May 14, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 20

Vendor of the Week

Vendor profile - Beine Berhane


Photo by Manuela Donati

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I am the first African to have ever worked for Surprise [a Swiss paper]. I’m quite proud of this. To begin with though, I was ashamed to stand in the streets with the papers.

I come from Eritrea, and only poor people work on the streets there. Working as a street vendor is not seen as a good thing. But then I saw how hard the Swiss work, in whatever job they have, and that motivated me. Today I am very pleased that I can sell Surprise. I always say that my work is like therapy for me. It means I am not sitting at home sulking or thinking about my home [country] and how the people there are doing.

When I stand in front of the Migros shop on Löwenstrasse, I watch people. There are a lot of tourists here, and you can spot them immediately. I have a few regular customers: Just now I served a woman who has been buying her paper from me for 10 years. I always try and chat to people, although I only speak a little German. Somehow, you always understand each other, even if sometimes you have to speak with your hands. A lot of people here also speak Italian. Eritrea was an Italian colony, so I went to an Italian school and can speak the language.

I was born in 1939 and experienced the many political upheavals that my country went through. In 1941 we were under British control, and in 1952 we were joined with Ethiopia. My country was at war with Ethiopia for 30 years as we wanted independence, which we achieved in 1993. But the unrest did not stop. In 2002 I came to Switzerland as a political refugee. I cannot speak about the precise circumstances of my escape from Eritrea; I have painful memories of it. I have hardly any contact with my family. I am the second youngest of 10 children; many of my siblings are dead. I have six children, but I only speak to one son now and then.

To begin with, I found the Swiss people very cold. Then I noticed that they only open up when you get to know them better. The Swiss have always been very friendly to me; it was only after coming here that I learnt the true meaning of neighborly love. I am often given a coffee or a sandwich — by someone I don’t know! That would never happen at home. My Swiss friends are like a family to me.

Switzerland is safe and in the eyes of the law everyone is treated equally; I think that is very good. Also, I learnt discipline here for the very first time. Nevertheless, home is like your mother: You can never forget her. When I speak to other Eritreans, the first thing I always say is: What’s the news from back home? How is the country? And only then do I ask: How are you? I hope that the situation in Eritrea will calm down and that the people there will take Switzerland as an example.

When I am not working, I borrow the local travel ticket and travel around the country by train. Recently I have been to Geneva and to Davos. Switzerland is so beautiful! The mountains are like a painting!

After my arrival in Switzerland, I had to walk over 12 miles to get to the nearest church, but I did not mind. I prefer attending Italian mass at a Catholic church. In African churches I cannot concentrate on prayer because I get distracted by other people’s stories and tales. This year I even went to Rome; my friends bought the train ticket. Of course, I visited the Vatican. And I was at the very first Mass given by Pope Francis. That was an amazing experience.



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