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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Leaving and the war

My going to Malta was totally unexpected until three days before leaving. I was asked to substitute a colleague as the English-speaking leader of a group of 41 students + 2 teachers . My colleague  couldn’t go any longer but everything  had  already been  booked and planned.  Unfortunately, meanwhile,   war had  broken out to support  the rebellion against Gaddafi  in Lybia and Malta was so terribly close to that area,  between Sicily and the Lybian coast, precisely. Some families decided to keep their children with them and, sincerely, I ardently prayed  this trip could be cancelled. My prayers were not granted. I had to pack and take off for

Malta two days after the  French fighters had started dropping bombs on Lybia. Students 41, teachers 3, on 22nd March we landed safe and sound and perfectly on time: our adventures  (struggles and arguments, discussions and exercises of patience , are they adventurous enough?) in Malta started.
Malcolm, our leader from the EC English school, welcomed us at the airport and everything was ok after a while. We didn’t think of Gaddafi, of the bombs or the war any longer and concentrated on our schedule for the next  6 days. A 20 - hour English course for our students, then trips to the most interesting places in the aerea: Valletta, Mdina and Gozo.
Valletta is Malta’s capital city, where we walked and went shopping through the picturesque steep alleys and where we  visited St. John’s Cathedral,  which houses Caravaggio’s Beheading of  St. John the Baptist ( Caravaggio lived in Malta from 1606 until 1608) .  Mdina is the impressive ancient capital, a very picturesque  Arabesque site. Gozo is , instead,  Malta’s little sister-island. Beautiful,  both for its sea and the natural setting.

Frankenstein in Valletta vs clubs in St Julian

On the night of 23rd I was warned by my friend K/V that,  in 
in Valletta,  they had Frankenstein - starring  Jonny Lee- Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch -  on in one of the cinemas of  the centre. I was staying in Sliema at about ONLY 15 minutes by bus from there and…can you believe it? I couldn’t leave my colleagues to cope with our students at night. Why? My sense of duty would make me feel very guilty. In fact, each night a different discussion arose about the activies they were/weren’t  allowed to do.
T = teachers / S= students

T: Let’s go to the bowling all together.
S: No, we want to go to the disco.
T: But you are under age, they won’t let you in. Then we are responsible for your care,  safety and health here,  so we do not want you to go there.
S: Can we go to a pub,instead?
T: Yes, but, please,  no alcoholic drinks.
S: No alcoholics? Why not? What can one drink at a pub?
T: Why not? What about your being under age, again? And what about drinking soft drinks or milk shakes?  (… and so on)

So, you see, I couldn’t just go to the cinema in Valletta and leave them there to cope with the ever-rebellious, ever-complaining crew. Did we go to the disco in a whole long week? Never. To the pub? Three times, but we had to be very careful and check what they were drinking.  Teenagers are the same all over the world, I think. And to cope with them is getting more and more complicated nowadays. They do not simply hate studying or going to school, they are all seriously “allergic” to any kind of rule, limitation, convention, reasonable behaviour. What an effort for me to remain patient and calm all the time… In conclusion, no disco,  but no Frankenstein either. Sigh.
Well, it’s clear. I mean, you should have guessed this is something I don’t like doing and I’m not used to lie, as you know.  I had always managed to skip this kind of tasks: going abroad with students is not compulsory, not necessary, stressing and dangerous. There was a time I used to do it – class-exchanges in Europe, especially Belgium -  but  students have changed lately and I stopped liking it. 

Intermediate group and their teacher, Robert (in a grey jacket)

Is it just the generation gap?

Now, let’s go back to our main topic. Malta, was it? And discussions at night. What was all the “ado” about? An area called Paceville, in the town our school was in, St. Julian. That was the place our kids wanted to be at night. We saw it on Saturday Night. Neons on all over the place, we passed through that crowded,  chaotic narrow hellish alley looking for a quiet place to sit in and where to drink something while having a chat. We wondered, "Is this the paradise our students had heard about?" Discos, gentlemen clubs, crowds of miniskirts and squalid semi-naked girls , hammering house-music all over. That’s it (Have a look at it by day in the picture above on the left) They had heard other students had gone in previous years and they wanted to go. Would their parents take them there? Never, I’m sure., for nothing in the world. They are only 16/17. But that’s what they did: they complained all the time because we didn't let them go. Neither with us. With me? I felt so out of place in that place. I couldn't imagine myself inside one of those clubs. Just being outside in that crowd was so unpleasant! 
Unfortunately the subject,  "you are old, that's it!" didn't work. I could proudly answer I had never liked those kind of squalid discos. It is true, never liked.  And the result was ... pity in their eyes! 

Gozo - Rare specimens of studious girls with their teacher

I must face the facts: I'm on the other side of the barricade, and if not a war, this is a battle. I'm the adult  they want to cheat, criticize, challenge and defy. I'm not an enthusiastic student  any longer , not the girl who wanted to see the world, study, discover and learn new things each day of her life.  I can't recognize myself in any of them nor sympathize with them. Moreover,  and this is terribly sad, the kind of young person I was does not exist any longer, the few specimens are rare and  seriously threatened with extinction. 
Positive points? The  beautiful sea and the weather, the language school, the teachers, the excursions.
Worse moments? The evenings/nights , the discussions, the discovery that the main reason they had gone there was not to improve their English.


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