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Misteru jew Miraklu?

ta’ Ronald Bugeja

Ir-rakkont tal-lum se jlaqqagħna ma’ misteru uniku. Din il-ġrajja ġrat vera u l-esperjenza tagħha għadna nisimgħu biha sal-ġurnata tal-lum stess.

Ronnie kien jgħix man-nanniet tiegħu ġo dar antika n-naħa tal-Kottonera, fejn hekk kif issemmi l-isem tal-Isla naħseb li kull wieħed u waħda minna l-ewwel ħsieb li jgħaddilu minn moħħu jkun l-istatwa li ħafna devoti tagħha, li bla dubbju hija l-istatwa mirakoluża ta’ Ġesù Redentur. Id-devozzjoni lejn din l-istatwa prestiġjuża hija ferm kbira u magħrufa mal-Maltin u l-Għawdxin.Misteru jew Miraklu BDL Books

Iżda fil-ħajja, kif jgħidu, minn kollox issib u mhux wieħed jew tnejn issib lil minn jgħidlek li għal xi raġuni jaqbdu biża’ kbir meta jħares lejn din ix-xbieha. Ovvjament, l-istatwa tar-Redentur tirrappreżenta parti kbira minn dak li Sidna Ġesù Kristu għadda minnu fit-tbattija tiegħu.

Ronnie kien jorqod ġo kamra tas-sodda żgħira. Kulma kienet wiesgħa din il-kamra kienet żewġ metri b’erbgħa u kienet tant żgħira li lanqas bieb ma kien hemm fejn joqgħod allura kienu għamlu purtiera. Naħa minnhom tas-sodda kien iserraħ mal-ħajt u kien jifdal passaġġ żgħir b’wisa’ ta’ komodina biex toħroġ minn ġol-kamra. Din il-kamra, bħal ħafna bini antik, kellha xi ħaġa partikolari għax fuq sodda kien hemm bħal niċċa b’disinn ta’ erbat iċrieki magħquda f’wieħed għal forma ta’ salib. Ġo din in-niċċa kien hemm injama minn naħa l-oħra taċ-ċirku biex tifforma xkaffa. Din l-ixkaffa kienet miksija bid-drapp tal-pannu ta’ lewn aħmar. Din kienet isservi biex nanntu kienet tinxtagħal xemgħa quddiem stampa li kienet imwaħħla ma’ kartonċina tal-bennejja u mingħajr il-ħġieġa.

Din kienet stampa tal-istatwa ta’ Ġesù Redentur. Għal xi raġuni Ronnie kien dejjem jilmenta man-nanniet tiegħu biex jibdluh dak ir-ritratt u jagħmlu stampa ta’ xi qaddis ieħor jew tal-Madonna. Meta n-nanniet tiegħu kienu jistaqsuh għaliex ried hekk, Ronnie kien jgħidilhom li hu kien jibża’ minnu u kien jiddejjaq iħares lejh.

Darba fost l-oħrajn, waqt li kien lest fis-sodda biex jorqod, kien qiegħed jitlob it-talba ta’ filgħaxija kif kien imdorri jagħmel is-soltu u fit-talba tiegħu hu talab lil Ġesù u staqsieh għaliex qed kien qed jibża’ mill-istampa tiegħu.

“Għaliex niddejjaq inħares lejk meta jiena naf kemm tfisser għalina l-bnedmin?” U wara t-talba Ronnie raqad! L-għada filgħodu nannuh mar iqajjem lit-tifel għall-iskola kif kien jagħmel is-soltu iżda hekk kif ressaq il-purtiera u xegħel id-dawl, għajnejh marru dritt fuq din l-ixkaffa! X’kien ġara?

Huwa nnota li kien hemm xi ħaġa mhux f’postha! Dak il-ħin Josef kien għadu rieqed fil-fond u lanqas biss intebaħ li nannuh kien xegħel id-dawl tal-kamra. Din l-istampa kienet qiegħda fuq l-ixkaffa sserraħ sewwa mal-ħajt. Ħaġa tal-iskantament hija li din l-istampa għelbet waħedha għal fuq in-naħa tax-xemgħa bil-konsegwenza li n-nar ta’ mal-ftila mess mal-istampa u bdiet taqbad! In-nar irnexxielu jtaqqab l-istampa kif ukoll il-kartuna, iżda b’għaġeb liema bħalu n-nar tax-xemgħa ntefa u ma kompliex jaqbad.

Dak il-ħin nannuh stagħġeb, u peress li Ronnie kien għadu rieqed ma setax jevalwa eżattament x’wassal biex l-istampa għelbet!

Meta Ronnie telaq lejn l-iskola, kemm nannuh flimkien ma’ nanntu qagħdu jaraw x’seta’ ġara. L-ewwel ma ħasbu n-nanniet tiegħu kien li forsi hu stess prova jaħraq din l-istampa; iżda kif seta’ jekk hu ried sellum biex ileħħaq ma’ din l-ixkaffa u l-unika sellum li kien jeżisti fid-dar kien jinżamm marbut fit-taraġ tal-bejt? Bejniethom bdew jirraġunaw. Nannuh qal li hu kien qam darbtejn mal-lejl, imma ma sema’ xejn u żgur li t-tifel ma kienx qam. Nanntu rrispondiet u qaltlu li hi tisma’ t-tokki tal-arloġġ tal-knisja, u għalhekk kieku qam u ħa s-sellum kienet sejra ma’ tismax lit-tifel iniżżel is-sellum? In-nannu żied jgħidilha li forsi pprova jleħħaq b’xi ħaġa biex ineħħiha, iżda huma baqgħu jsostnu li fl-ebda ħin ma semgħu xi ħsejjes ġejjin mill-kamra ta’ Ronnie.

Huma skantaw kif din l-imbierka stampa xejn ma kellha biex tieqaf taqbad! In-nar seta’ jibqa’ jinfirex anki minħabba li l-istampa kienet ġa bdiet taqbad u n-nar kien ġa taqqabha din l-istampa, u kif irnexxielha tegħleb waħedha ħadd minnhom ma kien jaf!

Kif mar lura id-dar, nannuh prova jieħu minn moħħ it-tifel x’seta ġara f’dak il-lejl ta’ qabel ma raqad iżda hu kien pront qal lil nannuh li hu kien talab lil Ġesù biex ineħħilu l-biża’ li jiġih meta jħares lejn Ġesù Redentur.
Misteru jew miraklu? Min jaf! Iżda li huwa żgur hu li kieku l-istampa ħadet in-nar kieku abbli kien jispiċċa jinħaraq hu wkoll minħabba li kienet eżatt fuq is-sodda u kien ferm faċli li kienet tieħu n-nar waqt li Ronnie kien ikun rieqed. Ma kinitx xi kumbinazzjoni iżda kien sinjal li Ġesù sema’ t-talba tiegħu u bagħatlu sinjal biex ma jibqax jibża’ minnu u jagħmel il-kuraġġ. Fil-fatt Ronnie baqa’ devot lejn Ġesù Redentur u l-istampa għadha ppriservata sewwa ġo gwarniċ magħluq.

The Maltese Village Festa – Book Launch

Maltese Village Festa Book Launch BDL BooksOn 21 December 2016, Valletta 2018 Chairman Jason Micallef, the Hon. Dr Godfrey Farrugia MP and photographer Patrick J. Fenech addressed the press during the launch of BDL Publications’ new book THE MALTESE VILLAGE FESTA – A Traditional Yearly Ritual. The event was held at the Malta Chamber of Commerce in Valletta.
Maltese Village Festa Book Launch BDL BooksWith over 750 colour photographs and erudite texts, this publication takes the reader from the origins of the festa during medieval times, through to the present day. It also includes a fascinating collection of most of the statuary representations of patron saints of the titular and secondary feasts which are the focal point of these solemn religious celebrations.Maltese Village Festa Book Launch BDL Books
Editor: Godfrey Farrugia
Authors: Paul Sant Cassia, Carmel Cassar, Vicki Ann Cremona, Jeremy Boissevain, Raymond Saliba, Jesmond Manicaro.
Maltese Village Festa Book Launch BDL BooksThe book is now available from all leading stationers, bookshops and from BDL in San Ġwann (behind Junior’s Toy Shop).
Maltese Village Festa Book Launch BDL Books

The Future of Maltese Folksong

altFor the vast majority of us, Maltese folk-singing (Għana) is at best a closed book, a genre which we cannot understand. At worst,it is a monotonous wail practiced in backward villages in the past, and  soon to disappear.  In past centuries in Malta, Casha reflects, ‘Ghana  was an expression of the common people ‘il-popolin’. It was the voice of the working classes and the peasant communities.  Għana was the voice and the expression of  the illiterate  masses and their way of protesting in their own vernacular.  Most importantly, Għana has always served to reflect the period in time in which it was sung’. He compares the practice of Għana in Malta with that of the medieval minstrel singing about the events of his time.
Għana has been used  to draw attention to issues varying from petty squabbles to religious-political situation which had evolved  at various times in Malta.
It has really never been the subject of serious discussion and analysis at an academic level. It is therefore refreshing to see this publication by Manuel Casha which invites us to have a new and unprejudiced  look  at what Għana really stands for. He himself states that he started to write this book ‘with the intention of understanding the techniques, ethics, traditions and customs  of this music and the community that engages in it, as an outsider looking in’, and he invites us to do likewise. It is not often that a book dedicated to Maltese folk singing (Għana) comes to hand, and for this we have to thank Manuel Casha who has strived hard for decades to ensure that this unique form of self-expression is not lost forever. As he says in his introduction, ‘the soul and psyche of a nation are often embodied in its folkloric past’.
This type of folk singing was limited to a certain aficionados, and was frowned upon by the educated elite. It is not surprising therefore that it was foreigners who published what is arguably the best collection of Maltese folksong (by Bertha Ilg and Hans Stumme in Germany) over a century ago.
It has been stated that singing preceeded speech in the development of human interaction. It is certainly likely that Għana was the first attempts at Maltese literature and versification. In this book Casha explains the background of this art form, and how it has filled a niche within the life-style of those who, while not usually over-educated, can yet express themselves so eloquently in song.
One good definition of Għana could well be: Working class men enjoying themselves in song. This emphasises the origin of the singing, highlighting the fact that it was originally invented by unschooled and illiterate but highly intelligent men who needed a poetic outlet to express their feelings and to entertain their friends. There is nothing  unique  about this development. All people around the world have the same needs to develop their own style of expressing them. The  author compares Maltese Għana as a musical form similar to Blues music in America, Flamenco in Spain, Rebitika in Greece or Fado in Portugal, all of which form part of a global musical heritage. He goes so far as to predict that ‘once Għana music is discovered universally, outside of the Maltese archipelago, it will contribute a great deal in telling the story of the contemporary development of Mediterranean music, as we know it today’.
With the massive wave of migration that took place in the immediate post-war period, many folksingers left Malta to settle in places like Australia and elsewhere. They  brought with them their guitars as well as their love of Għana, which they enjoyed to display, to entertain their friends, in their homes, or even garages, to remind themselves of the Malta they had left behind and still hankered for.   By the mid 20th century, thousands of Maltese emigrated to other countries in search of a better life, carrying with them their musical heritage in the countries of their settlement.
It is interesting to note how Għana in Australia might have diverged from that in Malta.  Over the past half-century, Malta has had a very close contact with the outside world, and this has had a dramatic effect on the language spoken in towns and villages alike. On the other hand in Australia, Maltese language has been put in deep freeze, and has retained the characteristics and dialects that were standard in Malta more than half a century ago. It is refreshing to hear young children using their limited Maltese vocabulary expressed in unmistakable dialect derived from the village or town where their parents came from, and where such dialects have all but disappeared.
In a chapter on migration Casha remarks: ‘They now sung about their homeland, family, and friends they left behind. They sang about their battle with homesickness. They sang about the prejudices they encountered in the new countries where they were merely outsiders seeking acceptance. Some sang about the inequality and harsh working conditions. Some about the freezing climate to which they were not accustomed, having come from the Mediterranean, or conversely the oppressing heat they toiled in. Many sang about the loneliness of living in rural areas, in isolation on their farms or working as farm hands. Others, who were employed in sugarcane plantations, engaged in backbreaking work and suffocating heat and sang  about their difficult plight.  One must remember that many Maltese had to face the culture shock of leaving a generally urbanised environment in Malta, to surviving in a vast land where in some cases your next-door neighbour lived miles away.’
Other songs deal with the tragedies of war which some singers experienced personally. Perhaps the most poignant is one about a tragedy which occurred in an air-raid shelter in Malta. The author cannot erase from his mind the faces of the dead children which he helped to pull out from under the rubble  and  he transformed his grief into a heart-rending song.
Casha states that, as a musician, he entered the Għana field ‘to understand, discover and try and preserve and cultivate a very special part of Maltese culture in Melbourne.’
The question of course arises: will the second and subsequent generation be interested in this type of music? Casha is optimistic about this. He remarks:  ‘It might not be commonly known that 95% of ‘għannejja’, past and present, living in Melbourne started their careers after they emigrated….It is just as remarkable to discover that most lead guitarists (primi) in Melbourne were actually born and bred in Melbourne suburbs and some have never seen Malta.’
So the future of playing Maltese folksongs seems to be assured. The same, however, cannot be said about the art of actually creating the songs themselves, which depends, among other things. on a deep grasp of the Maltese language together with the necessity of being able to provide impromptu rhyming. Casha states: ‘it is a fact that while Australia produced some wonderful players, no indigenous għannej has been produced… so far’ . Even so, the interest shown by these young players has helped to maintain a level of command of the language. Casha says: ‘while young players ‘cannot sing  and rhyme, [they] can speak the language a lot more fluently since taking up the Maltese guitar’.
In this book we find a comprehensive section on writers of and Għana singers in Australia.  They came in large numbers in the post-war period, particularly in the 1950s and 60s. While their experience of life in Malta still informs a lot of the topics treated in their songs, with time, the local element starts to find its way into the song. He writes:  ‘Many writers in Australia ‘kept writing on traditional lines and on topics, which related more to the Maltese environment even though they had lived in Australia for a number of years…. [ and particularly] to a Malta they remembered from childhood.
It is curious to note that the vast majority of folk-singers are men. This is not surprising in view of the origin of Għana, which occurred mostly in bars to which few women were welcome.  The aggressive nature of the interaction between different folk-singers was also more suitable to the male rather than the female character.  However, several women did take part in folk singing, inventing their own particular brand, known as Għana tal-banju, (or ‘washer-women folksongs’).  Their songs were usually much less aggressive, they did not indulge in contests to prove who is the better singer. Interesting also, Casha comments, that women sing in a different key to men, female singers sing in  higher register. Men prefer the more aggressive key of G  which ‘creates the anticipation of the contest or battle’  whereas women prefer the key of C which ‘creates a happier anticipation.’
Casha  has analysed the structure of these Għana in great detail. He goes over the various types of Għana, explaining the structure of this art form, for those of us who have never really bothered to enquire into the intricacies and genius behind the ability of extemporising rhyming verse in an impromptu fashion. He analyses the varieties of this genre which has been adapted  to suit a variety of situations from the humorous to the tragic,  from the political repartee to engagement in downright insult. The author lists a whole glossary of terms used by għannejja  which are unique to this genre, and which are most likely to be lost but for this collection.
He also delves into the intricacies of tuning the guitar in different keys to achieve a more poignant harmony, a technique which is unheard of in any other kind of musical ensemble.  He also  gives us an introduction to the mysteries, secrets and techniques used by the various participants to achieve their unique effects.
He also provides profuse examples of Għana to illustrate various points of technique, style and content. He has also ensured that the text of several of these Għana is given in translation so that non-Maltese readers can at least get an idea of the meaning of the verse, even though a lot of their significance is unavoidably lost in translation.
Even in absence of anything else, this book would have been of value as a photo-album of Għana singers over the years. The book contains a unique collection of photographs,  an album of the protagonists who have practiced this art form over the years, both in Malta and in Australia. The book is a useful publication just for the photographic collection alone, containing a mass of information about the more prominent singers in Malta and Australia.
 One can also appreciate the importance of the nickname in individualising the performers: all the għannejja  referred to in this text are given a nickname through which they are immediately recognised.  Time was when a family nickname served the useful purpose of identifying a whole clan within a village or town, something that no surname can do. Nicknames are unique identifiers invented specifically for each  għannej  , and which disappear with his passing away.
Maltese folk singing has a particular value apart from entertainment:
  • Casha insists that ‘In Australia [this genre] remains an effective instrument in documenting the heritage of a group of people who migrated between the late 1940s to the mid-1970s when thousands of Maltese left their homeland to make a new life in Australia. …. One day this Għana  source will help tell the story of this sector of Maltese migrants whose stories are still not well documented.’
  • On aspect which the author emphasizes is the role of Għana  in preserving the purity of the Maltese language. He writes: ‘the Maltese language has been served well by the għannejja  in keeping its purity of form and expression.  One of the sacrosanct rules in Ghana singing is that no foreign words and expressions are acceptable.’ Moreover, he says,  it has helped to keep alive proverbs and sayings that would otherwise have long since disappeared. Casha writes:  ‘Old Maltese proverbs, idioms and old sayings, are very much the tool of a clever għannej’ ,
  • It encourages young people to maintain an interest in music and Maltese culture,
  • It helps them to improve their language skills,
  • It helps to create cohesion among groups of young persons playing together,
  • It maintains and encourages an abiding interest in performing music.
Mr Casha has been very active in ensuring that Għana continues to flourish in Australia.  He describes his own role in ensuring the preservation of this type of music. His involvement in broadcasting in Australia during which he has promoted Għana to the best of his ability, is indeed a part of the history of Maltese settlement in this continent.
There was a real risk that with the passage of time, and as these pioneers grew older and passed away, the future generation might not have the capacity or the will to continue this tradition.  It is particularly here that Mr Casha has made his most important contribution to this art-form. He has travelled up and down the country, carrying his recording equipment, saving on tape all the most important practitioners of the guitar. He has succeeded in ensuring that several members of the younger generation have taken up the instrument and now can take the place of their elders.  Some have become quite accomplished playing the guitar. Unfortunately, while their music is advanced, their grasp of the Maltese language will never allow them to express themselves in song, particularly not that brand of unique extemporising typical of the clever għannej.
Manuel Casha has done a sterling job in collecting a vast library of Ghana which is now preserved on CDs and other electronic media, and is made available for all to appreciate, even when the protagonists have long gone. He is encouraged by the interest shown by young members of the community who not only learned the technique of guitar playing, but also were keen enough to engage in the theoretical and academic aspect of this art form. Casha remarks: ‘ I am encouraged, of late, by the number of students who choose Għana and Prejjem for their thesis for their degrees of PhDs. This has shown that  a new generation Maltese see this music genre as their heritage and not something to sweep under the carpet.’
Casha himself is largely responsible for this resurgence. Through his interest, involvement in recording and documenting these songs he has been a prime mover in the resurgence of Għana in Australia. He has made sure, through his published CDs, and by ensuring that all this heritage is now archived in The National Library of Australia that future generations would be in a position to share and possibly enlarge on this heritage.

Ix-Xatt tal-Isla… Kif niftakru jien

Għalkemm twelidt l-Isla, fi Strada S. Giuseppe, tgħammidt fil-knisja tal-Vitorja  fejn ukoll għamilt il-Preċett u dħalt għall-ewwel darba fl-iskola primarja tal-Isla, issa għaddew 75 sena minn meta jien irqadt l-Isla għall-aħħar darba.

Infatti xħin sebaħ il-11 ta’ Ġunju, 1940, ommi qajmitni bilwieqfa fuq is-sodda, libbsitni malajr waqt li kien jinstema’ sparar ta’ kanuni u, ma nafx kif u x’fatta sibt ruħi l-Mosta.  Kelli seba’ snin u issa kont bdejt ħajja ġdida  fil-Mosta.  Konna familja ta’ tmienja dakinhar.  Illum, s’issa, baqa’ jien biss minnhom għalkemm il-familja tagħna  llum tikkonsisti f’ħafna iżjed minn tmienja.

Għaddew tliet kwarti ta’ seklu, iżda l-Isla jien ma nsejthiex.  Infatti minn meta spiċċat il-gwerra sal-lum jiena bqajt inżurha regolarment u spiss.  Jiddispjaċini, imma, li jien l-Isla ma naf lil ħadd u fl-Isla, lili, ma jafni ħadd… U allura nkun qisni ħuta barra mill-ilma.

Sena ilu, is-Sur Ryan Muscat, Editur tal-magazin ‘Marija Bambina Senglea’, ġentilment għoġbu jippubblikali artiklu fil-magazin tieghu. F’dan l-artiklu jien ktibt f’ċerti dettalji l-istorja naqra stramba ta’ kif il-familja tiegħi, mill-Isla sabet ruħha l-Mosta.  Permezz ta’ dak l-artiklu jien stennejt li nista’ b’xi mod  niltaqa’ ma’ xi tfal, illum xjuħ bħali, li mhux biss konna nafu lil xulxin l-Isla, iżda wkoll bqajna nafu lil xulxin il-Mosta, fejn ilkoll kemm aħna konna sibna ruħna minħabba l-gwerra. Dak iż-żmien il-Mosta, għalina n-nies tal-Kottonera jew ma kinitx teżisti jew inkella kienet id-dinja l-oħra. Il-mezzi kollha ta’ komunikazzjoni, dak iż-żmien, kienu għadhom primittivi ħafna. Fost persuni li niftakar mill-Isla kien hemm l-aħwa Joe, Vincent u Twanny Gatt li kellhom ukoll oħthom u li niftakar eżatt id-dar fejn kienu joqogħdu hawn il-Mosta;  Lorry Ciantar u ħutu Sophie u Georga, missierhom Fredu, ommhom Melita u n-nanna, qabla, Duminka.  Iltqajna magħhom fl-artiklu tas-sena l-oħra.  Kemm l-Isla kif ukoll il-Mosta konna noqogħdu bieb ma’ bieb. Jista’ jkun kien hemm oħrajn li nsejthom għalkemm niftakar tajjeb ħbieb oħra mill-Birgu kif ukoll minn Bormla. Ma smajt xejn minn ħadd, iżda.

Għamilt kuraġġ nerġa’ nikteb għax mill-kuntatti li kelli jidher li min qara l-artiklu ħa pjaċir iġedded ċerti memorji jew jitgħallem affarijiet li hu qatt ma kien sema’ bihom. Anki persuni hawn il-Mosta, dilettanti tal-festi, kellhom kopja tal-magazin u kellmuni fuq dak li kienu qraw u ‘skoprew’ fuqi.  Għax  l-istorja ta’ kif jien sibt ruħi l-Mosta mhux biss hi stramba, iżda wkoll ikkumplikata. Jekk is-Sur Muscat jogħġbu jerġa’ jippubblikali wkoll dan l-artiklu, nirringrazzjah bil-quddiem.

Jien ħarġuni mill-Isla qabel kont għalaqt it-tmien snin. Kont fit-tieni sena tal-iskola Primarja, Stage two konna ngħidulha. Meta dħalt l-iskola jien; ħija l-kbir, Alla jaħfirlu, kien ġa beda jgħallem f’din l-istess skola. Kien fl-aħħar tat-tletinijiet: 1937/8/9?  Xi ħaġa hekk. Ironija tad-destin, jien ukoll kont għamilt xi ġranet ngħallem fl-istess klassi li fiha kien jgħallem ħija. Iżda kien xi ħamsin sena wara.  Billi għaddew ħafna snin u billi domt hemm ftit ferm, ma niftakarx tfal. Niftakar biss tifla    ċkejkna u gustuża li kienet toqgħod quddiem il-parroċċa u li kien kunjomha Gaffarena. Illum qed  toqrob lejn l-erbgħin!  Kif itir iż-żmien!

Żvijjajt naqra mis-suġġett prinċipali għax kif jgħidu, il-kliem bħaċ-ċirasa. U jien jekk naqbad inlablab, ma niqafx malajr!

Mela.  Kif ġa ghedt, jien tlaqt mill-Isla meta kelli seba’ snin u meta spiċċaw l-attakki fuq Malta fl-1943 jien bdejt nerġa’ ninżel l-Isla. Fil-bidu kont ninżel m’ommi u meta kbirt ftit kont bdejt ninżel waħdi. U allura l-Isla kont ġa nafha sewwa u niftakar tajjeb ħafna affarijiet li llum m’għadhomx hemm.

Missieri, barra li kien jaħdem shipwright mal-Ammiraljat, wara x-xogħol kien jagħmel xi frejgatina biex jaqla’ lira żejda. Kellu garaxx ix-xatt. Aħna konna nsejħulu maħżen. Għadu hemm sal-ġurnata tal-lum u ma nbidel fih assolutament xejn. Qiegħed fuq ix-xellug ta’ Dar S. Anna, fejn hemm xi erba’, ħames tarġiet. Quddiemu hemm parapett. Ifakkarni meta jien u tifel ieħor, naf min hu, konna għamilna dnub kbir li ma kontx naf kif se naqbad inqerru meta għamilna l-preċett. Kellna xi ħamsa, sitt snin, meta wieħed minna mar jagħmel pipì fir-rokna ta’ dal-parapett u l-ieħor mar jittawwallu ħalli jaċċerta ruħu li konna l-istess! Meta tfarfart u dħalt il-Liċeo, wara l-iskola li kienet tispiċċa fis-siegħa ta’ wara nofsinhar, spiss kont nibqa’ sejjer ħdejh u niltaqa’ ma’ xi tfal oħra li kont naf anki fil-Mosta.

Il-liċeo kien il-Belt u fi ftit minuti lanċa kont nasal.

Qabel bdiet il-gwerra kont inqatta’ ħafna ħin ix-xatt indur ma’ saqajn missieri u narah jaħdem. Dak iż-żmien ix-xatt ma kienx wiesa’ bħal-lum u lanqas kien jasal sal-ponta. It-triq kienet tieqaf xi mkien fejn hemm dak l-għar bil-Madonna, u jekk niftakar sewwa, dak l-għar konna ngħidulu l-Għar ta’ Mikelin. Niftakar sewwa  jew qed inħawwad?

Quddiem Dar S. Anna, fejn hemm il-kantuniera u fejn sa ftit ilu kien hemm mekkanik jaħdem, hemmhekk kien hemm gabbana ċkejkna. Illum ngħidulha kjosk. Bil-pulit. Ġurnata fost l-oħrajn, kien il-Ħadd, missieri kien qiegħed hemm jieħu xi flixkun birra u jien kont miegħu nixrob flixkun luminata.  Dak iż-żmien dal-ħafna xarbiet li hawn illum ma kinux jeżistu. Xarba waħda:  luminata. Jew bajda, jew ħamra. U aħna t-tfal, dejjem, konna nagħżlu l-ħamra. Ħin minnhom deffist irkoppti bejn il-ħadid ta’ saqajn il-mejda, u meta ġejt biex noħroġha  sibt li rkoppti kienet weħlet. Missieri tah tal-qamar u telaq jiġri lejn il-maħżen, erba’ passi bogħod, biex iġib xi ħaġa ħa jaqlagħhieli. Iżda rkoppti nqalgħet waħedha qabel wasal is-sokkors. Jidhirli li dik il-parti, fejn illum hemm slip, konna ngħidulha x-Xewkija.  Allura darba, waqt li kont quddiem id-dar tagħna fi Strada S Giuseppe, nara lil ħija ikbar minni, Alla  jaħfer lilu wkoll, dieħel id-dar, imxarrab għasra u wiċċ imqarras kważi jibki. Kien waqa’ l-baħar hemm, ix-Xewkija, u għal naqra ma għeriqx għax ma kienx jaf jgħum.

Il-port, dak iż-żmien, kien ikun fih għaxqa. Numru kbir ta’ bastimenti tal-gwerra kienu jkunu sorġuti fin-nofs bejn ix-xatt tal-Isla u x-xatt tal-Birgu.  Dak iż-żmien in-Navy Ingliża kienet fl-aqwa tagħha u l-bastimenti kienu jorbtu ma’ bagi kbar f’nofs il-port. Il-kbar nett kienu jorbtu fid-daħla tal-port, bejn ix-xatt tal-Belt u l-ponta tal-Isla. Fuq dawn il-bastimenti kont tara mijiet ta’ baħrin kulħadd għal xogħlu. Baħrin imdendlin mal-ġenb tal-bastiment jiżbgħuh bi xkupi kbar, baħrin mexjin fuq il-gverta, iqandlu jew iġorru xi affarijiet, jagħmlu l-eżerċizzju fiżiku: jaqbżu ħbula, jibbuksjaw, jiġru… Kont tara wkoll partita laneċ żgħar jiġru min-naħa għall-oħra biex iwasslu xi uffiċjali għoljin minn post għall-ieħor. Kienu jidhru wkoll vapuri ta’ rmonk, tug boats, miżbugħin ħomor,  ikarkru xi bastiment bil-ħsara biex idaħħluh fil-baċir. Iġebbdu xi ċattra kbira mgħobbija b’kull xorta ta’ oġġetti, jiġbdu dawk li jgħidulhom cooking lighters li kienu jipprovdu l-bastiment b’xi affarijiet tal-ikel… Niftakar ir-Robust,  ir-Roysterer u l-Ancient. Dan tal-aħħar mhux bl-iskrejjen kien jimxi, iżda b’żewġ roti kbar, waħda kull naħa. Paddle boat! Forsi għalhekk Ancient. Imbagħad tara xi lanċa tal-pass, isserrep bejn il-bastimenti biex tasal f’postha.

Ix-Xatt kien mimli ħwienet tax-xorb li kienu frekwentati ħafna mill-baħrin.  Dawn il-baħrin, kollha żgħażagħ, kienu jkunu ilhom ġimgħat sħaħ fuq il-baħar u kienu jkunu mxennqin minn kollox. Malli jinżlu l-art ġirja waħda għal dawn il-ħwienet  biex ipattu ta’ kemm ikunu ilhom f’nofs ta’ baħar.  Jixorbu, jkantaw, jiġġieldu, jiskru, jagħmlu ħbieb u jerġgħu jiġġieldu… sakemm jiġu għalihom tar-Red Cap u jkaxkruhom lura abbord. Mijiet oħra ta’ baħrin jippassiġġaw ix-xatt jew jistennew xi dgħajsa biex toħodhom lura fuq il-bastiment. Insomma kien ikun hemm kummerċ kbir.  F’kull sens!                                                             

Mhux biss. It-Tarzna tal-Ammiraljat dak iż-żmien kienet timpjega fuq l-għaxart elef ruħ. Kienet tarzna li trid tieħu ħsieb tal-bastimenti kollha tan-Navy Ingliża li jkunu fil-Mediterran; riedet tieħu ħsieb il-port bl-inġenji kollha li kien ikun fih u kienet tagħmel ukoll xogħol kummerċjali meta dak ix-xogħol ma kienx ikun jista’ jsir jekk mhux fit-tarzna. Parentesi ċkejkna:  Meta saret l-iskultura fil-koppla tar-Rotunda tal-Mosta kien hemm bżonn ta’ biċċa armar mhux biss inġenjuża, iżda wkoll goffa ħafna. Darba qaluli li ħafna minn dan l-armar kien inħadem it-tarzna. Pass lura. Allura malli jsir il-ħin u kienet iddoqq il-palomba (il-Mosta sirena jgħidulha), l-eluf ta’ ħaddiema tat-tarzna kienu jaħarbu ’l barra. Ħafna kienu joħorġu min-naħa ta’ Bormla, iżda ħafna oħrajn kienu joħorġu mill-Macina u ġirja waħda biex jilħqu l-lanċa li kienet twassalhom il-Belt. Ix-Xatt, eżatt quddiem il-latrina, kien hemm il-Pont tal-laneċ, konna ngħidulu. Dan kien għadu hemm anki wara l-gwerra. Kien hemm ieħor il-Birgu quddiem il-monument tal-Ħelsien u ieħor il-Belt.  Apparti ieħor tas-Sliema.

X’kien dan il-Pont? Dak iż-żmien la l-vapuri u lanqas il-laneċ ma kienu jitrakkaw max-xatt minħabba li l-baħar ma kienx fond biżżejjed.  Allura dan il-pont kien speċi ta’ ċattra kbira tal-injam u l-ħadid, mgħottija b’saqaf taż-żingu. Il-passiġġieri jitilgħu fuqha, isibu kaxxier fin-nofs jaqtgħalhom il-biljett u jibqgħu sejrin jirkbu l-lanċa li tkun trakkata mal-pont. Bħala tifel jien kont nieħu pjaċir noqgħod inħares ’l isfel fl-istiva ħalli nara raġel jimpala l-faħam fil-galley, li tgħidx kemm jibda jivvampja. Dan in-nar kien isaħħan il-misħun fil-boiler u allura jagħmel l-isteam li jħaddem il-magna.  Il-magni kienu għadhom jaħdmu bl-isteam. Għalhemm steamer u għalhekk vapur, minn vapore bit-Taljan.

Fil-port ukoll, f’kompetizzjoni mal-laneċ, kien ikun hemm biżibilju ta’ dgħajjes jistennew li jdabbru xi kirja biex jieħdu xi baħrin abbord jew iniżżlu xi baħrin l-art. Jingħad li minbarra x-xogħol normali tagħhom ta’ barklora, kien isir ukoll ħafna ‘negozju’ ta’ bejgħ, tpartit u serq bejn barklori u baħrin li jkunu spiċċawlhom il-flus. Kienu jitniżżlu ħafna affarijiet minn fuq il-bastimenti li ħafna drabi kienu jinbiegħu bl-irħis. Sigaretti, xorb, żebgħa… insomma kulma l-Bambin jipprovdi.

Bħala tfal konna nieħdu ħafna gost naraw baħrin fil-pruwa tal-bastiment tagħhom ixejru l-bandieri qishom qegħdin jaraw xi logħba futbol. Fil-fatt dawn kienu jkunu qegħdin jibagħtu messaġġi lil xi bastiment ieħor. U jekk ma jkunux qed ixejru bandieri, kienu jkunu qegħdin bi speċi ta’ searchlight żgħir quddiemhom jixegħlu u jitfu d-dawl. Dawn ukoll kienu jkunu qegħdin jibqgħtu messaġġi. Il-mezzi ta’ komunikazzjoni dawk iż-żminijiet kienu għadhom primittivi għal kollox.

Fix-Xatt niftakar ċerti ħwienet partikulari. Ħdejn dar S. Anna, erba’ metri bogħod mill-maħżen  ta’missieri, kien hemm ħanut, naħseb ta’ mekkanik jew ħaddied. Kienu jgħidulu s-Sikki. Bħala tfal konna noqogħdu niġbru l-frak tal-ħadid li jaqa’ meta kien iħaddem jew it-torn jew xi trapan… Qribu kien hemm ħanut tax-xorb, id-Dan Cow. Fil-gwerra waqa’ u ma reġax inbena. Kien fil-kantuniera kif iddur lejn il-ponta. Ieħor maġenbu, jidhirli biss, it-Trocadero? Sa ftit ilu x-xatt kont nara waħda minnhom – bħala tfal jien u hi konna nilagħbu flimkien. Dan l-aħħar ma rajthiex iżjed. Naħseb li d-dixxendenti ta’ dawn għadhom joqogħdu x-Xatt. Quddiem il-pont tal-laneċ kien hemm wieħed jikri l-karozzi. Dak iż-żmien il-karozzi kienu rarissmi. Kienu jgħidulu l-Kajxu. Fis-sajf ġieli ninżlu nieklu f’ħanut eżatt, jew qrib ħafna fejn kien dal-bniedem. Qed nikteb mill-memorja wara ħamsa u sebgħin sena. Jiġifieri dan li qed taqraw mhux vanġelu.  Iżda…..

Sadanittant, wieħed minn ħuti, Karmenu, kien daħal fil-MUSEUM (mużew). U m’hemmx għaliex ngħidu daħħal lili wkoll miegħu. Xejn xejn kont se nibda nipprepara biex nagħmel l-Ewwel Tqarbina. Niftakar il-mużew kien lejn il-Knisja ta’ S Flippu. Kien  f’side street, aħna u neżlin ’l isfel fi Strada Due Porte. Kienet side street max-xellug. Quddiemha, wara l-gwerra, kien hemm ħanut tal-ħaxix u merċa ta’ raġel ieħor ,li anki hu kien refuġjat il-Mosta u kien ħabib kbir ta’ ħija l-kbir. Il-Kirjolò kienu jgħidulu. U niftakar qisu l-bieraħ, ingħidu talba li meta kbirt tgħallimt li dit-talba kienet tingħad għax il-gwerra kienet waslet qrib ħafna. Talba lil S. Ġużepp:

O mqaddes Ġużeppi,

Fil-hemm li fih ninsabu,

Lejk nirrikorru eċċ. eċċ.

U nispiċċaw  billi nitolbu lil S. Ġużepp jeħlisna mill-orruri li qegħdin jeqirdu lid-dinja. M’hemmx għaliex ngħidilkom li dil-kelma orruri bilkemm naf xi tfisser illum, aħseb u ara! Iżda lilna t-tfal kienet togħġobna!

Kif rajna, ix-Xatt kien ikun hemm attività kbira ħafna. Iżda mhux biss ix-Xatt. Triq il-Vitorja wkoll kellha ħafna ħwienet u kummerċ mhux ħażin. It-triq dejjem iffullata bin-nies, jippassiġġaw, deħlin u ħerġin mill-ħwienet, ipaċpċu. Kien ikun hemm ħafna ħajja. Niftakar li xi mkien fejn kien hemm il-Madonna tan-Nofs, kien hemm sala tat-talkies; id-Domus konna ngħidulu? Darba żgur kont mort nara film hemmhekk. Dak iż-żmien ftit ferm kien hemm familji li kellhom karozza. Terġa’ l-familji kollha kien ikollhom partita tfal u allura l-maġġoranza assoluta tan-nies kienu jibqgħu fil-belt jew raħal tagħhom. Dak il-ħafna ħruġ tal-lum ma kienx jeżisti. In-naqra sfog tal-familji kien f’raħalhom stess. Dak iż-żmien mhux il-karozzi biss kienu rari ħafna, iżda  kważi kulma għandna llum ġo djarna anqas biss konna noħolmu bih.  Lanqas  ilma u dawl ma kont issibu fid-djar kollha. Ħafna rħula lanqas sistema ta’ drenaġġ ma kellhom. L-elettronika kollha li nafu biha llum, lanqas ħadd ma qatt kien sema’ biha u riedu jgħaddu ħafna snin wara l-gwerra biex dehru l-ewwel settijiet tat-TV. Meta t-temp kien jippermetti, ħafna familji kienu joħorġu s-siġġijiet barra u joqogħdu jpaċpċu. Fis-sajf, imbagħad, ħafna kienu jinżlu x-Xatt.

Sadanittant il-gwerra baqgħet riesqa lejna. F’Settembru tal-1939, l-Ingilterra u Franza kienu ġa ddikjaraw il-gwerra kontra l-Ġermanja, iżda billi l-ajruplani kienu għadhom ma jtirux ’il bogħod ħafna, lilna, hawn Malta, ma kinux jilħquna. Iżda kulħadd kien qed jistenna lill-Italja tidħol fil-gwerra. U l-Italja qrib tagħna. Allura kull tant żmien, madwar il-port kien isir dak li konna ngħidulu black out. Jintfew id-dwal kollha bħala preparazzjoni f’xi każ li jiġu xi ajruplani jitfgħu l-bombi. U spiss ħafna kien jinstema’ ħafna sparar ta’ kanuni li kienu bdew jintramaw madwar Malta kollha. Jien kont nibża’ kemm mid-dlam kif ukoll mill-isparar u ħafna drabi kont insib refuġju f’ħoġor ommi. Allura din kienet tressaq ħalqha ma’ widnejja u tgħidli l-kelma maġika: Manuvri. Xi tfisser dil-kelma ma kontx naf, iżda moħħi mistrieħ li la manuvri,  u la qalithieli ommi, allura m’hemmx minn xiex nibża’.

Ma għaddiex wisq  żmien li ma bdewx  jitħaffru x-xelters. Kollox kien juri li l-gwerra ma kinitx bogħod minna. Numru kbir ta’ ħaddiema jaħdmu bla waqfien biex iħaffru dawn ix-xelters li eventwalment  salvaw mijiet ta’ ħajjiet. U meta fis-sebgħa ta’ filgħodu, 11 ta’ Ġunju 1940 bdejt nisma’ l-isparar, ommi ma qalithilix il-kelma manuvri. Ma qaltli xejn anzi.  Sempliċement qajmitni, libbsitni u… l-kumplament tafuh.

Giov DeMartino  – April 2015

Fuq il-Bank

‘Dejjem hawn dawn, jieħdu t-te u l-pastizzi! Ara jgħidux li qed ibatu!’ qal bejnu u bejn ruħu s-Sur Benjamin, hu u ħiereġ mill-karozza pinna u tleqq bid-dawl tax-xemx fuqha li kien għadu kemm xtara xi ftit xhur ilu. ‘Naħseb ħaqqni karozza ġdida. Mhux il-ħin kollu naħdem jien, u nistinka? Ingawdi ftit jien għal darba, nista’! Mhux dejjem taraw x’ħa tivvintaw tal-ispejjeż int u t-tfal!’ kien jgħid lil martu waqt xi argument jaħraq wara ġurnata xogħol, minħabba li martu kienet toqgħod tilmenta miegħu li la hi u lanqas it-tfal ma kienu qed igawduh.
 
‘Dejjem tara x’ser taqbad dik,’ kien jaħseb hu u sejjer għall-uffiċini tal-kumpanija, li kien għadu kif espanda peress li beda jagħmel suċċess dan l-aħħar. Għadda sal-pjazza, kif kien jagħmel bħas-soltu f’nofsinhar, u bħal dejjem kien hemm Pietru u Fredu bilqiegħda fuq il-bank ta’ faċċata tal-ħanut tax-xorb. Sakemm kien ikun għall-kenn ta’ xi siġra waqt il-brejk biex jiekol dak li tkun ippreparatlu martu għax-xogħol, kien jedha jarahom iqumu wieħed imbagħad l-ieħor, u jaqsmu jixtru xi ħaġa oħra mill-ħanut ta’ faċċata biex jimlew żaqqhom, għalkemm bla dubju ta’ xejn it-tobba kienu kontra li dawn iż-żewġ pensjonanti jagħmlu minn kollox biex ikomplu jkabbru dik iż-żaqq qisha tanbur li kellhom! Fuq fommu kienet titqanqal tbissima meta jimmaġina kif id-Dottor Pace tal-pressjoni, b’għajnejh iżebbġu ’l hawn u ’l hinn sakemm isib fejn jipparkja qrib kemm jista’ jkun tal-ispiżerija u b’wiċċu dejjem ruxxan bin-nervi li kienu jqabbduh il-pazjenti li ma jisimgħux minnu, jibda jbiddel il-kuluri jekk jaqbadhom iqarmċu pastizz wara l-ieħor u xi qassata meta jkollhom aptit ibiddlu t-togħma.
 
Kiel il-ftira mħawra biż-żebbuġ u l-kappar u qabdu l-għatx, iżda l-flixkun tal-ilma kien nesieh warajh l-uffiċini. Qabad il-bagalja tal-ġilda li qala’ bħala rigal f’għeluq sninu mingħand oħtu u għamel triqtu għall-ħanut biex jixtri flixkun luminata. Lanqas laħqu rawh Pietru u Fredu li m’għamlulux sinjal għal ħdejhom, u hu, wara li ħares lejn il-ħin u ra li kien għad fadallu sew qabel imur ikompli bil-laqgħat li kellu ppjanati għal waranofsinhar, mar għal ħdejhom.
 
“Haw’! Kif int, Sur Tanti? Orrajt, sieħbi?” laqgħu Fredu, b’ħalqu mimli frak tal-qassata tal-irkotta.
 
Qabeż Pietru u qallu, “Dejjem orrajt narah lill-ħabib tagħna; hux hekk, Ben? U x’karozza faqqajtilna, eh! Kemm ħadtha? Kif kien jgħid missieri, Alla jaħfirlu: flus ma’ flus u qamel ma’ qamel.”
 
“Mhux ħażin, Piet. Ħeqq, u l-karozza ħdimt għaliha jien!” kompla Benjamin, bħallikieku biex jaċċertahom li l-flus iġibhom b’mod onest u jurihom li kien ħaqqu jinvesti f’karozza bħal dik.
 
“U sewwa tagħmel, Ben. La għandek, gawdi; mhux hekk, Piet?”
 
“U hekk ngħid jien, iżda xejn ma ngħid, il-flus mhux kollox!” U ħares lejn in-negozjant ta’ skola liebes pulit b’bagalja f’idu. ‘Dan xi jrid jgħid biha?’ issuppervja Ben.
 
“Imma jien ma naħdimx għall-flus biss; ix-xogħol itini sodisfazzjon,” irribatta, biex jerġa’ jqum mit-tisbita li tah dak il-biċċa ta’ xiħ mixħut fuq il-bank.
 
“Jien m’għedtlekx li x-xogħol u l-flus mhumiex sbieħ. Anzi, mingħajr flus la tgħannaq u lanqas tbus; imma ridt infiehmek… Insomma, naqilbu s-suġġett, għax mhux qed niftiehmu. Kif inhi ommok? Ilek xejn ma tmur taraha mal-familja tiegħek? Taf kemm tieħu pjaċir kieku, miskina!” kompla Pietru, bl-intenzjoni profonda li jġiegħel lil dak iż-żagħżugħ ta’ quddiemu, dritt dritt u li tiegħu kollox tajjeb, jirrifletti ftit.
 
“Naħseb mhux ħażin…”
 
“Taħseb? Ukoll! U fuq ommok qed nitkellmu!”
 
“Isma’, Piet, jien ikolli x’nagħmel ta! Ejja prova qatta’ ġurnata f’xogħli ħa tara xi stress u impenji għandi! Jien mhux bħal dawk ta’ daqsi li dejjem bilqiegħda hemm ġew jixorbu l-birra lejl u nhar ta!”
 
“Titmasħanx, ejja, żagħżugħ! Ikkalma, ħi, għax tinqata’ xi vina minn rasek… Kelma qallek,” qabeż Fredu, li induna li d-diskussjoni ta’ bejn dawk it-tnejn kienet ħadet bixra differenti, bil-botti jingħadu b’mod sottili.
 
“Ara, sarli l-ħin,” qata’ l-konverżazzjoni bil-pulit, wara li ta ħarsa ħafifa lejn l-arloġġ jiswa fuq il-ħames mitt ewro li kellu f’idu Benjamin.
 
“Mur, u kun imbierek!” qalu t-tnejn ta’ bilqiegħda b’mod sinkronizzat, daqslikieku kienu jispiċċaw kull konverżazzjoni ma’ xi ħadd bl-istess mod. Benjamin b’pass mgħaġġel mar għall-karozza u rikeb biex jitlaq. Fit-triq waqt li qed isuq baqa’ jaħseb fi kliem Pietru, u l-kuxjenza ħassha tippreżentalu quddiem għajnejh minn xiex beda jonqos dan l-aħħar: kull tilwima ma’ martu, kull wiċċ imbikki li kienu jtuh uliedu meta jmorru jiġru jgħidulu li l-iskola kienet se torganizza xi ħarġa li fiha jistgħu jattendu l-ġenituri, jew reċta għall-jum tal-għoti tal-premjijiet, u jgħidilhom li għandu x’jagħmel, u kull darba li martu tiġi bit-telefown ħdejh fil-kamra tal-istudju li kellu d-dar, b’infermiera fuq il-linja mid-dar tax-xjuħ tgħidlu li ommu xtaqet tisma’ kemm kemm leħnu, u jkeċċiha għax ikollu ħafna xogħol.
 
Tefa’ l-karozza f’ġenb tat-triq u ċempel lil Mariana, is-segretarja. “Tanti Negotiates. How may I help you? Eh, int, Sur Tanti? Għidli… eħe… Orrajt, kollox sew… Le, le, għadhom ma waslux; għadu l-ħin… Iva, iva, issa stess ħa nċemplilhom… Orrajt… Ċaw u l-kumplament tal-ġurnata t-tajba.”
 
Dawwar il-karozza u biddel ir-rotta. Ftit minuti wara pparkja fil-parking tad-dar tax-xjuħ u għadda jixtri pasta tal-krema minn ħanut qrib, ta’ dak it-tip li kienet tħobb ommu.

Il-Ħadd – Jum il-Mistrieħ

Il-Ħadd hu jum il-mistrieħ,
Lill-Mulej dejjem offrih!
Għall-quddies tajjeb li tmur
Ħalli lill-Ħallieq iżżur.
Dakinhar tivvintax xogħol!
Tajjeb li nistrieħu lkoll
Mir-rutina ta’ kuljum,
Mistenni wisq hu dal-jum.
Xħin idoqqu nofsinhar
U kulħadd ikun id-dar
Nieklu dejjem ikel bnin
Aħna f’ġurnata bħal din.
Wara nistrieħu xi ftit
Għax il-Ħadd hekk biss tkun trid.
Jew xi dawra fejn ix-xatt,
Hemm, għall-kwiet, imur kulħadd.
Jeħtieġ illi l-Ħadd ngħożżuh
U li ma xejn ma nbiddluh.
Mill-għada, imbagħad, nikkargaw
U għax-xogħol nirritornaw.
Viva viva l-mistrieħ
Jgħid iż-żgħir u jgħid ix-xiħ.
Il-Ħadd hu jum il-Mulej,
Qatt m’għandna nbiddluh ma’ xej’!

Ir-Randan Imqaddes

Ir-Randan żmien ta’ penitenza
Għall-kuntrarju ta’ żmien il-Milied.
Fih nagħmlu s-sawm u l-astinenza
Meta ġo darna nkunu għall-kwiet.
 
Għax matulu nfakkru t-tbatija
Li għadda minna Sidna Ġesu`
Meta miet għalik u għalija
Biex isalva `l kulħadd hu min hu.
 
Il-mixja tar-Randan hi twila,
Dana għaliex fiha erbgħin jum.
Iżda jekk tagħmel ftit tal-ħila
Żgur tagħmlu sagrifiċċju kuljum.
 
Tajjeb li nidħlu fina nfusna
Matul daż-żmien solenni, qaddis
Ħalli jekk forsi kibru rjusna
Insiru umli mill-aktar fis.
 
F’daż-żmien tajjeb nagħmlu ħilitna
Biex nimitaw iżjed lill-Feddej.
Nagħmlu kuraġġ ħalli b’talbitna
Insiru aħjar fiż-żmien li ġej.
 
Jeħtieġ li llestu għalenija
Rwieħna lkoll f’daż-żmien għall-Għid il-Kbir
U nġeddu ta’ Ġesu` t-tbatija
Għaliex hekk kien hemm miktub li jsir.
 

Bats at the museum

As the sun began to set, the sky darkened with the legion of bats which came out of the Rabat catacombs, noted G. Gulia in 1890 in his book Elenco dei Mammiferi Maltesi. Certainly, the tendency of these nightly creatures to live in such dreaded underground areas didn’t help them much in order not to be associated with evil and darkness. Likewise, their strange semblance, their mythical association with Dracula, and images of Satan bearing their wings, hindered even more their reputation. In Aztec and Mayan cultures, bats were deities connected to death. Yet nothing could be far from the truth since bats have a beneficial role in the earth’s ecosystem.
 
altThe importance of these unique flying mammals was highlighted during a recent activity which was organized by MEPA’s Environment Division in collaboration with Heritage Malta, at the National Museum of Natural History in Mdina. This annual event, recognized as Malta Bat Night, included a discussion about bats and listening to their sounds through an electronic device.
 
“Malta Bat Night forms part of a partnership which we have with the European Union for the Research and Conservation of Bats,” explained John Joseph Borg, Senior Curator at the National Museum of Natural History.
 
“Such events are aimed to inform the public about bats in the hope of removing the negative impression that people have about them. Along the years, bats have decreased considerably in Malta, both because their habitat has often been disturbed, and also due to direct acts of vandalism which were carried out upon them.”
 
altIndeed, Borg explained that colonies of bats have been repeatedly put on fire whilst they were resting in their caves. Others were smothered when vandals threw mud and other things at them, even though they were clearly being protected behind a gate, such as in the case of Ħasan Cave. Bats of a small colony which lived in a site that had access to a particular school, were burnt alive by school children after they captured them and drenched them in hot candle wax.
 
Well, after hearing these stories, it becomes very clear who the evil ones are.
 
 “Unfortunately our culture has taught us to fear and hate these creatures. In actual fact, their presence could be very advantageous to humans,” revealed Borg.
 
“Many of the bats eat insects and studies have shown that they tend to feed on species that are harmful to humans and to agriculture. Other small bats which have an elongated snout and a long tongue, act as pollinators when they enter into flower tubes to lick the pollen inside and then move onto different plants. Larger bats, which may look spooky and scary, nurture themselves on decaying fruit and therefore, they keep the fruit trees healthy.”
 
What about the so called vampire bats. Were they real? And do we have them in Malta?
 
alt“In contrast to peoples’ impression that all bats can suck blood, most of them thrive on insects, fruit, fish and frogs. The only vampire bats which feed on blood are found in South America and they are pretty small. They are nothing similar to the fictional bats that we see in films. In fact, they do not suck blood but they lick it, thanks to their anticogulant saliva which prevents the blood from clotting. They do not normally attack human beings and neither animals. However, they will feed on any animal available if it is reachable to them, including humans.”
 
Borg informed me that we have seven resident species of bats which are: Lesser Horse-shoe Bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), Maghrebian Bat (Myotis punicus), Grey Long-eared Bat (Plecotus austriacus), Savi`s Pipistrelle (Hypsugo savii), Kuhl`s Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii), Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), and Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus).
 
alt“We have bats from all these resident species living in this museum,” smiled Borg who has an avid passion about bats. “In the underground tunnels there are the Lesser Horse-shoe and the Maghrebian Bats, whereas in the rooms of the underlying level, one finds the Grey Long-eared and the Lesser Horse-shoe Bats. Moreover, all the four Pipistrelle species have managed to make a home in some cracks of the facade and on the high beams.”
 
From the remains of moth wings which Borg collects from the museum floor early in the morning for his studies, he is able to identify more information about his resident bats, such as what they prey on. Interestingly, each small Pipistrelle is able to eat around 20,000 moth each night, thereby being more effective than the insect sprays which we use. Nonetheless, most people have no idea about this and when they realize that they are co-habitating with bats, hell breaks lose.
 
“We do receive calls from people who request us to remove bats from their properties. It is very rare that these creatures enter into homes. Usually they live in cracks in external windows or in narrow openings in facades. Some of the bats are minute in size and in fact, five of them can be placed in a matchstick box. Generally, once these people realize that these animals will be doing no harm to them or to their family, they will agree to allow them to stay. Yet there were cases when the individuals concerned were adamant that they wanted them removed.”
 
altIn such cases, Borg or other responsible officials will need to go and survey the bats before taking action. This involves counting them daily for a whole week in order to confirm the exact amount of bats that are roosting in this place. Once, this amount is identified, they will wait until all the bats are out at night and then they will block the nest in order not to let them in again. Eventually, when the bats will return home and realize what happenned, they will automatically move away to a second area which they tend to keep as a form of protection.
 
“This procedure to count bats is very important because they do not always leave the nest in the same number. Usually, a scout bat will fly out first in order to check whether it is windy and whether there are enough insects available in the area. If he returns, the others will stay inside but if he does not, they will understand that the situation is favourable and they will fly out too.”
 
I couldn’t help feeling impressed by these creatures. Yet more was still to come.
 
alt“The courting and copulation of bats takes place in autumn, between October and November. Then, as soon as the temperature drops and insects are more rare, they will fall in a state of torpidity which is a short period of sleep. During this time, the sperm with which the female has been fertilized will remain stored inside her, waiting for the right moment to come. Once the tempertaure gets warmer and insects become available, these bats will wake up and the real preganancy will start. In this way, both the mother and the offspring will have a better chance to survive.”
 
Although there are some who associate bats with flying mice, Borg informed me that there is nothing common between the two. While mice come from the order Rodentia, bats form part of the order of Chiroptera (meaning hand-wing).
 
alt“The oldest bat fossils date back to 55 million years ago where this mammal had already the shape which we know today. On the other hand, the oldest fossils which were found in Malta go back to the Ice Age at around 200,000 and 10,000 years ago. These were found during excavations at Għar Dalam and so we can say that these ancient bats remember the dwarf elephants and hippopotami roaming around. At this museum, we do hold a sample of these fossils. However, the majority of them were taken by the foreign researchers who were doing the excavations, and these passed on their discoveries to their relative museums.”
 
In the Mdina museum, one can also find some current bat specimens. Borg insisted that it is not the policy of the museum to capture and kill creatures in order to preserve them. So, one won’t find a specimen for each species which live in Malta. Nevertheless, the museum will do his best to assist whoever will request information about bats.
 
altBorg’s own interest in bats goes back to the 1980s. Originally fearful of them, he came face to face with these bats whilst he was doing bird studies and these nightly creatures were being captured accidentally in nets. At first nervous, he asked others to remove them for him, until one day, he decided to do the job himself.
 
From then on, he was completely captivated by them and has been studying them ever since, eager to share his knowledge in the hope of fostering more interest from the public.
 
It is safe to say that Malta Bat Night has certainly gone a long way towards achieving this.

Lill-Arċisqof il-Ġdid (Frar 2015)

Fil-pajjiż ilbieraħ ġriet l-aħbar
Li Scicluna l-arċisqof kien sar.
Il-Mulej kien, fl-aħħar, sema’ t-talb
Tal-Maltin kollha ħiereġ mill-qalb.
 
Konna ilna nistennew ix-xhur,
U ħadd minna ma kien jaf fiż-żgur
Min ser ikun tal-Knisja l-mexxej,
Wara Cremona tgħid min kien ġej?
 
Intgħażel minn fostna saċerdot,
Isqof diġa`, fil-valuri sod.
Ta’ Missierna San Pawl suċċessur,
Il-mexxej tal-Knisja tal-futur.
 
Dana għandu biss ħamsa u ħamsin,
Bniedem ħabrieki, ma jitlifx ħin.
Ċerta li se jkun bil-wisq maħbub
U li tan-nies se jisraq il-qlub.
 
Ċerta li se jagħmel ħafna ġid
U l-fidi fost il-poplu se jżid.
Mela, ejjew nitolbu għalih
Biex il-Mulej l-għajnuna jagħtih!
 
Lil Scicluna, l-arċisqof il-ġdid,
Ħerqana biex jekk Alla jrid
Narah jinħatar fi ftit ġimgħat,
Nawgura lilu l-isbaħ xewqat.
 

Ġuża Mifsud

Mir-raħal tas-Siġġiewi,
Mara minn fost it-twajbin
Li kien jisimha Ġuża
Twieldet ilu bosta snin.
 
L-iżgħar fost seba’ aħwa,
Mara xempju tal-Maltin.
Kellha dix-xebba Ġuża
Ħajja bħal tal-qaddisin.
 
Ma’ familtha l-Girgenti
Kuljum kienet taħdem l-art.
Kienet dejjem tmur l-għalqa
Kemm fis-sħana u fil-bard.
 
Hemmhekk stess fil-Girgenti,
Kienet tħobb tmur ftit sal-wied
U toqgħod tgħid xi talba
Meta fl-għalqa tkun għejjiet.
 
Fuq is-siġra tan-naspli
Darba waħda rat dawl kbir.
Din kienet il-Madonna
Bi lbies fuqha tassew fqir.
 
Riedet minnha Marija
Ħafna talb għall-midinbin.
Ġuża pinġiet did-dehra,
Obdietha bla telf ta’ ħin.
 
Reġgħet dehret Marija
Meta għadda iżjed żmien.
U talbitha tpinġiha,
Dan fil-Ħamsinijiet kien.
Qaltilha wkoll Marija
Li Alla riedha għaliH
Minn eta` tassew żgħira,
Hi pinġietha minnufih.
 
Dan tal-Konsagrazzjoni
It-titlu ma kellha qatt.
U b’hekk xerrditu Ġuża
Għax ma kien tahulha ħadd.
 
Minn qaddisin, `rwieħ twajba,
Minn Ġesu` kellha d-dehriet.
Fil-laqgħat fil-Girgenti
Il-kelma tagħhom fis ġriet.
 
Meta għalqet għajnejha
Kellha aktar minn sebgħin.
Indifnet is-Siġġiewi
Hi fis-Sitta u Disgħin.
 
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