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.
*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 have lived in ten different houses and two camps in the last two years, and I have been very fortunate to always have welcoming friends that offer me a roof over my head and company. I’m used to moving around and living in different parts of the country. Rotterdam, Den Haag, Den Bosch, Helmond, Eindhoven, Amsterdam, and Maastricht. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit many places and share stories with many strangers, some of whom have become best friends. I’ve started to forget what it feels like to live alone.
I was on vacation when I received an email from the Gemeente informing me that they had found a suitable house for me. I was overjoyed, and I booked my flight back ahead of schedule so that I wouldn’t miss such an important appointment.
Robert: Ali was euphoric when he called me from his holiday address. Finally the municipality had informed him about his new apartment.
Robert (cont.): The appointment for inspection and handover of the keys was already next week. Three weeks from now he will move out of my place and into his own. I was happy for him. I congratulated him. And the next day I drove by the new address and sent him a video of his new neighbourhood.
Ali: My biggest dream was to settle down. I know it doesn’t sound like a dream, but staying in the same place for an extended period of time is a dream for me. And now I have signed my rental agreement, which has no expiration date and allows me to stay for as long as I want.
Robert: Funny enough his upcoming departure caused some mixed feelings. Yes, for Ali to be able to enter this oh so important phase of building a new life was great news. And after his six months stay at my place – six great months without any complications but twice as long as we planned at the start – it was time for both of us… And still. I also felt a kind of sadness. I realized I would miss him. We have become friends. Our initial relationship may have been one of one person asking for help and the other offering it. But it has developed into a learning experience for both.
Ali: Starting over is a challenge, I have been in much worse situations, and I have never felt this way, happy and sad at the same time. Looking back on this year, it has been nothing but a blessing for me. I have made many friends and met an amazing mentor, I have got my resident permit, a job that I love, my Ph.D., and I now have a house for myself. Yet still, a long way to go.
I’m grateful for all of the opportunities that the Netherlands has given me.