ZURICH, SWITZERLAND. Sometimes travel can create unforgettable eye-opening and life-altering experiences. More often than not, such events are unplanned serendipitous moments that broaden our perspectives of the world. They give us a sense of how interconnected we actually are within our global carousel of time and space. As in this New Year’s travel story we offer along with its strange and wondrous bridge between Switzerland and Kosovo.
After arriving in Zurich on a recent family trip to Switzerland, we went to the rail information office to validate our rail passes and to obtain a wheelchair that would assist me in making the connection to the train to Chur.
Once our passports were stamped and we were ready to journey onward, a stout pleasant looking gentleman in his mid-50s came into the ticket office with the mobile chair.
As we moved through the air terminal to an elevator that would descend one floor to the tracks, we struck up a casual conversation.
“Are you from Zurich?” I asked the man.
“I am from Zurich now,” he replied. “But originally I come from Kosovo. I have been here 30 years.”
A European who loves America
The man’s English had a slight accent, but it was excellent, making communications extremely easy.
“And where are you from?” he responded.
“We are from the United States in North Carolina,” I answered.
“Americans! How wonderful! Is this your family?”
Slightly taken aback by his enthusiasm, I said, “Yes, we are here for a few days to visit Switzerland for Christmas.”
“Yes, yes. I am so happy for you. Your president, Bill Clinton, saved our country some years ago. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I recalled when Kosovo was in the news back at the turn of the millennium but could not remember much about the events of the time. Obviously, the attendant had been deeply moved by the efforts of the Clinton administration, however, so I was now curious to go back in history to discover the source of the man’s appreciation.
A short history of modern Kosovo
Without going into too much detail, the former country of Yugoslavia was comprised of what have today become seven independent nations.
Under President Slobodan Milošević, ethnic cleansing and genocide of Albanians by anti-guerilla militia in the former Yugoslavian province of Kosovo had reached outrageous proportions.
In 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton authorized the use of American Armed Forces in a NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 placed Kosovo under UN administration and deployed a peacekeeping force to the region.
Except for just two casualties resulting from an Apache helicopter crash, NATO announced that all of its soldiers survived during combat.
Later in 2001, the U.N.-supervised Supreme Court of Kosovo ruled that genocide did not occur, but detailed “a systematic campaign of terror, including murders, rapes, arson and severe maltreatment” that took place while Milošević was in power.
“Ethnic cleansing” was substituted rather than use the term “genocide.” Theoretically, the difference being that ethnic cleansing included murder as well as displacement.
Milošević was charged with crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes and eventually brought to trial before the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague.
He died in 2006 before the completion of the trial.
As someone who had lived through those events in his homeland, even though he resided in Switzerland at that time, our wheelchair attendant had not forgotten the efforts made by the United States and the UN on behalf of his country during the atrocities of war.
The train arrived, we boarded, gave the man a tip and headed off on our adventure.
Trains in Switzerland: The final frontier?
A week later, while attempting to make further wheelchair arrangements, we were again in the Zurich airport trying to figure out where to leave the chair before going to the Christmas Market at the train station in town.
As we peered at the board to determine the proper train and track, a voice shouted from the left.
“My American friends,” he said sporting a huge smile and waving. “So nice to see you again. Where are you going?”
Since I did not know his name I turned back and called out, “Mr. Kosovo, how are you?”
Then I explained our dilemma.
“We want to go to the market in Zurich, but we don’t know which train, which track and where to leave the chair. We were told we could not take the chair with us.”
“Next train is Track 2, in four minutes. Come I take you.”
With that, “Kosovo” rolled me onto the elevator and down to the track with plenty of time to spare.
(Below: The amazing, complex switchyard in Zurich, Switzerland. From a live YouTube video.)
Why New Year’s Travel tales like this make us look forward to 2019
“Can you take the chair back for us?” I asked.
“No problem. You take it. Just bring it back tomorrow when you fly home.”
And with that, the train arrived. We rushed on and as the doors closed we held out some money for a tip.
The man looked back and shook his head “No.”
Then as the train began to pull from the station, he raised his hands over his head with his palms clasped together in a gesture of “Thanks.”
He was smiling broadly as we waved goodbye.
Our newfound friend from Kosovo crossed our paths twice in the space of a week. Chances are we will never encounter him again. But the mutual bond and sharing of events that affected each of our lives in very different ways are living evidence that goodness can, and does, pervade our world in strange and mysterious ways.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is a founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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