Europe

Stranded in Switzerland

When you’re solo travelling, and the following things happen all at once:

  1. Lost in translation in a German-speaking country
  2. Missed your train, which turned out to be the last one
  3. Found out that the next train is not until 5 more hours
  4. Discovered that you can’t even wait at the train station because they’re closing and it was well past midnight

Then truly, the only thing left to do is just to hope for some kind of miracle and/or the kindness of a stranger.

Indeed Allah is the Most Loving; He reached out to me in the form of the Al-Bakars*.

When I was panicking from the realisation of both my misfortune and my stupidity, this guy tried to help me even at the risk of missing his own train. With his dark facial hair, fair and brownish complexion, bushy eyebrows and beard, I took him as a Latino. But I insisted that I wouldn’t let him miss his train, to which he answered lightly, “I’ve missed it already.” It made me feel so bad I was almost moved to tears, but he just said earnestly, taking me by surprise, “It’s okay, I want to help you. You’re Muslim, right?

Ahhh, of course! An Arab, not a Latino! I thought to myself. Thank God for Muslim brother/sisterhood. (And humanity. And kindness.)

After we realised that my best chance was just to wait somewhere outside the station until the next train at 7 am, he told me, “Come with me to my family’s house. You can sleep with my sisters.”

I was so relieved I didn’t think twice. With some people you know you could trust completely, and that’s how it was with this guy. I didn’t for a second think that I needed to use the spray I always kept ready in my bag. Not with Kamil*.

(Oh and how did I learn of his name? We were already in the taxi to his house, and I timidly nudged his elbow from the back seat and said, “Sorry… I don’t know your name yet.” Hilarious as hell.)

Anyway, we got to his three-floored house, where we were welcomed by his sisters and mother. How funny, I thought ironically. My first visit to a boy’s house to meet his family and he’s not even my boyfriend. But such thoughts soon disappeared when we began talking. I discovered that they are Syrians and have only lived in Switzerland for 2 years. The whole family talks superb English (which is always a relief when in a non-English speaking country and the only foreign language you know is this useless imperialist language). Not surprising when I learnt that the father is a well-off trader and the mother a well-educated lady. The latter was completely motherly in an Arab way – she constantly repeated how I was welcomed to the house and stuffed me with loads of food!

The family is a family of 7 children, with the oldest daughter taking a Master’s degree in English Literature in Egypt. Kamil turned out to be 4 years younger than me (which was surprising as I thought we were at least the same age. Must’ve been his beard.) His younger sisters Noha* and Sara* are sweet, lovely girls who are 15 and 11 respectively. Noha turned out to be incredibly intelligent and mature for her age, while Sara who understands but doesn’t speaks English turned out to be a mischievous yet absolutely adorable little girl. We spent almost the whole night talking and teasing randomly, our considerable age gap evaporated into thin air.

With the war looming in their homeland, their lives had not been easy. They were well-off in Syria and their place was in the safest area in their town, Noha told me, but it wouldn’t have been safe for long. It was actually also because of their consideration of Kamil’s safety that they decided to move to Zurich, as the father has been working there for years. I expressed my relief that they are safe in Switzerland, and reiterated how war brought nothing but evil. Surprisingly, she said, “There is actually some good that came out of it.”

”Like what?“ I challenged.

“Before the war, we never really knew each other. After the war, we became closer, we knew who really is a true friend and who is not, who would help sincerely and who wouldn’t.”

I was quiet. Hard to believe this girl is still 15.

The next morning, Kamil went with me to the station to make sure that I got to the train safely, and he told me that when we met the night before, he was waiting for his train home, and there was a delay so he had to wait for 15 more minutes.

Amazing, isn’t it, how relative time is and how precious it could be. If it wasn’t for that 15 minutes delay, I wouldn’t have had my (not-so-positive) stigmas about Arab men challenged once more (the first time was in Morocco). And I wouldn’t have had this beautiful family in my life.

So thank You, Lord, for that 15 minutes. 🙂

 

*Names changed to protect privacy.

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