The Malta Independent 3 June 2020, Wednesday

Chronicles of a hamster in the time of corona

Victor Calleja Sunday, 22 March 2020, 09:08 Last update: about 3 months ago

I am the youngest of 5 children and had parents old enough – or so I thought – to be my grandparents. You’d think I was spoilt rotten but nothing of the sort. When I was about seven I wanted a hamster but my mother refused point blank.


She seemed too cruel for words. I hadn’t thought how cruel it is for us humans to imprison hamsters and watch them go round and round in their cage for our entertainment. We are always too fond of slavery and roguery.

Today, more than half a century later, I am closed up in isolation, away from it all, away from everyone. And now I feel like the hamster I was never allowed to have.  

I roam round our apartment hearing construction work going on. I live in chic, unique Sliema. Developers here, unlike all businessmen in the world, sit serene in the knowledge that one day they will still sell their cubicles at a premium.

When even hot-dogs are hard to sell at half-price, I find it mind-boggling that anyone could even believe a place in Sliema, a most densely populated and polluted area, will ever find a buyer. In the case of towers, loads of buyers.

At least someone has hope, someone in these virulent times still believes the world order will be restored once the bad times are over. Maybe for once I should thank the developers and try to take a leaf out of their book.

Strangely the builders swear and blaspheme less now, perhaps fearing more than usual the wrath of a God who seems to have abandoned us to our sorry plight.

This Coronavirus, COVID 19, has really affected us all. Someone closely connected to the Jesuits and their community work told me that even people of no faith or religion are communicating with them for solace, seeking some spirituality. In times of need we, or most of us, look deeper into our soul and think of unity, love and the beyond.

The virus and its effect scare us into re-examining our lives, our spirit and our past and future – or lack of a future.

However, even as we stop to ponder and feel lost, there are out there some souls who go on leading by horror. Because if any time was not the right one to sound fascist and racist, this was it. If God was still the Old Testament type surely Silvio Schembri would have been struck down in his path?

And once we are only seeing the apocalypse at a distance but not yet living through its worst ravages, maybe a scolding, or a request for his dismissal would have been apt? Obviously, I’m not expecting God himself to smite him but Robert Abela, our clueless, gormless Prime Minister could have kicked the minister out.

Just for the record, Silvio Schembri, rising star of the new Labour Party, had actually decreed that all non-EU foreigners living in Malta who lose their job will be deported.

Nice one Silvio! His so-called apology did not save the situation at all. What Schembri and many like him feel is that foreigners are here to act as hamsters. Till the human hamsters are cute and useful it’s fine; then once their job is done or there is no need for them they can be easily disposed of.

Many of the foreigners who work in Malta feel this is their home, having lived here for years. They are part of the national fabric. What are boundaries and borders but horrors invented by humans intent on imposing territoriality? If they gave their all while we gloried in plenty shouldn’t we let them stay here and see that they – the foreign jobless – have a place they can still feel is a welcoming haven?

I would have loved to forget politics while rotating in my cage with just my wife, my work and my hamster thoughts as company. But Joseph Muscat returning from his foreign meanderings and being greeted like an Azeri superstar dealt another blow to my desire to convince myself that, besides the virus, nothing matters any more.

Confined as I am, I fight not just boredom but fear. I have devised all sorts of strategies to stop myself from turning paranoid. I even set myself a target of steps – 7,000 – to walk every day.  Not just like the hamster to while away the time but also to not go too obese and unfit.

This walking up and down the apartment makes me realise how important all that we had was. And how little we appreciated it. Till some days ago, before the Corona scare, I could admire the sea, the sky, the clouds, the sunsets, the trees, the children, the young and not so young couples, the smiles on people’s faces, the boats on the shimmering waves.

All these beautiful things are now missed and I keep telling myself that once the pandemic is over I will look at life differently. I will not take anything for granted. I will appreciate and nurture a world that was good to us but which we were horrid to.

I try hard to believe that after all this horror, politicians too will change. Maybe after this frightening period is over they will not remain the hard-fisted people who care only for their state of affairs and never the real affairs of the state.

Threatened by the oncoming doom we will promise ourselves anything: to each other, to ourselves and to the world. Yet sadly nothing will change, and we will go round and round in the same way we always did, never thinking what a tiny virus can do to the whole world.


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