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Our vendors: Punitha (Surprise, Basel, Switzerland)

Recorded by Isabel Mosimann, Surprise

The civil war in Sri Lanka is the reason that I live in Switzerland today. Both of my brothers had already fled abroad to South Africa and Canada. My twin sister Pushpa disappeared in 2002. She was married to a Tamil Tigers freedom fighter and they had a baby together. One evening, she wanted to visit the temple, but I told her no, she shouldn’t go, as it would be too dangerous. She went regardless, with her child, and never came home. I don’t know what happened to her or where her husband is.

After that, my parents wanted me to leave the country so that I could live in safety. My aunt, who lives in Switzerland, eventually introduced me to a Tamil man who has lived here since the early 90s. In 2006, we got married in Sri Lanka and it was only in 2012 that our son, who was born in 2007, and I could travel to Switzerland due to my husband’s financial circumstances. We are very fortunate to live here now. Not only because we can be together as a family, but also due to the professional care received by our disabled son. He attends the additional support needs school in Langnau, where he is well supported and has been making great progress since living in Switzerland. For example, he has started to speak – he never said anything before, not even in Tamil.

Our second oldest son is three and a half years old and goes to nursery. This means that I can attend a German language course and last year I became a vendor for Surprise. The people at my locations outside the Migros supermarket in Langnau and the Coop supermarket in Grosshöchstetten are very friendly. Sometimes we have a short conversation, or even a long one. I often hear “Hi Punitha!” on the train – lots of people know me from selling newspapers. I really enjoy my life here in Switzerland. I just miss my parents from my old life in Sri Lanka. Luckily, I can call them regularly.

Since the start of April, I have been attending a six-month course on home economics and care by the Swiss Workers’ Relief Agency Bern (SAH) in order to improve my job prospects. In Sri Lanka, I worked primarily in domestic services. At the end of the 90s, I had the opportunity to work as a teacher and I taught Tamil and numeracy to fourth and fifth-graders. However, that came to an end after six months, as my family and I had to move due to the civil war. In this SAH course, I can broaden my knowledge and improve my German. In the first two months, we go to school every morning and learn the most important vocabulary for this field of work, including some speaking and listening in Bernese German. After that, there is a four-month placement at a Spitex organisation or in a home.

At the moment, my days are fairly busy. If my youngest son is at nursery, I sell Surprise newspapers for a few hours after school and then go home to Zäziwil. Either I or my husband must always be there by 4pm at the latest, as that’s the time that the school bus drops off our oldest son. My husband works in a restaurant as an assistant cook and has irregular working hours. If he has the Saturday off work and can look after the children, I sell Surprise newspapers again for a few hours in Langnau or Grosshöchstetten.

If I’m not working, I’ll do something with the children or sew. Most of the time, I’ll alter clothes that are too big for me, my husband or the children. I also like to read, especially Tamil novels. But soon, I will learn to do more than read or sew, as the course has regular assessments. Because I want to show what I can do.

Translated from German by Natalie Cooper

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