Exercise 1: Make a list of some conflicts (big or small, external or internal) that you could include in your memoir. Summarize each one briefly.
– The water shortage
– Malta’s curbing of imports
– My father’s absence for most of the summer holidays of 1981
– General feeling of antipathy towards foreigners as well as Maltese returning from countries the had previously emigrated to
– The ever-present awareness that it was safer to never voice disapproval of the government in public
Exercise 2: Write down the theme of your memoir as a question or an issue you want to explore.
How did my family and I cope with settling down in Malta – a major life event in itself – at a time when the local political and economical situation was deteriorating significantly?
Choose one of the conflicts you listed in Exercise 1 and spend ten minutes writing about it.
After almost a decade in power, the government’s economic policies meant that the country was suffering from a dire lack of choice insofar as basic consumer goods were concerned. This made a deep impression on me because I had been used to shopping at large department stores and supermarkets. These were unheard of in Malta before the late Eighties and early Nineties. The self-service system was not a popular one and the only such grocery shop was in another village, fives minutes away. Shops were small and sellers were either too familiar or simply not helpful. In a tiny country like Malta, it is common for many of the locals to snoop and gossip. Going to the shops in the village you lived in, especially three decades ago, meant being asked all sorts of personal things which was, frankly, rather annoying.
Imports were kept to a minimum and wherever possible, foodstuffs were produced locally. Foreign chocolate, for example, was banned and the local version was dismally inferior. If someone was going abroad for a holiday, the most prized gift he or she could get you was a Mars bar. I do not know why it was the Mars, specifically, that occupied the popular imagination but it was treasured more than gold. I must add, however, that there were also a few good-quality local hits that struck the right chord like, for instance, Twistees, a rice-based snack that is nowadays sold in the UK and other countries.
However, the squeeze on imports was accentuated by the fact that the government also adopted policies and passed laws that restricted freedom of expression. Corruption gradually became institutionalised. Water was scarce and it was as if little was being done to solve the problem. The Water Department had the habit of switching off the supply during the day in areas known for their hostility towards the party in power. People were known to go to the seaside, armed with buckets, to get some water with which they would be able to flush their toilets.
Two years previously, in 1979, the publishing house of Malta’s only newspaper had been attacked by thugs and set on fire. The police did not intervene to stop them and no one was taken the court for the violence. Government cronies were allowed to import goods (and wholesale at a hefty profit) and thus have an unofficial monopoly on desirable products. A good number of locals took to travelling to the Sicilian port of Catania to buy better-quality sheets and clothes at reasonable prices. While my family and I were trying to adapt to our new life, it was impossible for us to disengage ourselves from all these goings-on. That year we soldiered on in the hope that the general election would bring about a change in government and a turn for the better.