“It’s a beautiful country with very hospitable people,” I say when we sit down for coffee and a piece of apple pie at the Leidse Lente. “That may well be,” Ahmad says, “but I've never actually been there myself.” My face turns into a question mark and he laughs.
“I have had a Palestinian passport my whole life, but it doesn’t allow me to go to Palestine. Nor to Israel by the way. This is the reality of many of us born outside the occupied territories. When my parents were kids, they were part of the exodus of 1948 from areas that nowadays are no longer part of our territory. My father's family fled to Iraq and my mother's family went to Syria.”
“I was born in Saudi Arabia myself. As children of Palestinian refugees, we did not receive a passport from that country. This way, many people are stuck between two stools. I grew up with a strong sense of love for our true homeland. But I only know it from my grandmother's stories.”
“The last place I lived was Dubai. I worked for the most luxurious hotel in the world in the sales department of the convention center. It was a great job, but I lost it and couldn't continue there. In Dubai there is a lot of discrimination against people like me. Being stateless, I had nowhere to go. Fortunately, I did get a visa for the Netherlands. I was granted asylum here last year.”
“My mother was allowed to visit me, so now we live five front doors from each other in the same row of houses in Sassenheim. Every morning we drink coffee and later in the day we eat together. Her health is fragile, so I help her with all the medical check-ups. Women from the Middle East are often less healthy, because they are not allowed to do all kinds of things, such as exercising or driving a car.”
“The Netherlands offers me many opportunities and I have endless plans and dreams. Do I want to stay in the hotel business? Or would I rather work as a model and actor? I do not know yet. The most important thing I'm doing right now is learning Dutch. I spend many hours on this couch with this book. Little by little I feel more Dutch – despite this complicated language of yours,” he chuckles. “In four years, I can apply for a passport. I will be proud to formally call myself Dutch. And then maybe one day I can travel to Palestine as a tourist.”