Greetings from Switzerland

2 a.m.: Three candles glow on the advent wreath. I savour a hot cup of tea and the muffin I saved from the last plane’s breakfast. The eight hours time change from Alberta to Switzerland has me wide awake.

Advent candles light up the night. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Advent candles light up the night. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

I like the quiet of night, the house and village around me asleep. I check my email, read with pleasure the Christmas letters many have sent the last days. They share with me the joys and sorrows of living.

The day before we left Canada my good friend Joanne phoned to tell me that she is in the university hospital, with a possible tumor. She has been having severe back pain, but doctors thought it was sciatic nerve. It was hard to leave with that news. I feel I have abandoned her.

Yesterday we were in Schaffhausen at dusk. A very large spruce tree twinkling in white lights decorates the city square. Under its spread branches a merry-go-round turns; its brightly painted horses and carriages moving up and down in time to the music. The same African woman we’ve seen for years is still roasting chestnuts under a tent close by. Shoppers stop for a bit, warm their cold hands around a packet of hot chestnuts and savour their nutty flavor.

The crowd thronging the streets of Schaffhausen is a mixed lot, from every part of the world. The percentage of cultures other than Swiss continues to grow. Many Swiss feel threatened by the large numbers of refugees and immigrants from the developing world. It is true that crime and social problems are overly represented by this group of the population.

A people very protective of their heritage and fiercely independent (they still are not part of the European Union), the Swiss, I think, are more resistant to change than Canadians. And as the percentage of other cultures continues to increase in the country, change is going to come. It is inevitable.

A Swiss farmer hurries to plow his 5 acre field before Christmas. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

A Swiss farmer hurries to plow his 5 acre field before Christmas. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Mostly I admit I like the fact that Switzerland tries to remain what it has always been. The fact that each country is unique and has its own culture is what makes our world so interesting. But as cultures mix more and more, we need to learn more to understand and accept one another in our differences.

I am not as good at that as I would like to think I am. Despite the fact that we have travelled and worked in Africa so often, and that I am an immigrant child myself, I realize how quickly I make judgments on people of other cultures. Seeing a Muslim family before me, the thoughts that pop up are as likely to be tainted by prejudice as by curiosity as to who they really are.

It’s not just village Africans that find it hard to change!

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