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Week 7: Close to home

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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 what is going (not so) well about living together.

*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: So, our three months living together is well advanced. What is difficult and what is easy? I have come to the conclusion that what is difficult depends 100% on your own character. It cannot be measured objectively. Before starting this journey with Ali I expected sharing my apartment would be difficult. How? Wel uhm… Frankly,I had no idea what surrendering privacy would entail. Getting out of bed and having to get dressed before entering the living room? Picking up his towels and dirty socks? Looking forward to that piece of chocolate that he just ate? Having to listen to his music?

Ali: Assuming always makes things more difficult, but doing makes everything easier. What if they don’t like me the way I am? What if they become irritated by my long phone calls, my loud laughter? All of those assumptions bothered me before I moved in with Robert. 

Will he be surprised by my beliefs? Will I be judged for them? Will my opposing viewpoints make it difficult for me to live with him? Those kinds of difficulties crossed my mind before living with Robert. I thought it would be difficult for someone to be super patient with me with all my questions and sometimes forgetting myself and talking about everything with him. Luckily for me, Robert is a very patient person.

But now that I’ve been living with him for a couple of months, I’m not sure if I can write about difficulties because there aren’t any.

It’s easy to love them, easy to talk to him, easy to open my heart to him, easy to talk about whatever I want without worrying about whether he’ll judge me, easy to laugh and cry in front of him. It was difficult for me to accept help, but I’ve changed that I can ask for help and advice as well.

It’s easy to live with Ollie (the dog), it’s easy to eat healthier, it’s easy to plan ahead, and even reserve a dinner at a restaurant a month in advance. 

Robert: I can now conclude that none of the things I mentioned are complicated. Ali is about as organized as me. He is open and shares his doubts, his joy, his sadness. He gives me his confidence and is (therefore) able to set his boundaries (‘please let me pay for dinner, except for your beer’). He makes sure there is a steady supply of cookies. 

Ali: Easy or difficult is a psychological phenomenon. I believe we can make the most difficult situation the easiest and vice versa. But if I had to pick one thing that made our stay super easy and stress-free, it would be transparency and openness. Robert is so open and transparent that he is super honest with me, and I’m trying my best to be as open and honest as he is.

Robert: What sometimes makes it difficult is the emotional part of us living together. Getting to know Ali as an ambitious and smart man, with a good sense of humour and being part of an international network of friendships also means feeling the absence of his loved ones, the bad luck of being born in a war torn country instead of one in which cancelling summer festivals is a major issue. It makes me realize how complicated it is living in two worlds at the same time (‘no I do not want an arranged marriage… but where do I find her?’). So, for those who consider becoming a host family for a refugee I have the following warning: Careful! Friendship ahead!

Next time on ‘Close to Home’… what is the housing situation like for Ali? How easy or difficult is it to find a home?