Culture is like salad, the best one is mixed

“Whoever has a little more, gives”

Ahmed Ben Abderrahman takes hospitality to the next level.

Edouard Geelhand ©

Ben is Belgian with Moroccan origins. He is the owner of the Mozart hotel downtown Brussels.

He offers shelter and food to refugees and people in need.

Lately climate strikes have dominated the news, although equally important, we stopped talking about the refugees. Ben has dedicated his life helping others.

Born in Tangier, Morocco, in 1954 Ben travelled all over the world. He lived in San Francisco for a few years, you can tell by the thick west coast accent. All of this to say, he experienced and learned from other cultures. According to Mr. Abderrahman travel is a dictionary, a real eye-opener. However, there is a condition to that. You need to mix with locals, get involved with locals.

In 1994, 25 years ago, Ben opened his hotel. Located right next to Brussels biggest attraction, the Grande Place. Before that, he had an Italian restaurant in the same street. Giving to the less fortunate is something he has always done. From giving away meals at his restaurant, to giving away rooms and even accommodate people in his own apartment. The tiredness forced Mr. Abderrahman to stop welcoming people in his own apartment. During the last 4 years Ben has been working non stop, he hasn’t been on a vacation since then. Every night, at 1 am, the dedicated Ben goes out and gets all the bread the local shops and bakers haven’t sold.

Edouard Geelhand©

“Get up, I’ll show you around.”

As we walk through narrow hallways and staircases Ben shows me where the men he shelters sleep. ‘Two here, a few there, a few more over here’. The washing machines in the laundry room don’t get a break. These men have so little belongings they need to wash them all the time. Ben had a lot of costs with those machines, throwing your shoes in there is not the purpose apparently.

The amount of people here is beyond imaginable. The Moroccan style hotel has little corners, turns and cracks all over the place. The police forces know the place, when they have a hard time finding shelter for refugees they call Mr. Abderrahman. The hotel owner tells me sometimes these young migrants get hurt, they crawl in trucks to travel to western Europe. He jokes: “The people of the St Pierre hospital know me by now.”.

Edouard Geelhand©

According to Ben, refugees face 3 big problems being here. The culture, the language and racism. Fact is the culture is different. Same goes with the language. These problems reflect in the way these people behave, they will congregate and form groups, which is totally natural but not helpful.

Mr. Abderrahman is rather negative, or realistic, I don’t know how to put it. He believes the world is coming to an end. Venezuela, the terrible attacks in Christchurch that happened earlier that day, Syria, Iraq,… There is no solution to this other than to build up these countries. Build hospitals, schools, infrastructure,… Instead, we put all that money in wars. Everyday, Ben tells the young men they have to ga back. Staying here is not an option, it won’t help them, or us.

In 2015 most of the people Ben accommodated were Iraqis, Afghans, Syrians. They fled their country with the entire family. This has changed, today’s refugees are African mostly from South Sudan, on their own and ready to risk their lives to get where they want to go.

“They have nothing to lose”

Of course the hotel isn’t completely occupied by refugees, homeless and others. Hotel Mozart is a fully functioning hotel. Guests notice something special is happening here, and it’s no secret. Ben has experienced both positive and negative reactions to his self built charity.

Edouard Geelhand©

“People have left before the end of their stay after seeing what I do, but if that is a problem the world would be perfect.”

Some days ago, a Belgian couple walked in and booked a room, telling Ben they saw him in a documentary that appeared on Belgian TV recently. They were amazed by his work and wanted to stay over.

It was a true eye opener for me to witness a man doing so much good. To Mr. Abderrahman it is just applying what the Noble Quran says. What he does, hasn’t been done by anyone else, not at this scale. And Mr. Abderrahman is proud of what he does, he describes it as an unique experience in his life. He never regretted his decisions.

“Simplicity is everything, whatever you do, don’t be arrogant.”

While we were talking Ben told me the fews things he hates. One of those being arrogance. Taking advantage is another irritation Ben has. He proudly shows me 4 documents, hanging at the wall behind de reception desk. These documents are medical absence documents given to him by some of his employees. They discovered the dream world of paid ‘leave’.

Edouard Geelhand©

What about the future?

Ben is not planning on doing this for the rest of his life. But he is not done being good. His plan is to build a retirement home and a hospital in his hometown of Tangier. In honor of his mother.

I want to thank Mr. Ahmed Ben Abderrahman for the awesome work he does, the interview and the Noble Quran he offered me. I also want to thank all the refugees I talked to in Brussels North Station for the interesting chats we had.

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