I first met Eman, while walking the Camino Frances in 2013 in an albergue (hostel) in Molinaseca, Spain. I was absolutely shattered from a long day of walking and after taking a not-so-hot shower, I slowly limped my way downstairs to the communal dinner. I was early, as I was to most every meal, but there were two people who were apparently even more eager to eat already seated. I sat directly across from them and we easily started to chat. The gentleman made their introductions as, “Anita & George from Malta”, but the first thing I noticed was an awfully mischievous twinkle in his eye. I shared with him that my father’s name was George and that it was a good strong name. They both replied with nervous laughs. We continued to talk as they told me how beautiful their Malta is and before we knew it we had been surrounded by the other guests and dinner was served.
Throughout dinner, I was highly amused by “George” who would wait until someone was engaged in conversation and then slyly slide their cell phone off the dinner table and hide it until the proper moment presented itself. He would then take the most outrageous selfie, and carefully place it back into its original location. The first time I saw him do this I laughed out loud and he turned to me with that same ornery twinkle in his eye and silently put his finger up to his lips to tell me not to give the secret away. This went on for over two hours and when he had managed to get everyone’s phone within reach he gave a little pout that the game was over and then started moving around the room doing the same. I had such a good time watching him and thinking of all the unsuspecting people’s faces when they would look back through their pictures to find his ridiculous selfie and be completely perplexed as to how it got there.
It wasn’t until several days later that I learned his name wasn’t George at all, and that he had chosen to tell every American he met on the Camino that was his name because of his love for George Clooney. Since that time, I have been able to follow Eman’s many adventures on Facebook. We have maintained a relationship which spans the globe and is fueled upon our common desires to live an authentic, creative life filled with as much trekking as possible.
Eman was gracious enough to speak with me and complete the first interview for the website. Here’s our conversation.
In what part of the world and during which era did you grow up?
“I was born, raised and lived in a small island in the midst of the Mediterranean Sea. Although tiny, we are brought up with idea that the whole world, universe and sun revolves around us!!! Some also think that this tiny island of Malta, which many people don’t even know it exists or where it lies, is the Lost City of Atlantis. I had a very religious upbringing (like most of the kids my age), and I often wonder how come I never made it to become a priest or bishop. I could have also made it to the Vatican too, with that upbringing. Although I was born in the late 70’s I only remember bits and pieces of my childhood and early youth. I was too much of an introvert and reserved kid with very few instances of naughtiness. Definitely my teen years and early adulthood made up for all this lack of fun and enthusiasm.”
Who do you feel most shaped who you are as a person, and how?
“First of all, family members were definitely the members who influenced me most. I took something from everyone one….the quietness from my dad, the kind heart and generosity from my mum, the naughtiness from my sister, the free spirit and love for nature from my uncle. I was also influenced throughout my life journey by a number of individuals and friends that I met throughout the way, which in one way or another each left an impact on me.”
What has been the hardest learned lesson in your life so far?
“I once took a boy I work with, to prison to visit his dad who was serving a life sentence. I was present throughout the whole time, and at one moment this guy asked his son about whether he would be sitting to do some exams. The boy was procrastinating about these exams which he needed to do at one point or another. And this guy told his son a phrase which remained stuck in my mind too – He who waits for the dead person’s’ shoes, spends his whole life bare footed. Wow…such a quote, and it came from someone bound in prison for all his life. That day I learnt that we can learn something from anyone, whatever life situation they are in. I also learnt that what’s meant to be done today, should not be done tomorrow.”
What feeds your soul?
“At times it could be an interesting book whereas at other times it’s an inspiring quote. Yet above all it’s the simplicity of nature which feeds my soul. I am at a point again in life where I am realising that life can be so simple, and instead of having the most expensive or latest gadgets, I am trying to find happiness in simple things, in building strong lasting relationships.”
Can you describe your favorite way to recover and rejuvenate after an especially hard week?
“Definitely trekking. During the winter months, on Saturdays, I join a trekking group for good walks in some remaining un-spoilt areas of Malta. It’s the moment I am mostly looking forward to, not just to be in touch with nature, but also to be together with same minded people.”
What was the one single moment in which you felt the most loved?
“There is this moment which I experienced at work, which I treasure a lot. I work with troubled kids and young people who live in a home (orphanage) as a social worker. Throughout the years I managed to build a strong friendly relationship with these boys. On one occasion, I drove up to a school to pick one of the boys who was feeling ill. Back in the car, the boy, who sat in the front seat, got sleepy. I told him that he would better lie down on the back seat as he could rest better, yet he answered by saying: “I prefer staying in front, as I feel safer next to you.” I was amazed by this answer. Presently the boy is being rehabilitated slowly back home, yet he keeps insisting with his mother that he wants me to remain involved in his life.”
What is the most difficult decision that you’ve ever been faced with?
“We are faced with decisions on a continuous basis. Unfortunately life has become so fast that having some time for yourself is seen as a waste. Yet in such circumstances I try and focus on one thing important thing (which is written on my Facebook cover photo), Slow Down and enjoy life….it is not only the scenery you miss by going fast, you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”
Can you tell us the story of the best meal you’ve ever had?
“Sao Paolo, Brazil, July 1999. Whilst doing voluntary work with children in day centers situated in the favelas, we used to have this meal at noon….arroz e feijao (rice and beans). It was just a simple meal, probably the only meal of the day for them. Yet, even while writing this, I keep getting back so many wonderful memories of this day center, of the kids there, the amazing time I spent there, the relationships I built with very little words yet with lots of good intentions. The seven weeks I spent in Brazil will remain in my heart for many more years. Sao Paolo is one of the cities I wish to visit again, and who knows, maybe meet the kids (now adults) I worked with.”
What are you most afraid of right now?
“Being a free spirit has its negative side too. Although presently it gives me all the time and space I need, I know that when I grow older, I might have to face old age on my own. Yet my idol in this is Donald Trump…if he can have such a younger wife…why can’t I have it too!”
What is the best dessert you’ve ever had and where were you?
“I have a very sweet tooth, am a chocolate addict, an ice cream lover, and dessert is the best part of any meal. Yet if I had to choose one single dessert, I would choose a Maltese carnival time cake called “Prinjolata.” It resembles a snow capped mountain, its very very sweet, and since it is only made during carnival time, at times I crave some of it, to be able to eat them throughout other months of the year. Many confectionaries in Malta make this cake, yet one in particular is in my opinion the best…Cafe Elia. If by any chance you happen to be in Malta around carnival time, look out for it.”
What do you see as your greatest achievement in life so far?
“Working as a social worker in the same place for the past 17 years is definitely an achievement for me. Work is probably the longest form of relationship I have ever had. Then, walking the entire Camino Portugues from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela is also another achievement which I am very proud of.”
What has been the greatest adventure of your life so far?
“Probably the greatest and toughest adventure was a two week voluntary work trip in Sarajevo in 1997, just a couple of weeks after the war had ended. Just getting into Bosnia was quite an ordeal with so many checkpoints, soldiers, and no trespassing signs due to the many land mines. It was still a very unstable war zone. Whilst in Sarajevo, I helped young people who had experienced the war closely and still suffered its effects. Being able to express themselves in English, they could well communicate experiences they have been through. It was incredible hearing what they had been through, all the pain and suffering they endured. My youth seemed so sheltered when compared to all this. Yet it definitely made me appreciate life so much more. With these young people, I couldn’t do much, except listen and empathise with what they have been through. Yet, having someone to talk too, someone who cared for them, made them feel they are loved. 20 years later after this experience, I still have kept contact with some of these people. Many have now moved on, and managed to put aside the pains left by the war. Whenever possible I try and support them online with some words of encouragement. We might be physically distant, but care knows no boundaries.”
What are you looking forward to most in life?
“I once attended some personal therapy sessions and on the last session the therapist brought out a set of pictures with different animals printed on them. He told me to choose one which I associate myself most with. I always find it hard to choose one single item and this was no exception, so I chose three…..a butterfly, an eagle, and a dolphin. He wanted to know the reasons why I chose these animals. So, a butterfly, because this insect goes through different stages to become so beautiful and I see myself as having gone through different stages in life to become the person I am now. When I was younger I was shy, introvert, had few friends, never believed in myself, and then by time I improved all this to become a better person. The butterfly symbolises change, hope, endurance and life, which are all key elements in my life. Secondly, an eagle, a bird symbol of greatness, of freedom and which in my case describes the free spirit element I hold within. Then the therapist asked why I chose the dolphin too and the reason is the following: Many a time dolphins swim in pairs, they are also playful, and free. And this associates a lot to me….I am constantly looking for a special someone, who shares my same ideas, who loves life the same way I do, and with whom I can live the remaining life journey with.”
What adventure are you looking forward to in the future?
“I would like to travel some more, hopefully to places I have never been and maybe to a couple of others which I fell in love with. Would also like to go on some train journeys and maybe do another long walk, this time from Canterbury in England, all the way to Rome.”
What words of advice would you offer to someone who’s struggling to make the final commitment and book a trip they’ve always dreamed of going on?
“You’re still thinking about it? You can either keep doing so and remain where you are, probably regretting it after a couple of days. Or else, you can just book, pack and leave. What are you waiting for….choose the latter. Am sure it will be worth and you would enjoy every moment.”