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Week 6: Close to home

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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 talk about the differences in holidays and celebrations.

*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, it’s 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.

Ali: Holidays are highly valued in the Netherlands, where people place a higher value on experiences rather than material possessions. Most people go on vacations that they have planned them for a long time because they value memories, and as Avici says, “When I die, I want to be remembered for the life I lived, not the money I made.

Robert: By hosting a guest with a completely different background, I am introduced to celebrations other than Christmas and anniversaries. ‘Eid al Adha’ for example, the festival of the sacrifice. I didn’t know it honors the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. Before Abraham could sacrifice his son, however, God provided a lamb to sacrifice instead. And I realized it is the same story as the biblical one I know as Abraham and Isaac. So much for all these so-called cultural differences… Ali fasted for a day, went to visit a friend to celebrate and returned in good spirits with a big box of homemade cookies. 

Ali: It’s been 11 years since I celebrated Eid with my family in Yemen, and I’m starting to forget what it’s like to celebrate it. My friends and I do our best to make it feel like home, we gather to pray Eid together and see the joy in the eyes of the children, and that makes it Eid for us.

Robert: No friends were present at Ali’s PhD ceremony a week later. It was the formal end of a decade-long study and when the video meeting ended there was no family present. No flowers, no hugging. Those must be the moments that living in a foreign country is hard. How great it was to be on Dam Square, another week later, where Ali celebrated a wedding of a fellow Yemeni, with more than 30 of his countrymen present. ‘I have never seen so many Yemenis together outside of Yemen’, one of them said joyfully. There was singing, there was dancing. Bystanders smiled. A police officer asked to see the dagger that some of the men wore as part of their traditional clothing. No danger. Just modest and civilized fun. Quite a contrast to the group of young women just beyond, one of them dressed like a nun, celebrating a bachelor party. They looked foolish. And… imagine a group of 30 Dutch men celebrating a wedding. How long would it take for them to send an envoy to the nearest distillery or supermarket for beer and wine? No alcohol for this group of young men. In a way I was proud of them. Although I really missed the women. They had a party of their own.

Ali: Being a part of the new family has given me Dutch holiday vibes, such as going on a boat trip with Robert, his kids, his colleagues, and their families, or going to the Kroller Muller museum, or even giving me a tour of the city of Amsterdam. I have visited Amsterdam many times but Robert took me to places I had never been to and told me fascinating stories about the buildings, the golden age of The Netherlands and the dark side of it as well. 

You don’t have to book an expensive 5-star hotel to go on vacation, you can sleep in your tent, and you don’t have to travel very far, you can go to the next village or camp somewhere in the forest. Everyone should take a vacation, everyone needs to recharge and boost their energy and happiness.

Next time on ‘Close to Home’… what are the easy and difficult parts about living together?