A Global Connect over Coffee

It’s a cold Monday morning in Zurich. Surabhi has just dropped her 3-year-old daughter at an English playgroup. She has two hours to herself before she can pick her up. She doesn’t live close by so traveling to and fro isn’t an option. So instead, she mostly uses this ‘child-free’ time to catch up with friends over coffee or do a little shopping. But on two Mondays, every month, she heads to the Frauen-Café International. On these two Mondays, she is catching up with women (just like her) from across the world, polishing her German, and learning new art and crafts skill over some freshly baked bread, delicious biscuits and endless cups of coffee. The Café — as the name denotes — connects women from across the world. 

On Monday, March 7, Frauen-Café Internationalturned two this year and to celebrate the occasion there was Alfajores – a traditional sweet from Argentina, Basbousa -a semolina cake from Egypt, Shushumow – a festival sweet from Somalia and some Swiss bread and of course, coffee.
For the ladies, about 30 of them, it was about reliving the two years, catching up with each other, flipping through photographs and enjoying the delicious spread. Women from 39 countries had been to the Frauen-Café International in the last two years.

Surabhi is from India . She learnt about Frauen Café from an Italian friend at her German class. But this Café was her lucky break. “I go for German classes but it is really here that I get to practice it. The knowledge and the skill here is immense. After all I have learnt to sew, knit and bake,” she chuckles. She recollects her favorite learning from the Café – to knit and sew caps from old used
t-shirts and woollen sweaters.
LIke Surabhi, Rachel too is a regular at the Café. She is also one of the organizers of these Monday meet-ups. Rachel is from England and moved to Switzerland nine years ago. “I have made many friends here. There are women coming from different countries. We get to bond here the way it wouldn’t be possible elsewhere.” The Café has a lot of women coming in from Northern Africa, Syria, Iraq and from the Arabic countries. There’s a big group of Somalian women. There are also many Asian women especially from Sri Lanka who are regular at these meet-ups. Some are regulars, few just come once, and there are others who get busy with a job or their families. But these gatherings have at least 20 women every Monday.

The seed of the idea of the Café was planted when many women — approached Erika Schönenberger, a counselor and a social worker based in Zurich. “They told me they felt lonely and isolated. They said they did not have a chance to speak in German. So I asked around if they would team up to do something for these women and well today I have a nine member team organising these Monday meet-ups.”

The meet up is funded by Church St Gallus in Zurich and takes places within the Church’s premises. The organisers too are a healthy mix of women from across the world. They meet up every three months to plan activities and schedule the meet-ups. The agenda is to keep the gatherings as enjoyable and entertaining. Baking and candle making during Christmas, a quiet walk, a visit to the museum or simply enjoying the snow makes for some of the activities. “Some days we just play games — games from different cultures. So there are women from across countries enjoying one game,” says Erika.

The Café holds sessions where women share their traditional food and recipes with each other. “Many women who come from difficult social backgrounds gain confidence when they get a chance to talk about their country. They enjoy talking to a group, sharing a culture they are very proud of and evolve encouraged and confident,” Erika adds. Frauen-Café International also acts as an useful forum to help women, new to Zurich, learn about schools and integration classes and programmes like ‘ Living in Zurich’.

With Easter just around the corner, the agenda for the next Monday is clear — it will be all about Easter craft. And Surabhi and Rachel, and many like them, are looking forward to learn to make beautiful Easter eggs out of onion skin and grass.

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