I initially leased a flat for two weeks on the peninsula with a lovely view of mainland Malta. We slept well the first night, but when I got up in the morning to draw a bath the children I saw a million little fishes in the water. I immediately went to the kitchen and found the same in that tap water. These were no fishies..these were mosquito larvae.
Valettta is the capital of Malta, and unlike Khartoum telephone service was available, even telephone books, so it was easy to find the board of real estate rentals. I immediately lodged a complaint, stating the landlady should never have rented the unit, especially to a family with very young children. They took a complaint from me and told me I would legally get my deposit back. I copied down the name of the agent, the phone number and the comment that I should get a real refund.
Then I called my landlady and she was furious. She argued that I had no right to a full refund and she and her son the attorney were coming over that evening. I said I didn’t think I would be there because we needed baths and I’d already taken a room at a nearby hotel that had water. She insisted on meeting me at the Mosquito House and I thought that was a good idea.
When I knocked on the door of my old residence, I found Mother had brought her son The Attorney. We came in and sat down and she demanded knowing just who I thought I was, she may have asked if I had my head up me are – I can’t recall. Anyway I gave her the business card of the official at the Real Estate Board, and suggested the two go look at the bath water I’d run for my children the night before, and while they were in the bathroom I prepared two nice tall glasses of water for them.
Then I heard mother and son go at it in the bathroom. Her son the attorney left the flat, wanted to go see the water tank on the roof. She came into the sitting room and asked for “a few days to resolve the situation”. I declined, saying I was not interested and explained I already found a hotel for nearly the same price with a swimming pool. She pointed out that I couldn’t cook there; I pointed out I couldn’t bear to think of cooking in her flat.
Sonny returned as we completed our discussion, and shaking his head he said “Let it go, Mama.” Then he explained his findings: somehow the water tank cover was removed and it would a few days to clean out the tank. He explained it was an illegal rental and should give me a full refund immediately. He insisted on giving me money from his pocket to buy ourselves a meal as an apology.
We moved into a nice old with comfortable furnishings, clean water, a good restaurant, and a salt-water swimming pool. We took day trips, went to the park, and just enjoyed sunny but not roasting-hot days and dining out every night at The Yellow Umbrellas. I couldn’t pronounce the name, but each out door table had a beautiful yellow umbrella. Rebecca’s sixth birthday dinner was at a place we called The Yellow Umbrellas, and the staff provided her with a surprise birthday cake.
Every day we went to David’s for lunch. He was a handsome Maltese man about my age, and was taken by my kids, as people always were: Rebecca was tall and slender with long dark hair, looking very Maltese with her dark brown eyes; and Steven, the chubby two year old, with blonde hair and green eyes. David, a father himself, was mesmerized with the kids and let them take orders at his street-side window. We went there every day and the kids started picking up some Maltese – a combination of Arabic and Italian. I was surprised to find I could get the gist out of certain newspaper articles. He also made me a plowman’s lunch every day and sat and talked with me while my children stood by to alert when a customer came to the window.
We enjoyed the old hotel immensely. The children learned to stay afloat in the salt-water pool and I warned them that they would have to work to stay afloat in the fresh water pool in Khartoum. We did some massive shopping – they had grown already and needed replacement shorts and shirts. Shopping was difficult in Valetta: the shopping district was built on a series of hills steep like San Francisco hills, tough for short-legged people. Fortunately we discovered the Karrozzin, fabulous horse-drawn carriages to take us up and down the hills. It was in Valetta that Steven committed an embarrassment that his sister never forgave: he had to go to the toilet and dropped his drawers on the sidewalk and peed on a parking meter.
I was aghast, Rebecca was red-faced and furious, and I asked him what in the name of the gods did he think he was doing? His reply was he didn’t think there were any toilets in Malta. I explained that this was not like going shopping in Khartoum: Malta has stores and restaurants and they all have toilets.
The DC8 was stalled out, some parts had to be sent from Europe, and the kids needed a change. The concierge recommended a boat ride to Gozo, an island off the coast of Malta.* He would make reservations for soft drinks and a box lunch for three. We could spend the day in the sea with sandy beaches and shade and be home before nightfall. It sounded lovely, and we were delighted.
We went by cab to the boat, and settled aboard with tea and cookies. The trip should take about an hour. We would disembark, be escorted around the tiny island to locate places where we could buy water or other items, and then turned loose. If we got lost, we could walk the perimeter of the little island.
The kids and I were the only family of strictly English speaking people. We took our towels and umbrella, our box lunch and drinks went off a little ways and found some tide pools behind the rocks with safe wading water. We spent the whole day climbing the rocks, examining the tide pools, swimming in the surf. The sun was lowering in the sky, and a breeze was coming up, a warm breeze, and we saw other families packing up and trekking toward our boat. Everyone still wore their swimsuits, and I went along with the crowd in my bikini and straw hat.
We all settled in at picnic tables, were served fresh fruits and plenty of water; liquor if anyone would be drinking after such a day. I leaned back, totally satisfied with our outing.
“Hello, did you and the children enjoy your day?” I looked up into the eyes of an older man, maybe 45. He was obviously Maltese, the features handsome Italian, and those glowing Moorish eyes. He was friendly, and complimented me on my children, he’d noticed they were quite at home with travelling and hadn’t got into mischief, and surmised I was not British. We both laughed, and I told him we were American.
“You came to Malta? From the United States?” He frowned, “Why?”
“We are Americans living in Sudan.” His face lit up and he nodded, “Ash, yes! That’s a lot closer!”
We laughed, because we both knew it would take us over eight hours to fly back to Sudan.
Then he asked me if I’d heard about luminescent waters off Gozo, and I said I hadn’t. He offered to take us there in his speed boat, which was on board. It would only be for a few minutes so we could swim in the waters and see the powerful illumination. He had a wife and twin sons waiting for him at home.
Rebecca and Stevie wanted to go, I wanted to go and so men were called to get our towels and gear, to be transferred and we went to the rear of the ferry and there was the bright red speedboat. Our gear was tossed into the boat and passengers gathered to watch us get in the boat and be lowered down into the Mediterranean Sea. They laughed and waved to us as we sped off.
“Plenty of witnesses, eh? ” he winked at me, got in the driver seat and we purred away for perhaps a half mile. He slowed down, and had us turn with our back to the sun, and see what had happened to the waters: they shimmered and shined with each wave, purple and pale turquoise hues. He reached his hand into the sea and it turned iridescent, seemed outlined in dark blue, floating beneath the water all sparkly and shiny. He cut to motor and invited us all to swim to see our skin in the waters. The kids weren’t so keen about that, so I dove in and the glimmering water was a powerful visual. Both kids gasped and said “Mommie! You look like a fairy!”
Within forty minutes we returned to our boat which now had docked. We climbed up the ramp, and I had to turn back and take a look. Night was falling, stars were coming out, the ferry was docked, and there was no evidence of a speedboat.
The captain laughed, “It’s a very magic thing, isn’t it when you are still wet from swimming in the glow, yet it hasn’t changed anything. It should have, shouldn’t it?
When my family comes out, they swim closer to the grotto, and swim into the cave. The iridescence is even brighter in the dark. So! The next time you come to Malta, you contact me! My family will come – the boys are near your children’s ages and we will have a picnic inside this cave!”
I promised we would do just that. I mentioned it to the Larry when we got home.
He said it sounded boring.