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 their ‘proeflogeerweekend,’ a short stay to see what it would be like staying together making the big choice to continue with the hosting for three months.
*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: I’ve been in The Netherlands for 18 months and I have many questions, I don’t speak Dutch and I don’t know the cultural aspects, which is why I’ve been thinking of reaching Takecarebnb to live with a Dutch family where I will learn the Dutch language and the culture. I was hesitant because I was worried they wouldn’t like me. How about I stop assuming and start experimenting.
Robert: To get an idea of what it would be like to be housemates for three months Ali and I were going to live together for two days. At our first introductory meeting we discussed potentially sensitive subjects. Religion, alcohol, homosexuality, money. And Ollie. Ollie is my problem child. She has a lot of energy, she doesn’t like men, she jumps. And she barks. Ali did not have any experience with pets, but he didn’t mind living in a house with one. So, on the second day of his stay I texted: ‘On my way with Ollie. Don’t pay attention to her and I’ll let her get used to you’. His answer: ?.
Ali: It’s the day I’ll spend my first night at Robert’s house. After receiving a message the night before informing me that he’s expecting me and he’ll be preparing dinner, Robert said: “Make yourself home.” I get the impression he’s delighted and I’m truly welcomed. We’ve started talking while he’s cooking, about how our day was and we talked more about our families. I could feel he’s no stranger to me. I could see how much he cares. We talked about a wide range of subjects, ranging from politics to personal matters. As we start eating the most scrumptious Italian pasta. We continued our discussion and made plans for the next day. I woke up at 04:30. It’s the first time I’ve woken up that early in a long time.
I went to explore the village, and let me tell you, it’s absolutely stunning, with the river and canals, the field, the houses, the fresh air, and everything else. In the evening, I went home before Robert and tried to cook, which was a disaster. While I was cooking, I received a message from Robert telling me to ignore Ollie and that she would not harm me. I was like hmmm, why would his girlfriend harm me anyway? Little did I know Ollie was his big brave brown dog. I’ve never lived with a dog before so It was another discomfort challenge. She reached home and our first meeting wasn’t bad. She didn’t bark and I fed her some treats, but I was scared and she would follow me everywhere. Robert told me dogs are just like children and I just have to ignore her if I’m not comfortable around her.
Robert: It went fairly well. Ali gave her a cookie and during diner Ollie lay at our feet under the table. After dinner, while we were washing the dishes, Ollie passed us, passed her water bowl and went into the bathroom. A familiar – for me – sound was to be heard. Slurpslurpslurp. Ollie lessened her thirst. By drinking from the toilet. Like she always did when I forgot to close the lid. Ali frowned. I shrugged my shoulders, partly in excuse, partly in acceptance. Ali: ‘So she drinks from the toilet and later she licks my hand…. Uhm…I don’t know Robert.’ Suddenly I realised thís was what could be surprising during Ali’s stay. Not ‘losing my privacy’ or other abstract issues. No. It would probably be those small everyday experiences. Like Ollie drinking from the toilet. Or Ali’s surprise seeing my passport in an unlocked kitchen drawer (‘Is that where you keep a passport?!’). I felt careless. And lucky I could be so relaxed about my passport. Just like it’s not big issues like ‘being a responsible citizen’ or ‘caring about fellow human beings.‘ No, it’s small things like suggestions for a job interview. Or talking casually about our brothers and sisters.
Ali: We started eating and talking about the differences between the corrupted policies I know and the policies in the Netherlands. Ollie was under the dining table between my legs, and I’m terrified. Robert saw how terrified I was, so he moved Ollie’s bed to his room. This made me feel cared for once again.
Robert: At the end of the two day period Ali and I shook hands, which highlighted that we had a heart-warming experience. And that we both were confident we would have a wonderful and relaxed three months together. Three months during which I will make extra sure that the toilet lid remains closed.
Next time on ‘Close to Home’… Robert explains why ‘check pulse’ is not an insult and just as Ali loses patience, he gets emails from three top companies.