“It was only after coming here that I learnt the true meaning of neighbourly
love,” says Beiene Berhane, who, at 75 years old, is the oldest of the Surprise street paper vendors in
Beiene is also the first African to sell Surprise. A political refugee from Eritrea,
he ended up homeless after fleeing his country but has found a new purpose, and
family, selling street papers.
|Beiene Berhane sells Surprise in Zurich.|
“I come from Eritrea, and only poor people
work on the streets there so it is not seen as a good thing,” he explains.
“But then I saw how hard the Swiss work, in whatever job they have, and that motivated me. Today I am very proud that I can sell Surprise.”
Even though his German is limited, Beiene has been able to form relationships with his regular customers, including one woman who has bought Surprise from him for the last ten years.
“I always try and chat to people, although I only speak a little German,” says the vendor.
“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 can speak the language.
“In the evening when I have finished selling, I enjoy watching RSI, a Swiss TV channel in Italian. This means I can learn more about where I now live.”
Born in 1939, Beiene experienced many political upheavals while living in Eritrea, including a 30-year war with neighbouring country Ethiopia.
“I cannot speak about the precise circumstances of my escape from Eritrea; I have painful memories of it,” he says.
“I have hardly any contact with my family any more. I am the second youngest of ten children; many of my siblings are dead. I have six children myself, but I only speak to one son now and then.”
But for Beiene, his new Swiss friends have become his second family.
“They celebrate my birthday with me, look after me when I am unwell, and when I had nowhere to live they took me in,” he says with a smile.
“The Swiss are so friendly. I am often given a coffee or a sandwich – by someone I don’t know! That would never happen at home.
“Nevertheless, home is like your mother, you can never forget her. I hope that the situation in Eritrea will calm down and that the people there will take Switzerland as an example.”
Did you know INSP works with over 120 street papers around the world? You can help celebrate thousands of vendors, like Beiene, by signing up to our Thunderclap social media campaign during #VendorWeek 2015.