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Buddies Jos and Benyam

What does a human being need? Love, attention, trust.

That is exactly what Jos gives to Benyam…. He’s there. He listens. He gives advice. He explains things that are so different here in the Netherlands. In fact, they discuss everything. All the important matters of life. No subject is taboo. For example, they talked about euthanasia. About gay marriage being possible in the Netherlands. About music, about politics. About falling in love. How to communicate. How to regulate your emotions. Jos: “Benyam is very honest and shows his feelings. Very beautiful. Benyam is a strong person. He can show vulnerability. Do you know the word vulnerable Benyam?”

Jos retired and wanted to do something for refugees. He ended up at Welkom in Utrecht and started by showing newcomers around the city of Utrecht. Then he was paired with Benyam (from Eritrea) and he likes that very much because of their developing relationship. Their contact is very special and they are both very happy about it. They started as (language) buddies about a year ago. And they still see each other every week. They meet at the library on de Neude or at Plan Einstein. They work on the Dutch language but also just have a lot of fun together. Benyam also came to Jos’ home and he met his girlfriend. They shared a nice meal together.

Benyam also plays theater at Stut Theater. Jos already came to see him twice and was very impressed with his play and shared this on Twitter: “The players were moving with their life stories. A wonderful role for Benyam in the play Mass/Man!” On Dec. 1 also to be seen at the Stadsschouwburg Utrecht.” (www.stut.nl).

In the beginning, it was not so easy. Benyam worked a lot at Il Pozzo restaurant and had a lot on his plate. He was not at all comfortable in his own skin. Benyam: “Sometimes I missed my family to ask what I should do. Jos helped me get a grip on life, he also advised me not to work too much for now and first get confidence in myself. I missed appointments with Jos, but he didn’t stop and he stayed with me! That was very important to me. And he really sees who I am, not just my outside.” Jos: “I’m late sometimes too! But Benyam learns from his mistakes. And I saw that he was not doing well and I understood that. There is so much coming at him here.”

Jos is 73 and Benyam is 25. That actually works very well, too. Jos’ life experience also allows him to teach Benyam things. Like saying no. Benyam really had to learn that. Actually, that is not in his person. He has to learn to deal with the two cultures that now belong to him. The Eritrean culture remains part of him and so does that community and everything that goes with it. But he is also becoming Dutch and that includes other things. And he is learning to deal with that better and better. And vice versa, Jos learns things from Benyam. About hospitality, the collective versus the individual, Eritrean music, Eritrean cuisine, and the political situation in Eritrea. Jos: “Benyam is really a philosopher in the making. He thinks about things a lot and has an interesting perspective on things because of his long travel and stay in different countries and now his start in Dutch society. For example, he has fascinating ideas on how the integration of newcomers could be better, and Benyam really wants to make something of it. Besides his theater work, he volunteered at Welkom Utrecht. I really have a lot of respect for him. In September he starts at the MBO. It is really great that he has achieved so much after only 2.5 years in the Netherlands.

Benyam: “I have worked on myself, on being human. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to get in touch with people my age. Groups with the same background really only interact with each other.”

If you are ever in the library on de Neude you might see them sitting there, these two friends. Or Benyam alone. He often sits there too because it’s quiet and he can work on his Dutch!

Would you also like to become a buddy? Send a message to eline@welkominutrecht.nu