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Palestine Solidarity Network: “A humanitarian, not political, issue.”

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Everyone knows something is happening, but very few seem to be well informed of the facts regarding what is happening on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. It is true that while we uphold the plight of a single individual as a tragedy, we sometimes overlook the plights of several millions as merely a statistic… Stalin was half right, in that aspect.

The Israel-Palestine conflict, which to the observer may seem as ever-present and static, has reached new heights since the past 8th July: after the supposed abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June (for which the Palestinian movement Hamas has been blamed, even though the organization has never accepted their involvement), more than 1,900 Palestinian citizens have been killed. This comes in contrast with the 67 Israeli casualties, with only three of the latter being civilians, according to the BBC. Damning figures all around.

In light of the recent tense five day truce being held, I asked the opinion of Andre Callus and Josette Camilleri, members and spokespersons of the Palestinian Solidarity Network in Malta, about the organization,and what it stands for, and for their opinion on recent events. When asked about their main aims, both Camilleri and Callus summed them up in 4 points:

1. Ending what they call an “Israeli colonization of the Palestinian lands”
2. Giving the Palestinian the right to go back to their homes and lands which were taken forcibly by Zionist militias
3. The dismantling of the current Apartheid systems
4. For the state of Israel to comply with international law and regulations.

The organization also aims to show the Maltese population the plight of the Palestinian people, and this is done by both promoting Palestinian culture (by means of hosting workshops, exhibitions and public information events) while at the same time arguing against any support for the state of Israel, and by boycotting any shops or businesses which are in contact and/or derive profit from the state of Israel.

“Moviment Graffiti has for a long time spoken about the Palestinian population’s suffering and torment in what we can consider as a 21st century apartheid,” commented Callus. “Yet, as our diverse cultural events gained more exposure, we realized that it was not simply a question of informing the Maltese population, but rather we needed to find a way, outside of Muviment Graffiti, in order to organize and structure this sentiment: hence the creation of this network, sometime last February.”

As I mentioned the 5 day cease-fire being upheld at the moment, Callus quickly blurts out that such a stand-off usually does not bode better days for the Palestinians: “If it were a level playing field, as the international media seems to be portraying at the moment, this may have effected and helped the situation. But not in this case: an Israeli army armed to the teeth with all kinds of weapons you can think of, versus a population who is starved of the basic necessities, like food and water. Their only choice is to retaliate against the Zionist ideology and the army surrounding them, with stones and anything else they can find.”

Meanwhile, Camilleri explains that being in favour of Palestinian rights is far from being a political issue; rather, it is undoubtedly a humanitarian issue: “The people in question are lacking basic needs, like the right to proper housing; these defenseless families are not able to stay at homes without either being invaded by Israelite settlers, or else face the threat of an attack by armed forces, for no other reason than being Palestinian in their own homes. Mind you, this is a daily occurrence for some of these people, not just something that happens in a blue moon.”

Before I left, Camilleri told me to watch a video named “5 Cameras”. When I commented that it was a strange name for a documentary, they told me that 5 cameras actually was the number of cameras broken during the documentary; “the journalists in question were repeatedly assaulted whilst filming their conditions.”

Anyone interested in joining their activities can follow the Palestinian Solidarity Network via their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1397856923798456/?ref=ts&fref=ts

Posted in Features

Medical students launch app

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The MMSA (Malta Medical Students’ Assocation) have launched a new app, aimed primarily at keeping medical students updated with latest news about the organization. The app’s features include a calendar of MMSA’s upcoming events, a body mass index calculator, a forum where users can speak to MMSA members and updates from ‘TheSynapse’, a Maltese medical news portal.

The app is available on Android and iTunes.

MMSA members speak about their new app

Posted in Tech

Did KSU actually influence the trade dispute?

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The mere look of glee or, more cynically, dread in the visage of expectant students receiving their results should be enough of a victory to add to KSU’s century old CV. Still, consider for a moment the snail’s pace that discussions took,  the disregard to KSU  (or students for that matter)  that the stakeholders’ attitudes often showed, and that it was only KSU’s threat of a student protest that really incited a reaction. This all shows that KSU was not as influential as it should have been throughout negotations.

In spite of this lack of influence, has KSU influenced the trade dispute in any way? When queried on the former question,  Julian Caruana, Insite’s former media officer, highlighted that “…all we got was a reminder that KSU is nothing more than a student pressure group”.

He went on the explain that KSU did have a significant role at ensuring a quicker resolution to negotations. However, unless the council could secure a seat at the negotation table , the amount of power they could assert was always going to be limited. “We have seen some improvements of late, namely KSU’s inclusion in the body that decides on the next canteen operator, but much more needs to be done”, Caruana said.

As a mere ‘student pressure group’, has KSU failed to put out its own voice? Former JEF and KSU executive member Albert Camilleri believes that KSU looked on top of things in both social media and local newspapers, particularly since a lot of their actions were picked up by a number of organisations and media houses. “Usually when that happens, you are on the right track of influencing decisions in one way or another”, Camilleri said, while also noting KSU’s involvement in the collective agreement before the unions’ announcement of the trade dispute.

Often seen as a deviant from KSU’s preferred tactic of being the only student organisation  that negotiates on behalf of the entire student body, Chris Vella, vice president of rival political organisation Pulse, shot down the idea that KSU has achieved the result on its own. “Without taking any merits from any student organisation or the council itself, it was a joint effort, manifesting a clear example of the pros of student representation,” Vella said. “Certainly it was a great effort from the whole student body at large, which as clearly envisaged today, led to the desired effect’’.

Like Julian Caruana, Mr Vella believes that the next challenge lies in ensuring that students have a presence on the round table from day 1.

Overall, the general consensus is that KSU probably handled the situation in the best way it could. Its greatest move was its ability to effectively rally a student body which is often considered highly passive and apathetic. Regardless of the highly valid criticsm of KSU’s stature as a minnow throughout negotiations, KSU will come out of this as a students’ council that was ready to go that extra mile and take “radical steps” in the form of a protest. Definitely something to add to the CV.

Posted in Comment, Features

Meet the most dangerous drug in the world

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So you are probably thinking that this is just another article that vividly expresses how harmful some recreational drugs can be, like the usual cocaine, meth or heroin. Although they can all be dangerous and corrupt the state of mind and physiology, possibly even permanently, they are incomparable to  this Colombian drug. For those who are aware of its existence, it is almost always agreed to be the most powerful and dangerous drug in the world, and this despite its various medical uses as a pre-surgical medication and in the treatment of nausea. So why is it considered so dangerous?

First of all, the drug’s name is called Scopolamine but in the streets of Colombia, where it is notably used, it is known as The Devil’s Breath. This drug will make the user feel inclined to act upon the suggestions given to the user by others. This will only last for a day; once its effect wears off, the user will experience a deficit in memory of their actions that took place while they were under this drug’s influence. It basically just takes away a person’s free will while sustaining full consciousness and rationality. A spine chilling fact about this drug is that it is an odourless and tasteless white powder that can simply be blown into someone’s face, or even sprinkled into someone’s food or drink.  Yes you understood that correctly. Once this happens, the victim will do anything the pusher says, from sleeping with them to giving their whole life savings. To add on to this, the victims will not remember any of it the next day which literally makes it the perfect drug for robbers, rapists or psychos; in fact it is popular among Colombian crime lords. Fortunately it is not that easy to get a hold of and it and it has only been reported to be in use in Colombia. However, the plant that grows these seeds that can be chemically altered to create this powerful drug is found in Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia.

At first glance, the plant looks harmless and appealing, but its cacao that can be extracted from the plant by hand are not so much. This cacao has ruined the lives of hundreds of people, people have been talked into emptying their bank accounts, agreed to be gang raped and even gave up their children willingly. Among these victims,  a few still experience some side effects. They describe their memory to be weakened permanently after change into victims of this drug.

In an interview held by Raw Story, a victim of scopolamine describes how she lost her willpower to a man she met on the street who had asked her for directions. While gladly helping the stranger by taking him to the location he was looking for, which happened to be her neighbourhood, they drank some beer on the way.  At this very moment the dealer slipped the powder in her drink. The next thing she remembered was waking up next to a park bench with torn clothes and no money in her pockets. Full of questions to reconcile what had happened she realized she had cleared her bank account and lost around 1,500 dollars. She explains how she reported the theft to the police and they suggested it was Devil’s breath. The lady was of course familiar with the substance and helplessly went back home knowing that the crime is untraceable and hoping that she wouldn’t have to experience such a traumatic event again. However, a month passed and she started getting sick and noticed she was a week late. Yep, you guessed it- she was not only robbed but also raped and now pregnant.

Now that we may have a better understanding of what kind of drug this is, maybe you may want to keep your eyes open next time you’re backpacking to South America. Let’s hope that in time people will become aware of what kind of substances exist out there and be grateful that in Europe it is not so easily obtained. If you wish to read or watch more about Scopolamine and its victims the internet is a good place to start with dozens of victim stories to read. There even exists a documentary filmed by VICE in which they take the streets of Colombia and meet victims, users and drug dealers.

Posted in Features

Seville: the Andalusite emerald

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I must admit that, before I going to Seville, I had zero knowledge of the place or whereabouts. Adding insult to injury, I could only grasp only the most-Italianised of Spanish dialogue. Nevertheless, this city situated in the Southern Part of Spain, in the Andalusian region, has become an absolute favourite of mine. As this is being written less than a full 24 hours after arriving back in Malta, here is a subsequent list of what I consider to be the pros and cons of Seville:

 

Pros:

A city calm like none other

When I first took my first steps in the city, I was struck by a certain positive atmosphere which was unusual for any city its size. While Seville lacks the numbers in population and area to compete with the biggest international cities such as London or NYC, it still had every right to be considered as a metropolis. Being an avid city lover, this populated yet soothing, calm atmosphere soon grew on me.

Yes, the occasional traffic jam, the rare sound of an ambulance siren in the distance, the numerous buildings of different shapes and sizes engulfing surroundings, and the sheer size of the city as depicted in the map in your pocket all act as a reminder that Seville does house a large, densely packed population. Yet the large collection of narrow, clean streets, the slow pace at which the whole city seems to be moving, even the sheer amount of greenery that surrounds the city and the nearby lake eases any possible tension that might arise.

 

Attractions are a-plenty…

If the scenery and the usual stroll through the city is not enough for you, Seville has plenty of places for you to visit:

From the Real Alcazar Castle, which together with its enclosed gardens introduces the beholder to the world of Spanish nobility, to the glamorous Seville Cathedral, making any other churches in its vicinity look like bland Lego blocks next to artistic masterpieces, the monuments and places of interest which fill up the central part of Seville are a must-see. A personal recommendation of mine is the Plaza de Espana, with its optional 40-minute canoe ride in its enclosed pond a relaxing, yet enthralling way to pass the time.

 

Cheap or average prices all round…

For one of the most important cities in the Iberian peninsula, let alone in Andalusia, I half-expected the pricing to be sky-high… So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon 2.5 litre bottles of soft drinks for less than a euro each… Or large bottles of water for 36 cents (Yes, €0.36 for a 2 litre, cold bottle of water. No, it’s not tap water, in case you’re wondering.)

Food is not that expensive either… However, my personal opinion is to stick to the more traditional Tapas places, preferably those which have an English translation of the menu, and avoid fine dining due to its generally higher (but not necessarily extortionate) price range. The wide range of clothing shops must not go unnoticed: prices look reasonable, but try to locate brands which are not accessible or found in Malta, otherwise it’s not really that much worth the difference.

 

Cons:

Language barrier’s a b*tch….

So it goes without saying that the Seville population speaks Spanish or, at worst, an Andalusian dialect which a prime facie is very close to the original…

Duh…

But what really hit me in the gut, as a non-Spanish speaking tourist, was the apparent lack of English, Italian, nor even French speaking citizens in the street and in the tourist attractions around.

When I started introducing myself to the hotel receptionist about checking in my room, the poor lady’s expression was one of horror and bewilderment, as if General Franco has just risen from the grave… swearing in Catalan and wearing a Barcelona football kit. It took a whole changing of the guard ceremony inside the Front Office in order to find a suitable English speaker.

When I had an emergency and needed to talk to the police, I managed to find around and meet half a dozen policemen before I had actually arrived at the police station. All initial feelings of hope and excitement were swept away each time with the phrase: “Nada, Espanol.” Not even the person responsible at what was supposed to be the regional ministry of interior affairs was capable of uttering more than a few words in English, making it much more affordable to just use Google Translate.

Great….

 

 

In between hell and high temperatures…

Word of warning: If you are going to remain outside for hours on end, be prepared to sweat like a prostitute in confession; it is flaming hot.

I can’t stress this enough: in summer, everywhere you go, there are posts or warning signs making sure you realize that its temperature has exceeded the 40 degree mark.

 

Mixed:

Time is everything… and nothing.

As a general rule, shops are open till late. The sun setting down at 9, even 10 in the evening, actually helps shops remain open up till late- who would have heard of going to shop for clothes at 9 in the evening?

But beware, fellow tourists and travelers, the notorious “siesta” ie. the brief afternoon nap which the Spanish are known to follow rigorously, is no exception here in Andalusia. Whole restaurants tend to close down during the brunch to drunch hours, so plan ahead for your dietary needs.

From what little I tried the buses, I actually discovered that they arrive generally on time, with the trip from the centre of Seville to the airport taking less than half an hour to complete at rush hour traffic. Yet, if it is possible to walk it to your destination, get your backpacks full of water and go. If you persist to use the public transport, then do so. But make sure you count the number of bus stops till your destination, because there is no way, neither on the bus itself, nor even on the bus stations, to know where you are or where you have arrived, and you can miss any obvious name clues in the blink of an eyelid.

 

All in all, my visit to Seville has been memorable and, no less than a full 24 hours after I’ve landed my feet on home soil, the nostalgia and the post-holiday blues have kicked in. Someone buy me a ticket please….

Posted in Features, Travel

What’s happening in the fashion world?

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It’s easy to claim that one is in love with fashion and clothing. Everyone has experienced that feel-good moment when purchasing that one new outfit which then, in my opinion, easily subsides as soon as another event comes along (and as materialistic consumers we claim we’ve got nothing to wear).

Fashion is part and parcel of our everyday lives and I am one who notes and gives extra attention, not only to the way I look, but also to what’s happening around me. I still have to figure out whether the fact that the fashion industry in Malta is not taken seriously and is only, for the large part, considered as a part-time or as a hobby, is a good thing or not. I’d like to pursue this career and I know I’ve got a lot of ladders to climb (and be knocked off from), but I am hoping it will be worth it.

Personally, what I love about fashion is the combination of arts and fashion all together – with the right amount of creativity and inspiration, none of the pieces would be considered as junk. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and that’s the beauty of it. Through fashion, as in art, one can easily express his or her ideas and it’s also an exchange of ideas. Ideas are built from other ideas; adding, removing, twisting and turning to best fit one’s personal taste/style.

There are two kinds of fashion, the kind that we get to admire and appreciate like, for instance, the Alexander McQueen (and I mention him because in my eye he was the one who created the unimaginable) which I refer to as the ‘untouchable’, and the fashion for consumers – the type we afford. The rise of interest in fashion throughout the years has made certain brands establish themselves and they have also established the social statuses.

The industry, along with the media, is powerful enough to influence people to purchase and wear the latest trends. Adverts and the online shopping booms have indeed created fashion-hungry consumers, always on the lookout for what’s ‘in’ and for what’s no longer considered fashionable. God forbid we’re seen in the same dress twice or in a dress we bought last year!

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

 

But I of course beg to differ. In my opinion, nothing ever goes out of fashion, given that one feels comfortable enough in it and it is one’s style. I am not one that really follows trends, as I dress in what I feel most comfortable and what fits me best. For this reason, my greatest inspiration of all would be Coco Chanel- what a woman! I am not one who dresses as elegantly as that but she most definitely changed the course of women’s clothing and left a huge impact on a lot of people and designers. She herself stated “fashion fades, only style remains” and this is very, very true. The course of fashion is very vast and by the time you afford to get that one item which is so ‘in’ this season, it has already become yesterday’s news. Trying to keep up with all this can be very exhausting (and expensive) whereas keeping up your personal style and adding to it is very liberating and well, unique.

I can’t mention Chanel without mentioning my other icon, who is closer to my age and whom I simply adore: Alexa Chung. She is the prime example of what a simple classic vintage style should be, and it’s no coincidence that we get to see a lot of Chanel on Chung. The laid-back and effortless look that Chung carries goes hand in hand with the exquisite Chanel designs.

Alexa Chung

Alexa Chung

In my opinion, we should all stick to what we genuinely like and admire, and yet appreciate that which isn’t for us but is still considered as beautiful. Clothes should fall into place, just like anything else in life. Why stress and fuss about something which is just so beautiful?

 

Posted in Health & Beauty