, that what I thought to be one of the aims of my life, the big dream, to live by the sea with eternal sunshine, working with a camera in my hand all day, is really not it. At least it’s not that simple. It was an amazing and eye opening experience, but I understood very quickly that I have to make sense of my being here if I want to survive, other than the geographical features of the place. So again, I was unhappy in a place that I loved to be in.
That is when I first started to look into what this country really has to offer me, and what I can contribute to it. It seemed like an easy job: so many opportunities left untapped, most projects I could think of haven’t been realized yet. So let’s get to work then. Let’s leave the hotel I was working for, that was draining all my creative energy and bring it into something more meaningful. Where can an educated European woman start? “Waiters and bar staff needed” Jackpot! Give me all the plates!
But hey, the place was actually nice; they served decent food, had a pleasant atmosphere and didn’t have enough marketing. What if I offered some services for free to revive this business as a team, everyone giving that bit of an extra? Let me take some quality food photos and bring some new music so there’s variety. We don’t need that; we have the pictures from the phone. And this music has been playing for the past 10 years and people still come back, so why change it.
After trying for some time, I needed a break. I was putting too much energy into something that wasn’t going anywhere. Let’s go home, from one secluded place to the other, and rethink. I felt that I can’t just leave Malta, I have unfinished business – meaning that I haven’t really done anything yet that would make this place a ‘stepping stone’ in my journey, as I intended. What could be more productive, that can work out in Malta? Well I do have a degree in English. And people do come to learn that particular language on these islands. And it is the one thing, so far, that I have been informed to be done in a straightforward way from various sources: you get this and this qualification, this permit, pay for that piece of paper, and schools will be grabbing after you in no time. So I decided to get certified as an English teacher in Malta.
From then on, I got support from people I haven’t even met before, and they were going out of their way to help me down this road regardless if they would ever profit from it or not. That was something I haven’t seen before. It turned out to be a good enough pulling force to bring me back to the island the second time. And once I was back, it just seemed to snowball. People wanted me to learn, they wanted me to get where I needed to be, and they didn’t ask for a thing in return.
With a different mindset, I got into a circle where I started to be treated like family, my problems were continuously met with ‘’no worries” “it’s not the end of the world” “just talk to me should you have any difficulties” answers, so that showed me that I was on the right path. Finally I could contribute my talents to a task that was part of something bigger and equally beneficial for both parties.
I’m not saying that I don’t get frustrated most days. That’s the point, it’s challenging. But my effort is met with appreciation. The mindset is different, the goals are different most of the time, but connecting through all the differences is what makes the experience worthwhile. I can’t really get creative and do ‘my own thing’, but for the time being I learn enough from contributing, so I’ll stay as long as I feel that there is something that I can and need to do here. So why am I still in Malta? To be challenged every day and learn about myself and others in a way that I couldn’t in a place that caters to all my needs in the way I’m used to.