Everyone has a story. My Swiss Story is a series that looks at lives in Switzerland.
Bashir Sakhawarz is poet and novelist. Originally from Afghanistan, he has lived in Europe, Asia, Africa and Central America, working for the United Nations, the European Union, the Asian Development Bank, the International Red Cross and various NGOs.
What brought you to Switzerland?
Coming to Switzerland was pure luck. My wife got a job at the World Health Organisation (WHO) and we all decided to leave what we were doing. I was working for the EU in Belize and our children were at school in Kosovo. Geneva united us as a family and it was wonderful during summer to sit by Lake Geneva, with our children sipping juices and my wife and I drinking rosé wine, watching the swans romancing with life.
What do you like most about your life here?
The people are polite and I like that. I also like the double-decker trains. They are the cleanest and tidiest in the world. Sitting on the upper deck I watch the landscape, the rainbow of colours. It’s like meditation. If I want to read a book, then I open it. No one, no person, no noise disturbs me. The same serenity exists in Bains de Paquis, my favourite place, where I sit naked in the sauna, letting all my worries drift away. Imagine that. An Afghan sitting naked in a sauna!
What was your greatest challenge after arriving in Switzerland?
Finding friends. People are polite but reserved. Afghans love being with people. My wife and I invited people to have dinner with us, hoping to start friendships, but it didn’t happen.
How has Switzerland surprised you?
There is a cliché that Swiss are in love with money and have no generosity. When I found a house to rent, the landlord asked me how much I could afford to pay. I told him my budget, which was below the rental value, and he accepted. To my surprise, in seven years, he has never raised the rent or interfered with our use of his house. Thank you Walter!
What do you miss from your life before?
I miss London where we had many friends and could go to an Indian restaurant and eat the best Indian food, almost as good as in India or Bangladesh, and pay £10 (CHF 13) each. This is in Southhall, London of course, not Piccadilly!
What would you miss if you left Switzerland?
Lake Geneva. Its sunrise and sunset, its summer time cafes. What I will not miss is the fun fair in August, when the area around the lake become a circus. Not good for meditating!
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