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Week 15: 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, Ali is away travelling in Istanbul. What is it like being away from each other?

*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: No ‘salaam aleikum’ these days as a greeting when Ali or I come home from work. Ali went on a holiday and is abroad for almost two weeks. It’s funny how fast I have gotten used to his presence. It’s not that we spend hours in a row together. We have dinner a couple of times a week, or tea or coffee. Ali had picked up the habit to bring fresh flowers once a week and now I have to do that myself. 

Ali: For most people, vacation means relaxing on the beach or getting as far away from the noise as possible by climbing a mountain, meditating, or booking a resort and reading a book by the pool. That’s fantastic, but not for me. With Christmas approaching, most of my friends are returning home to spend time with their families. Unfortunately, I am unable to see my family at this time. So Istanbul was one of my choices to go to remind myself of some of the culture, food, and the very busy life I used to have.

Robert: I miss him these days. At the same time I enjoy being alone. No matter how good we have it, after running a joint household for five months being on my own again is nice. Why exactly is that? Well, probably because having a guest is always something you are aware of, no matter how nice a person Ali is. You want to be social, say hello, ask how things are. But sometimes you just want to be silent and mind your own business. That has nothing to do with Ali and everything with me. Ali must have the same feeling, but so much stronger.

In the end it is always my place, while he’s just a guest. I may feel the need to act socially, but for him this feeling must be even stronger: he is a guest and a guest should behave. Soon Ali will have his own place and leave mine. I will pick up my regular life and he can finally start to build his. I cannot imagine how he must look forward to that!

Ali: I’m lost in Istanbul’s beauty, waking up to Azzan (calling for prayers) walking up the hill in a narrow street with paving stones. Praying in an ancient mosque. The smell of all the spices took me back to old Sana’a and the market in my home country. The small restaurant with an old woman sitting on the ground and cooking, the friendly conversation with the salespeople in the market. And, like me, the difficult part was being divided between two continents.

And that feeling I can’t describe when I was divided between two continents,  the feeling of being so far yet too close, living in Europe but my soul still in Asia. I miss home, and this time home was Broek in Waterland.