Posts Tagged ‘Fiona Vella’

  • Gone but not forgotten

    “St. George Preca used to say that the cemetery is the biggest book and I had the opportunity to confirm that,” revealed a Capuchin friar who served as a custodian of the Addolorata cemetery for some years. Living among the dead, day and night, helped him to learn much about humanity and its weaknesses.

    The origial residence and office of the cemetery's custodian - 1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)“The Capuchin friars were selected by the British authorities to administer this cemetery because they were loved by the locals. They had always been the ones who stood by the people during the worst moments and in situations which others avoided,” explained researcher Eman Bonnici.

    “The British authorities hoped to attract people to bury their dead at the Addolorata cemetery. One of the best architects, Emanuele Luigi Galizia, was chosen to design this magnificent cemetery which took seven years to construct at the expense of £33,000. However, a well thought strategy was also required since this necessitated a considerable culture change within Maltese society.”

    “Around 150 years ago, no one was buried in a cemetery except for those who died of contagious diseases or prisoners who were hanged. People buried their loved ones within the churches, chapels and crypts of their towns and villages to keep them close and within sacred grounds. Yet authorities considered this custom as a time bomb for some epidemic catastrophe. From time to time, outbursts of plague and cholera appeared on the islands, and it took days before the malady was identified. Case in points were the first plague victims of 1675 and 1813. Both were buried at Ta’ Ġieżu in Valletta, right at the capital city which was densely populated.”

    “Initially, the Addolorata cemetery was intended to serve as a burial site for Catholics who were from Cottonera, Floriana and Valletta. As an incentive to start a new chapter in burial custom, those who had a private grave in any of these areas, were offered the possibility to choose a space in this cemetery and their grave would be dug for free. They were also given the privilege to use the cemetery’s church for burial rites and prayers before their loved ones were laid to rest. A further benefit consisted of a daily mass which was celebrated in this church and dedicated to all those who were buried within the cemetery.”

    “Although a new law passed in 1863 prohibited further burials within churches, and the Addolorata cemetery was blessed and consecrated in 1869 to be ready for use, it was not that easy to convince the local population who had very strong beliefs related to death and burial customs. No one wanted to bury their dead in the new cemetery. Until one day, a poor woman from Naxxar who lived in Mosta, 64 year old Anna Magro, died at the general hospital, and since she had no relatives, she was the first one to be buried at this cemetery. Some time later, a number of people from Cospicua decided to accept the offer to have their own graves at the Addolorata, and from then, things moved on.”

    The custodian’s role of the Addolorata cemetery was quite challenging. He had the responsibility of all the administration of the cemetery which included the registration of burials, the issuing of burial permits, the applications for new graves, the research for the public about the deceased and their graves, the maintenance of the cemetery and its church, the management of the workers, the distribuition of salaries which was still given out in money, the celebration of daily mass, and the hearing of confessions and spiritual advice. 

    “Originally the friars who acted as custodians were expected to spend the night at the cemetery. I spent around five years living at the cemetery together with a brother who was responsible to cook for me and to take care of the cemetery’s church. Although the brother resided at the cemetery for the whole year, friars alternated every week,” explained the friar.

    “I was shocked when I was requested to become a cemetery custodian. I had studied philosophy and theology, and I had no idea whatsoever about the administration of a cemetery. However, my Provincial promised me that he would provide me with all the necessary assistance and so I accepted the role.”

    Monuments at the cemetery (Photo - Fiona Vella)“Ironically, this work was a blessing in disguise! I had never imagined that the very place connected to death would fill my life with such significant experiences. A cemetery gets you in contact with all the levels of society, from the poorest to the richest, from the average person to the most successful. You learn a lot about humanity’s weaknesses and strengths, about love and hate, about repentance and revenge, about the excruciating suffering of illnesses and death. Ultimately, when the time came, it was actually difficult to leave this role.”

    “Some of my experiences at the cemetery are simply unforgettable. Some of them fill me with distate, others chill me to the bone, while a number of them remind me of the unexplainable power of prayer, love, hope and belief. At times, the pain and suffering which I had to deal with became unbearable and I had to seek out the comfort of the convent. More than the freezing cold of the night which reigned within those historical rooms, it was the distressful questions which people confronted me with, day after day, which affected me most.”

    “Why is your God doing this to me?” asked a woman while carrying her sixth dead foetus for burial. “Her husband had brought the previous five and I had prayed with him and listened to his suffering. It was the first time that I was facing his wife and the news of yet another miscarriage was intensely sad and shocking. In moments like those, I asked God to guide me and he never failed to assist me. This is not the work of God but of nature, I told her. God would never do this to you! Give a name to each child and pray for each and to each one of them and you will find peace.”

    “Around five years passed from this incident. Then, one day, the brother informed me that a couple needed to speak to me. I went out to meet them and they reminded me of their story. ‘I did just like you advised’, the woman told me. ‘And now we have him,’ she said as she reached out to a pram with a beautiful little baby boy inside.”

    Stories poured out from the friar. He was still so emotional about them, as if they had just happenned the day before.

    “On a very cold and rainy day in February, a smart and well-dressed man came to knock at my door. He gave me a grave number and I informed him that it was located in the common graves’ area. The man asked me to accompany him with a car to see this grave and I drove him there.”

    “As soon as I pointed out the grave, the man jumped out of the car, fell to his knees on the ground and began to cry out for his mother’s forgiveness. ‘Forgive me mum! It was not my fault!’ he repeated over and over again while the heavy rain rammed on his back. I felt so distraught for him but eventually I managed to pull him back in the car and help him to calm down.”

    “He told me the story of how forty years before, his mother and his wife had a quarrel, and his wife threatened to leave him if he ever got in contact with his mother again. She even forbid him from going to his mother’s funeral, calling him twice at his office on that day to confirm that he had abided to her rules.  ‘We have four children and I did not want to mess up my family,’ he informed me, leaving me dumbfounded.”

    It was very compelling to witness such hate and thirst for revenge, even after death.

    “One day I was asked to give advice to a very affluent man who came to buy a plot to construct a chapel in the cemetery. He was insisting that only he and his wife, their children and their offsprings could be buried in this chapel, leaving out all his sons’ wives, explicitly named in a contract. I told him that this was very uncharitable on his part but he was resolute. I warned him that on knowing about this, his sons would curse him and his wife but he brushed this comment off, ensuring me that he was leaving them all well off.”

    “The old couple died and they were buried in the chapel. All went well until one of his sons was widowed. He came to us to make arrangements for his wife’s burial in the family chapel. As soon as he identified himself, I braced myself for trouble since it was clear that he knew nothing about his parents’ decision. He could not believe his ears when we informed him that he could not bury his wife in the chapel. He got so angry and swore so badly, cursing his parents over and over again, that we had to threaten him with the police. Matters worsened further when he realized that this condition affected also all his brothers. He called them all and they came to the cemetery in a frenzy, infuriated at this unexpected news.”

    “No matter how much they insisted with us to eliminate this condition, there was nothing we could do. The woman had to be buried in a new grave. All the other brothers bought a new grave too. Their parents’ richly adorned and expensive chapel now lies abandoned and in ruins.”

    Nowadays the cemetery is no longer administered by the Capuchin friars.

    (This article was published in the SENIOR TIMES – NOVEMBER issued with The Times of Malta on 15th November 2018)

    2018.11.15 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • L-ESPERJENZA TAL-ANZJANI HIJA IMPREZZABBLI

    Max Farrugia flimkien mas-Sindku tal-Hamrun, Christian Sammut“Minħabba li ġejt nominat għall-Premju Anzjanità Attiva, flimkien ma’ għadd ta’ anzjani oħra, dan l-aħħar attendejt għall-preżentazzjoni tal-premijiet. Wieħed wara l-ieħor, ir-rebbieħa bdew jiġu msejjħa biex jitilgħu fuq il-palk ħalli jirċievu l-premju. Ismi kien l-aħħar wieħed li ġie mħabbar, bħala r-rebbieħ tas-sezzjoni akkademika. Meta ndunajt li rbaħt, lanqas naf x’ħassejt. Niftakar biss li qomt emozzjonat u ħarist lura nfittex lis-Sindku tal-Ħamrun, Christian Sammut, li kien innominani,” stqarr Max Farrugia, anzjan ta’ 72 sena.

    CertifikatDin is-sena, bħas-snin ta qabel, is-Segretarjat Parlamentari Għal Persuni b’Diżabilità u Anzjanità Attiva organizza dan l-avveniment taħt il-Patroċinju tal-Eċċellenza Tagħha, il-President ta’ Malta, Marie Louise Coleiro. Kif stqarr is-Segretarju Parlamentari, Anthony Agius Decelis, l-għan tal-Premju Anzjanità Attiva huwa li tiġi rikonoxxuta l-ħidma varja tal-anzjani fil-komunità. Anki għal dis-sena, kien hemm konkorrenza qawwija mingħand diversi persuni li ġew nominati minn għaqdiet u NGOs differenti biex juru l-abbiltajiet tagħhom. Bord indipendenti għażel u immerita lill-individwi partikolari li kienu ‘role models’ fis-soċjetà tagħna.

    “Meta s-Sindku tal-Ħamrun għarraffni li kien innominani għal dan il-premju, kont diġà kuntent ferm. Il-fatt li jinnominak Sindku juri li dan japprezza x-xogħol li tagħmel int fir-raħal,” lissen b’emozzjoni Farrugia.

    Max Farrugia beda jaħdem fil-volontarjat mill-età ta’ 16 il-sena, meta kien imsieħeb maż-Żgħażagħ Ħaddiema Nsara, u hemm kien jgħin fit-tagħlim u fl-organizzazzjoni tal-attivitajiet.

    “Wara li temmejt l-edukazzjoni tiegħi, applikajt bħala night reporter mat-Times of Malta u ntagħżilt. Kien xogħol interessanti ferm li kompla saħħaħli kitbieti. Hemmhekk kelli l-opportunità li naħdem mill-qrib ma’ Mabel Strickland. Mhux darba u tnejn li akkumpanjajtha l-Parlament sabiex nagħmlilha traduzzjoni. Spiċċajt naħdem ma’ dan il-ġurnal fl-1968, imma bqajt nirrispetta lil Stricklandsa mewtha għax dejjem ġid rajt minnha. Kienet waħda li tagħtik parir u li tinkoraġġik. Kienet tasal tirrabja miegħek jekk tiżbalja, però mbagħad ma kienetx tiddejjaq tfaħħrek jekk tagħmel xi ħaġa tajba.”

    Minn hemm, Farrugia kompla bl-istudji tiegħu fejn kiseb Diploma mal-British Institute u speċjalizza fil-ġurnaliżmu fit-turiżmu. Għalkemm il-ħsieb tiegħu kien li jidħol jaħdem fil-qasam tat-turiżmu, ma rnexxielux, u eventwalment applika biex jidħol maċ-Ċivil.

    “Dħalt mal-Malta Electricity Board li aktar tard saret magħrufa bħala l-Enemalta. Bdejt fl-istores bħala skrivan u minn hemm bdejt navvanza. Finalment, fl-1996 sibt ruħi responsabbli mit-twaqqif tal-arkivju u l-librerija tal-Enemalta. Kelli nibda kollox mill-bidu għax ma kien hemm xejn ħlief kamra kbira b’400 kaxxa ippakkjati bid-dokumenti. Tlabt xi mwejjed u persuni biex jagħtuni daqqa t’id u wara xogħol qatiegħ u bla waqfien, ġibna kollox kif kellu jkun. Biss biss, ikklassifikajna iktar minn 4000 ritratt li kienu juru l-kostruzzjoni tal-power stations f’Malta. Kien hemm ukoll għadd ta’ pjanti antiki u disinji relatati ma’ dan il-qasam li kienu interessanti ħafna.”

    Waqt li kien qiegħed jagħmel dax-xogħol, huwa ġie rakkommandat biex isaħħaħ l-istudji tiegħu, u din l-opportunità fetħitlu bibien oħra.

    Qoxra tal-ktieb - L-Internament-u-l-Eżilju-Matul-l-aħħar-Gwerra“Kelli 55 sena meta ggradwajt b’Diploma in Library and Information Studies. Bħala parti mill-kors kelli nipparteċipa f’ħidma ta’ 100 siegħa f’xi arkivju jew librerija, u jien għażilt l-Arkivju Nazzjonali. Hemmhekk laqgħani l-Arkivist Nazzjonali, Charles Farrugia, u dan stedinni biex nagħmel il-klassifikazzjoni u l-indiċjar ta’ għadd ta’ dokumenti tal-ħabs li kienu għadhom kif waslu fl-arkivji. Aċċettajt u bdejt inqassam kollox għalih.”

    “Ma domtx ma nnutajt anomalija u mort niddiskuti mal-arkivist dwarha. Filwaqt li l-parti l-kbira tal-volumi kienu mqassma rġiel u nisa għalihom u ma kienu akkumpanjati bl-ebda ritratti, żewġ volumi minnhom kienu juru rġiel u nisa mħalltin u kien hemm anki r-ritratti tagħhom! L-arkivist infurmani li dawk kienu l-individwi li kienu ġew internati f’Malta u aktar tard fl-Afrika, minħabba li ġew meqjusa b’fehma kontra l-Imperu Ingliż.”

    “Bdejt nifli dawn id-dokumenti b’interess u ħaġa ġġib lill-oħra. Bqajt skantat meta ġurnata minnhom jitfaċċa f’idejja r-ritratt taz-ziju t’omm marti, ħu San Ġorġ Preca. Imbagħad sibt ukoll ritratt ta’ qassis li kien jiġi minn missieri. Minn hemm, kibirli l-interess f’dan is-suġġett, sakemm finalment ħriġt il-ktieb L-internament u l-eżilju matul l-aħħar gwerra.”

    Bħala parti mir-riċerka għal dan il-ktieb, huwa saħansitra mar il-Palestina peress li hemm kienu jinsabu xi Maltin miżżewġin Taljani li kienu ġew internati f’dan il-post.

    “Inħobb nikteb ħafna dwar il-Perjodu Brittaniku peress li jagħmel parti mill-Istorja riċenti ta’ pajjiżna, u huwa żmien li jien għext u għadni niftakar sewwa. Barra minn hekk, għad hemm affarijiet ta’ dak il-perjodu li tista’ tara u tmiss b’idejk.”

    Qoxra tal-ktieb - Enrico DandriaInfatti, anki l-ktieb l-ieħor tiegħu Enrico Dandria – Qassis, Politiku u Patrijott jitratta dan il-perjodu.

    “Kelli diġà ‘l fuq minn 60 sena meta ġejt rakkommandat biex nistħarreġ il-ħajja ta’ dan il-Monsinjur li ħadd ma kien għad kiteb dwaru. Kien l-ewwel Ministru tal-Edukazzjoni f’Malta fl-1921. Għex żmien politiku mqalleb u kellu sehem importanti f’għadd ta’ avvenimenti sinifikanti, fosthom: it-twaqqif tal-Assemblea Nazzjonali, l-irvellijiet tas-Sette Giugno, it-twaqqif tal-partiti politiċi, l-ewwel elezzjonijiet parlamentari fl-1921, l-ewwel Self Government u t-tilwima politiko-reliġjuża bejn il-Partit ta’ Strickland u l-Knisja.”

    “Ħajjet Dandria ma kinetx nieqsa mill-kontroversji. Bejnu u bejn l-Ordni Franġiskan Konventwali kienet qamet kwistjoni dwar twaqqigħ ta’ parti mill-knisja ta’ San Franġisk fi Strada Reale fil-Belt Valletta. Dan il-każ spiċċa l-Qorti u wara kienu saru liġijiet ġodda dwar il-kultura u l-antikitajiet. Huwa miet f’qasir il-għomor fl-età ta’ 40 sena.”

    Biex saret ir-riċerka għal dan il-ktieb, Farrugia ngħata għajnuna sinifikanti mill-Arċisqof Pawlu Cremona li fetaħlu l-bieb tal-arkivji tal-Knisja f’Malta u saħansitra rranġalu permess biex juża l-arkivji tal-Vatikan f’Ruma. Huwa għamel ukoll stħarriġ fil-British Archives.

    “Meta niddeċiedi li nagħmel xi ħaġa, nidħol b’ruħi u ġismi għaliha. Nemmen li jekk trid tagħmel xi ħaġa, trid tagħmilha sew!”

    Meta rtira bil-pensjoni, Farrugia deherlu li kellu jsaħħaħ is-sehem tiegħu fil-volontarjat.

    “Fost xogħol ieħor, bdejt intella’ programm ta’ siegħa bl-isem 20:30 fuq l-istazzjon televiżiv lokali Xejk. Kien programm kollu kemm hu ddedikat lill-patrimonju kulturali u fih kont ninkludi bosta intervisti mas-Sindki tal-Kunsilli Lokali. Aktar tard, dan il-programm mexa għal fuq l-istazzjon F Living Channel.”

    Max Farrugia (Photo - Fiona Vella)Għalkemm Farrugia hu mill-Ħamrun, huwa dejjem kellu interess fl-irħula u l-ibliet kollha tal-gżejjer tagħna, partikolarment fir-reġjun tan-Nofsinhar ta’ Malta. Dan wasslu biex jagħti sehem f’diversi għaqdiet.

    “Meta kont qed nattendi għall-kors tad-Diploma in Library and Information Studies, flimkien mal-lekċerer tagħna Hella Jean Bartolo, waqqafna l-NGO Friends of the National Archives. Wara li Bartolo ħallietna, jien sirt il-President ta’ din l-Għaqda u għadni sa llum nagħti ħafna kontribut.”

    Huwa msieħeb f’għadd ta’ għaqdiet, inkluż il-Malta Railway Foundation. Kull sena, għadu jikteb diversi artikli għall-kotba tal-festi ta’ bosta rħula. Jgħin ukoll biex jitfasslu mixjiet kulturali ġewwa l-Ħamrun.

    “Nistqarr illi llum ġieli nkun okkupat iktar milli kont fiż-żmien meta kont impjegat! Fil-ħajja huwa importanti ferm li jkollok skop għax b’hekk il-ħajja tkompli. Nemmen li meta l-anzjani jirtiraw mix-xogħol, għandhom xorta waħda jibqgħu attivi f’xi ħaġa jew oħra. L-esperjenza tal-anzjani hija mitqla deheb u l-pajjiż għandu jkun għaqli biżżejjed biex jiggwadanja minnha. Min-naħa l-oħra, l-anzjani jirbħu għax jibqgħu jħossuhom involuti u utli fil-komunità. Huwa tajjeb li tibni fuq iż-żgħażagħ iżda l-esperjenza tal-anzjani hija imprezzabbli!”

    (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fis-SENIOR TIMES – OCTOBER li ħareġ mat-Times of Malta tat-18.10.2018)

    2018.10.18 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Repairing the house before it rains

    Dr Xiaoming Yang and Ms Wei Han (Photo - Fiona Vella)“In China we have this concept to repair the house before it rains. We give great attention to our health and well-being because certainly prevention is always better than cure,” declares Dr Xiaoming Yang, a traditional Chinese medicine physician which is presently giving his services at the Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kordin, Paola.

    This Centre was established in 1994 as part of a project of cooperation between Malta and China. From then on, every two years, a new Chinese medical team was sent to Malta to replace the previous group in order to continue their duty at this Centre and at clinics in Mater Dei hospital and the general hospital in Gozo. This time, due to new arrangements, this group of Chinese doctors will only stay in Malta for one year until a new group comes to take over.

    “Each time, the best Chinese doctors are chosen to come over to Malta since this country is regarded as a very important hub from which to introduce traditional Chinese medicine to other countries as well. Malta’s strategic location makes it ideal to act as a significant connection between Asia, Europe and Africa.”

    “Nowadays more and more people are pursuing a healthy lifestyle, and they search for ways in how to keep fit, how to prevent disease and how to prolong life. The key to all these questions is to return to nature because we are part of nature. Nature provides us with all the necessities which are indispensable for our survival. The concept of unity between man and nature is the most basic principle on which this traditional Chinese medicine was founded.”

    Dr Yang showing Tuina manipulation (1) (Photo - Fiona Vella)Through his experience at this Centre, Dr Yang noticed that in general Maltese patients, especially the senior population, complain from arthritis, insomnia, frozen shoulder and neck and lower back pain.

    “It is difficult to find a common factor to all these afflictions because many of the patients have different circumstances. However, I did notice some habits and way of life which may lead to these dicomforts, pains and illnesses.”

    “In contrast to China, few Maltese people tend to do regular check-ups. Many of them go to the doctor only when they feel pain or some other disturbance. In China, hospitals send out reminders to people to attend to regular tests and many of them comply. This helps the doctor to identify any health problems at an early stage.”

    “Another custom in Malta is to attend gyms, often irregularly, without proper supervision or any sensible preparation. Exercising too hard or too long, and training without suitable warming up will eventually lead to health problems. In China, people use traditional martial arts to train the mind, body and soul by doing slow but effective movements which give rise to no strain.”

    “Over-exertion is another issue. Although in China I heard that the Maltese enjoy a siesta in the afternoon, in reality I found out that most people have more than one job, starting very early in the morning and continuing late at night. Such long work hours will inevitably lead to over-exertion which will then generate fatigue, strained muscles or disease. Being always so busy makes it also difficult to attend to the required amount of treatments. In fact, while in China, my patients come to my clinic to get treatment around three to five times a week, in Malta, a patient will call to have therapy only once a week or once a month. In my country, people are given permission to leave work in order to have treatment because if a worker is in pain, he may make mistakes. Taking leave to attend therapy does not seem to be as easy in Malta.”

    Since regular therapy is essential to heal faster, Dr Yang dedicates himself to teach his Maltese patients how to do self-treatment exercises.

    Demonstration how to prevent stiff neck and frozen shoulders.“I have trained Maltese people to make tuina manipulation by themselves generally to treat headache, migraine, neck pain or spinal pain. Knowledge of tuina manipulation involves the pressing of particular acupoints to help release discomfort or pain. This helps to increase the curative effect of my therapy at the Centre.”

    “Tuina manipulation includes the use of hand and arm techniques to massage the muscles and tendons of the body, the stimulation of acupressure points to directly affect the flow of Qi energy through the system of channels and collaterals, and manipulation techniques to realign the musculo-skeletal and bone setting.”

    Other services offered at the Centre are acupuncture, cupping, ear acupressure, and moxibustion.

    “Traditional Chinese medicine is different from Western medicine since it looks at the body as a whole and does not focus just on the inflicted area. When a patient comes to me, I take time to question him about several factors in his life. I look at his appearance, his tongue, his walk. I ask about his appetite and whether he is suffering from insomnia. Then I continue to search for the root of the problem by touching various acupoints in order to identify where the real trouble is. Sometimes a patient might tell me that he is suffering from a headache but then I realize that the problem is in his neck or that it actually is psychological stress.”

    During a recent open day held at the Centre with the theme A Journey into Traditional Chinese Medicine, Dr Yang explained about the different treatments which are being offered at the Centre. He also announced that in March, he would be training Maltese people in traditional Chinese martial arts.

    “The intent of traditional Chinese martial arts is to relax and exercise the body in a gentle way by absorbing the energy from the surrounding nature and improving the Qi (energy in the body). For several centuries, these martial arts have helped people to obtain and enjoy a state of good health and well-being.”

    Ms Wei Han (Fiona Vella)Ms Wei Han, the Chinese interpreter at the Centre provided interesting information about the use of herbs to improve health and well-being.

    “Being with these doctors I learnt a lot about traditional Chinese medicine and herbs. In the past, when our ancestors were sick, they went back to nature to find answers in how to regain their health. Through experience and experiments they found the right herbs and they used them as natural medicine to treat illnesses and more important to prevent disease and to maintain health. They also found that certain foods can also be used to treat illness. Some herbs can be used both as food and for medicinal therapy. Ginger for example is often used as spice to give flavour to other foods and obviously it is food. But it can also be used as a herb with medicinal values – it helps us to warm our stomach, to improve digestion and to control nausea.”

    As a taster to the participants, the Centre’s chef prepared mutton soup with angelica and ginger, and Chinese berry tea with lily bulbs and red dates.

    “We are glad to invite at our Centre all those who are interested to know more about traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Chinese martial arts and traditional Chinese philosophy. Visitors can also enjoy our traditional Chinese garden which though small, it incorporates all the typical philosophical ideas and most important elements. Stones in the garden represent the body of the world, like hills and valleys. Water is the spirit of the world providing oxygen, like blood running through the veins. The pavilion is always located at the best point where one can watch the sunset and the sunrise, and meditate about life or simply relax and have a rest. Our patients find this garden optimal to calm down and to escape from the outside world where pain ceases to exist, at least for a short time,” concluded Ms Han.

    For more information, one can contact the Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine on 2169 1799.

    (This feature was published in The Times of Malta in 2018)

    2018.09.20 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Free weekly acupuncture treatments in Gozo

    Since 1994, several Chinese medical teams have been offering medical treatments to the Maltese public from the Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kordin. This professional service extends also at Mater Dei Hospital and at Gozo General Hospital.

    DSCN5423I accompanied Dr Xiao Ming Yang and Ms Wei Han on their weekly visit to Gozo General Hospital.

    “Every Wednesday afternoon, I treat an average of 24 patients with acupuncture. Many of the patients book the treatment at the hospital, however I do not mind treating also those individuals who happen to come by,” explained Dr Yang.

    Dr Yang and Ms Han’s dedication to their work is impeccable. They take the responsibility to carry with them all the required material from Malta to Gozo. From time to time, they also provide the patients with bonus treatments to take home with them.

    “Acupuncture treatments are provided free of charge according to an agreement which was done between the Maltese and the Chinese governments. This is a way of showing the mutual respect which exists between the two countries.”

    Dr YangAround 30 patients were waiting for Dr Yang at Gozo General Hospital. The relationship between the Chinese doctor and his Gozitan patients was clearly amicable as he went round each patient and applied the required acupuncture treatment.

    The popularity of this treatment is definitely pushing for more adequate space in order to provide this service to all those who need it. For a more effective benefit of this Chinese traditional therapy, several patients have also expressed their wish to increase the frequency of the doctor’s visit to at least twice a week.

    After the acupuncture treatment, Ms Han, the Chinese interpreter at the Centre, prepared five different herbal teasfor those who attended. She also shared interesting information about the benefits of these teas.

    “Chinese herbal teas have been used for centuries to provide healthy refreshment. Drinking herbal teas is a natural and effective way to gain various health benefits. Each tea can have one ingredient or many with different benefits,” revealed Ms Han.

    DSCN5385“Jasmine tea is one of the most popular flower teas among foreigners because of its pleasant scent and taste. In ancient times in China, this tea was mainly reserved for royalty since it has so many health benefits. The high level of antioxidants in the tea help to boost the body metabolism making exercise more effective. This may result in weight loss and in improvement in the digestive process. Moreover, for those with cardiovascular problems, jasmine tea can be a huge help as it aids to lower cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, thereby reducing the risk of heart attacks and maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. This tea is also ideal for people suffering from chronic discomfort, such as back pain, joint pain and arthritis, because it has anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce swelling and inflammation of joints.”

    “Rose tea is used to relieve menstrual discomfort or heavy period. It can also regulate the sleep cycle and pattern. For those who suffer from insomnia or have disturbed sleep, drinking rose tea before going to bed might be a great option. Rose tea can also improve digestion, detoxify the body, and relieve respiratory infections.”

    DSCN5411“Buckwheat tea is a kind of grain tea and it can reduce blood glucose and cholesterol. It really has significant cardiovascular benefits and helps to lose weight.”

    “Rhodiola tea is made of dry flowers, leaves and roots of a wild plant called Rhodiola Rosea, which grows best in the high, cold mountains, such as Tibet, Siberia and Arctic areas.It has good effects on anti-aging and longevity.In ancient times, Chinese emperors used to send expeditions to remote areasin search of this golden root to make pills of immortality. This tea can also protect human cells especially skin cells from aging, so a lot of beauty products use it as one of their ingredients.”

    “Jujube is a kind of sour date. Thanks to its special healing properties relating to insomnia, it is regarded as the “Oriental sleeping fruit.”Jujube seed tea can calm the mind and smooth the nerves. Therefore, it is often used to treat insomnia, nightmares, night sweats, restless sleep and neurasthenia.”

    DSCN5419At the end of this meeting, participants were also provided with a packet of tiger balm, green oil and plasters. Tiger balm has been in use in China from the 1870s and it serves to relieve back pain, joint pain, stiffness, sprains, arthritis, headaches, sinus congestion, and discomfort from mosquito bites. Green oil has the same effect as tiger balm. Plasters are mainly used to relieve back pains, joint pains, arthritis, chronic sprain, and rheumatism.

    For more information, one can contact the Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kordin on 2169 1799 or the Gozo General Hospital on 2210 6000.

    (This article was published in The Malta Independent on Sunday on 5 June 2018)

    2018.06.05 / no responses / Category: Malta Independent on Sunday - First magazine

  • FROM STORIES TO HISTORY

    For hundreds of years, the recording of the past focused on public records, statistical data and the lives of prominent people. Yet in recent decades, the spotlight turned onto the general public and its memories in order to provide a more accurate picture of the historic narrative.

    0007 (Eng.)“People who have lived through particular events can contribute different viewpoints and perspectives that fill in the gaps of documented history, at times correcting or even contradicting the written record. The project MEMORJA aims to give a voice to those who have been unheard,” explained James Baldacchino, the administrator of the MEMORJA Project.

    MEMORJA is an oral, sound and visual archive. Its main objective is to employ cutting edge research, methodologies, theoretical and archival approaches and techniques to collect, record, transcribe, preserve and make available and retrievable all the deposited material detailing the islands’ history.

    “Work on this project has begun in January 2017. This is a new platform which is giving an additional dimension to the National Archives since this time, it is not only collecting records but reaching out to create them.”

    At the early stages of the project, four themes were selected, namely the Second World War, British expatriates in Malta, public administration and the Lampedusa-Malta connection.

    0005 (Eng.)“The theme related to experiences during the Second World War aims to document and record a past which is slowly disappearing from public memory especially with the passing away of the older generation. Oral testimonies and photographs serve to recollect the terrible years of war and what the people have lived through in those times. Stories of the outbreak of hostilities and the first bombings on June 11, 1940, the mass evacuations and refugee experiences, fear and uncertainty, hunger and the Victory Kitchens, shelters and sanitation, soldiers and sirens, and tragedies of bombings are part of the significant remembrance which needs to be collected and preserved for future generations before it is lost for good.”

    The history of the relationship between the UK and Malta is another central theme which has not been documented through the eyes of the British and Maltese individuals.

    0006 (Eng.)“This section includes interviews with British and British-Maltese people who were either in the British forces during the 1960’s (or their spouses) and remained in Malta, or civilians who married a Maltese person and relocated to Malta. Such recordings open a window on everyday life in Malta during the 1950s – 1970s. Much of the narratives relate to military bases, post-war experiences, political issues, relationships and cultural differences. This theme was further expanded when the experience of service families’ children was included as well. These children had attended the Naval Childrens’ School and HM Dockyard Children’s School which had occupied sites at Ta’ Xbiex, Cottonera, Senglea and the Dockyard before moving to Tal-Ħandaq.”

    0003 (Eng.)Civil servants are often regarded as those who are implementing the Goverment’s policies. However, through their memories we can get a glimpse of what happenned ‘behind the scenes’ during the most important political, social and economic decisions undertaken by Maltese political leaders.

    “These include background revelations of what was taking place during the granting of Independence in 1964, the dismantling of the British military base in 1979 and how the Maltese prepared for such an event, membership in the EU and how it affected the civil service, the migration of the hospital from St Lukes to Mater Dei and many other memorable challenges.”

    Lampedusa and Malta are two islands with different political histories. Yet to some extent they share similar economic, trade and socio-cultural interest.

    0008 (Eng.)“We have an interest in Lampedusa since in the early 1800s, there were a number of Maltese settlers on this island. Until now, no one had attempted to record these people’s history in order to understand the link between the two islands. The MEMORJA Project is focusing on two time frames to investigate the islands’ shared history. The first one relates to the period from 1800 – 1843 when Lampedusa was colonised by Maltese settlers working in agriculture and animal husbandry. The second covers the period between the 1950s and the 1980s when Lampedusani fishermen visited Malta regularly for the maintenance of ships, the sale of blue fish and the provision of supplies.”

    As the team of the MEMORJA Project reached out to people, they were soon welcomed by the different communities who were eager to share their recollections.

    0002 (Eng.)“We found a huge amount of data which existed only in the minds of people and in their photos. Many individuals were enthusiastic to make their voice heard in order to help out with the shaping of the public’s narrative which up to now was not formally recorded for posterity. Even though we have four selected themes, it does not exclude us from recording other memories as well which we deem to be of importance to form part of the community memory.”

    The search for the stories which make the history is still going on. The final goal of the MEMORJA Project which will be officially launched later on this year will be to make this information accessible online for educational and research purposes.

    0001 (Eng.)“Oral history allows people to express the personal consequences of change, from the simplest things in life to the more complex. It enables people to share their experiences in their own words, with their own voices, through their own understanding of what happened and why. Eventually, such documentation will offer depth to the understanding of the past to present and future generations.”

    If you are interested to contribute to the MEMORJA Project, you are invited to contact James Baldacchino on james.baldacchino@gov.mt or call 21459863.

    The National Archives is located at ‘Santo Spirito’, Hospital Street, Rabat, Malta.

    (This article was published in SENIOR TIMES – MAY 2018 issued with The Times of Malta dated 24 May 2018)

     

    2018.05.24 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • AN ISLAND FLOATING ON A STRANGE SEA

    Franca Fadda Silvetti with her book (Photo courtesy Gian Piero Silvetti)Franca Fadda Silvetti led a most unusual life. For 33 years, she lived with her family on the island of Asinara in Sardinia, Italy. At the time, the island served as a prison. Silvetti’s husband was the prison’s doctor while she was the only teacher for the island’s elementary school where all the young children attended. Trusted prisoners were allowed to roam freely around the island to work outside the prison; one of them was her housekeeper and he also took care of her children. After changing into a high security prison, the island was eventually abandoned and turned into a national park. An intriguing visit to this island led me to a book which Silvetti wrote about her memories on Asinara. Her book eventually led me to her.

    In her book La Mia Asinara, Silvetti describes in detail her arrival on the island.

    “I arrived in Asinara on 4th October 1952 with my two sons; Aldo who was 3 years old and Gian Piero who was 2. I was very young and very much in love with my husband Vindice. He had arrived some days before on the island to start his new job as a prison doctor. On his arrival, he fell in love with the island and he sent me a message which read ‘Come here, you will not regret it!’”

    Cala d'Oliva (Photo - Fiona Vella)From the first moments, even before she actually stepped on Asinara, Silvetti had to learn to deal with the circumstances of a peculiar life.

    “We went up with our luggage on the boat named Redenzione. Before we left for the island, I looked around at the other passengers. Some policemen were accompanying a group of men of different ages who wore similar clothes. The men were handcuffed and restricted by chains.”

    Soon, Silvetti started her new life in a two-floor comfortable house in Cava D’Oliva. All the houses were painted white and they were constructed along a semi-circular area which looked out at the bay. Although initially concerned that prisoners were regularly in contact with the island’s inhabitants, she managed to take this new reality in her stride once her husband assured her that they were safe.

    A prisoner playing with Silvetti's children (Photo courtesy Gian Piero Silvetti)“Luigi was a young handsome Sicilian who was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment after he was found to form part of a group who worked for a renowned thief. He was recommended to us by the prison authorities to help us with the house and with our sons. During our absence, while we were at work, he took care of all the chores and he was also responsible to look after our children and to play with them. Upon our return home, we would find everything in order and the table ready for dinner. There were times when he even prepared our food since he was an excellent cook.”

    She started to teach on the 15th October. It did not take her long to realize that teaching in Asinara was quite tiring and challenging but also very satisfying.

    Franca Fadda Silvetti in the classroom of Asinara (Photo courtesy Gian Piero Silvetti)“I had a small classroom which was frequented by 19 children of various ages. Since they had not attended to a kindergarden, most of the children were totally unprepared for schooling. They had no idea about rules and how to behave in groups. To make matters worse, my predecessors had all been males who had found it very difficult to adapt to the solitude of the island and they would often leave the school closed for a whole fortnight.”

    Some of the children lived in the far extremities of the island and they had to ride a carriage which was driven by a trusted prisoner.

    “In this particular atmosphere of the island, I was also expected to cope with a form of classism which did not accept that a child of a common policeman would do better in school than the child of a higher person in authority. Often I had to use sheer diplomacy and the use of white lies to help all the children feel good with themselves.”

    Prisoners formed part of the daily routine of Asinara’s inhabitants.

    Prisoners working in the fields of Asinara (Photo courtesy Gian Piero Silvetti)“The school’s caretaker was a prisoner. Each month, the students collected a small sum of money for him which was credited in his account. It was prohibited to give any money directly to a prisoner. Daily needs were catered for by another prisoner who went to each house to take a list of the products which were required such as pasta, sugar and bread. These products would then be brought to each house by an official. In the afternoon, every house would leave a milk container on the window sill. A prisoner would collect these containers so that these will be returned to each house full of milk. Other prisoners worked in the fields with the farmers or helped to make meat products with the butchers. The prisoners were always kept under surveillance. Officials would visit places and houses where these prisoners worked at various times of the day, even when the owners were not present, to confirm that everything was in order.”

    Although it did not rain much on Asinara, its products were bountiful. The inhabitants were almost totally dependent on the island’s products. Meat was provided by the animals which were bred for this reason. Fish were abundant in the transparent water of the surrounding sea. For several years, there was no electricity on the island and people had to use candles and lamps for the night.

    During an official visit in Asinara (Photo courtesy Gian Piero Silvetti)“Like everywhere else, there were good and bad moments but I can say that generally, we lived a pleasant life on Asinara. Matters changed in the 1970s when the prisons were restructured to become high-security penitentiaries to detain some of the most dangerous criminals, such as those that formed part of the Brigate Rosse, terrorists, and mafia members. This development led to the end of an era. My husband and I went on pension in 1985 and we had to leave Asinara.”

    My visit to Asinara was quite stirring and profoundly emotional. After reading Silvetti’s book, I felt an urge to seek her out and contact her. I was thrilled when she reached back to me and responded to my questions.

    Silvetti with her husband and family having fun on Asinara's beach (Photo courtesy Gian Piero Silvetti)A selection of old photos at Asinara (Photo courtesy Gian Piero Silvetti)“After living intensely for 33 years on the island, I felt as if Asinara was my own property. I wrote this book because I wanted to leave a valuable memory to my two sons and daughter Silvia and to their own children so that they would know how we lived on that island. It was a need of mine, especially after my dear husband passed away.”

    On asking how did it feel to live on a prison island, she responded, “I have never felt in danger. I felt much pity for the prisoners who were deprived of their freedom, were under constant guard, and far from their loved ones especially during feasts.”

    I was curious to know whether her children were influenced by such a life?

    “Each day we saw the prisoners going on their work like everyone else. It was a normal fact of life. We never saw them imprisoned but always living amongst us. They left no negative impressions on my children’s childhood.”

    Did she ever feel like a prisoner herself on such a lonely island?

    “No, I never felt like a prisoner. I had my own family and my own job. There were moments when we suffered some inconveniences because of bad weather which did not allow us to reach the mainland but I never felt imprisoned.”

    She was 92 years old when I contacted her. She had never returned to the island.

    Book cover - La Mia Asinara“I did not have the courage to return. Maybe, egoistically speaking, and due to the lovely memories I had on the island, it would have been better to leave Asinara inhabited by a strange population than to abandon it to its present state, to become a tourist attraction. For me Asinara is my whole life and now that I’m old, its memories help me to live a serene life.”

    Franca Fadda Silvetti passed away at the age of 94 but her memory is still much alive in her inspiring book.

    (This article was published in the SENIOR TIMES – APRIL 2018 issued with The Times of Malta newspaper)

    2018.04.19 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • CORNER COMFORTS

    Frankie Cutajar (Photo - Fiona Vella)“You wouldn’t survive in this business if you are not brought up in it since childhood. It is just too demanding and it takes up your life completely,” insisted Frankie Cutajar, the owner of Lady Di Pub in Tignè Street, Sliema.

    “On the other hand, if the seed of entertainment has been nurtured in your blood from an early age, it is difficult to let go of such an engaging and colourful world,” he said as he laughed heartily and poured a tin of golden beer into a large glass for a client.

    Cutajar hails from Valletta. Two of his family members are the renowned late musician Oscar Lucas and popular singer Joe Cutajar.

    “Back in the old days, their cheerful attitude and exquisite talent used to light up the thrilling atmosphere of Strait Street. I can still remember the time when 10,000 foreign soldiers sought that area in Valletta each week and all those who had a business there, concocted new ways to attract them to their locale.”

    “My uncle Oscar Lucas played in various venues. Together with Jimmy Grech (also known as Jimmy l-Irish), he owned the Las Vegas which was the first nightclub to open in Malta and boasted a capacity of 500 seats. It was huge, running from the area where today one finds the Marks and Spencer store and going up to the Embassy. At the age of 12, I worked as a commis waiter in this nightclub, serving customers which were mainly young couples, between 6:00pm and 8:00pm.”

    Frankie Cutajar presenting appetizers (Photo - Fiona Vella)Cutajar got married when he was 18 and kept working at Las Vegas until it closed its doors.

    “The British Forces’ departure from our islands drained all the energy from Strait Street, turning it into a shadow of what it was. Paceville became the new attraction for the younger generation while Valletta died out during the evenings. Eventually, Jimmy l-Irish, my older brother Harry and I acquired a bar in Melita Street and called it Pippo’s.”

    “Later on, my brother and I also took over a business in Tignè Street, Sliema. This place was originally a bar known as Neriku and it was run by my grandfather and grandmother. After it served as an antique shop for some years, we decided to open it as a pub. Many of the visitors who came to Malta and stayed at the surrounding hotels in Sliema were British. So we had no doubts whatsoever about what we were going to name our new pub.”

    Frankie Cutajar showing The People's feature about him and his pub (Photo - Fiona Vella)A framed copy of a newspaper feature which hangs on one of the walls narrates how the name Lady Di Pub came to life. Cutajar recounted this incident proudly.

    “I was having a meal with a well-connected friend of mine at a London restaurant when he introduced me to Lady Diana. I told her that I would be naming a bar after her to record the memorable event of her marriage to Prince Charles. Shortly afterwards, I saw her again at a film premiere in Leicester Square and she reminded me about it.”

    Lady Di Pub opened its doors right on Wednesday, 29 July 1981; the day of the eventful fairytale wedding.

    The earlier Lady Di Pub“This is how the pub looked at the time,” Cutajar said as he pointed at another old photo. “It consisted of just two small rooms. However, it had a very good clientele.”

    Meanwhile, Pippo’s bar in Valletta was turned into Da Pippo’s restaurant and his brother Harry stayed to manage it. Frankie opted to run the pub in Sliema. In 2006, the Lady Di Pub was rebuilt after the property was earmarked for development and was demolished.

    “Although the pub was new, I decided to recreate its old British soul. I knew that my clients would appreciate the warm feeling of a unique traditional corner huddled amongst the tall and modern buildings.”

    In recent years, Sliema’s architectural context has changed considerably. Huge, inanimate buildings are replacing traditional stately homes, a small number of which still survive in Tignè Street.

    “Times change and people have to move on with the progress which is generated. Sliema is not Valletta. Whereas Valletta is a historical city of culture, Sliema is a business hub and a touristic area. The more modernized it is, the more people it attracts, and the more customers will come to this pub,” Cutajar stated as he winked playfully.

    Frankie Cutajar with client Ganni Fenech (Photo - Fiona Vella)“His charismatic character and that of his son Keith who also works here are the secret of the success of this place,” revealed Ġanni Fenech, a regular client who was having a beer at the bar. “They have a way of making everyone feel welcome and they are also very good in the kitchen. The appetizers in this bar are always bountiful and delicious, urging you to keep on drinking so that the food continues to come out. Seasoned bread, pasta, ricotta and pea pies, cheesecakes… They simply taste like heaven with a glass of beer.”

    Right on the point, Frankie came out of the kitchen with a plate of thickly sliced crusty Maltese bread spread with kunserva, a sweet tomato paste, and topped with olives, onions, lettuce and broad beans.

    “Especially on Fridays and during weekends, Lady Di Pub is full of people and it stays open until the early morning hours. Some of our clients work in the nearby offices and come here to end the week in a good mood and meet friends. A number of others are regulars from Sliema including a small group of elderly people who have been gathering here each Sunday for the past 30 years! Other locals come from various areas around Malta. However, the majority of our clients are foreigners.”

    Frankie starts his day at around 8:30am by doing errands, including buying fresh bread. After enjoying a coffee at a nearby coffee shop, he opens his pub at 10:00am. Soon, the first clients will come in and he starts preparing some inviting appetizers. By now, his long experience and a good knowledge of his clientele have furnished him with an invaluable insight of who will be calling at his pub on each day and what he will need to prepare.

    Frankie Cutajar in his pub (Photo - Fiona Vella)“We are here to make our clients feel comfortable. Should they wish to have lunch or dinner, we can cook anything to their liking, once they advise us beforehand. Last week, we cooked a selection of pasta, fried rabbit and rib-eye steak for a group, and they surely loved it!”

    Whilst the younger generation prefer to seek out Keith’s company, the older clientele feels closer to Frankie.

    “I am 67 now but still going strong,” Frankie joked as he turned to a laptop and turned on some music. “Back in Valletta, we enjoyed live music at our nightclub. Until some years ago, I had a juke box here. Now I have to rely on this new technology. Flexibility is a must in such a business. Nowadays clients demand to hear particular songs while having a drink and this is the most practical way.”

    Culture change is also evident in the choice of requested alcohol and in the clientele’s attitude.

    “In the past, people preferred whisky especially Jack Daniels. We also served gin and vodka. Today, very few will ask for gin or vodka and the whisky which we sell is mainly J & B, Jameson, and Johnny Walker Black. Earlier generations used to come in and offer drinks to friends and to other people in the pub. We also had incidents when people got heavily drunk and still insisted to have more drinks. The present generation will generally order and pay for their own drinks, whether male or female. They are also more aware of the risks of over-drinking and they rarely get drunk.”

    A corner in Lady Di Pub (Photo - Fiona Vella)Several framed photos of Lady Diana keep a watchful eye over the pub’s customers.

    “These were given to us by her photographer who became our friend,” Frankie explained. “Customers love to look at them especially now that she’s gone. She was very cherished by the people and they still miss her terribly.”

    After her tragic death on 31 August 1997, Lady Diana’s fans were distraught. They frantically searched for anything which connected them to her.

    “For a number of days after her demise, people left flowers at our doors as a sign of mourning. A British journalist for The People came to visit the pub and interviewed me about this experience. It was certainly a very disturbing loss but in this little corner in Malta, Lady Di’s memory is still very much alive.”

    (This feature was published in SLIEMA TIMES – APRIL 2018 issued with The Times of Malta)

    2018.04.14 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Ancient practices to relieve modern issues

    The Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kordin, Paola offers a variety of services which aim to improve health and wellbeing. Based on Chinese medical practices which date to more than 2000 years of knowledge, the Centre is run by a team of Chinese doctors who promote an alternative medicine which is well beyond what conventional medicine is about. Besides providing medical treatments, the Centre acts also as a source of information for those who would like to learn more about these ancient practices.

    On Sunday, 25 March 2018, a series of three lectures which were organized at the Centre introduced the participants to the themes of neck problem therapies, moxibustion treatments, and the perimenopausal syndrome.

    Dr Lu during his lecture - Photo by Fiona VellaDr Lu discussed the widespread problem of neck pain and showed some exercises which one can use to avert or to alleviate neck pain.

    “Neck pain does not only affect the neck area but it can also lead to several discomforts along other parts of the body. Nowadays many people tend to spend long hours in incorrect postures while looking down at mobiles, sitting at office desks while working on a computer, and watching tv in bed or on a sofa. These are some of the common traits which lead to muscle stress and pain. It only takes little to avoid these mistakes: mobiles should be read at eye level, office chairs should allow workers to sit straight and look comfortably at the computer, tv should not be watched while lying down, and an appropriate pillow should support the spine at the right curve to allow the neck to relax. Ideally, one should change posture regularly to relieve or avoid muscle soreness.”

    Dr Zhang showing the moxibustion treatment (Photo by Fiona Vella)Dr. Zhang explained the benefits of moxibustion treatments and demonstrated how these are applied to patients.

    “Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy which consists of burning dried mugwort leaf, also known as moxa, to bring relief from pain to the patient. This leaf has a pleasant fragrance and is easy to ignite. Moxibustion is safe and easy to operate. It is also non toxic and has no adverse reactions. However, it should only be done at a professional clinic since there is a risk of getting burnt if not handled properly. Doctors apply moxa to warm meridian points along the body in order to stimulate blood circulation.”

    Dr Ma talked about women’s health care and focused on the perimenopausal syndrome which affects a wide section of the female population from the age of 45 to 55. She indicated some exercises which help to relieve stress and also improve memory.

    Dr Ma during her lecture - Photo by Fiona Vella“Perimenopause refers to the time when the body makes the transition to menopause, thereby marking the end of the reproductive years. At this point, women may undergo various symptoms which can make their life stressful and difficult. Sudden hot flashes, insomnia, vaginal dryness and discomfort during love-making, headaches, forgetfulness and emotional instability are some of the main occurrences. Although this change is a natural process, ideally the outcome of menopause should not take place abruptly since this might seriously disturb a woman’s life and also the lives of all those around her. By living a healthy life, eating properly, doing exercise and keeping positive, a woman may help herself to allow a smoother transition which will lead to lesser repercussions. After all, life is what you make it.”

    More information about the Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine and its services is available on Facebook or by calling on 2169 1799.

    (This feature was published in The Times of Malta on 1st April 2018)

    2018.04.01 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • A CURIOUS DISCOVERY

    Times of Malta dating 15 April 1969 (Photo by Fiona Vella)Skeletons found in hidden Żejtun corridor reported the Times of Malta on Tuesday, 15 April 1969. A photo of sacristan Ġann Marì Debono holding a skull in his hand accompanied the news of this remarkable discovery which up to this day is still shrouded in mystery and imbued with controversy.

    I have been investigating and researching this find, often by interviewing persons who declared to have been involved in this discovery. My findings were discussed during a national symposium which was organized by Wirt iż-Żejtun in 2014 and later published in the book The Turkish Raid of 1614 which was issued by the same NGO.

    Charles Debono, the eldest son of Ġann Marì Debono (Photo by Fiona Vella)I never got the opportunity to talk to Ġann Marì Debono since he passed away in 2001, at the age of 78. Therefore, I accepted gladly the invitation of his eldest son Charles Debono who offered to share with me his father’s story.

    “My grandmother had many children and so my father was brought up by his uncle Pawlu and his wife Beneditta Fenech. Pawlu was the sacristan of the parish church of St Catherine in Żejtun and he often took my father with him while he was at work. Soon, my father got very fond of this job and he gave a hand to his uncle whenever he could. Eventually, when Pawlu died, my father took over his duties and he became the new sacristan.”

    Along the years, the old church of St Gregory which originally was the parish church of the village, had become neglected.

    St Gregory church Zejtun“There was nothing but a few farmhouses in the area. However, when a housing estate was built in proximity to this church, it made sense to revamp this building to provide service to the inhabitants who lived close by. Since my father was considering leaving his job at the parish church, Fr Ġwann Palmier, who was responsible for St Gregory’s church and also a friend of his, offered him a job there. Soon, my father was appointed as the sacristan of this church and together with Fr Palmier, they began to restore the place back to its glory.”

    On the right - Gan Mari Debono“My father was blessed with a curious nature and a strong determination. He had often listened to the rumours of the old villagers who insisted that there were some people that were buried around the dome of St Gregory’s church. He tried hard to locate this area, especially while doing maintenance work around the dome but he never succeeded.”

    Time would reveal that this was an impossible task since the human remains were actually buried around the roof and not around the dome.

    “There was a raised stone close to the exit of the stairway’s room which led to the roof. My father often commented that it looked unusual and out of place. He was convinced that there was something beneath it. One day, there were some men doing maintenance work on the roof and he asked them to try to remove it.”

    St Gregory's church in the 1960's - red arrow pointing to the raised stone on the roof (Photo by Johnny Vella)“Once the stone was removed, it was clear that it was covering an opening which led into the church. When my father entered into this space, he found his way to a small chamber which led to U-shaped passages that ran around the roof. Inside the corridors, he found several human remains. I remember him coming home on that day, full of excitement and telling us ‘I found them! I finally found them! I will take you to see them!’”

    When Charles visited the passages with his father, he noticed that the skeletons seemed to be lined up near each other along the corridors, as if someone had arranged them in that way. There was about 3 centimetres of dust which had collected in the corridors along the years during which the passages were blocked and closed away.

    Figura_14._Sezzjoni_mill_armarju_li_bhalissa_l_oggetti_misjuba_huma_mizmuma_fih.Within this dust, a wooden shoe sole with a high heel, a small gilded wooden cross of Byzantine design, odd bits of a gilded wooden frame (perhaps an icon), three coins: two bronze with the cross of the Order, the other gold, but very worn out that it cannot be deciphered, pieces of pottery of the 16-17th century, fragments of animal bones, and a part of a chain mail armour vest, were discovered.

    “My father found these passages in pitch darkness but soon he noticed that there were stones blocking five narrow loopholes in the thick walls. Once he removed these stones, he realized that three of them were pointing directly at St Thomas Bay and Marsascala while the other two looked out at Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa.”

    The skeletons which were discovered in the secret passages (Photo provided by Charles Debono)To avoid them being trodden, Debono picked up all the human bones and stacked them at the end of the third corridor. Yet the story does not end there….

    “My father was sure that there was another entrance to these passages within the church itself. He pondered this idea and made several attempts to trace it out. Eventually he came upon a wall cupboard which was situated in an area along the winding staircase and seemed to be of no use. He decided to ask his friend Ġanni Vella, who was known as Ġanni l-ġgant (Ġanni the giant), to bring one of his mason’s tools; a huge iron nail with which building stones were kept in place. He knocked on the wall cupboard with this tool and suddenly, this feature moved out of the wall, revealing another entrance to these passages. It is from this entrance that people get in to view these passages nowadays.”

    In 1978, paleopathological studies were done on these human remains by Seshadri Ramaswamy and Joseph Leslie Pace. These experts concluded that the bones appeared to have been exhumed from a cemetery and placed in the passages. However, others find this conclusion hard to believe and they insist that these remains possibly belong to a group of people who were trapped in these corridors whilst hiding there during an Ottoman attack on the village in 1614.

    Ġann Marì Debono (Photo provided by Charles Debono)Every Wednesday after Easter, the traditional feast of St Gregory is celebrated in this historical church in Żejtun. Probably few of those attending are aware of the secret passages and the human skeletons lying within.

    Considering that 49 years have passed from this discovery and that several scientific tools are now available to provide more conclusive results, including perhaps dna tests to trace family ancestry, isn’t it time to resolve this mystery by identifying who are these people and how they ended up in these passages?

     (This feature was published in the Sunday Times of Malta issued on 25 March 2018)

    2018.03.25 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • A THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE

    U3E members at the Archaeological Museum.It is never too late to learn something new. Evidence of the benefits of lifelong learning is overwhelming. Feeling connected to life and to others, being eager and motivated to explore different themes, keeping active intellectually, socially and physically are just some of the rewarding factors.

    Martin Diacono has been attending to lectures at the University of the Third Age for the past 10 years.

    “It is mostly my thirst for knowledge which urges me to follow these lectures. I even attend to the lectures which are offered to the general public by the University of Malta. I have a deep interest in art and these lectures provide me with the opportunity to acquire more information about this subject and to involve myself in related study tours abroad,” explains Diacono.

    The University of the Third Age which is also known as U3A was launched in Malta on 23 January 1993 under the auspices of the University of Malta.

    During a symposium with guest speaker Prof. Olga Mikhailova from Moscow.“The main aim of U3A is to promote a yearning for knowledge and creativity. Although the lectures are held at university, their purpose is different from those which are intended to coach students to obtain academic qualifications and find a job. There are no admission requirements and anyone above the age of sixty may apply, irrespective of the level of education. There are no assignments to work on and no exams to sit for. Lectures are there for the sheer pleasure of learning new things in the company of a group of people who nourish similar interests. The cost for the lectures covering from October to June is 12 euros.”

    U3A operates from four centres; three in Malta and one in Gozo.

    “The head centre is at the Catholic Institute in Floriana. Lectures are held from Monday to Thursday from 09:00am to 11:00am. The Sliema Centre is at the Salesian School of St. Patrick’s. Lectures are held from Tuesday to Thursday from 05:00pm to 7:00pm. The Cottonera Resource Centre is located in St Edwards Street, Vittoriosa (Birgu). Lectures are held every Thursday from 09:00am to 11:00am. The one in Gozo is at the Day Centre of Għajnsielem. Lectures are held every Friday from 09:00am to 11:00am.”

    10885162_1519852661618128_1789226735035724261_nShortly after the launching of the University of the Third Age, its first members felt the need to establish a Foundation in order to organize a number of social activities together.

    “This Foundation eventually turned into a formal Association which was named the Association of the Members of the U3E. A statute was set up to define it and a Commitee was elected democratically. The Commitee has a term of two years, after which an election is held to form a new one.”

    “The Association’s objectives are to promote and safeguard the aims and activities of the U3E, to establish a point of social contact and support to its members, and to organize extra-curriculum activities for its members. Moreover, the Association is responsible for the publishing of a quarterly newsletter and for the organisation of a biennial conference on third age learning.”

    Membership in the Association is only open to U3A members. The membership fee is 3 euros annually, however members will be asked to pay a nominal fee if they wish to attend to the activities which are organized by the Association.

    Since most lectures are held from Mondays to Thurdays, social activities take place on the first and third Fridays of each month.

    “On the first Friday of each month we attend to a mass followed by lunch. Each month we go to a different parish in order to give the opportunity to our members to visit various parishes. Lunch will be booked in a restaurant which is close to the particular area selected in that month.”

    U3E members at Ras il-Wardija overlooking Xlendi Bay, Gozo.“The third Friday of each month is dedicated to a cultural tour, again followed by lunch. The excursions generally consist of visits to sites of historical and cultural interest, both in Malta and Gozo. Guides accompany the members during such visits so that they can appreciate the full value of each place. Some of the places which we have visited in Valletta are St John’s Co-Cathedral, the Archaeological Museum, the War Museum and St Elmo, the Fine Arts Museum and Casa Rocca Piccola. Other sites include the Mdina Cathedral and its Museum, and Wignacourt Museum in Rabat, Malta.”

    “From Mondays to Thursdays, further activities are also organized throughout the academic year right after the lectures end. Fitness classes held by qualified persons take place from Mondays to Wednesdays and these consist of Keep Fit, Line Dancing and Ballroom Dancing. On Thursdays, members of the Association’s choir attend to rehearsals under the leadership of Dame Marie Therese Vassallo. This choir performs in the mass which is held on the first Friday of each month, at various care homes for elder persons, and also at the national event of the Active Ageing Awards.”

    U3E members on the Sicliy 2017 cultural tour.“Annual milestones for our Association are the Christmas buffet lunch, the Malta round trip boat cruise, and tours abroad. In 2015 and 2016 we organized a day trip to Sicily where we visited different places of interest. In 2017 we went for a five-day tour to Sicily where we visited Palermo and its surroundings. This year we intend to take our members to a five-day trip to Paris.”

    For the past 4 years, Mr Diacono was elected as the President of the Association of the Members of the U3E.

    “It is a privilege to be able to form part of the Committee of this Association which provides so much opportunity to elders to enrich their quality of life and their social development. From 1993 to 2017, this Association has worked very closely with Prof. Joseph Troisi who was the Director of the University of the Third Age. Since his retirement, we are now looking forward to establish a strong relationship with Prof. Marvin Formosa who is the new Director.”

    The outgoing Director U3A, Prof. Troisi presenting a donation of books to the U3E.Applications from persons who are interested to attend lectures at any of the Centres of the University of the Third Age, and to join the Association of the Members of the U3E open in September. However, one can also register throughout the academic year. Lectures cover a wide range of topics and each module consists of eight lectures. Between February and June 2018, the following modules will commence at:

    The Floriana Centre: Malta Marittima by Dr. Timmy Gambin, The British Period in Malta by Richard P Agius, Government systems in Malta and abroad by Lawrence Grech, Il-Folklor Malti bħala parti mill-wirt kulturali (Tieni Parti) by Marlene Mifsud Chircop, Interpretative Perspectives of Maltese History in Constructing National Identity by Dr Charles Xuereb, Voices of U3A members (sharing experiences), Għerf Missirijietna: riflessjonijiet filosofiċi fuq il-proverbji Maltin by Prof. Joe Friggieri, and Looking into art: How to discuss works of art from different standpoints by Dr. Christian Attard.

    The Sliema Centre: The Constitution of Malta by Prof. Kevin Aquilina, The Medieval Millennium by Vincent Zammit, Historical, Literary and Theological aspects of the Bible by Rev. Dr. Stefan Attard, and Understanding Dementia by Dr. Anthony Scerri.

    The Cottonera Centre: Malta During the 19th Century by Vincent Zammit, and Ħajti tiegħi – nagħżel jien! by Marica Mizzi.

    The Gozo Centre: L-Iżvilupp tal-Edukazzjoni f’Malta by Joseph Xerri, and Ġrajjiet Malta u Għawdex: Storja u Letteratura by Kav. Joe M Attard.

    For more information, one can contact the U3E head office at the Catholic Institute in Floriana on 2124 3202 or by email at diacstef@onvol.net .

     (This article was published in the Senior Times – January Issue issued with The Times of Malta on the 18th January 2018)

    2018.01.18 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta