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Leave our rubbish alone!

Our claim to be patriotic is pure rubbish, says Herman Grech

A video still showing one of the foreigners taking part in the clean-up.

A video still showing one of the foreigners taking part in the clean-up.

A WhatsApp message from a friend on Saturday morning was accompanied by several angry face emojis: “I’m ashamed to say I’m the only Maltese person who bothered to show up for the clean-up in the north of the island”.

A French friend later shared a video online of the Cospicua spring clean. The foreign accents were prevalent, the Maltese voices conspicuous by their absence.

My concerns were reinforced over the next couple of days when we reported that more than a third of those who took part in the clean-up of 115 locations were foreigners! If that doesn’t convince us, Maltese, to collectively hang our head down in shame, what will?

"The Maltese have given up on litter. They see it as a waste of time and have lost hope that anything can change," a Swedish national (let’s not call them expats) was reported as saying.

This story annoyed me on two counts: first our utter disregard for the environment we live in and secondly our misguided sense of stereotyping foreigners.

Many Maltese still don’t consider littering a crime, others feel it’s just the authorities’ job to clean up the mess, while the rest are resigned to living in a shabby island clouded over by construction dust and traffic.

The story reinforced the common notion that many Maltese consider their doorstep as the demarcation line of cleanliness. Beyond that, it’s not our problem

The story reinforced the common notion that many Maltese consider their doorstep as the demarcation line of cleanliness. Beyond that, it’s not our problem. Which is why we still find bulky items dumped in the countryside even though it can be transported away at no charge. Which is why we still rank embarrassingly low on recycling our rubbish even though the state provides a free service. Which is why more than 2,000 garbage bags were collected during the clean-up day.

What gets to me is that instead of actively engaging to try to fix the situation we resort to complaining through a post on Facebook…or start an online petition that nobody will see.

Secondly, the story exposes the irony that the same people many Maltese dislike being here happen to be the very people who seem to care most about the state of cleanliness of this country.

Take a look at the online comments boards and you will see the Maltese getting all too hot under the collar when a foreigner dares to criticise our bad habits. Even when we know the criticism is justified we choose to defend our (sub) culture/ (bad) habits by telling the critic to go back to his country.

But until they go back to their country, we insist on associating African migrants with all the filth under the Maltese sun, forgetting that many of them are picking up our own rubbish. ‘Expats’ are often cited as the reason why Malta is turning into a concrete jungle but most of the foreigners I know are restoring old buildings and not tearing them down to make way for concrete blocks. Foreigners are not really responsible for the anarchy in our roads. I could go on.

I can already hear an army of people branding me as unpatriotic. It’s a label I’m prepared to live with if that means I’m ashamed to know that us Maltese are failing to fulfil our civic duty

It was embarrassing to hear a friend of mine who works in an office of foreign employees joking that they need to show 'integration efforts' by start taking selfies of themselves throwing banana peels on the street. 

Of course, some foreigners will always stir trouble, and there are undoubtedly some who persist on fuelling their own national stereotypes… the same way some of my co-nationals give my country a bad name when they travel abroad.

I can already hear an army of people branding me as unpatriotic. It’s a label I’m prepared to live with if that means I’m ashamed to know that us Maltese are failing to fulfil our civic duty. What really gets to me is our innate superiority complex, our claim of loving our country when our actions prove otherwise.

Of course, this transcends the issue of littering.

We don’t speak out when faced with blatant cases of injustice provided it doesn’t hit our own pockets. We refuse to challenge an education system designed to spit out robots rather than students imbued with a social conscience. And ultimately, it does boil down to education. It’s high time we tackle Maltese ‘apathy’ as a disease.

So fellow Maltese citizens, let’s try to prove we really do care about our own environment and next time there’s a national clean-up day let’s all roll up our sleeves. To play your part and be notified of any further clean-up events, follow Clean Up Malta and JCI Malta on Facebook.

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