Remorse

Remorse is more than regret. Remorse is the wish to turn back the clock and do it right this time. One thing I might do differently if I had the chance would be to treat nature with a little more respect.

I came across an old photo this morning, and it triggered memories of the chalet we rented forty-odd years ago, primarily as a weekend getaway from Geneva and as an opportunity for some winter sports, chiefly cross-country skiing and a bit of sledging. Our first encounter with the place was in the summer.  It had lain empty for several years, and nature was in the process of reclaiming  the land around it. We were townies, insensitive and opposed to chaos. After our well-intentioned vandalism, we suddenly became aware of what we had destroyed. God’s gardens are the best!

I wrote this in 1977. (By the way, this is my 600th post!)

Tidying up

When we arrived
The chalet was asleep:
Had drawn a curtain of larches

Close around, closed tight
All windows, shutters, doors,
Pulled the meadow up over the garden,
Tucked itself into the long grass and yarrow,
And was settled deep in its summer slumber.

Peaceful and undisturbed
It lay in its innocent wilderness bed,
And we thought
It looked neglected, overgrown.
(Hyper-urbanization blinds us to the instinct
That recognises raw beauty

In a natural state
And murmurs: “Let it be.”)

Overcome by the urge to tidy things up
And suburbanize
We gustily set to
To wake it up out of its languor,
And jerk it out of its dream,
Flung open the shutters and windows and doors
Let in the air and the sun and the flies,
And laid into the overgrowth with sickle and scythe.

We slashed down the long grass,
Bay willow herb, cow parsley, buttercups,
Harebells, daisies, Queen Anne’s lace,
Forget-me-nots and all the other
Unwelcome weeds,
Ravaging the peace with sharp steel blades,
Frightening the frogs,
Dainty gold-green creatures that leapt in panic
Up the tree trunks
Into the stream
Anywhere
Away from the menacing swish of the blade.

We disturbed the lizards and voles,
Scared away the tom-tits and finches,
Besieged the snails
Taking refuge inside their eggshell forts,
Stepped unwittingly on slugs too slow to flee,
Destroyed all their little world
And let the sunshine strike
Onto the grass roots and the moss,
Drying the grass and flowers to hay
While the horseflies and mosquitoes
(An undisciplined but kamikaze airforce)
Bombarded us at our work.

Some battles they did win,
When the sun was on their side, at noon,
And we had scars to show
When we paused to rest,
But in the end the victory was ours
When we came back to the attack
With spray gun reinforcements.

So when we left
The chalet had been shaken from its torpor
The bewildered wilderness had vanished
Vanquished
Into a neat and tidy garden:
And not a creature stirred.

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With the relief of winter
The garden heaved a sigh
And slid back into sleep.

Swissification Step Two

 

One precious item awaiting me in the post on my return home last Friday was my new “original” birth certificate, which is a photocopy of the old one already in my possession with the addition of a stamp by Her Majesty’s Records Office authenticating it. As it was the weekend of Pentecost – what used to be called Whitsun in the UK – Monday was a holiday here, so I had to wait until Tuesday before I could set off with my batch of documents to the registry office (Zivilstandsamt) in the village of Wangs a few miles away.

I know that by car, it takes about 7 minutes from my house to Wangs. The registry office is in the town hall there, the Rathaus, right in the centre of the village.

I reported in full – maybe too full! – here in 2014 and 2015 on all I went through in trying to keep my driving licence. The upshot was, I lost the licence and have been using public transport every since I returned from looking after my mother in England. (If you are really at a loose end, just put “driving licence” into the Search box on the top right-hand corner of this page for the entire saga of how I achieved and was deprived of my licence.)

Swiss public transport is pretty good. I checked online for the bus route and was surprised to see that our two villages don’t have a direct bus connection. The first part of the trip has to be by train to the town of Sargans, then there’s a choice between two buses from the station that take a circular route through the countryside, one going clockwise and the other anticlockwise. As Wangs is about halfway around this circuit, it really doesn’t matter which direction you take.

I bought myself a day ticket, very conveniently on the Swissrail phone app, and set off on Tuesday morning at 8.15. I had to pop into the doctor’s first to leave them a couple of phials of blood before having breakfast, so I decided to combine the two outings.

The sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm, which I much appreciate after the humidity of Florida. The fifteen minutes walk to the doctor’s and the station made me feel virtuous (getting exercise), my blood sample was quickly collected, and the 8.45 train was of course on time. Six minutes later I was at Sargans station, with time to get a coffee and a croissant which I consumed at the bus stop. The bus left promptly but the coffee obviously did not reach my brain because not only did I get off a stop too soon but I also walked about a mile too far, all steeply uphill, straight past the Rathaus and Post Office, and only realised my error when I arrived at the cable car station.

Ah well, the sun was still shining and the scenery really is beautiful, so I wasn’t too annoyed at myself. After all, retracing my steps took me downhill which was no effort and I’m pretty fit at present.

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The young lady in the registry office took all my documents and checked them against her list. Some consternation appeared on her face when she looked at my German passport, which expired in 2010. “You’ll have to get a new one,” she said.

I explained that this would entail an awful lot of fuss and bother as well as great expense because I would have to make an appointment at the Embassy in Bern which takes about 3 or 4 months, then go there in person for fingerprinting and photos of my irises etc. and it really wasn’t worth the hassle. “OK, then we’ll ignore it and treat you as just British,” she replied. I admit I was surprised at this rather unbureaucratic attitude, but as I said, she was young and not some miserable old dragon. (If that leads to any problems, she’s the one I’ll blame, though.)

Then she came to my divorce paper. It did say “divorce decree” on the original checklist, but that’s as long as my arm so I had concluded that the official notification sent by the court to the registry offices, embassies etc. where I and my ex-husband were registered would be sufficient. I was wrong. She wanted the original decree in full with all the gory details.

“That’s in a file buried in my basement,” I told her. Never mind, she answered: we were divorced in Switzerland so I can get a notarised copy from the court that issued it. Finally, she photocopied everything and gave me my papers back. It had taken about 20 minutes altogether. I trotted merrily across the road to the bus stop, and found I had 20 minutes to wait for the bus going clockwise (the way I had come) and 10 minutes for the anticlockwise route, so I crossed back to the stop where I should have got off in the first place. When it came, this very clean and comfortable bus actually had 3-point seatbelts like those in a car. I was impressed.

This ride took me through the second half of the circuit, so another pretty village and striking views on the way to Sargans station, and thence the train to Bad Ragaz and a short trek home. The clock was striking 11 as I turned the key in my door. Not a bad morning’s work, I thought. Distance covered: 17 km (about 10 miles).  A good thing I’m retired and time is no longer money!

A quick phone call to the divorce court, and yes, they would put the document in the post right away. No, it doesn’t cost anything. It arrived this morning: bless Swiss efficiency!

I hope my young lady in Wangs is equally efficient. She didn’t appear to be burdened with a heavy workload, so fingers crossed I’ll get my “attestation of registered personal status” next week. That will complete the little pile of papers needed for me to actually start the application process with the authorities here.

Oh, and by the way – although the young lady in Wangs gave me a very complicated explanation of why my birth certificate had to be less than 6 months old, I still don’t get it.

Back Home Again …

Back home again in sunny Switzerland and recalling a Florida vacation with a difference.

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Once I had lost my fear of losing my fingers last year, I began to covet one of the gadgets found in most American homes: that little device in the sink that gobbles and munches all the bits of waste from coffee dregs to vegetable peelings. But now, no longer! I never want to see one again! Here’s why:

The waste disposal unit in my friend’s home where we were staying had rusted through and was leaking without anyone noticing, and by the time we realised it the damage was done. An entire row of cabinets had to be replaced. One thing leads to another, of course.

In order to disassemble the cabinets, the 9-foot long granite counter top needed to be removed. Not only that, but it proved impossible to match the cabinets so all of the others also had to be replaced, top and bottom, on both sides of the kitchen, together with their counter top. The fridge then began to misbehave and as if in solidarity the dishwasher also gave up the ghost. And to cap it all, we were warned there might also be mould.

My friend really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She hadn’t budgeted for a new kitchen yet it was a great opportunity to replace the ugly old one. However, would it be possible to get everything done in the few weeks we were there? What would the insurance cover? Stuck on our island without a car, how could we get to places like Home Depot to look at what was available? Were second-hand items feasible?

Hours were spent poring over offers on the Internet, and there were lots of phone calls, appointments with contractors, insurance people, plumbers, electricians, mould experts … promises, promises. It was a roller-coaster ride but to cut a very long and complicated story short, it happened. Schedules were very tight, delays occurred, and it took right to the last minute, but then came the really good news a couple of hours before we left that the insurance company would actually cover most of the expense.

If that isn’t divine providence, I don’t know what is. And throughout, my friend managed to carry on producing delicious meals without a counter or cupboards!

In spite of all that, we had a very pleasant time swimming and cycling (back on my trusty trike!) every morning, socialising, sunbathing, reading, painting, crocheting, solving sudokus, watching the wildlife (the dolphins were back this year) and generally enjoying ourselves. Certainly no question of being bored.

And, as a neat little postscript to this story, my neighbour back here in Switzerland has just called to invite me to inspect the results of some work she had done during my absence.

“A good thing you weren’t here,” she said. “There was a lot of noise and disruption while they were installing it.” I admired her attractive, modern new kitchen and told her about our Florida fun.

There’s a moral in here for me somewhere: it seems that whether I had stayed here or gone to Sanibel, I’d have had the kitchen experience!

Easter Celebrations

imageGetting up at 5 am has never been easy for me, but this was different. A sunrise service to celebrate the risen Son of God on the tiny island midway on the Causeway linking sleepy Sanibel Island with the busy city of Fort Myers, attended by around 1500 people – an occasion not to be missed, and made all the easier by the fact that a kibd neighbour was giving us a lift right to the site. The big yellow moon was still high in the sky, as we stumbled to the seating area and took our places. As the sky began to lighten, the dawn chorus commenced in the palm trees around us, led by the only real song bird I have heard here. The birds here are all very beautiful, but they mostly caw, tweet, cheep or screech. So this exceptional songster was special, and not at all deterred by the humans who joined in as the sun began to turn the sea red and the sky golden..image

Such a setting can’t fail to be moving. It was indeed a very special occasion, and we were blessed to be a part of it.

Life is returning to normal now; that is, our island life proceeding on island time. You won’t be hearing much from me for the next few weeks, I’m afraid. I only have my iPad and no laptop, which makes writing hard. I’m busy swimming, riding my trike, strolling along the beach, meeting friends, reading, crocheting, painting, solving killer sudokus and generally relaxing among the Lotos Eaters again.  And feeling truly blessed.

 

Synopsis of On The Run

This is a true story

Two young people, Désiré and Joséphine, growing up happily in secure loving families and making plans for their future careers, are suddenly torn violently out of their peaceful everyday lives as civil war destroys everything they ever cared about. They flee from their homes in Rwanda, Africa, to neighbouring Congo-Kinshasa. They survive in desperate conditions in refugee camps, are forced to flee again and spend months wandering through the jungle where they encounter all kinds of danger from wild animals, pygmies, pursuing armed forces, and even nature itself, until they again reach safety, this time in Congo-Brazzaville. They settle down, have two sons, and then have to flee yet again.  Although they manage to build a new life for themselves, they are homesick for Rwanda and so in 2000, six years after the civil war, decide to return. This is a disastrous decision. Désiré is arrested, jailed and tortured but manages to escape and get back to his family.

They find themselves fleeing a fourth time, to Cameroon, where they are attacked and the family is split up. All alone with her third son, still a baby, Joséphine is taken in 2004 to Switzerland where she applies for asylum. After a long battle, this is granted but she has no idea what has happened to her husband and two older sons. Fortunately, the Red Cross succeeds in tracing the two boys and after yet another battle they are admitted to Switzerland to join their mother and little brother in 2006.

Although she has no news of her husband, she never gives up the search for him and remains convinced he is still alive. Meanwhile, Désiré has been close to death from sickness and disease, enslaved in Chad, escaped, and finally arrived in Nigeria. Here he tries to search for his lost family and finally discovers that they are all together in Switzerland. 9 years after the family was split up, Désiré is finally allowed to enter Switzerland and be reunited with his wife and three sons.

Throughout these harrowing experiences, Désiré and Joséphine never lose faith in God, constantly give thanks and recognise His hand over their lives.

Now available in English from https://www.twentysix.de/shop/on-the-run-johanna-krapf-9783740715250

Wedding Joséphine + Désiré

Finally – A white wedding in church, with their children present

On The Run

Those among you who have been faithfully following my ramblings here for a few years may remember the story of a Rwandan family that was separated and split up by the terrible events in Rwanda and the Congo in the 1990’s. The young mother landed in Switzerland with only her baby in her arms, but never gave up hope of being reunited with her husband and her other two sons. Amazingly, her trust in God’s grace was rewarded: some years later, first her children and then her husband were found, and they were able to settle together here in Switzerland. How I came to be involved in their lives is told  in these blog posts:

https://catterel.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/perseverance-rewarded/
https://catterel.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/when-life-becomes-a-fairytale/
https://catterel.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/book-launch/
https://catterel.wordpress.com/2016/09/07/book-launch-post-script/

An account of some of the ordeal they went through – much of it far too ghastly to describe in detail – was published in German in 2016 under the title of Auf der Flucht getrennt. As soon as I heard of this project, I offered to translate it into English for a wider audience, as a story of inspiration at a time when sympathy for refugees seems to be at a very low ebb in many parts of the Western world.

Happily, my offer was accepted and I finished revising my version of the book in English just over a year ago. The search for a publisher for the English edition was unsuccessful, so the author Johanna Krapf has finally decided to self-publish.

I am very pleased to announce that On The Run is now available online from https://www.twentysix.de/shop/on-the-run-johanna-krapf-9783740715250
at a cost of 21,99€.

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Even if you are tired of hearing about asylum-seekers and their problems, I would like to urge you to buy a copy of this book, if only to confirm the fact that miracles do still happen and faith is a powerful force.

And if that isn’t enough – well, this book is also my work! So why not buy it for my sake? Please!

Swissification

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Transplanted. Born British (English, actually) and naturalised German; although my German passport expired nearly ten years ago, I have never revoked that nationality. Domiciled and resident in Switzerland for more than half my lifetime. An alien in a foreign land.

Well, I finally took the decision: I don’t want to be an alien any more and shall apply for Swiss citizenship as soon as I have all the necessary pieces of paper together. High time, as I’ve been here since 1973 and all my immediate family is Swiss. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Ah, but Switzerland is different, and among its unique features is the bottom-up nature of its political structures. A pyramid fixed firmly on its feet is stable. Make that bottom layer weightier than the upper tiers and its stability is increased even more. The Swiss Confederation has very solid feet.

Oh yes, we have a Federal Council with a President of the Confederation at the top of the pyramid, but the president is not the head of state. He or she is simply “primus inter pares” or first among equals. The Canton is sovereign (subject only to the Constitution), and within it the Commune has a certain amount of autonomy. Consequently, those in charge are not faceless power-wielders but flesh-and-blood individuals, often known personally to the man in the street (or the farmer in his fields).

We pay the largest share of our taxes (on income and assets) to the commune and canton, and only a fraction of that amount to the Confederation. We have direct democracy. Responsible citizens are called regularly to vote on all kinds of matters in the commune and canton, not only in national referendums. I quote from a 2012 speech by the Federal Chancellor about what it means to be Swiss:

People are first and foremost citizens of a commune or canton and on that basis enjoy Swiss citizenship.”

In practical terms that means that a foreigner seeking a Swiss passport must initially apply to become a citizen of the commune or town where he or she is living. Not at national level or even at cantonal level: you first have to be found worthy by those you meet on a daily basis, your neighbours and local authority. Have you lived in the Canton the requisite number of years, and at least five of those in your commune? Are you familiar with Swiss customs and institutions? Are you an integrated, solid, respectable, law-abiding person who will be a credit to your community? Are you involved in local activities?

Until fairly recently, your fate was decided by popular vote. Your CV and qualifications with references were circulated, and the villagers or parishioners said yea or nay.  To me, this seemed akin to standing naked on the village green with your dirty linen exposed to the curiosity of all the neighbours. Yes, I fulfilled all the requirements but I wasn’t prepared to be humiliated in this way.

Then the system was revised and the decision is now taken by a specially appointed committee. You are still exposed to public view, but to a lesser extent. If you have been following this blog, you will know that I spent several years back in the UK looking after my mother, so my stay in Switzerland was interrupted. However, I am now assured that I do meet all the conditions and should hand in my application. It will cost about two and a half thousand francs. Complete all the formalities and attend an interview, then I’ll be granted citizenship of my Commune. That will entitle me to claim citizenship of the Canton, which in turn will qualify me for Swiss nationality and a bright red passport.

Great, I thought as I collected the application form from the town hall and started to complete it. As usual, there was only enough space on each line to write half of the information required, so I added a sheet with everything typed out neatly and a 2-page CV. Three referees – no problem! I was amazed to find people falling over themselves to give me a reference, including my bank manager, several friends and neighbours as well as the people I actually asked.

What documents are required?  Passport – yes (I have two, one of which has expired, but hopefully that won’t be a problem. I have documentary proof of my German citizenship in addition to the passport.) Residence permit – yes. Photocopies will do. Recent passport photo – yes.

Then a few things that I had to apply for and pay a fee for, starting with an official attestation of residence with dates from each of the places I have lived in since my arrival in Switzerland (the charge varies from commune to commune and I paid CHF 10.-, 21.- and 25.- respectively). Praise be for Swiss bureaucracy: these appeared by return of post, though the people in Geneva had to scrabble around a bit to find me in their 1970’s archives.

Off to the post office next, to pay CHF 20.- for an excerpt from the criminal register stating that I have no criminal record. That arrived – by post, naturally! – a couple of days later.

A handwritten application stating why I want to become Swiss. That took some thought, but I managed to produce a little essay that I hope isn’t too long and is legible. Illegible handwriting will be refused. Why handwritten, in this day and age? Do they want to be certain I’m literate, or is there also a graphology test? My handwriting isn’t always as neat as it once was so I also typed it into my laptop and printed it out, just to be sure.

The next one looked simple enough: an attestation of my registered personal status. I trotted off to the town hall again and was informed that they didn’t deal with that, it was issued by a central office in a nearby town. I e-mailed the office in question, and received a list of documents to produce. This time, they wanted originals. Passport, Residence Permit, Divorce Decree, and Birth Certificate. Yes, I have all these. I’ll come by tomorrow and bring them. Things are coming together nicely, and I’m smiling.

Ah, but look – here it says “Birth certificate (original) not older than 6 months”. I inquired. I have my original birth certificate, issued at my birth, handwritten, with a King George VI postage stamp affixed to prove its authenticity. No, that won’t do. I have to get a new certificate from HM records office in England, less than 6 months old. Why? Don’t ask. It costs me £14 to order and will be despatched in 3 weeks from receipt of request. So everything is put on hold for a while.

What else? Oh yes, I have to attend courses on Swiss institutions and customs, held on five consecutive Saturday mornings in a nearby town, and pass a test at the end as well as a test showing my proficiency in German. I send off the postcard to enrol for this, and receive a phone call a few days later. I explain the delay in obtaining my birth certificate (original copy) and the nice lady at the other end tells me that in that case, I’ll have to take the course sometime later this year, in summer or autumn. My friend who has been through the process advises me that the whole process took two years in her case. Don’t do the course on institutions until just before the interview or you’ll have forgotten everything! Especially Swiss politics!

4d397141-0172-4611-b8f3-3a422d30a543Why do I want to become Swiss? Well, after 46 years as an alien I think it’s high time I went native. I hope I live long enough!