The Swiss railways goodwill ambassador

An essential tool of Kwasi Nyankson's trade: a smile. Dale Bechtel

The trip over the Brünig Pass in central Switzerland is one of the most scenic railway journeys in the country. But Dale Bechtel boarded the train on a day when the main attraction came in the form of the man serving the drinks.

This content was published on November 3, 2000 - 11:36

The train steward, Kwasi Nyankson, was not the attraction passengers expected when they boarded the train for the scenic two-hour journey over the Brünig Pass.

The train leaves Interlaken and snakes along the shore of Lake Brienz before climbing over the Brünig Pass on its way to Lucerne. Their necks craned out the windows, tourists wonder at the mighty waterfalls cascading high above the lake and admire the changing colours of the trees clinging to the slopes.

Then all heads turn to the aisle, as Kwasi Nyankson appears singing and dancing with his trolley. He takes time to talk to every passenger as if they were long-lost friends.

"Hello, I'm here. Are you there? I feel good when I see you! Nothing now but something later, right. Good, I'll reserve it for you!" He laughs and dances his way up to the next row of seats. Smiles break out on even the most stoic of faces.

Kwasi has met none of the passengers on this train before, and by the looks he receives in return, they've never seen anything like him. "He's a very lively contrast to the usual seriousness of the Swiss," says passenger, Guido Gutter. "And him speaking the Swiss language puts a funny spin on it."

It takes two hours for the train to reach Lucerne, stopping at nearly every town and village along the way. During this time, Kwasi makes several passes through the carriages, but he doesn't tire.

He sells a few litres of coffee and soft drinks, a couple of small bottles of wine, several croissants and a few sandwiches. He has a way of charming the most hesitant of travellers: "If you want something free, call me, I'll give you sugar and cream. They're always free." He slips a small chocolate into another passenger's hand.

"My aim is to satisfy the people. And the people like to satisfy me. It's give and take. What you sow you reap. Hallelujah." Kwasi ends the sentence as he often does with an infectious laugh.

Talking to Kwasi about his work, it becomes clear there's method to his madness. He's a devout Christian and, although he doesn't preach to passengers, he tries to lead by example.

"To go to the people I need a key to open them up. My key is my love. Nobody will say 'go away with your goodness'. Everybody wants goodness so I come in with my goodness," he explains.

He tells the story of a man he didn't know who approached him on a train to Geneva to thank him. "He was very happy. He said 'thank you very much. I had a big problem with my wife. But you entered into our carriage and my wife was suddenly so happy and excited that she started to talk to me again. I couldn't believe that could happen. From that day on, we haven't had a problem. And I've been looking for you ever since to say thank you. Thank you very much'."

Kwasi has a wealth of such stories. When growing up in Ghana, he had always wanted to be a pilot but never achieved that goal. But now, in his spiritual quest, he compares his job as train steward to that of pilot because he feels he's taking people to God.

He calls himself a foreigner and jokes about his skin colour even though he's a naturalised Swiss citizen. He immigrated to the country about six years ago after falling in love and marrying a Swiss woman.

In some ways, he's also on a mission fighting against racial discrimination. "If I appear being myself, it's a way of saying to people: 'Here I am. What do you know about blacks? Maybe you met a negative one. I'm the positive one. So judge for yourself'."

It's starts to rain as the train pulls into Lucerne. Many of the passengers are smiling as they get off the train despite the weather, and look back to wave goodbye to Kwasi.

"There are different types of stewards. He's very special, always dancing and laughing," says conductor, Madeleine Aerni. "He jokes with the passengers. There aren't many like him that I know."

The Swiss are masters of the understatement.

by Dale Bechtel

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