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One of the great pleasures in life is to travel the world. Many people plan their individual global voyages during retirement, in hopes to see every beach, rainforest, safari, and mountain, every skyline, hotel, restaurant, and bar, every new and ancient wonder of the world. That is my dream too. On the same note, I am very fortunate to have already had the opportunity to journey through so many beautiful countries, including the Great Riviera’s of France, Greece, Italy and Spain. The last country on my seemingly endless list was triggered by the countless inviting images I had seen from the Mediterranean. So, driven by my boundless curiosity, I finally booked my ticket to Malta, over 20 years after I knew of its existence.
Malta has a special memory for me. Way back in 1993, when I was an Iraqi refugee in Amman, visiting Malta had become a dream. But I never knew this dream could be achieved because Malta was one of the few countries that issued a travel visa to Iraqis, when almost all other countries didn’t. Malta had not yet been part of EU, and I just didn’t know how I would make my Malta trip a reality. Back then, I was planning to fly to Malta then find a way to get to Europe through Italy one of the fisher boats and apply for asylum in one of EU countries.
Fortunately, in May of 2015, 23 years later, I found myself on my way to Malta. I had a six hour wait time connecting from Istanbul Atatürk Airport, and I had an interesting random encounter. I met a German newspaper reporter who was on the same flight as I was. He had been in Iraq reporting on the American liberation; his next destination was Malta to report on human fishing – fishing refugees from the sea. He explained to me how the collapse of Arab dictatorships and Syria war caused the biggest human illegal migration to the west, and he was determined to gather as much supporting evidence as he can to write a phenomenal, eye-opening story.
During our small chat, I explained to him that many of my friends and families came on boats from Turkey to Greece after the 1991 Iraqi-Kuwait war. “I could’ve been one of them”, I said to the reporter with a smile. Who knows, maybe he even wrote about his encounter with me…
After a long flight going from Chicago to Amman then Istanbul, I arrived at Luqa. After several hours, packed with emotions of excitement, fatigue, curiosity, and fatigue from being so curious, I landed in a country for the first time. As well-traveled as I am, this was a different feeling because I had never been to Malta. I could not tap into my visual memory like I can with other countries. I could only imagine that it would be similar to the way it was portrayed in images. Nobody here even knew my name, and I didn’t hear someone say, “Ninos” until I checked into the InterContinental and the hotel receptionist gave me a sense of belonging.
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