Dr Klown – Healing with a Smile

In 1998, the Hollywood movie ‘Patch Addams, starring Robin Williams as a doctor who uses humor to help patients through the power of positivity, was introduced to our screens. Although the movie itself received negative criticism, the idea of cheering up patients in hospitals and making them feel better emotionally, as well as physically, took hold. Patch Addams’ red clown nose, which he used as a prop to make children in hospital wards laugh and forget their pains and suffering for a moment, became iconic in that it brought to mind the feelings and thoughts expressed in the movie, that is that patients should be treated and cared for as human beings, and not just as a statistical number.

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This red clown nose is also the signature of Dr Klown – a Maltese Non-Government Organisation active at Mater Dei Hospital, which provides entertainment and stress-relief to hospitalized children through fun and laughter.

Dr Klown was set up in 2011 by Jean Paul Fabri and Jean Pierre Busuttil. The team is made up of a number of well-trained volunteers, who visit patients in their wards and give them individual attention, focusing on the adage that ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Dressed in a colorful lab-coat, sometimes sporting a wig, and with the ever-present big red nose, the ‘doctors’ finest adornment is in reality a caring and mischievous smile. Hospitals are generally negative, sad places, where one unfortunately spends most of the time thinking about the issues and problems which led him or her there in the first place. The aim of this NGO is that of bringing in play the power of positivity, encouraging laughter, warmth, and at the very least, a momentary break from one’s worries.

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The volunteers who choose to become part of the team need not have any medical knowledge or background, however they undergo rigorous psychological and artistic training, attending a course in theatre and improvisation. Calling themselves ‘clown doctors’, the members of this NGO profess that for them it is the person who matters, not the illness.

In September 2017, to celebrate its 6th year in Malta, Dr KIown organised a fun-filled ‘’Dr Klown Day” at the Sliema-St Julians promenade, with the aim of increasing public awareness about the organisation. The event was supported by: H.E. the President of Malta, the Commissioner for Children, the Director General for Education and Employment, and delegates for Catholic Education, amongst others.

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As an NGO, Dr Klown is dependent on sponsors and donations to fund both the training of its volunteers, as well as sundry expenses such as the buying of necessary props, transport, hosting of activities, etc. Some people choose to donate to Dr Klown as part of their marriage celebrations, opting to share their happiness by purchasing Dr Klown donation cards and presenting them to the wedding guests, instead of the traditional wedding souvenir. A small gesture, but one which makes a difference to the thousands of children who each year, are visited in hospital by Dr Klown. 2018 is also the 4th consecutive year that participants of the Miss World Malta competition are officially raising funds through red noses for this NGO as part of their “Beauty with a Purpose” challenge.

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The moments Dr Klown members get to share with hospitalised children and their families are special and unique. Be it the self-stylized Dr Buttons, Dr Big, Dr Funny, Dr Happy, or any one of the many volunteers, you can be sure that wherever there is a red nose, a funny smile and an endearingly positive attitude, there will also be laughter, good cheer, and a willingness to get better.

For more information about Dr Klown activities, or if you are interested in donating, or becoming a volunteer, kindly visit – http://drklown.org/

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This article was written by me and originally published on LivingInMalta.com

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The Reader

Her parents had no money to waste on books. Electricity and water bills arrived every couple of months, food had to be bought, not to mention stuff to clean the house and clothes with. Raising a child wasn’t cheap. 

When she turned twelve, she discovered ‘pocket money’. All the other children at school seemed to have it and had had it for years. They laughed at her for not knowing what it was. So did her cousins. 

Grabbing courage with two shaking hands, the child timidly went to her mother, and asked about it. After weeks of consultations – days and days of walking on tiptoe, of ‘being good or you can forget any pocket-money’, it was decided. Father gave mother money every week to buy food. She in turn would give the child two Maltese lira a week out of the food money. If she was good. And did as she was told. And did not ‘answer back’.

That money was her life-line. All it took was three weeks. Maybe four. And with her carefully saved hoard she could finally buy a book. One book. 

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The lady at the shop saw her every week. Maybe twice or three times each week even. Peering assiduously at the shelves. Hair tucked back. Pinching shoes forgotten as glistening eyes devoured each and every corner. Reading the book titles over and over again. Touching the pages, looking at the spines and covers. And of course, the blurps at the back. She must have known the sequencing of all the books on all the shelves by heart. And by the fourth week, when the price of the chosen book had been reached, the money would be handed over, as would the much awaited paper-wrapped treasure.

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In her room, she would unwrap it slowly, marveling at its heavenly smell. That particular scent of new paper and stationery. First, she’d introduce it to the other books, then the soft toys, one by one, each one by name. And finally, with a flourish, she’d present it to the room in general, imagining ovations and applause as the new addition to the small family was placed in its particularly chosen spot.

Then she would wait.

She waited for her father to go out. For her mother to be engrossed in one of her soaps on the T.V or in some long-winded conversation on the telephone. Then, and only then, would she crack the book’s spine.

And be lost.

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Growing Up

What is fate? If you spend years of your life trying to avoid something, only to have it thrust at you randomly at a turning in the road, does that mean that it was destined in your ‘stars’, or does it simply mean that you suffer from bad luck? Should you struggle, tearing yourself apart in order to escape at all costs, or should you cease swimming against the current, and simply accept it? Would that be defeated resignation, or merely another way of growing up?

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Generally we can control most things about our life – our achievements, our relationships, our careers, yet when it comes to certain things like health, colleagues, coincidental disasters, of just bad luck, there is actually nothing we can do. We can react yes, but as far as running away from those things we cannot change, this is simply not possible. I guess that is what growing up means. We have to simply buck up, and face those challenges which life throws at us, even though all we might feel like doing is just turning away and go grab a drink.

Perhaps it is actually these challenges which forge our character, aiding us to evolve into more capable individuals, able not only to pull through when under pressure, but to actually appreciate the things we have, and the people around us, all the more.

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After all, how can you ever become a better version of yourself, if your life is always easy? How can you learn to manage and survive using your own abilities, if you always find everything ready on a silver platter? How can you trust yourself to be able to overcome ever tougher decisions and issues next time they come up (because at some point, they will), if you don’t already know you can be a survivor, without needing anyone’s help or using anyone as a crutch to lean on?

People may get older, but not all of them grow up. Some remain selfish little children forever, sulking, having tantrums, and playing copycat instead of learning how to simply be themselves, without any need for social approval or metaphorical pattings on the back. After all, in the game of life, it is only we who can decide whether we have won or lost and no one else. We are our own spectators, and the only approval which matters, is ours.

 

How I deal with Depression

When I’m in a bad place (emotionally speaking) I always turn to things which comfort me. This summer, I could not turn to comfort food, since I am trying to keep track of my calories. I did turn to my one and only, however I really did not want to be too clingy – the poor guy needs his space after single-handedly taking care of all the house chores, etc for the past two and a half-months, so I had to lay off in that sense. And that, of course, left ‘comfort-books‘!

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Some books are a guilty pleasure. As the years roll by, I read them again and again at studious intervals, associating certain books or book series to certain mind-sets. Now, don’t laugh at me, but I actually have a book which I like to read each year when the first big storm hits after an arid summer. The book in question is ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith. There is also a series of books I read when I’m feeling particularly witty or frolicksome (mainly Neil Gaiman), and books I just love to read at Christmas-time, because, you know, they put me in the mood. Whenever I am about to travel on holiday, I also try to find books with a story based in that particular country, and I always manage it! I really had a field day when I went to Venice (why do books set in Venice always seem to be erotic romances?), and of course, the UK is easy. And so on.

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Since this summer was a terrible one for me, as I had to spend most of it in bed and in pain due to health issues, I obviously gravitated towards those books which comforted me. The 10-book part series I read, is the one which first introduced me to epic fantasy books, and the one which made me fall in love with that style of writing when I was 13 years old. I am speaking about David Edding’s Belgariad (first five books) and Mallorean (another 5 books).

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Recently I discovered that these book series are considered to be YA. They were actually written in the 1980s, a time when the term and concept of YA novels wasn’t thought of yet. So even though some readers may consider them to be YA, I do not, as they are certainly not as vapid, mediocre or predictable as YA books usually are (yup, you got me, I hate YA books in general, though there are exceptions).

The plot is basically a bildunsgroman, that is, a coming of age story. We see Garion, a naive boy living on a farm, realize that the world, and the people around him are, and were never, what he believed them to be. The world is complicated, mysterious and wonderful, and Garion finds that he himself is a very special person, destined to change the course of the known world forever. I am not going to go into any more details as I do not want to give any spoilers. Suffice it to say that I really love the cast of characters presented by Eddings. Their repetitive banter may irritate one after a while – still I read all the 10 books in around 3 weeks (remember I’m house-bound here), so one must take that into account. The books are not as lengthy as the tomes I am used to, and the old Maltese Pound price tags attached to the covers make me even more nostalgic, remembering how happy I was about buying these first books out of my own pocket money. Books which, for the first time, no one had chosen for me because they were ‘what children read’, but which I had chosen for myself, deviating from the norm. 

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If you haven’t read the Belgarion and the Mallorean, I strongly suggest you do. They are not as popular or well-known as book series like Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ or George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (Game of Thrones), but they are still worth a read. Then again, I’m biased, hehe…

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Maltese Traditions – Il-Quccija

Malta is a small island, and yet its multi-cultural history cannot be denied, since throughout the years it was conquered and influenced by so many civilizations. The Normans, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Turks, the Aragonese (Spanish), the French, and the English, all left their footprints in Maltese culture and traditions, and this mix makes up the unique Maltese habits and customs we know at present.

Il-Quċċija, which could be roughly translated as ‘the choosing’ or ‘the choice’ is one of the ancient old traditions dating back to the 18th century, which is still predominantly popular today. A year after a baby is born, its parents organize a party and invite all the family members and close friends for the gathering. After having eaten traditional Maltese party food, drunk a drink or two and chatted to their heart’s content, the parents prepare a table, basket, or section of the room for the Quċċija. The aim of the Quċċija is to determine or try to prophesy which profession or career the child would have later on in life, depending on which object he or she would pick up from all those offered in the pile.

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This entails collecting and setting out many different items, all reflecting or relating to a particular profession, career or aspect of life. For example, a calculator denotes that the child will become a mathematician, a rosary that he would become a priest, a pen that he would be a writer and a book that he would be learned and wise.

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(photo: Clare Galea-Warrington – https://cgwarr.wordpress.com)

In the past, different items would be set forth for the child to pick up, depending on his or her gender. If the child was a girl, most often the parents prepared a dish or table containing a pair of scissors, meaning that the girl would become a seamstress, cooking items, a ribbon, which if picked, would mean that the girl would be a beauty, corn which denoted fertility, or an egg which used to signify that the girl would have a big and prosperous home. If the child was a boy, the items would reflect totally different professions. A stethoscope would definitely be one of the items, in the hope that the boy would grow up to be a doctor, if he grabbed an inkstand it would mean that he was going to sit for the bar and become either a lawyer or a magistrate, while if he touched a geometry instrument it would mean that he would become an architect or engineer.

Today, the tradition has changed to reflect the society we are currently living in. Careers and professions are no longer subject to one’s gender, therefore usually the same items are offered to the child at the ceremony, be they male or female. The items themselves too have evolved, in reflection of today’s technological aspect. A baby might therefore grab a computer mouse, pointing at a career in I.T, or a credit card, pointing either towards a banking career or at the promise of future wealth.

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(photo: Clare Galea-Warrington – https://cgwarr.wordpress.com)

In the end, there is really no strict list of items which must be presented, and parents tend to let the baby crawl around everyday things which are to be normally found around the household. The object the child touches first, tradition holds, will be a dominant aspect in his or her life.

This small ceremony, apart from being held in the Maltese islands, is also believed to be something of a custom in some remote parts of Sicily, Italy, and Greece.

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – to read the whole article please go here

Are ppl natural Assholes or is it just Instinct?

What’s the difference between someone who cares for you and someone who’s only using you for his self-serving needs?

Have you ever realized that some of your so-called friends only invite you to go out with them when they have no one else? Or perhaps, that certain people only remember to ask you if you want to meet up when they don’t have a lift? I bet this has happened to anyone.

As I have grown older, I have come to realize more and more how people in general use others. It might be that they are not even aware of it. Maybe they are doing it subconsciously. And yet, magically, as soon as they break up or as soon as their best friend is in a new relationship – there they are again, messaging you to ask what you’re doing during the weekend, or asking whether you’d like to come over for a glass of wine. Sounds familiar?

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And so I ask myself – is everyone really that self-serving? How can one know whether a particular person likes you for YOU, because they enjoy your company – or whether they just need someone, anyone, just to assuage their loneliness or feelings of low self-esteem? Maybe they just want an audience.

And then, suddenly, perhaps it’s you who needs them once in a while – perhaps you are sick, or just down – and what happens? They don’t even bother to ask you what’s wrong, let alone actually care. The only thing they notice is that you’re not there to listen to them anymore, without ever wondering if, for once, it’s you who needs a listening ear or a helping hand. Talk about one-sided.

Or maybe, you might be thinking, I might be too cynical… maybe I just know all the wrong people… right? Thing is, have I known all the wrong people for all the years of my life?

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Maybe it’s just survival instinct. In the end – people are mammals. Our key instinct is to reproduce in order to propagate our genes. And no this has nothing to do with maternal or paternal instinct – of which I have none. It’s simple genetic programming which is found in everyone. Our genes and bodies want to copulate in order for them to propagate. On the other hand, it is our brains which govern our actions. Therefore in my case, I have decided I DO NOT want children. I never wanted children, not even when I was a child myself. Lol so much for maternal instinct.

Anyways, as I was saying, our bodies and genes are programmed to procreate – meaning that they are programmed to feel the need for a mate. That need is what, willy nilly, spurns us on to go out, meet new people, and see if we can click with any of them. It is this sense of survival perhaps, which kicks in when people start using others, in order to get a lift, or to have company, or to hang on to.

Or is it?

Have I lost my faith in humanity, or am I merely trying to find an excuse for these ppl? And if so, why on earth should I?

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Dear Neighbours, I would really like to report you to the Police because…

Dear neighbours,

I appreciate that you are passing through a rough patch, which is why you find it necessary to fight, scream and swear obscenely at 5.30am each morning as soon as you wake up and see each others’ faces. I also appreciate the fact that you on the other hand don’t like to hear our T.V, which is why you reported us to the police some time ago. I can also understand that all this fighting while at the same time having one’s nose in other people’s business can take up a lot of one’s time, which is perhaps why you ignore your sick daughter who has been coughing her head off for two weeks, while you bicker and screech at each other. So, can you please give me a tip? I’ve got the police station on the line – should I report you for disturbance of the peace, domestic abuse, or child neglect?

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You’ve been fighting ever since we moved here (and were here to hear you), which is since last September. Personally, I’m not being nosy. I don’t need to be to hear you, since my bedroom is right over your internal yard and your door is always open. You make no effort NOT to be heard, if you know what I mean lol. Which is why I know a lot about what is going on with you, since the shouting matches take place every day.

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You reported us coz our TV irritated you (and this at only 9.30pm when most ppl watch TV), instead of keeping your issues behind closed doors and shrieking them at everyone at 5.30 in the morning. The police were laughing their heads off when they came. They themselves had not heard anything because the TV was NOT loud.

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Truly, you dont need us to create more problems for you, since you obviously have enough hatred and anger pent up inside you for a million people. If you hadn’t been such hypocritical assholes, I’d have thought nothing of it, even though I have to hear your bull everyday as soon as I wake up in bed, but seriously, I cant understand how you can complain about us, while creating this racket all the time.

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And what about your older son and his friends, who create another racket every weekend at 2am when he comes home after having been out drinking and carousing? They stay outside your door in the street for half an hour shouting and having ‘mock’ fights. I could report that too if I wanted to as could anyone in this street. How can you not hear them but be all over our TV?

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Anyways thanks again for waking me up this morning, and for the free entertainment. Makes me feel so much better knowing that I don’t have to face either of you in my bed as soon as I open my eyes! In a way you really make me feel better about myself and my life. Anything is better than having yours lol.

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P.S I didn’t actually report them… YET!!

 

 

Three Years – Changes in my Life and the House of Parliament… lol

Three years ago, the Maltese government started building a new House of Parliament in Valletta, our capital city. At the time, I used to work near this new construction and would walk past it twice almost every day. Three years seemed so far away during March 2012, and I used to wonder where I would be when the new House of Parliament was finished in 2015, and what would have changed in my life. It seemed a lifetime away.

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Well, here we are. The new Parliament building is finally ready and it will start being used later on this month. So much has changed in my life since the moment it started to be built! I am not even the same person any more! I look back and marvel at the fact that this has been the most productive, important and evolutionary part of my life, and it happened at the same time as this building was being constructed. I wonder if before I die, I will see its destruction as well.

Morbid thoughts aside, in March 2012 I was still a child. Now, I am an adult I guess, but still with a faerie look about me, if you know what I mean 🙂

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1. I fought my way to freedom and became independent – in other words, I left the parental jail (or ‘that hellhole’, if you prefer even more honesty), and finally started to live on my own.

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2. – I went up the career-ladder – I’ve earned two promotions during the past 3 years. Needless to say, my position at the moment is much better than it was, not to mention my salary.

3. – I found my soul-mate – In March 2012 I was dating someone else, a person who definitely was not my match in many things, and being also aware that we did not actually have a future togather, the relationship was quite pointless. Later on that year however, I met someone whom I was to really click with, and after two years and a half now, we are in the process of buying a place together too. THAT’s a nice jump right!?

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4. I got published! – Although I have not totally abandoned the mentality and fear that once a story/poem is out, your heart has lost it forever, at least now I am writing freelance for a local magazine, as well as for a Polish tourist website. So, no I have not published any books yet, but am slowly getting there… I hope!

5. Self-esteem – All these experiences have led me to become a stronger and more determined person. While before I was more conscious of what other people thought of me, and how society viewed me, I am very happy to say that today I literally could not give a damn. Of course, I appreciate the companionship, advice and thoughts of loved ones, but I am not so gullible, naive, and pliant as I once was. I carry myself proudly and am happy of who I am. And whoever does not like it, can bite me 😀

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