When I left Syria the war just started. I was twenty-two when I got selected for a scholarship in Spain, Granada to study fine arts. Unlike many Syrians I came here on a visa and so I’m not a refugee. Before coming Spain I used to study art in Damascus and work as a DJ. While living in Granada I kept working as a dj and last summer I even got to go to Ibiza to perform with big headliners. It was such an amazing experience. After a few months I returned to my apartment in Madrid. All of a sudden I got a message from my best friend who lives in London. He is also from Syria and are still really close. He send me a ticket to come and hang out with him in Brussels for a few days. We have that kind of friendship where we send each other plane tickets. I went to Brussels and we had a lot of fun. When we got to the airport we both realized we didn’t want to go home so we said why not go to Amsterdam? We skipped our flight and we bought train tickets to Amsterdam. From the moment I arrived to Amsterdam Central Station I said to my friend: “This is it. I’m in love, I’m moving here.’’ He was laughing and thought I was joking but after a few days when I returned to Madrid I packed my stuff and moved to Amsterdam. That was about seven months ago and now I have finally found an apartment here and I’m excited for the future.”

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I met Ribal at BenchesCollective – BankjesCollectief a really awesome initiative in Amsterdam which transforms public space into a meeting place for everyone. BenchesCollective is a movement that organizes the largest open-air café in the world consisting of ‘opened’ benches on the pavement in front of houses, in the park or on a city square. Together with BenchesCollective I created 2 portraits to share stories of those who are a part of the movement. I believe it’s initiatives like these and people like Ribal that make our city into this incredible place.

A bench host decides what he or she wants to serve: a nice cup of coffee, home baked cake, a marble competition or dancing lesson. At the opened benches you meet your neighbours. From students, young families and chatty grannies to awesome people like Ribal. The next open-air café is on July 1st & 2nd. It’s a really nice way to meet new people so if you are in Amsterdam next weekend make sure to check it out.

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