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Week 17: 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.

*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: Suitcases in the hall. Ali is moving out. His final departure will be next week but the preparations have started. Appointments at the municipality, forms being filled in and copied. I notice Ali is distracted, forgetting his keys twice. This is a huge change for him, finally moving to his own place after having lived in about 10 places in the last two years. 

Ali: Furniture hunting and decorating is not my forte. I usually live in a furnished flat or semi-furnished apartment, and I couldn’t care less about furniture or decoration as long as my room is painted pink! Yes, pink, just like my pinky world.

My pink room is ready to move in, but the furniture has yet to arrive. I have to wait for two weeks for the carpet and six weeks for the bed! I never expected furniture to take so long to arrive. I still live at Robert’s place (home), and it feels strange that I now have a home and that I still stay here. I go to my place from time to time to see if I can meet any of my neighbors but I end up just talking to the walls.

Robert: I admire Ali for his ability to adapt to these new circumstances. He is still doing his job, scoring results that are high enough to help his underperforming colleagues out by sharing his clients with them. In the meantime he is rounding up his friends for a weekend of painting, selecting the right colours, buying the paint and surfing the internet at night for all kinds of furniture, carpets, and washing machines. 

Ali: My first impression of my new neighborhood is that it is too diverse. I see many nationalities but none of them are Dutch. As I walk up to my flat, I notice different cultures. I haven’t met them yet but I can tell the first floor is Moroccan because of the curtains and white lights, the second floor is Eritrean because of the smell of their pancake breakfast, the third floor Indians because of the decoration on the door. The opposite door I have yet to discover but they have a dog and I hope she is as friendly as Ollie. 

Now I’m just waiting for the floor to be fixed and some furniture to arrive so I can move in, and I can’t wait to start the new chapter.

 Robert: The effect of all this is that our contact had become less frequent. Is that just a result of Ali being busy? Or are we moving towards a new stage in our relationship by subtly creating distance? One in which we stay in frequent contact but as friends instead of roommates? Am I doing enough to help him? Or should I just let go, be there when Ali asks for my advice and leave it at that?

Well, what I will do is organize a farewell party for him and start thinking about the elements of my speech.