As our parents and grandparents always remind us, things aren’t what they used to be on our beautiful island. In their day, everyone knew their neighbours, people would say “good morning” to you on the street, and everyone helped each other out within the tight-knit community. Nowadays, we are all strangers.
On a local level, people are much more mobile, moving multiple times across the island in a perpetual search for contentment. On a global level, the internet and fast-travel has meant that people don’t even have to live in their home countries anymore, never mind their home towns. So, we are constantly welcoming new, unfamiliar faces into our neighbourhoods.
Although diversity is a wonderful thing, it often feels like living amongst people we didn’t grow up with means we’re less comfortable making eye-contact as we walk past them in the street, less likely to say “good morning”, and less likely to offer help where help is needed.
For a long time, I felt that life was generally a lonely journey. That if I were to reach out to a stranger I would be labelled ‘weird’ or ‘overfamiliar’. So, I kept mostly to myself, only opening up around people I knew well, traversing the streets like a blinkered horse until I reached the safe cocoon of my destination.
I would watch idyllic, fictional TV shows based in rural villages where everyone knows your name and is always happy to see you. I would yearn for that sense of community, but always believed it to be a society from the past, one that could never be a reality in today’s transient world.
But then I had a baby, and everything changed.
Welcome to the Neighbourhood
When I had my son, there were a lot of surprises, but one of the biggest was discovering that the sense of community I craved still existed, and even more shocking, it was right on my doorstep.
The grumpy old man who, every morning, went to great lengths to avoid acknowledging my existence on his way to pick up his newspaper, suddenly slowed down as I approached him. His harsh facial expression instantly melted into a smile upon seeing my son in his pram. As my baby grew, so did the old man’s softness, his smile evolved into a nod, then a wave, then a “hello”.
The cashiers at the local convenience store went from beeping my groceries through without looking up, to asking my son’s name and welcoming him with big smiles whenever we walked in. As I waited in the queue, they would wave and play peek-a-boo, and it wasn’t long before they were asking me how old he was, if I was having a nice weekend, then they’d tell me about where they were from and how long they’d been in Malta. They are no longer just faces to me, in a weird way they are almost like distant friends somehow.
I have never been on first name terms with a pharmacist in my life. Now? If I dare step foot in my local Brown’s without my son, they tease me and tell me they’re not serving me until I bring him with me. The staff at the local stationary shop know how much he loves his Hot Wheels so they always let him open them before I’ve reached the till. I’m pretty sure that’s what’s keeping them in business, the amount I spend on toy cars.
At the small Marks & Spencer next door, they can’t wait to talk to him about his favourite thing: football. The old men who sit outside the kazin have gone from staring at my ass in stony silence as I walk by, to waving and sometimes even talking to us. It really is incredible. It takes me an age just to get home from day-care with all the people who want to stop and speak to us now – and it has made such a difference to my view of the world.
Having a baby restored my faith in humanity, it allowed me to see people for who they really are. Most people are not the ashen-faced strangers they portray as they march past you on the street. We are all the same. We all want to feel part of a caring, friendly community where everyone knows our name and welcomes us with a smile. It’s just a shame that I had to push out an entire human being in order for this to become a reality. I live in hope that one day we won’t need a baby to remove our blinkers and play the matchmaker. We’re all big girls and boys, perhaps it’s time we find the courage to connect with each other off our own backs.