Nostalgia; the feeling of desire to return in thought or to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.

The feeling of nostalgia I think best describes why I have such a strong passion for my heritage, my unconditional love for my parents and grandparents, and my desire to know more about my ancestors on a whole. That nostalgic state is the pin point to this obsession I have with the Islands.

Reading over that definition, "a former time in one's life", I feel nostalgia not only from the point of view in my life, but I feel the nostalgia my parents and grandparents had from their time in their "homeland", their memories and life experiences. Tasting the food they ate, experiencing the traditions they were brought up with, playing the games they played as children.

Nostalgia to me, can be triggered by a smell, a taste or a sound or a feeling, connecting you to a time in your life, a memory that you hold so close to your heart.

Seven years of age is my nostalgic state that I revert to all the time. It's where it all starts for me.

When I was seven my mum took my brother and I to the Islands for ten weeks. I had never met my grandparents (except my nannu Karm, he had come to Australia when I was four). I met extended family that I knew existed, but my little mind never really comprehended how big of an extended family I had. I tasted the food of my heritage, I experienced the culture of my heritage. A little girl of seven years of age fell in love with a place she knew of, but up until that day, never comprehended its true existence till she was there.

The moment I set foot off that plane twenty years ago, coming down that escalator in the airport and all of our family looking up, waiting eagerly to meet us. The first person I saw (the only person I really knew) was nannu Karm. Excitement kicked in. Hugs and kisses from all the family as if we had known each other since the day I was born. So much love.   Every time I set foot off that plane now, I remember this memory. It's like I am reliving that moment when my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins were all there. I relive the start of that amazing experience as a little girl all over again.

The ferry trip from Malta to Gozo. It's the familiar feeling of the ferry as it bobs up and down the Gozo Channel Line. Inside, the smell of pastizzi and coffee. Outside, the smell of the Mediterranean water and the feeling of the warm sun and cool breeze on my skin. Again, takes me back to that little seven year old girl.

The getting off the ferry at Mġarr Harbour in Gozo and the car ride to nanna Sunta and nannu Anġlu's house. This is a memory I hold so very close to my heart. This was the first time I met nannu Anġlu. Mum and my brother took a different car and I got in the car with nannu and my uncle. I sat on nannu's lap in the passenger's seat. He was talking to me, asking me questions... He was the only grandparent that could speak English. First impressions? He was so kind, gentle, caring and loving - he made me feel safe.   So now, twenty years later, every time I get off that ferry at Mġarr Harbour, getting in the car and admiring the picturesque views that is Gozo all the way through to Xagħra Square - that whole first car ride I relive every time.

Walking the streets of Xagħra. The feel of the summer breeze on my skin and through my hair. The old familiar smells. The sounds. Walking through the streets now, I flash back to hearing nanna Sunta in the farm house next door to her house, talking to the radio. I hear the clickity clack of my mum's cousin's horse coming down Triq Jannar. I hear the church bells. It all takes me back.

Nanna Grez and nannu Karm's house. The feels I get from this little house! The old familiar smell, the balcony, the stairs, the kitchen... Every single element of this house brings back a flood of memories. I can tell you a memory from each room in that house. The kitchen and the amazing strawberry milkshake nanna used to make me, the taste of this milkshake is different to any other strawberry milkshake, it's rare I ever get a milkshake tasting like this one, so when I do, it takes me back. The balcony... Ahh the balcony! The time my brother and I played a prank on nannu. Nannu Karm loved to spoil us with anything sweet. We were both standing on this balcony, and started yelling out to nannu that the ice cream truck was there (it wasn't really). He got up so quick, grabbed his pants, put them on while running down the stairs and in a flash he was out in the middle of the street all confused looking for this ice cream truck all the while my brother and I were pissing ourselves laughing.   Every time I stand on this balcony, I relive that memory.

Even my aunt's and uncle's houses. Spending so much time there as a kid, they all bring back memories too.

There are soo many more places throughout the Islands that have a special spot in my heart, that take me back, but I'd be typing for days! Places like Ramla and the red sand, Mellieħa and the views, nannu's garden 💖

Now a festa in Malta is much different to a festa in Sydney. I don't know if it's the authenticity of it all, but the atmosphere, the people, everything about it is different to how we do them here. So my first experience of a festa in Malta was when I was seven. The crowds of people and the feel in the atmosphere, the band playing, the loud bangs and pretty colours of the fireworks - even the smell of the fireworks, singing Ave Maria at the top of my lungs. All my senses triggered.   I haven't experienced Xagħra's festa ta' Marija Bambina since I was little, and I can't wait for the day I get to experience it again, that will be the ultimate of any nostalgic feeling!

I suppose, one of the main stimulators for the nostalgic feeling I get is food 🐷 The look, the taste, the smell even the mention of the name of a Maltese dish sets me off. It's something I can have here and still take me back there. But when I am there, the feeling is heightened. The core of that feeling will always connect back to Malta.

You can relate anything with food, childhood in this case or a particular occasion. But the foods I can't get here and can get there, are little things like junk food, chocolates and packets of chips that don't exist here, and you know they tasted soo good as a child, you go back and have that same bag of chips and it takes you back to that seven year old girl. This feeling of nostalgia is like a yearning for my past, a yearning to go back in time and be eating that bag of chips while watching nannu read his newspaper.

Then there's that feeling of nostalgia when you have something that you completely forgot about as a kid, like froġa tat-tajra - mum used to make this all the time as a kid. A couple of years ago, she made it again for the first time since I was a kid, that feeling of remembering how much you loved it and that moment you rediscover it, recreating emotions experienced as a kid associating them with memories of mum as a kid. The smells of fenek moqli or stuffad tal-qarnit, my mouth waters at even the thought of it! Food triggers and evokes a feeling of nostalgia to any moment in your life. I guess to sum up nostalgia where food is involved, as my boyfriend and I put it, "food is life" 🐷 lol.

You know, the older Maltese here in Australia are suppressed when they feel nostalgic towards their homeland. I think nostalgia plays a big part in their pride and effort to cultivate and sustain our Maltese community here in Australia, it was their main drive to achieve what they have all these years later. And if I can relate to that at all, that's where the core of my drive comes from too. It always comes down to that little seven year old girl and when she set foot off that plane and onto Maltese soil twenty years ago. Those ten weeks I am so grateful to have experienced in the country of my parents' birth.

Nostalgia isn't just a memory. It's the feeling of an emotional state and those emotions are then linked to our senses that triggers a memory. Those emotional experiences are embedded in us for us to reminisce over, because more powerful than the future, those points in time in the past gives us reason to carry on. Rather than facing the unknown, we go back to the past to remember why life is worth living. We latch on to memories of happiness to give us faith in the future. Nostalgia is the key for me to inspire and feed the pride I have for my heritage and is my way of keeping memory of those I keep closest in my heart.

So this is why I have a love so deep for my home away from home. Being able to reconnect with all these feelings and memories and relive them when I am there in those exact same spots they happened. This is why it is so special to me. This is why I ache to go back, because of that twinge in my heart that is far more powerful than memory alone.

© Copyright Charmaine Cassar 2016

Published by Charmaine Cassar