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.
Robert: Having a guest this summer makes me reflect on some of my habits, on elements of my culture or my way of life. Well, it does not only make me reflect, it often makes me aware of those habits in the first place. I take so much for granted, I often do not realize that what I consider to be normal can be really different in another country. In a country like Yemen.
Ali: As a child, I dreamed of traveling the world to the point where the world wasn’t enough for me, so I wanted to visit other planets, I wanted to be an astronaut, and nothing was going to stop me when I was 5 years old. I planned which planets I would visit and even for how long, but I always wanted to settle down on earth because it’s green and beautiful. Everything was planned, but I had no idea traveling to a neighboring country would be such a hassle. Yes, I can’t cross borders without a visa, and I can’t even travel safely to the other side of the country.
Robert: When I showed my guest-for-the-summer Ali around after he had arrived a couple of months ago I opened up that kitchen drawer with miscellaneous items like paper clips, batteries, pens, bandaids, rubber bands etcetera (don’t we all have a drawer like that…?). I had already closed it when Ali asked me to open it up again. ‘Is that your passport?’, he asked. Yes it was. He could hardly believe that I kept that document in an unlocked kitchen drawer.
Ali: As a child, I dreamed of traveling the world to the point where the world wasn’t enough for me, so I wanted to visit other planets, I wanted to be an astronaut, and nothing was going to stop me when I was 5 years old. I planned which planets I would visit and even for how long, but I always wanted to settle down on earth because it’s green and beautiful.
Ali (cont.): Everything was planned, but I had no idea traveling to a neighbouring country would be such a hassle. Yes, I can’t cross borders without a visa, and I can’t even travel safely to the other side of the country.
Robert: A Dutch passport gives access to 187 countries and our country ranks 5th. Ali’s Yemeni passport gives access to only 33 countries and ranks 112th. For us Dutch losing our passport has no other consequences than to report the loss to the police and request a new one at city hall. Two weeks later we can again travel to those 187 countries. Why keep it in a safe or in a hidden place instead of the kitchen drawer?
Next Christmas I will travel to the US with my children to visit my brother and his family. I already booked the plane tickets and the tickets for a Chicago Bulls basketball game. Somewhere in the coming weeks I will pay €29,95 and get my visa. There is no doubt in my mind that it will be granted. My Dutch nationality and my Dutch passport do the magic. Ali’s experience when applying for a US visa, necessary for him to be able to visit a conference that is important for his job, is quite different.
Ali: My company invited me to attend a very important conference in the United States from the 10th to the 13th of January, and guess what, my birthday is also on the 13th of January. It’s meant to be so I can check off one more of my bucket list visiting the USA on my 30th birthday.
All of my colleagues are unconcerned about getting visas because they are all eligible for e visas, which they will apply for a few days before their trip. On the other hand, despite the fact that my trip is being sponsored by my company and I have all of the necessary documents to prove that I’m invited and will return, I have to fill out a very long application stating that I’m not a terrorist because my name is Ali and I could be a terrorist and what kind of stupid terrorist will tell you in the application that he is one. However I filled up the application, and now it’s time to make an appointment for an interview. Another obstacle is that the first available appointment is at the end of February and so even in October trying to get my visa for January does not give me enough time. I am not sad but disappointed.
I’m glad I’m in the Netherlands now. For some a passport is just a piece of paper and for some, it’s a dream.