I never imagined that I’d end up making Gibraltar my long term home. In fact when we were asked to move here with my husband’s work it was only meant to be for a couple of years until we moved to our ‘dream home’ in Australia. Yet here we are, 2 years on and 14 years of Australia-dreaming abandoned, and we are now ‘all in’ with Gib.
Over these last couple of years I’ve found that this is quite common. Often when you meet new people here the opening chat goes along the lines of ‘how long have you been in Gib?’ and as the conversation goes on you come to realise that once people move to Gibraltar it becomes almost impossible to leave. People do leave, of course, but then they come back. So what is it about Gibraltar that grabs our heart? There are the obvious practical answers – the mediterranean climate and the safe, secure and easy lifestyle. Being able to walk just about anywhere (if you live fairly central anyway) adds a lot more quality of life than you’d think.
Living in one of the smallest territories in the world means you cannot fail to feel part of a genuinely close knit community – even to an outsider who really hasn’t been here very long at all. I’ve been fortunate to live and work in some seriously amazing places over the last 20 years: Costa Rica – regularly the happiest country in the world; Thailand – the land of smiles; Sri Lanka – serendipity itself; and Paris – the city of love. Each place has been remarkable in its own way. But here in Gibraltar there is a sense of community and belonging that you just don’t get in many other places.
I like that Gibraltarians are proud and bullish about their national identity, their community and the land that has been Gibraltar for over 300 years. There is an enthusiastic flag waving culture and a true heartfelt allegiance to their home and to Britain. At a time when nationalism is often perceived as a bad thing, here national identity, as demonstrated each September on National Day, is a badge of honour and pride partnered by resilience and tenacity. It truly does feel heart warming to be part of that. Here patriotism is symbolic of genuine national solidarity rather than an arrogance and superiority or an alleged fear of all things foreign, which often taints the word ‘patriotism’ at this present moment in time. Gibraltar, however, is a good example of a successful multicultural and cosmopolitan society, where over 20% of the people living here are not Gibraltarian, yet different nationalities and religions happily live and work together.
Gibraltar’s patriotism does, of course, stem from hundreds of years of historical political conflict with Spain and her (legally unfounded) claim to sovereignty over the Rock. So it’s fair to say there is always a certain level of concern that Gibraltar’s large neighbour is just waiting for the opportunity to seize ‘the Rock’ – Brexit being the latest example of an attempted power grab. But without Spain and the influx of thousands of workers across the border each day both Gibraltar and the greater Andalusian region would suffer severe economic hardship. If Gibraltar and Spain’s relationship was defined in Facebook terms, it would say ‘it’s complicated’.
And so we come to the land itself. The Rock. I’ve been to other significant ‘rocks’ around the world – Sigirya Rock in Sri Lanka, Alcatraz in San Francisco, we lived in Malta for a while (often also referred to as ‘the rock’ by its residents) and indeed my husband proposed at the Top of the Rock in New York. Yet Gibraltar is one of the most uniquely stunning natural standalone rocks in the world, second only perhaps to Uluru. The first time I saw The Rock I was astounded by it’s stature. It really is an epic, incredible and imposing monolith – both from a distance and at close quarters. It is no wonder the people here feel a strength and solidity way beyond their geographical size. Each time I fly back in to Gibraltar, or drive along the coast and see it from Spain, its very presence reassures and warms my heart. I really do feel like I’m, finally, home.