Filipino Geneva: My Pinoy Life in Geneva
By PA Escalante
My love affair with the written word began with the love affair I had with the world. At the age of 9, we were whisked off to the land of dreams–the United States. Then at the age of 13, we moved again to the land of the seven sands–the United Arab Emirates. Then we just kept moving and moving after that.
Before arriving in Geneva, Switzerland where I am now, my family and I lived in other places – the most exotic being Baghdad, Iraq (before the war). After Baghdad, I returned to Manila to work, only to leave again after a short while to join my family in Geneva. Thank God, I was able to find work immediately so that I could better integrate into my new milieu.
When we think of Switzerland, we think of chocolates, watches and the Alps. Characters such as Heidi spring to mind. Switzerland is also known as the Helvectic Confederation because Helvetia is the Latin name of Switzerland. There are four official languages: French, German, Italian and Romantsch, representative of the borders it shares with France, Germany and Italy and its Roman history. So, if you meet a Swiss, it is not unusual that they speak three or more languages.
Switzerland has four seasons and each one showcases the beauty of this small and magical place.
Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons or what we would consider states. It is a federated country so each canton is governed by its own rules and laws pretty similar to that of the United States; the difference being the rotation of public officials, including the president, the mayors and other elected officials to prevent political dynasties or stagnancy. They also believe in popular democracy with every little political decision determined by the outcome of a full-blown referendum.
The Swiss are very disciplined and precise, ergo the term “Swiss precision”. In Zurich, one can adjust one’s watch by the precision of the trams. Public transportation can be relied on and come and go at pre-set intervals. They take much pride in their work and they respect work and play. They work when it is time to work and they take long vacations over summer in far-off places to also recuperate.
They also value honesty and due process. One could get on a bus without buying a ticket because there are no inspectors, but there are random checks. Flowers and goods can be sold in open air with only a mailbox to put money in. And if your rights are violated, the Swiss make sure that there is due process to remedy it.
Life is very easy in Switzerland that for people who come for a month end up staying for 30 years or the rest of their lives.
Geneva, where I am based, is a very cosmopolitan city. It is the home of many intergovernmental and international non-governmental organizations including the United Nations and its agencies, the International Standardization Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross. It is the place where many conventions have been penned, thus, the Geneva Convention on this and that. Although French is the official language, English is becoming commonplace due to the presence of expatriates from these organizations. Life here is very laid back. It is small city with only a little less than 200,000 inhabitants.
At the outset, Geneva seemed lifeless compared to the hustle and bustle of other cosmopolitan cities. But it is home to many museums and film festivals. There are also many activities if you look for it.
My Pinoy Life in Geneva
Geneva and Switzerland have a long history and one does not need to look far to appreciate the richness of that history and culture. Fun fact: the word Jurassic refers to the Jura Mountains which surround Geneva. Did you know Geneva is the birthplace of the WWW or the World Wide Web?
For me, since my life has been one big rolling stone, I welcomed the tranquillity and comfort that Geneva offered. I made friends, some Swiss so that there was stability and longevity of friendships. Because of the transient nature of the people here in Geneva, you could make friends today and they could leave the next month due to their work.
Geneva is a beautiful place. One could fall in love with the city immediately or wake up one day loving it and missing it. At least that is how it was for me. Now, when I travel, I look forward to coming home to Geneva. I feel like the wanderer has finally found a home.