Surprise’s Zeynab Ahmed – from Somalia to Switzerland

Recorded by Eva Mell, Surprise

I’ve been selling Surprise at the Migros in Arlesheim for two years now. I’m there two or three times a week. As I have a thirteen-month-old daughter, I can only go if my husband is available and can look after her. I know some of the people who buy from me very well already. One woman once asked me what I do when I’m not selling Surprise. I told her that I attend a German course, although I didn’t have the money for the next one. She paid for it, which made me very happy.

I come from Somalia and have been living in Switzerland since the third of August 2008. I arrived by boat to Italy. [The] crossing was not easy at all, but I made it. Then I was in Italy for a few months, but I wanted to continue on to Switzerland. Life was too hard in Italy—sometimes I had to sleep on the streets. I was terrified.

I left Somalia because of the war there. My father died when I was just three years old. My mother had six children to care for. We had a family restaurant where I also helped out. But at some point, there was no more work for us because of the war. The village I come from is in the south of Somalia. The terrorist militia al-Shabaab came often, usually at night, and killed many people that I knew. I was scared. So I travelled to Europe alone. My two sisters are married in Somalia, two brothers emigrated to South Africa and one brother lives with my mother.

Credit: Klaus Petrus

I met my husband shortly after I arrived in Switzerland. He also comes from Somalia. We saw each other for the first time at the railway station in Basel. He asked me my name and we got talking; I gave him my number and then we agreed to meet. Two or three months later we were married. I was nineteen then. We live in Münchenstein and have four children. Our youngest daughter is thirteen months old; our other children are already seven, nine and eleven years old.

My husband works as a chef in the Canton Hospital Liestal. He cooks a lot at home, too. I worked as a maid in a hotel for five years. But two years ago, I lost my job. Then a friend told me about Surprise. I use the money I earn from selling Surprise to help my mother in Somalia. She’s very ill, uses a wheelchair and cannot work anymore. I’ve been selling fewer copies since the coronavirus pandemic, though, so I’m earning less money.

I would like to travel to Somalia once more to see my mother. It would also be lovely for her to meet my children. I miss my mother a lot. I can still see her when I speak to her over WhatsApp videocall.

We have some friends here in Switzerland, but it’s difficult to see them because of coronavirus. A woman from the Red Cross has been visiting us as family support for five years now. She helps me if I need to write a letter, for example. Sometimes she also plays with my children. She helps me a lot. I love this woman like my own mother.

My husband and I now have a B permit in Switzerland. With it, I can do more and plan more than before. I want to keep learning German and become a doctor’s assistant. I would really enjoy the work, but I need to attend even more German classes first. A single course costs me 1,000 francs, though: 600 francs for the course and 400 francs for childcare for my daughter while I’m there. It’s a lot of money. But who knows? Maybe one day it’ll all work out and I’ll manage it.

Translated from German via Translators Without Borders

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