Bogħod mill-għajn…

It was summer and I was in Malta between semesters abroad. During term-time, I still favoured live conversations over other means of contact, especially emails, which I found repetitive. So, MSN Messenger was my go-to channel until it went out of fashion. After that, I admit I was a tough person to keep in touch with, and many relationships unsurprisingly cooled off.
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This came up in a conversation with a patient friend of mine. In the process of emphasising the value of frequent contact, she said something that struck a chord: “I have relatives abroad; I’m used to keeping in touch with people I don’t see as often as I would like to, but you can’t expect that of everyone here.”
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I had encountered the proverb at school: Bogħod mill-għajn, bogħod mill-qalb (literally: “Far from the eye, far from the heart”), noting with curiosity the contrast between this and the English Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Although English has a proverb with a similar meaning to Bogħod…Out of sight, out of mind – the context of its use is different, as is the depth of the effect described; a reference to the “heart” suggests a more profound change than a simple absence of thought. So here, in the heart, Maltese and English differ. Might this illustrate differences in the way distance can affect us?
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Living abroad demands a readiness to adapt, particularly to distance.
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Where I’ve lived, people can commute 20-60 minutes daily. Many people have family (in the same country) far enough to fly to, and close friends in “neighbouring” cities they might not see more than once every two months, but still look forward to meeting when they’re passing by. Meanwhile, in Malta, daily commitments are nearer (traffic permitting) and regular contact with friends is the norm. It’s not uncommon to go to work/school and church with the same people one socialises with; in many spaces, the line between a professional or religious gathering and a social one is easily blurred. Close friends are seen frequently, while “less close” friends are seen less often, and it’s normal to transition through different stages of life with people you know, and to keep the same friends long-term.
It’s easy to take all of this closeness for granted, so even though the Maltese culture of today isn’t the same culture in which the proverb originated, the quiet effects of this constant proximity might still be felt, even in other areas besides communication.
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Speaking for myself, I’ve had to learn the importance of maintaining regular contact, especially with Maltese friends – something I’m still working on. Reducing mundanity and repetition in emails has been helpful. Rather than simply writing to relate events of the week, I write to share questions (or answers) that have affected me. Sharing thoughts I value with people I value and then looking forward to receiving their ideas has been more enriching to our views, hopefully for both of us.
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I look forward to hearing from you.

Benjamin Portelli is a PhD student researching Visual Perception at the University of St Andrews. He has lived in a few countries (Malta, Scotland, the UAE and Bahrain) and visited a few more. When he isn't in the lab, Benjamin can be found reading articles or planning his next escape (usually back to Malta).Benjamin has held positions of responsibility in youth/student organisations. More recently, this has included President of the Aberdeen University Catholic Society, Treasurer of the Aberdeen University Scottish Dance Society and Treasurer of the St Vincent de Paul Society (Dundee Students' Conference).

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