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Week 10: Close to home

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In our blog series ‘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 ways they have fun with one another.

*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.

Robert: Ali and I have been living together for three months now. Yes, we have serious discussions on the impact of the Afghan refugee situation on his well-being. On how his inburgeringscursus is planned during working hours and how inflexible these institutions can be. But a lot of the time we are just having a good time. We even watched a three hour Bollywood movie together (Ali lived and studied in India and explained to me that the story I considered to be an exaggeration actually presents the Indian reality quite accurately). 

Ali: Isn’t it about having fun in everything we do? For me, fun is not when I play, rather, fun is dependent on one’s mindset and skills. Can you imagine someone having a great time and dancing like crazy without the use of alcohol or drugs? What about having fun while solving a difficult math problem? Or do you want to go hiking in the mountains for a few days? Or perhaps having fun while assisting refugees! Robert and I have different ways of having fun, some of which we enjoy doing together, such as going on tours, dinners, and visiting museums. I have the most fun when we exchange cultural differences. “No filter” is how I describe our conversations.

Robert: It is fun to come home and shout salaam aleikum! and being greeted in return with walaikum assalam! We laugh about Ali planning appointments the Dutch way, so at least two weeks ahead instead of spontaneously calling a friend like he used to do. Ali surprises me with his visit to an illegal rave party somewhere under a highway crossover and I enjoy his stories about the way young Dutch people party. 

Ali: Robert’s reaction to all of the songs and dancing in his first Bollywood film was hilarious. Or his shocked expression when I told him my friend had married without ever seeing his wife before the wedding. Robert was at a friend’s wedding and was surprised that more than 50 people could have fun and dance without the use of alcohol; sometimes, fun is always associated with the use of alcohol or some sort of drug. I don’t need them to get high, all I need is good company and good music.

Robert: An unlimited source of fun is the way ‘they’ and ‘we’ deal with love, relationships and marriage. Sometimes we shake our heads in wonder. How can you marry someone without ever having spent a weekend together (me shaking my head)? Why does a woman insist on going home all by herself in the middle of the night instead of being escorted by a male friend (Ali)? It is such a great feeling to laugh out loud and give each other a high five after cracking a joke. Living together under one roof makes it difficult not to become friends. Man, I will miss that guy when he moves out. 

Ali: I have a lot of fun telling stories to Robert and listening to him as well. Believe me when I say that Robert is a fun ambassador! And I have learned how to find fun in the little things. 

Today Robert is not a host but a mentor and best friend.