No war at the dinner table
January 9, 2016 6:21 AM   Subscribe

Last August, the Guardian's Northern correspondent Helen Pidd invited Yasser, a 34-year-old Syrian refugee, to live in the spare room of her Manchester flat while he waited for his wife and baby daughter to join him. Helen and Yasser tell their sides of the story, from navigating the UK's welfare bureaucracy to the English's perplexing fondness for cookbooks and bare floorboards, a family Christmas near Morecambe and a topical Halloween costume.

Yasser made news earlier when he organised a group of Syrian refugees to help flood victims near Manchester.
posted by acb (23 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I read this morning and really enjoyed it. A great story.
posted by knapah at 6:42 AM on January 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's lovely and made me tear up a bit. And I also learned that there's such a thing as gravy wrestling in Bacup, so: top marks from me all round.
posted by sobarel at 7:32 AM on January 9, 2016

That was amazing.

I loved those Halloween costumes!
posted by Rissa at 7:54 AM on January 9, 2016

I loved those Halloween costumes!

Yeah, but I was sorry to see that baseless smear about relations with animals yet again. Can we be clear that Jeremy Corbyn is not descended from pandas?
posted by Segundus at 8:03 AM on January 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

That was a good read. I've become fond of The Guardian.

I wish more people would be willing to do things like this. I think this is what prevents extremism and improves integration. Instead of foaming at the mouth yelling, "get away," say, "come over to my mom's house for Christmas dinner."
posted by shoesietart at 8:08 AM on January 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

This was terrific. My favorite bit is Yasser's reaction here:

I have met two of Helen’s friends who are women and married to each other, with children. This was new to me.

"This was new to me." How much better a place would the world be if, when we encounter cultural or lifestyle practices out of the norm for us, we all just think "well, that's new," rather than judging.

I'm not naive, I'm sure Yasser had lots of internal judgments, but I don't care about what people think; I care about what they do and say.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:34 AM on January 9, 2016 [25 favorites]

A lovely article. So, with that said...
I was a little nervous about the arrangement, but of all the many things worrying me – would he disapprove of my single heathen lifestyle? Could I carry on having bacon butties at the weekend? Should I edit my drinks cupboard? – the possibility of getting molested by my lodger had yet to occur to me.
That is bullshit. You are single woman living alone and you didn't even think about the bathroom door not having a lock? A nice lead in to your story, but bullshit.
posted by maryr at 9:28 AM on January 9, 2016

That was incredibly humbling. Thank you for posting.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 9:29 AM on January 9, 2016

As a single woman living alone, I personally don't live in constant fear, no.
posted by sweetkid at 9:51 AM on January 9, 2016 [26 favorites]

Another single woman living alone who never would have thought of the lock thing. I guess if someone had mentioned it and it were a stranger, I might think it seemed like a good idea, but it sounds like these two had known each other a while before he moved in. I've lived with male roommates with no lock on the bedroom door, I don't even remember if the bathrooms had locks.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:53 AM on January 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

Another single woman with no locks - I've mentioned here before that for a long while, even my front door was unlocked.

Recently, I rented my spare room to a man who needed a temporary room. No locks, no problems.
posted by mumimor at 10:57 AM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this. It was a nice antidote to waking up this this news: Syrian refugees pepper sprayed outside Vancouver welcome event.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:59 AM on January 9, 2016

You are single woman living alone and you didn't even think about the bathroom door not having a lock?

I've never thought of locked bathroom doors as protection against anything. For me, they're about me having a party and making sure someone doesn't walk in on me while I'm peeing.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 11:08 AM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

FUCK YES YASSER WHAT IS WITH FUCKING COLD DRAUGHTY WOOD FLOORS? So little time in the country, so quick to see the atupidity!
posted by alasdair at 11:32 AM on January 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm very pleased this story's got such currency. One thing I loved was the ambivalence Yasser was having about finding a job. Which I totally understand, because he's got so much life experience and there he goes, into the UK, where if you don't have the settled life and marketable skills to get a career track job, then you need the social capital of someone brought up in the country to get a job where you even get the basic fulfilment of social interaction.
posted by ambrosen at 11:51 AM on January 9, 2016

Why would anyone want to be in jeans when they don’t have to?

posted by effbot at 12:00 PM on January 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, I'm wondering if Helen Pidd's house has had plumbing work done in the past 5-10 years. Because I've never known anyone come to live in this country without bemoaning how pointless separate hot and cold taps are. But also in the past 10 years or so, I've come to notice that mixer taps are de rigeur in new installations.

From what I've heard from friends who've spent winters in Damascus though, Syrians are kindred spirits to the British in their absolute unwillingness to redesign their housing in order to keep it warm and dry in winter (1 inch of rain vs 3.5 inches in Bath, but daily low of 1.3°C vs 2.3°C, as far as December's weather goes.), so I guess he wouldn't have commented on draftiness.
posted by ambrosen at 12:01 PM on January 9, 2016

...people smugglers had arrived to take her and their 16-month-old baby across the border from Syria to Turkey. He heard nothing again until 3 the next morning, to say they had been walking for nine hours in the dark and were now being held in a house; she didn’t know where. Another 48 hours of silence...

While a one way flight from Turkey to London is around $60 and takes four hours. We're really running this lottery (that shouldn't even be a lottery) in the shittiest way ever :-/
posted by effbot at 12:11 PM on January 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Another woman who lives unlocked. I have noted that if you are being sensible on who you choose to have in your home, you don't need locks. And whatever, I pee in the yard on the reg. But lovely that she reached out and did a mitzvah. And he did one as well, sharing his life with her.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 1:02 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I absolutely loved this article, and I'm so glad to see it here. I hope it encourages more people to take in a refugee. I also hope it shames the government, but that's probably a bridge too far.

I also particularly loved their Halloween costumes, but I must disagree on one thing -- WOOD FLOORS 4 LYFE. But that might just be my raggedy-ass carpeting talking.

(I also have very nice slippers, thank you.)
posted by kalimac at 3:10 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Something about carpets filling with masses of dust mites and allergens. That and bare wood looking fashionably Scandinavian Modernist.
posted by acb at 3:38 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I loved this--thank you for posting it.

Agree with mandolin conspiracy--I was glad to read this after hearing the depressing story about the pepper spraying of Syrian refugees this morning at a welcome event in Vancouver.

Coincidentally, right now I'm listening to a program on the CBC about Altona, Manitoba, a small town where refugees have increased the town's population by 1% in the past 10 years. They've just done some fantastic interviews with the refugees and people welcoming new Syrian refugees, including translator Doaa Abukhousa, who arrived in Altona 5 years ago as a 14 year old refugee.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:55 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

We talk about immigration policies in terms of big, faceless, anonymous groups of Those Other People, how different they are, usually emphasizing the risks because some of Them are bound to be bad ones and we really can't imagine the rest of them as individuals at all.

I like this because it's just one person, and the people around him, and it inverts the other story and shows you the hope instead of just the fear of making a connection.
posted by emjaybee at 2:37 PM on January 10, 2016

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