When Swedish comedian Kristoffer Appelquist heard that Mohammed Alfawakhiri was desperate to move out of his refugee camp, he opened up his home and let the Syrian move in — now the pair are close buddies, and the funnyman is increasingly well-fed.
The pair came in contact through the Swede’s ex-wife, who was teaching Alfawakhiri Swedish at the time. She told the comedian how the 23-year-old Syrian longed to get out of the refugee centre as soon as he had got his residence permit in September last year.
The two men got to know each other, struck up a rapport, and Appelquist soon gave Alfawakhiri the keys to his house in Sunne, western Sweden. That was eight months ago.
“Kristoffer is welcoming me indefinitely. He said his house was empty and now it’s full of life; friends cooking, respect, and of course fun — lots of fun.”
'Do you understand any Swedish?'
Alfawakhiri’s Swedish language skills have also taken a giant leap since he made the move. Initially the pair spoke English together but that quickly changed.
“Once, he was discussing a topic with his friend in Swedish, and my facial expression showed that I understood. He then asked me: ‘Do you understand any Swedish?’ I answered: ‘Yes’. He replied: ‘From now on, we will speak only Swedish so you improve your language’.”
The comedian now invites him to his shows and has introduced Alfawakhiri to his social circles.
The way to a comedian's heart...
Appelquist and his friends call him ‘the chef’ for his prowess in the kitchen.
“I have cooked bamieh and molokhia for them, and a few other typical Syrian dishes, that are exceptionally delicious. I understand why they can’t resist our food, because it really is irresistible.”
Integration is a lot to do with attitude
Alfawakhiri says his friendship with Appelquist has opened a window on Sweden and enabled him to really understand his new homeland. And he likes what he sees.
Recently the pair worked on an ad together for a new language-learning app, and the Damascus native was impressed by how many Swedes signed up to help newcomers learn their language.
With the right attitude, he believes, anyone can get to know Swedes and make a fresh start here.
In all his time living with a Swede he has not experienced a single culture clash, he says. This he attributes to their shared positive outlook.
“I really want to convey a plea to everyone in this community: try not to insist on wilfully misunderstanding each other.”
And he urges fellow newcomers to bear in mind that Sweden opened its doors when so many other countries slammed theirs shut.
“I don’t want to sound romantic, deluded or like a dreamer, but this country helped us when we had very few choices, when we actually had no choices at all.
“This society is very generous, and humane.”