Un goût sucré-salé
2nd June 2017
by Katel Delia
Catherine, a 32 year-old journalist and culinary photographer, arrives at the airport of Malta. She wears jeans that aren't faded and don't have any rips or holes in them, a top that is a bit classy but not too much, though the collar is a little wide.
She wears the kind of backpack that's typical for photo equipment. She waits for her luggage and her expression is uncertain; she is close to tears. But then she pulls herself up, quickly grabs the luggage on the treadmill, which has a 'home-made' label made out of fabrics that combine the Eiffel Tower and the Maltese Cross.
While most passengers look for their name or the logo of their tour operator on the placards, she walks with a decided step, quickly dries a few tears that begin to flow, puts on her sunglasses and leaves the airport. A young man, Mark (bermuda khaki, T-shirt with a screenprint saying 'human right') waits to her, after a measured greeting they leave by car – a grey Smart. On the road, she takes some pictures from the car. They cross the island as far as Rabat. Catherine enters the National Archives alone. She talks to an employee, shows her some documents in her possession – others are on her tab. She consults old registers. Time passes, several hours elapse, it remains until the closing of the place. When it comes out the grey Smart arrives, they pass by the industrial zone of Attard-Mosta, the bus stops are saturated, mainly by African people. A bus arrives and of course, there's not enough space for everyone. Some protest. Catherine takes a few more pictures on the spot. A young man pulled away, realizing he could not get on that bus. He then takes a book out of his bag, sits on the low wall, and reads...
Catherine explains to Mark that tomorrow she wishes to go to the Immigration Museum in Valletta – the employer of the National Archives told her that there they had all the registers of the Maltese people who had taken the boat for Tunisia from the late 19th to the early 20th century.
The next day, Catherine is facing large touch screens in the room of the museum. She consults cards and figures, and lingers on some information about Tunisia. Then a priest accompanies her in the archives room where he has already prepared for her some old registers. She turns her handwritten pages, all the lists she made of people who have left their country in hopes of finding a better life, without knowing what their situation would end up being like. She did not find the names she was looking for. Catherine shows the priest some old black and white photos – she lingers on a series of four photos. "I know that these pictures were taken in the training center where my father learned plastering when my family came back to Malta to independence from Tunisia. On the back, there is the name of the photograph and the place 'Marsa'. I'd like to visit this place – do you think it's possible? "
It is no longer a training center at all. I do not know where the records are kept. If decades ago he allowed your father to learn a trade and integrate into society, today it no longer serves that function – it has become an Open Center, so it always helps migrants – the same as your father may have been – but the situation has changed a lot. Even if you call it an Open Center, it will be very difficult for you to get back in. You must have authorizations, justify your request... the procedure is very long when there is a specific objective to a request... in your case I really do not see how you could go into this place. I can just tell you where it is, if you wish.
Catherine takes some pictures of a group of African migrants and a fence. She gets closer and stealthily takes a few pictures. She wanders, not knowing what to do. She sees only men. Where are the women, the families?
A man intercepts her. "What are you doing with your camera? You're not at the zoo, we're not animals in a cage!"
She mumbles a few words of apology in English, flashes a timid, smile. She explains, I do not really know what I am looking for, but my father studied here when he arrived in Malta, he was somehow migrating to his country because he was born in Tunisia but his parents were Maltese. These few words are enough to soothe the man's wrath. "Are you a professional photographer?"
“Yes, a culinary photographer.”
“Here, the food is messy, your pictures will be disgusting...!”
They talk a little more ...
“My name is Akash.”
Someone calls to Akash.
“Sorry to disturb you Madam. Akash, I take the bus in 15 min, come, come with me. This is time of Maltese lesson...”
“I'm not coming to your damn course, I don’t want to learn this damn language. I don’t want to stay here. Have you seen how we are treated?! Is this Europe?! Host country?! I am already graduated and I'm fed up with studying. I want a job that matches my skills, Mister!”
Catherine observes the discussion, saying nothing ...
- Akash: Catherine, Yam is my roommate. He imagines that this country will eventually accept them, but he forgets too quickly that he is black and that no one will ever accept him here ... They are all too racist.
- Yam: Come on, stop this speech, come! It is better to not stay every time here, around the Center… Come with me to Valletta.
- Catherine: I ... I'll let you go to ...
Akash: Yeah, you're right, go far, there's nothing to do for you here – it stinks.
Catherine is troubled. At one point, the discussion with Akash seemed rather nice. But he quickly became angry ...
She still walks a little around the Center, she has put her camera in her bag in an attempt to be a little more discreet, but she still tells herself, 'there are only men here...'
She climbs quickly on the bus that is about leave. Its occupants are mostly African; around 70%, she reckons. She finds a seat. She takes a little notebook out of her bag and takes manages to take a few quick notes, despite the bumpiness of the road. At the 'Bombi' stop the bus empties out dramatically. Catherine is still absorbed by her notes. A young black woman goes on the bus, with a baby in her arms an empty stroller and two young children who rush ahead to plant themselves on the folding seats. She shows her ticket to the bus driver. We do not understand what the driver says but he beckons to the children... The young woman looks inside her purse ... down to the bottom of her bag ... The bus does not start ...Catherine, surprised that the bus does not start up again, finally looks up from her notes. The young woman looks in a pocket in the front of her handbag ... The voice of the driver is always indistinct. The mother beckons to the children to come back close to her... The family leaves the bus ... Catherine, having just understood what has happened, gets up... but it's too late – the bus starts up again.
"Don’t worry Madam ..." It's Yam's voice. He is alone on the bus, which means that Akash did not follow him. She smiles at him. "Please, it's Catherine."
He greets her and gets down at the next stop – ‘Floriana’...
Catherine walks through the streets of Marsa, near the harbour, looks for Fisherman Street, shows a picture to an elderly man she finds seated on his doorstep. He tells her to go to the top of the street ... She stops and as usual, takes a few photos. Then she buys pastizzi and sits down under the trees in the near distance.
"You again?" Akash says, from just behind her.
“I came to see my great-grandmother's house. She lived there when she came back to live in Malta after Tunisia's independence...”
She explains that her ancestor left Malta with six children because she could not divorce, she fled ... Akash speaks to him about his brothers and sisters, he is alone here. Then he explains that he has a Master's degree in Commerce. Here it turns in circles. He does not find work and he does not want to waste his time working for a construction company, like Yam. This is too dangerous... he even risks losing a hand...
He takes out a cigarette packet, proposes one that she accepts ... She offers him some pastizzi, which he refuses.
Akash: You want a cannabis? It's a good time for a joint...
Catherine nods ...
- You're not funny, are you an artist or not? Artists smoke joints...
She lies down in the grass and says: "not now ..." she touches the ground, the grass is really sparse ... She looks up at the sky ...
Akash: This evening there is a match at the bar "XXX" in front of the Open Center. Come on, I'll buy you a drink. And don't worry, you will not be the only "white" ... Come with friends if you're scared.
Catherine and Mark are seated, beer cans in their hands, and watching the big screen. The game has yet to start. Akash and Yam arrive together. Akash has changed clothes – he wears a light beige shirt and dark pants. Catherine did not change. She's wearing the same clothes she had on that afternoon, jeans, a blouse with colorful patterns, khaki sneakers.
- You were scared... you came with company – is he your husband?
- That's my cousin, Mark. Mark. Akash. Yam.
- We've already seen each other, haven't we?, Yam says.
- I think so ...
Yam and Mark are talking together. Akash gets closer to Catherine, and discusses with each other ... a man approaches Akash, taps him on the shoulder twice, then hands him ... All right? - All right! And whispers a word in his ear. Akash beckons her to leave and then suddenly Akash rises, and goes into a corner of this open bar.
Catherine follows him with his eyes, he is with a group of men. He slips away. Another joins him a few moments later. They seem to talk to each other ... "Hands-check" Akash goes to the bar, and come back with three beers and a coffee...
The coffee is for Yam, the beers for Catherine, Mark and himself.
- Yam, he does not drink at the moment, huh Yam! He's a sportsman, he runs, runs, I don’t know after what or who he can run so fast!
- Did you run the 10km of Bugibba?, asks Mark.
- So we had to see each other over there! I remember your face, after the race, a friend had posted on Facebook your time of arrival. Wow... 38'40 for a first race, you must have bluffed us... this was not your first race – come on, tell the truth!
- Yes, Yes, it was...
"Do you train every day?"
One or twice a week. I started running 4-5 months ago when I got on the wrong bus one Sunday morning. I arrived in Zejtun, when in fact I had to be in Marsaxlokk at 11am to wash dishes in a restaurant, and I couldn't ruin this job opportunity... I arrived a little breathless, but on time! The boss could not get over what I had done ...
- Well, we can have a beer or just go on smoking a “joint”... Catherine and I can leave the athletes to talk between them... But Mark, remember: if you want something stronger, just tell me – and who knows, maybe it could help you catch up with Yam one day!
Yam, Chadian, who fled his country. He spent a few years in Libya where he worked in various construction companies. But the attitude of Libyans to foreigners changed, and he was dismissed. He left to try his luck elsewhere and arrived in Malta, stayed for 1 year and a half in a Detention Center and now is in this Open Center. The race is what gives him a much-needed glimpse of freedom, and wants to be able to integrate into the country.
He works different odd jobs – not all of which are declared – but he knows deep inside that he is able to get by. When Akash entered the dormitory, he went to him immediately. He noticed that he felt completely lost, and reminded him of his younger brother at times – whom he has not seen for five years, along with the rest of his family.
So Yam feels useful, he plays the role of older brother, trying to give him hope but for the moment he does not manage to distance him from the drug. In Libya, Yam had a Libyan friend who helped him a lot. They were very complicit. But he was killed during a demonstration. In remembrance of his lost friend, Yam makes a point of helping Akash.
Akash is a Libyan, a graduate. He is a recent arrival on the island and, since the laws have changed, he did not spend any time in a Detention Center but was, like Yam, immediately integrated into the Open Center. But the shock was brutal. He has been struggling to find work, and lacks experience, having arrived from Libya as a fresh graduate.
His English is rather good, but he has lost confidence in himself and become too dependent on drugs. He never assumed drug dealing would have become his first experience of 'trade', but he can't see anything else on the horizon at this point in time.
He feels ashamed, but what can he do? His family is missing, they are in different European countries, but he is all alone here. Of course they do not know anything about his situation.
Catherine is a French woman of Maltese origin from her father's side. The Maltese side of the family hails from Tunisia... proof that immigration is not just a present-day concern. Catherine became depressed when her father died three years ago. A therapist specialising in psycho-genealogy has helped her to recover. She then decided to continue looking into her family history, as she'd like to find out what she can about it.
She realised that the Maltese knew very little about their own story of migration before the First World War, and she was interested in what kind of story she could tell.
In this story, she plays the role of 'Helper' – the link between the Maltese and the migrants.
Catherine almost succumbed to drugs as well, but her love of cooking stopped her from taking this unsavoury plunge.
Continuation of the story.
Catherine looks on her computer, browsing through the photos she had taken since the beginning of her stay. She noticed that among the pictures she had taken at the bus shelter in the industrial zone of Mosta, there is a picture of Yam, who reads while waiting for the bus.
The photo gives her a chance to talk about precarious working conditions.
The viewer / reader discovers little by little that Akash does not have a bad background, has empathy for him ...
A friendship, a complicity is established between the 4 characters despite their differences. They do not try to change the other – they accept it for what it is. Will Akash break his drug habit? In any case, he will eventually come out of the Open Center with Yam, who helps to find them an apartment to rent.
Structure of History
Yam's mother is sick, he cannot go to the board
Yam hurt just before a major course
Akash was attacked by a knife in the Open Center this event will accelerate the search for an apartment.
Catherine, go back in France and when she come back 2 months later in Malta, Yam and Akash are no longer in the Open Center.