Seven More Geneva Stories, Abridged

By Charlotte Parker

Boarding the airplane home took me by surprise. Actually, Geneva took me by surprise; there was so much—gritty, swanky, quirky—to investigate. Below, a few of the stories I would have liked to write:

1. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently released a free iPhone/iPad app called “My Life as a Refugee.” The description in the Apple App Store reads: “Every day you make thousands of decisions. Now imagine you’re a refugee, forced to flee your home to escape war or persecution. Suddenly, each choice can be a matter of life or death. Have you got what it takes to survive?” UNHCR created the app as an awareness-raising tool, and has been selling copies of the computer game to middle and elementary schools. In theory, it’s a great idea—Angelina Jolie-style humanitarian awareness-raising. But does a video game make light of a refugee’s plight? What does it really do? Play the game and find out, I guess.

2. When I arrived in Geneva, I was looking for a neighborhood where local trumped international. I think I found it just down the street from my apartment, in an area called Grottes. It’s a proud community unto itself, built around a complex of crazy smurf-like buildings. I would have loved to meet with the director of the community center/“bio-space” and get their guided tour.

Grottes (Parker/TYG)

3. There’s a lime green building surrounded by a chain-link fence on a traffic island near the train station. It’s a house for drug users that supplies clean needles and has wall-mounted buttons for immediate aid in the case of an overdose. Is this a good idea, or is Geneva just hiding its growing drug problem?

Geneva’s safe space for drug users (

4. A field guide to an international conference, based on my three days staffing the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR): what to wear (power suit or bohemian NGO chic?), how to keep yourself occupied during long plenary sessions (the UNHCR refugee app?), overheard at cocktail hour (“See you in Mauritius!”), etc.

5. Although prostitution is legal in Switzerland, it’s striking that Geneva is a hub of human trafficking as well as a place where big officials sign anti-trafficking legislation. It’s one thing that a casual walk through the streets of the red light (and hipster) district, the Paquis, will bring you all sorts of offers from women and men of the night; it’s another that the back pages of the newspaper feature ads from night spots extolling, every week, their latest shipments of “new girls from Eastern Europe.” But this is a serious story that needs thorough reporting and follow-up, not just a blog post.

6. If I was wending my way home late on any night of the week, I’d make sure to alter my trajectory to take me past the kitchen doorway of my neighborhood Portuguese bakery, Au Bom Gosto. Pure magic: light emanating onto the darkened street, up-tempo music or melancholy fado, the heavenly scent of baking dough. All my attempts to get free midnight samples of the next day’s bread failed, but I would have loved to interview the manager and the bakers who run this neighborhood hotspot. When did they come to Geneva? What are those huge spongey cakes that everyone buys on Sunday? Can I have a croissant?

7. This might have been the easiest to write: a Geneva-themed menu for the summer intern. I think I would have called it “Alphabet soup, fondue, and cheap wine.”

burger in the UN cafeteria (Parker/TYG)

Charlotte Parker ’13 is in Berkeley College. She is an intern for the summer at the International Organization for Migration in Geneva. Contact her at