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Close to home – Introduction

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In ‘Close to home’ Yemeni refugee Ali and host Robert share their experiences living together. There will be weekly posts about the ups and downs, difficulties, highlights and surprises. This week they introduce themselves and describe their first meeting.

*not his real name.

Robert is many things, dad, dog-lover, Director of Takecarebnb, an organisation that matches newcomers to host families. Every day, he convinces Dutch host families to offer temporary places of stays for refugees with a status. Now that his youngest daughter has passed her final exams, its time to put his words into action.

Ali * is a refugee from Yemen with big dreams. He loves poetry, chess and can solve a rubik’s cube in less than a minute. He spent time studying and working in India when it became clear he could not return to Yemen. When travelling to Europe as part of a conference, he visited The Netherlands and knew he wanted to stay.

Robert: “What will it be like to share my bathroom? Will he get out of bed in time and not use my home as a hotel room? These were the kinds of questions I asked myself during the more shaky moments when pondering hosting a guest through Takecarebnb. Sharing my apartment with a refugee for three months. Isn’t that quite a different story than cooking a meal together once a week or teaching Dutch for two hours! I would soon find out that sharing my bathroom would not be something to worry about: there would be more subtle issues. 

I am the director of Takecarebnb, where we match refugees with a permit to stay in our country with Dutch host families. I am an ambassador for our work, sharing stories about how special the experience is, both for the guest and the host: ‘You will learn from each other. You can really make a difference. You will get a new perspective on your own habits and culture.’ And, although no one but myself expects this, I felt the need ‘to practise what I preach’. Would I not be better both as a Takecarebnb representative ánd as a person, if I would open my house for a ‘newcomer’?”

Ali: “Well well well, where should I even begin? I’m a refugee, is that all? No, but that’s what most refugees want is to hide, and I love to face. Yeah, I’m a Yemeni refugee with a big dream. I moved to the Netherlands in late 2019 and have been seeking discomfort, doing what I can’t, and trying to make every minute count. 

Ali: “It was Robert’s idea to start blogging. He’s my host, my guide in the Netherlands, and possibly my mentor, I don’t know yet. I’m currently living with Robert, a hosting Dutch family, and Robert thinks it’s cool to share our story and experience of living together, and I couldn’t agree more.”

Robert: “The first acquaintance, facilitated by Takecarebnb, went well. So last Wednesday I welcomed Ali from Yemen. We had dinner together and got better acquainted. Following the Takecarebnb rules he would at first stay for two nights after which we would both take some time to think and then decide if we would want to start the adventure of a three month stay. It all went well. After dinner we had a good conversation. I cooked the meal, he washed the dishes with a brush he’d never seen before. Quite naturally we went to do our own things after that, typed away on our laptops and went to bed. The next morning we both wanted to take a shower at 7.30. I just stayed in bed a little longer. A bigger test was yet to come: Ali still had to meet Ollie, my – and now his – four-legged housemate. More on that next week.”

Ali: “In this blog, I’m going to take you on the journey that I’m currently on, a new story of seeking discomfort and attempting something new. I’m going to talk about cultural differences and what I consider extraordinary versus what Robert considers ordinary, and vice versa. Sometimes I’ll tell you a funny story, and other times I’ll tell you about a life lesson I learned from Robert. I’m not sure what I’m going to share and I’m not sure what it could be about, but I know I’ll keep writing every week and I’ll definitely have a lot of interesting stories.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live with a stranger from another part of the world who comes from a completely different culture and background, you won’t be surprised to learn that you don’t have much in common. But what might surprise you is what if it doesn’t matter? Whether you are a refugee and think it’s impossible to merge into Dutch society, or a Dutch person who thinks we are just not the same, or maybe you are just curious how two strangers can be friends. I’m sure you will definitely enjoy reading through and most importantly this is a reminder that humanity still exists no matter how hard some bad people try to make us believe otherwise. Together, we can show the world that we are all different but also the same.”

Next time on ‘Close to Home’… You’ll never guess what Robert learns about his dog’s drinking habits, and Ali shares his opinions on Dutch soccer. Stay tuned for next week!