Basketball coach Alaa Al Tarcha has been living in 28-year-old Sarah’s spare room for the past two months. He says they get on very well and he loves the experience of living with a Dutch person. “You are in Dutch culture: you learn what they eat, what they drink, what makes them happy, what makes them sad”. These are all invaluable lessons for someone wanting to assimilate in a new country.
And what does he think of the Dutch? “The Dutch are uncomplicated”, he smiles. “They have no big problems and are comfortable. They have no chains, they are…unlocked people. It is healing to be in an environment like this, after being in an environment of war. Indeed this process of healing is much more difficult, if not impossible in a refugee camp.’’
There are some cultural differences of course, like the relationships between family and friends. Rather then be a point of contention this creates space for learning and sharing. “They have a different vision and perspective of their lives here,” Alaa explains. “For Syrians you are constantly thinking about your family members, for practical reasons as they need financial support. In Syria you live with your families until marriage which makes them more present in your life. Here the structure is different but they have good morals, they are friendly and relaxed.”
Alaa was surprised how big the community that support refugees is. On the 18 June he walked the 40km from Rotterdam to Den Haag for Nacht van de Vluchteling; an event organized in solidarity with the journeys being taken by refugees all across Europe. “I was surprised to see so many Dutch people there, 2500 people attended.”
Alaa himself has a very impressive track record as a basketball coach. He has 12 certificates in basketball and his team in his hometown of Homs was number one for seven years. He coached at the Ministry of Education as well as moving a well-known team from the second division to first. He was recently given the opportunity to coach the Dutch team of Emmeloord but didn’t feel that his Dutch was quite up to scratch yet, and so is now studying hard so he can put his talents to good use.