(A look into the life of Rafiq A. Tschannen – Associate Chief Editor, The Muslim Times) – on to Switzerland and Antigua and Barbuda).
Well, after this most strange transfer I finally reached Zurich and took up my position
as head of finance and administration of the Zurich branch of Panalpina World
Transport Ltd. My predecessor had postponed his retirement a bit until I was free of
my Nigeria duties. Compared to Nigeria, work was easy. Well, I do not mean to say
that the work in Nigeria was difficult. I had a good team and coped well with all my
duties. What I mean is that in Zurich my predecessor had left the department in
excellent shape. I had one staff for accounts receivable, one staff for accounts
payable, an apprentice and another general accounts staff. In Nigeria, my accounts
staff was comprised of a couple of dozen employees and thus it took more time to
organize them all. In Zurich, my work was usually done by lunch time and I had to
pass the time in the afternoon somehow. We had a canteen in the office, where we
could order lunch and where we had coffee breaks. Of course, the Swiss croissants
were highly appreciated. There were a few things in Africa which we missed in those
days. So, we appreciated them even more when we came back home.
Coming from abroad after a long time, led to other experiences as well, besides
enjoying the croissants… I had been driving a car since Pakistan. Let’s say altogether
2 years in Pakistan, 3 in Afghanistan, 1 in Ghana and 7 in Nigeria: A total driving
experience of 13 years. I admit, I never had driving lessons, nor did I ever pass a
driving test, but I did drive without an accident for more than 13 years. When I
reached Switzerland, I bought a large Peugeot 504 family car and drove it nicely
around town until, all of a sudden, steam came out of the front of the car. I stopped
the car and opened the engine cover. I did not really know what to look for, because
all these past 13 years I either had a driver of my own or at least a driver in the office
who would look after the needs of my car. Now I was here with the open engine
cover and steam coming out. A Swiss lady passed, just glanced at my car and said
that I needed to fill the water… water? I thought cars needed petrol?! Ah, we never
stop learning! I was equally confused when I stopped at a petrol station and saw
other cars coming and going while I was still waiting at the petrol pump. I think it
was my son who finally pointed out that this seemed to be a self-service station. Ah,
what a life! We even had to get out and put petrol into our cars ourselves! But, of
course, one gets used to all kinds of things…
On the home front, I had bought a house in Uitikon-Waldegg near Zurich. It was in
an excellent location. We had to wait until it was constructed before we could move
in. In the meantime, we lived in Zurich on the Zurichberg, near the FIFA office in a
furnished apartment on the ground floor of a nice old house. My new house was
somewhat unusual with many stairs since it was on a hill. Then again, in Schwanden
we had many stairs too. Here the house was such that one side was on one floor, then
half a staircase down was the other floor. Starting from the top. There were two
rooms at the top. We used one as family and TV room. Here we had no furniture but
just mattresses on the floor. The second room was a guest room with an attached
From Uitikon-Waldegg there was a bus to Zurich town, the next stop and we were in
the Zurich tram and bus network. Schools were in Uitikon within walking distance.
In the meantime, it was 1980. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community grew a bit as
Pakistani Ahmadis started to try and leave the country due to its persecution of
members of the community. This improved the social life for my wife especially.
My dear mother-in-law, who had been staying with my brother-in-law in London for
some time, joined us in Zurich and blessed our house with her presence. This of
course also made life in Switzerland nicer for my wife. To make friends with the
Swiss is not that easy although we got along nicely with our neighbours. My wife
also got along well with my family. But social life is easier with the people of your
own culture I suppose. Her mother being present also was nice and ensured that my
wife was not lonely and bored like in our previous stay in Switzerland.
In spring 1982 Sahibzada Mirza Tahir Ahmad planned a summer holiday with his
family. He was coming to Zurich and we were pleased that he planned to stay in our
house. Then on June 10, 1982 – before he started his planned vacation – Hadhrat
Mirza Nasir Ahmad, the third Khalifatul Masih, died and Mirza Tahir Ahmad was
elected as Khalifatul Masih IV. He decided to stick to his holiday plans and still
came to Switzerland. Now that he was Khalifa, however, he informed us that he had
responsibilities to the whole community and that he had to stay in the Mosque. He
sent another family who was traveling with him to our house instead. However, as
he had previously promised to come to our house, he kindly honored us by accepting
our invitation for lunch. He came with his entourage and we had a nice lunch in the
garden. After lunch, Hazoor took me for a walk in the nearby forest. He was used to
walking fast and I had to stride hard to keep up with him which was not easy since
the path in the forest was leading uphill and was steep. After Zurich, Hazoor went
to Geneva. I was able to accompany him with the ladies of his family in my car.
From Geneva we went to Germany and there we stayed with a friend of Hazoor from
his university days in London. Hazoor had also planned this stay before being elected
Khalifa. As we now arrived with a whole entourage, the hosts vacated their house
completely and put it at our disposal. From Germany we went to Luxembourg.
Hazoor gave me the task of finding a hotel. The first one I chose he considered to be
too expensive and I was relieved to find another one which met with his approval.
The final stop for me was The Hague, where I ‘handed over’ Hazoor and his
entourage to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of the Netherlands. I then drove
back to Switzerland to collect my family. We then travelled to Spain. Hazoor came
to Spain to perform the opening ceremony of the first mosque to be opened in Spain
after the Spanish inquisition. The mosque is situated near Cordoba, on the highway
from Cordoba to Madrid. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, not having its own
oil wells, relies on personal contributions and consequently land was purchased in a
small village rather than for instance in Cordoba city.
Also present during the opening ceremony of the Mosque was my old
friend Sir Mohammed Zafrullah Khan. He was still fit and healthy, although he was
getting old and his walks were slower than before. I think he was now using a
walking stick. It was to be my last time meeting him. May he rest in peace and may
Allah grant him an excellent place in paradise. We arrived by plane in Marbella,
spent a night there and then drove to Cordoba. After the opening ceremony of the
mosque we also had time to visit the old mosque in Cordoba, where the Spanish put
in a cathedral in the middle. Still the old mosque was very impressive. On the way
back to Marbella we passed Granada to visit the Alhambra palace. One thing one
has to appreciate is that even though the inquisitors of Spain hated everything
Islamic or Arabic, they could not fail to be impressed by the Mosque in Cordoba and
the Alhambra Palace in Granada and did not destroy them, thus giving us the
pleasure to still keep visiting these great examples of Arabic and Islamic
I am sure you, the reader, can guess by now what I did next… Even though I had an
excellent house in the best residential area of Zurich, in a municipality which had
lower taxes than in town and I had a very good job in town with a sufficient salary,
I started feeling restless again… I saw an advertisement for vacations in the Jolly
Beach Resort, Antigua in the Caribbean. Well, I was not the type of person wanting
to go on vacation to the Caribbean, but living there? Why not?! So, I wrote to the
owner of the Jolly Beach Resort, Dr. Erhart, asking him for advice on how to find a
job in the Caribbean. I told him that I was qualified as director of finance and
administration. He phoned me and asked me to come to see him in Lichtenstein. His
accountant in the Jolly Beach Resort had gone on vacation and failed to return. So,
he offered me the job.
Before I accepted his job offer, I had a dream: “I was driving a bus. My passengers
were Queen Elisabeth of Great Britain and her husband Prince Phillip. The rest of
the bus was empty. I drove into town, but then drove out of town again towards a
forest. There I stopped the bus and Her Majesty asked me: “Why are we stopping?
Where are we going?” I answered: “I do not know. I am waiting for directions.” The
dream was a bit strange and I was not sure what it meant. I phoned Hadhrat
Khalifatul Masih IV. to ask him whether I should accept the job offer for Antigua.
He asked me: “What does the Queen have to do with Antigua.” I said that she was
Queen of Antigua just like she was Queen of Canada and Australia. After a brief
hesitation Hazoor answered: “Yes, you may accept it.” And so, I did. My dear
mother-in-law went back to London to stay again with my brother-in-law. Our son
Mahmud went to boarding school in Switzerland to finish his high school. And the
rest of my family, my wife Nilofar, Aischa and Harun, followed me to Antigua (a
bit reluctantly I think).
Please let me take this opportunity to draw your attention a bit more to the
personality of Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV., because I feel that
knowing him, like Sir Mohammed Zafrullah Khan before him, had a big effect on
forming me. Well, of course I should have taken much more of their excellent
examples, but anyway, I was fortunate to know them. I recommend that, to get to
know this great personality a bit more, you may have a look at the book: “A Man of
God”, the biography of Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad:
The part of this book that struck me the most, was the story of Hazoor’s escape from
Pakistan to London in 1984. Especially worth mentioning is the episode where the
late General Zia ul Haq wanted to take steps against Hazoor and have him arrested
and probably killed and the first to know about it were the Americans. Instead of
warning Hazoor however, a guy from the US Embassy, probably from the CIA, tried
to find out what the reaction would be, if Zia would do … this and that… (without
specifying what they knew already). When Hazoor went to Islamabad to see what
was going on, it was the Chinese Ambassador as well as the French Ambassador
who warned him, not the American one.
To conclude, my stay in Switzerland was actually quite successful. My family settled
down well in Zurich. Unfortunately, I was just simply bored. May my family forgive
me for the trouble I usually cause due to my restlessness and thus with my decision
to uproot them once again.
Before starting my work in Antigua, Dr. Erhart, took me to Majorca, to see his Hotel
Empire there. He owned 12 hotels. On the Sunday I flew to Majorca with him. He
had 3000 guests flying there on his own charter flights and staying in his own hotels.
He had, in fact, invented a unique system of holiday travel. As he booked only for
arrivals and departures on Sundays, the guests could not only book the hotel that
they wanted to come to but even the room number. He therefore had a lot of
repeat-guests who year after year, or even more than once a year, would come
to his hotels and stay in the same room again and again. His fortune in 1983,
when I joined him, was estimated at 300 million Swiss Francs, all ‘self-made’.
The way he went about
it, can be read in his auto-biography: “Wunder dauern Etwas laenger” (Miracles take
a bit longer). In short: He went to Majorca before it was ‘discovered’ as a tourist
paradise. It can be said that he invented the ‘package holiday’. He walked around
and when he saw a nice beach he went to the owner. He told him that he will take
over the beach and build a hotel there and in compensation will give him the income 5
of one or two floors of the hotel for eternity. Well, the owner of the beach in
those days earned nothing so a perpetual income sounded good and all twelve beach
And now for the hotel construction… He told the contractors that he would pay them
with ‘bills-of-exchange’ dated six months later. Since they wanted the business, they
agreed. When the time came to pay the bills, Dr. Erhart protested so that he could
delay payment even further. Initially this got him into trouble with the banks and
they started interfering with him in a big way. Dr.Erhart was not perturbed. To solve
this problem, he invented the junk bonds. He issued bonds in Switzerland at a fixed
interest rate. As an additional bonus, he offered discounts on his hotel vacations in
Majorca. The bonds sold like hot cakes and he was able to replace all the bank
liabilities (and bounced bills-of-exchange) in no time. However, he forgot a small
detail: He offered the interest payment ‘tax free’. In Switzerland there is a
withholding tax on interest, which Dr. Erhart forgot about. He solved this problem
right away too however, by shifting his residence to Lichtenstein (where there is no
such thing as a withholding tax). Gradually he repaid all the loans. By the time I met
him, he had 12 hotels in Majorca and the one in Antigua without any mortgages
At first the Antigua operation did not quite work out as planned, which was to make
Antigua a second hub just like Majorca, fed by his charter flights. In fact, the way
he made his fortune was not only by hotel revenues, but by the whole package of
combined tour operations. The Jolly Beach Resort was at first run by his son.
However, by the date of my arrival the son had died of a brain tumor and a new
general manager was recruited. My office overlooked the swimming pool, and I had
a view of the beach behind it. At first, I placed my desk in a way so that I could enjoy
the nice view. I soon realized that I could not concentrate on my work and
consequently I had to turn my desk around again. I now had to turn my head if I
wanted to relax with the nice view. When I arrived at Jolly Beach, I found a 465
room resort hotel without any functioning accounts system. I started from scratch
and the first balance sheet I made showed a loss of one million USD. Dr. Erhart’s
wife commented: “I thought so”! The son had asked daddy from time-to-time for
some money, explaining that he was improving this and that and completing this and
that. He may have done that, but one million dollars or so was also to cover the
operational loss. From a professional point of view, it was actually quite interesting
to start from scratch. Debit is debit and credit is credit, whether accounts of a trading
company, a transport company or a hotel. I was able to give the owner the
information that he wanted and needed. I was hoping that Dr Erhart appreciated my
contribution. The new general manager decided that while they would try to send
him guests from Lichtenstein, he would also fill the hotel with visitors from the USA
and Canada, which he did.
The ‘Majorca method’ of feeding the hotel with guests from Switzerland did
not work in Antigua. The guests who could afford the flights to the Caribbean were
different than the ones who were going to Majorca. They could afford to go to the
Caribbean this year and to the Seychelles the next year. Consequently, the hotel
could not be filled only from Switzerland.
To prepare the hotel for the main season, which was from December to April, when
it was cold in the USA, Canada and Europe, I needed a small amount of money. I
asked Dr. Erhart to sign a piece of paper which would permit me to get an overdraft
of 250’000 dollars at our local bank. WOW! It seemed I put my hand in a bee’s nest!
Dr. Erhart sent me a two-page letter from Vaduz, Lichtenstein, which said: “Never
again do I want to be on the mercy of banks”! He sent me the money in cash
instead… We were well prepared for the season. On Christmas the hotel was full.
Dr. Erhart was happy. He had never seen the hotel full to its capacity so far.
On the personal side: Well, my arrival showed that I was, well, just arriving. My
promised housing accommodation was not ready. We were put in a hotel room while
the maintenance officer ‘polished’ up a Caribbean style wooden house for us. It was
actually very cosy: two bedrooms, a bathroom, living room and a kitchen. Nothing
compared to our house in Switzerland, but just a few steps from the beach. Every
morning before breakfast and before my morning shower, I went for a swim.
Weekends in Antigua were nice. I would ask my family whether they would like to
go to an empty beach (there are 365 beaches in Antigua) and have our private BBQ
there, or would they like to go to a more populated beach, where we might listen to
the local’s playing their loud music. Or should we invite some friends here or there.
When at home, I would sometimes just walk along one beach, then at the end of the
beach I would swim around the hill to the next beach (the rocks would be a bit rough
usually around the hills) and then walk along the next beach … and on and on. The
seaside is always interesting because it is alive. Sometimes I would meet baby sharks
(the big ones did not come so close to the beach) or other interesting creatures. When
we stayed at ‘our beach’, I would try a little diving (if the diving teacher had a spare
free place for me) or wind surfing. I was not really all that good at wind surfing, but
I managed a bit anyway. The owner (who came every few weeks or so) used to put
out fishing nets in the evening and pull them in in the morning around 6 am. He was
always grateful if someone came to his help. If he did not have any volunteers, he
had to take his wife with him. She was not all that keen to go, but she had to.
Anyway, sometimes I did go with him and helped him pull in the nets. It was
interesting. At one time he caught a turtle. As it was an endangered species, he was
supposed to let it go, but he declared that it was his now and we had turtle soup for
dinner. Another time he caught a hammer shark. That time his wife was with him.
When she saw the hammer shark, she refused to help in pulling it in. Dr. Erhart had
to drop her off and get some stronger help. We were invited for lunch. That hammer
shark was old and a bit tough. At other times, when he caught baby sharks, those 7
were much tastier. He used to say: “You see, I do not spend any money. I catch my
own lunch and dinner every day I am in Antigua. The only thing I need to purchase
is a little rice and/or potatoes.” The owner used to stay about 5 months a year in
Lichtenstein, 5 months a year in Spain and 2 months in Antigua. In this way he could
say to the Liechtensteiners and the Spaniards that he was staying there less than 6
months a year and therefore was not liable to tax. Antigua did not have any personal
tax. He was definitely a clever guy.
My children went to school in town. Aischa went to the ‘Christ the King High
School’ and Harun to a Kindergarten run by the sister of a British Lord. The wife of
the general manager took them to school. The problem was that most days she was
late. Consequently, I suggested to my boss, the general manager that we should
purchase a car and hire a driver. Of course, his duties would not only be the dropping
and collecting of the children. There were other chores to do, going to the post office
and doing some shopping in town. The ex-girlfriend of Dr.Erhart’s son (who died)
was acting as private secretary to the general manager. She was also ‘officially’ the
owner’s spy. She needed to obtain the owner’s approval for the purchase. At first,
she was reluctant, but finally she agreed, stating that of course his work was to have
priority over the children’s school trip.
In my accounts department I had the head of the staff union. No one in the past really
managed him well. They were scared to offend him. They did not even give him any
work. When I arrived, the guy told me the story of one front office manager. He told
the phone operator, who was standing outside her office chatting with a friend, to go
and answer the phone. When she did not act quickly, he put his hand on her shoulder.
She reported it to the union guy, who reported it to the labour minister, who arranged
for the deportation of the front office manager without listening to his side of the
story. I gave him work and praised him for his work and in this way got good
relations with him. Later he went to the USA on holiday and did not return.
As I mentioned above, I made the first year’s balance sheet with a one-million-dollar
loss, the second one broke even with a profit of about 100’000 dollars and the third
one showed a profit of one million dollars. You would have thought that the owner
should be happy. Well, his son had died here, and he was at the time not sure what
he should do with the hotel. If you have 300 + million I suppose one million was
hardly worth the trouble. At one time he wanted to sell the hotel. Now that it showed
a satisfactory balance sheet, it would be possible. So, he sent me a notice of
termination of services in case the sale to Club Med went through. Stupid as I was,
I pointed out to him that a notice with a condition was not legal. Consequently, he
gave me a letter of termination without a condition. The hotel was never sold.
Apparently one reason behind my termination was that I had wanted to help an
Ahmadi-Muslim from Germany to apply to a job in our Hotel Store. To send his CV,8
he used a telex with the telex address: ‘Alfatah’. Alfatah being also the name of
the Palestinian hijackers of those days our ‘spy’, the personal secretary of the general
manager and owner, informed the owner that I seemed to be ‘dangerous’. Remember
my dream? When I met Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV again, he pointed out to me
that he knew my position would not last, because my dream showed that I drove into
town (security) but also out again. However, I thought, Hazoor continued: “I know
Rafiq will love that place and Rafiq always finds a good job again afterwards.” Thus,
as it was really ‘pre-determined’ for me not to remain in Antigua, I suppose I should
not be too annoyed with myself nor with those who gave me notice in such a strange
and silly way.
Jolly Beach Resort greatly expanded after my departure. Dr. Erhart had purchased
all the land around it. A giant swamp was turned into a marina. Real estate was
constructed around it, both economical one and luxurious one. You can get a house
from anything between 200’000 US dollars and four million US dollars.
For more information about this definitely beautiful location see:
But heaven is in the next world, Inshallah (God Willing).
What else do I remember regarding Antigua? Well, there was the cats incident…
The dining area in the resort hotel was near the beach in the open. Quite a few cats
noticed that some guests are friendly and feed them. Therefore, they waited patiently
under the tables for food to be dropped to them. Some guests went a bit too far. They
would go back to the buffet and collect nice expensive steaks just to cut them up and
feed them to the cats. One night, while sitting at the bar (probably with a ginger ale
or an orange juice), the general manager and some other staff were considering what
to do about this challenge. They decided to round up the cats. Not knowing what to
do further they put them into a broom cabinet. By the time they reached that far, they
were tired and decided to go to sleep and see about what to do further in the morning.
When in the morning the maid opened the broom cabinet, she was overrun by about
50 cats seeking their freedom! So, the exercise had to be repeated. The next time
they collected all the cats they put them in a van, drove to the other side of the island
and dropped them off at another beach resort. The cats were ordered to kindly pester
the competition in the future. Well, probably they were back home by next day.
From the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at’s point of view: I was the first member of the
Jama’at in Antigua and Barbuda. I distributed some Qur’ans to the few libraries. I
wrote letters to members of parliament of Pakistan. Due to my efforts the Head of
the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community kindly nominated me as ‘Honorary