GITH Magazine Talks Hobbies, Hondoq, Harmony And Heros With The Qala Mayor, Paul Buttigieg.
MAYOR PAUL HAS DEVOTED MOST OF HIS LIFE TO PUBLIC SERVICE. HE IS ALSO A QUALIFIED CARPENTER AND IT’S CLEAR FROM HIS HANDIWORK THAT HIS ART HAS BEEN EXPERTLY CRAFTED, BY SOMEONE WITH AMPLE TENACITY, PATIENCE AND A KEEN EYE FOR DETAIL.
He wakes up around six every morning, starts the computer, and answers emails that have filled his inbox from the night before. He has his tea and toast then duly inspects his jurisdiction and beloved hometown, Qala. He strives to keep it perpetually clean and tidy and will chat his findings through with his workers and assign their tasks for the day, all before 8 am.
His wife Carmen had prepared a typical Gozitan spread of antipasto and Galletti. “He is very busy. New complaints come in every day,” she says as we tuck into the colourful nibbles after a tour of their beautiful garden.
Whether it is rescuing stray dogs, cleaning pavements, patching up holes in the road, or saving old buildings and much-loved hotspots from greedy developers’ hands, this man serves his community with foresight, empathy, and pride. He is proactive, transparent, and accessible which surely breeds some strange requests. “Oh Yes, I’ve had a few!” Paul says with a huge grin. He recounts the time he was asked to put a zebra crossing outside a house on one of the most peaceful streets in Qala. He responded with laughter, even though I would not have been surprised if he had painted himself black and white and laid down outside the house to fulfill the request.
Hondoq is on Paul’s mind daily. He lives and breathes it. Some call it an obsession, some passion, and perhaps he has both in equal measures, but there is no arguing that for years, places like Hondoq on Gozo, have been under threat from developers and for years thankfully, there’s been people like Paul to fight for their safety.
A classic hero’s journey* is unfolding. The monomyth ventures forth answering a call to action with a clear and commendable goal. He faces all his trials and tribulations but although paying for the struggle several times over, he reigns supreme, and at the moment when it matters most, he rises like a phoenix, transformed, victorious, awake. Like every well-documented hero they all have arch enemies and Paul feels he is in a constant wrestling match between justice and those that want to earn a quick buck. The humble, grateful, and intuitive human who wishes to protect Qala for the community and environment- against powerful, planet predators who perhaps only think short-term.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this is the world over.
As Mayor, Paul has a number of accolades. He stopped the dumping of construction material on virgin land at Ta’ Muxi, campaigned against the uprooting of trees in Qala square, he campaigned so the trucks follow orders on their routes into work, and made each village responsible for their own Festa waste. Moreover, he has prevented key development projects from going forward that would hinder ‘business as usual’, for example; Ta’ Muxi, Tac Cawl Tool Shed and Kuncizzjon, and due to these accomplishments, the controversial rural policy was scrapped, which used to allow the development of any rundown room (or a pile of stones indicating there was once a room), which saved numerous ODZ applications overtaking rural areas. He has stopped a souvenir shop development on Hondoq and of course, continues the 18-year fight to protect the bay from the infamous Qala Creek Project proposal that would most definitely change the face of Hondoq forever.
Mayor Paul believes in helping people and accepting help from others. He believes in karma and knows the value of what you do now, will have an effect on generations to come. “We were brought up with values, with respect, and with knowing that we weren’t on this planet alone.” he says. He clearly flourishes from both personal and collective connection and selflessly thrives on other people’s happiness. “I gain great satisfaction when people are enjoying these places and when I can help someone in need – I still can’t believe people don’t want to save it and they are willing to tarnish my reputation in the process.”
Brene Brown’s best-selling book ‘Dare To Lead’ springs to mind. In it, she talks about how innovating, creating, and building better circumstances take daring leadership. The strapline to the book is one I’ll never forget. ‘Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.’ and one of my favourite quotes from the book is ‘Leadership is not about titles or the corner office. It’s about the willingness to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage. The world is desperate for braver leaders. It’s time for all of us to step up.’
Well…Paul has stepped up. And he uses his power as a leader….whole-heartedly.
The world is begging for us to look at ‘power’ with new eyes. You only have to look at the news to see that the old ways aren’t working. But as in Martin Luther King Juniors’ quote above – a wonderful definition – it is the ability to achieve purpose and affect change, well I believe that is exactly what Paul is doing. He has stepped up, answered his call to courage, and is part of the new power paradigm thinking with his heart and not his head. He knows he has no choice but to fight for what he believes in plus, he understands intuitively, that one day he will be thanked for it, even if he is long gone. He is a changemaker, fighting the good fight, a warrior of peace, and a protector of lands. Well… Qala, anyway.
So, is there any joy in this role? I asked. ”Yes, of course! There are many things.” Says Paul.
“We organise trips to Malta for the elderly and free weekly courses from the council offices. We have mosaic, patchwork, crochet, ganutell, gardening. It’s something for the people.” He responded.
Carmen continues, “The Qala festival is going from strength to strength. It’s an opportunity to unite the community and honour people for doing great things.”
Leaders don’t become great leaders without true inspiration and Paul and Carmen are both blessed with a loving and loyal network of family and friends. “We are incredibly proud of our daughters and grandchild,” Carmen said. Paul paused for a moment and added “…my parents raised us with unbeatable values….and my grandfather, he was a true inspiration to me.” He reminisced on working the fields and feeding the goats with his idol. “I just wanted to be with him and to please him. Talking of this is making my eyes wet.’ he said. Carmen duly stepped in; “Tell them about the car!” she convalesces and immediately he was brimming with excitement as he chuckled over a particular story of stealing his grandfather’s car to impress a girl. “He loved me though, and I loved him, and I loved the way he loved my grandmother. They still held hands even when they were old. That is how I wish to be.”
Carmen smiled. “Yes, they were like lovers till the end.”
As our lunch came to a close, I felt a warmth in my soul as I mulled over this admirable role of Mayor. But it does not just belong to Paul, it’s Carmen’s too. This is not just one man’s hero journey, but a shared one between them both. They present a fiercely united, front. They both hold a natural altruistic nature and dearly respect the generations that have gone before. They are mutually inspired by community and justice and overflowing with integrity. Carmen bears just as much of the struggle (and joy) as Paul does and she works at a night shelter, two nights on, two nights off – so does this on very little sleep. It is them against the world! They may falter but they will never break. Love is their driving force, their enabler and their strength and their love has already won.
The motto for Qala is In Tempestate Perfugium, the direct Latin translation is simply; “Storm shelter”. I asked them where their protection comes from. ‘God.’ Paul says without hesitation. They clearly appreciate the help they have received from above. Paul believes he has two guardian angels in former priests that passed. “They both supported me while they were alive, along with my grandfather, I feel they are all watching over me now.’ Carmen naturally continues his sentence and smiles, “Yes, there must be a helping hand somewhere.”
Qala’s motto feels apt when referencing the roles that Paul and Carmen play to both their community and for each other. They provide a haven, of sorts, from the storms. A shield over what is threatening their locality, on the frontline fending off the vultures… whilst simultaneously defending each other. One thing we can have total faith in is while they are both still able to walk this land, they will do their very best to protect it.
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