Guest post: Renting While Muslim

This post originally appears on Wasapninworld blog and describes the writer’s experiences of looking for a home to rent in the Antwerp area a few years ago.
It is not a very heartening read; we would all (I hope) like to live in a fairer country than the one described here, but as the writer of the post told me, “it’s one way of starting conversations” -and clearly this is very much a conversation that needs to continue in Belgian society.

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I had lived at my parents house most of my youth life and then moved into my own property when I got married. I then moved abroad and my residence was always provided by my employer. All rights, contracts and viewing was always prior to my arrival to our new country and home. That was until I relocated to Belgium which was my first job in Europe outside of the UK.

We were allocated a relocation specialist who helps newbie arrivals find a new rental house/apartment and ease them in the country. We should have been greeted by the relocation specialist when we first arrived in Belgium but our relocation specialist was busy and could not meet us. During our first initial meeting we would have been given a new Belgian mobile phone Sim card, get help searching for apartment/house, be taken to the supermarket so we can be accustomed to the new area, and finally have a lovely dinner or lunch- all of which never happened with us because our relocation specialist was busy when we first entered Belgium. So neither did our first trip to a supermarket, and we were never given a new Belgian number so we could be contacted, nor ever shown any apartments for rent. We did all that ourselves. We checked into our hotel (allocated by the employer) and stayed there for a few days looking at our shortlisted viewings which we had done while we were in the UK. After being a few days in Antwerp, our relocation specialist messaged us to request if we could meet for coffee (instead of dinner/lunch) as there are no halal places in Antwerp. This was our first visit to Antwerp and we did not know anyone there but a quick Googling told us that there are plenty of halal places to eat. It was clear for us that the relocation specialist did not want to meet us, so rather than make a fuss we politely declined and that was the last we heard for a while.

Our experiences are limited to Antwerp renting while Muslim in Belgium. Below are just some of the scenarios that panned out.

At first, we decided to stay as close as possible to my new work place, which was located in a very white suburb of Antwerp.
NOTE: My rental deposit of 3 months’ rent is covered by my employer, who are also my reference. My employer happens to be a very reputable work place in Antwerp for over 50 years and my salary was well above minimum requirement.

1. We found this lovely house with a garden. Arranged to see the property and loved it. We agreed to take it but were told that there are other viewers and the decision would rest with the owner. We were told within days that the owner of the property decided to rent with someone else.
2. Arranged to view an apartment walking distance from the above property. There were two apartments available in the same block. It was a brand new apartment block. We were met by the same estate agent as previous. We liked the property and agreed to take it. We were told that the owner will let us know. The owner happened to be the uncle of the estate agent. Weeks went by and we heard nothing even after asking for an update. Emails and phone calls were not returned.
3. Arranged to view another apartment in the same area. Saw the apartment and agreed to take it. We were told someone would get back to us. Every time I would ring to speak to the estate agent, he was never available. We never did get that call back or the apartment.
ForRent4503738_6404. With the above experience rather than go for a viewing ourselves we decided to ask the relocation specialist to visit on our behalf. When we asked about a particular property, she strongly discouraged us, as it is the centre of the town and there are works due to take place right outside of the apartment that we were interested in, which will cause major traffic and will last for months. Heavily reliant on local knowledge we decided against pursuing this further. (We later learnt that the roadwork did go ahead but was not a major traffic issue and only lasted about a month or so, much lower than the impression given to us)
5. We decided to search further away from the work place. A balance between the city centre and the suburb. Rather than pay for extra hotel accommodation we decided to go back home and search from London. We found a brand new block of apartments where three apartments were available. We rang and agreed to take the property without seeing it. We were told they would not rent without us seeing the property. I explained I was in London and it’s difficult to travel with a 3 year old child who is not well. The owner insisted. We had no choice but to make a last minute trip back to Antwerp. As expected, we liked the property and agreed to take it. We were told we would be informed of the update very soon. Within hours of leaving the property we were told that all three apartments had been rented out and they had not realised but other family members had rented them out without them realising it. (Note: These properties were unrented for 9 months as they were advertised on the rental website available for rent.)
6. The message was clear we were not wanted in certain parts of Antwerp. We then decided to search in the city centre or other areas that were predominately occupied with ethnic minorities. We looked at and investigated many properties but did not feel the quality was up to our standards. We also tried to rent in the city centre and during numerous calls; we were told they would not rent to Indians or foreigners. We were shocked to hear this as they did not know we were non-white foreigners because I sound British because I am. They were mentioning it as a selling point.
7. As a last resort I had to ask one of my new white colleagues to ring on my behalf and look at the property. Once we both agreed, it was acceptable I arranged to view the property without my family. I agreed to take the property because at that point no one would rent to us. As it turned out the landlord was very nice who is Jewish in faith and who had rented his property to a tenant who was Muslim in faith. Sometimes the glimmer of hope comes from communities that know what is like to be different.

All the while there were at least 4 other new colleagues coming from different parts of the world who very quickly were able to find and rent. Maybe it was a coincidence that they were all white but I clearly think not. Throughout this experience it must be added that everyone we interacted with was polite, smiling and courteous. On face value, there was no indication of anything being wrong. However, someone who has lived as an outsider all my life you quickly learn to read the body language and the other signs that are very hard to conceal. I know my British accent has made it much easier when interacting with the local indigenous population in Antwerp. I later learnt when making friends with the African, Moroccan and Turkish community of how frank and open the remarks can be. They had been told that renting would not be provided if their wives, mothers and daughters wear the headscarf or if they cook their local food in the apartment.

ForRent589068_640I clearly do not look white British but I do sound it and my wife wears the headscarf. On face value, we pass by as Moroccans or Turkish depending on the lens of the looker but our accent tells a different story. However, our face value determined our renting while Muslim experience and that was of racism and Islamophobia. The invisible cloak of freedom and equality was marred by another invisible cloak of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and the colonial mentality of being better than others are. Europe/Belgium has a problem of race and identity and the sooner we face up to it the sooner we can work together to eradicate it. To highlight the seriousness of the problem a report was published in 2017 where “Job applicants with convictions for violence are more likely to be taken on than those with Arabic surnames, criminologists have found. Applicants with a violent past and a Dutch name stood a better chance than those with an Arabic name but no history of violence, said researcher Chantal van den Berg.”1

I have lived as a ‘Paki’ in England and as an Englishman in Pakistan. We have always been outsiders to where I have been posted for my jobs. Identity is something I have had to question and have come to the conclusion that the world has more in common with each other but we focus on the smaller differences rather than the similarities. In the back of my mind, I thought at least it is not this bad back home. Back home for me was the UK but I had not lived there for over a decade due to work but little did I know that it too had changed for the worse when we relocated back in 2017. More information to follow soon.

On a positive note once all the renting problem was resolved at least until the next time we had to move, I found the local Antwerpians of all shapes, sizes and colours to be a lovely bunch so much so much I would much rather live in Antwerp than my home city of London.

 

1: https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/racism-in-europe-a-tale-of-two-brothers-9483

Report discrimination

Meldpunt – Report discrimination (Flanders)

and

Unia

 

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Spotted by Locals: Best Antwerp Blogs

It’s lovely to hear that Nessascityblog features on this selection of Antwerp blogs for 2020 – compiled by Spotted by Locals, which is a blog about art & culture trends in cities all around the world: check them out for your future post-corona travel plans!

You can find Spotted by Locals on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

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image from spottedbylocals.com

 

 

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This weekend in Antwerp: 3rd, 4th & 5th May

There are a few things taking place over the whole weekend which you might like to have a look at:

For foodies, it’s Antwerpen Proeft in an around Waagnatie. You can buy tickets in advance (cheaper) or on the day.  It takes place on Friday (5 PM until 12 midnight (food until 10 PM)), Saturday (12 noon until 12 midnight (food until 10 PM)) and
Sunday (11 AM until 8 PM)

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pics by Kringwinkel Antwerpen

If, like me, you love finding unique quality items of secondhand, retro and vintage clothing, you will be pleased to know that the Kringwinkel (recycling shop; pic above) is opening a new and spacious new branch, just off Meir on Otto Veniusstraat this weekend: and is marking the occasion over the whole weekend.

Why not have a look at this exhibition on Markgravelei? Offering painting, graphic work, ceramics, photography and jewellery, it’s hosted by Collegium Artificium which promotes the work of artists of various disciplines in the area. It’s on until 12th May. Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 20.51.36

Friday

HURRAH! We have a SPECIAL OFFER – just for Nessascityblog readers – from Antwerp Ghostwalk!

When making a booking for this Friday’s Antwerp Ghostwalk -which is in English –
don’t forget to mention “as seen on nessascityblog” in the remarks field and you will get
€2,5 reduction on each ticket that you reserve. 
The Ghostwalk begins at 21h on Steenplein (by the Wapper statue).
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Saturday

Today is  Free Comic Book Day and Antwerp’s best know comic & graphic novel shop Mekanik Strip on Sint Jacobsmarkt (and easily recognisable from the Spiderman climbing the wall above the door) will be taking part. So swing by to pick up a free comic from the range available for Free Comic Book Day.

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Marnixplein

At the Kringwinkels (thrift stores/ second hand shops) across Belgium it’s Dag van de Gever -a special day dedicated to those who donate to Kringwinkels, so it’s a good day to have a clear out and bring your unused clothes and items to your local branch. This .pdf shows participating shops in the Antwerp area and the special activities and offers which are taking place in-store. If you donate items to the store at Sint Jorispoort, you will receive a discount and a surprise offer/ gift.

 

It’s the annual Marnixfeest on Marnixplein in the trendy Zuid, from 2pm. Expect music, DJs, and food & drink from the bars and restaurants in the area, until midnight.


Sunday

Ringlandaffiche-05What is the Ringland Project? Well, if you have seen the logo and the word but wondered what it is, here is a useful explainer in English and there is also a chance to find out more at The Ringland Festival today on Conscienceplein, from 2pm- 6pm (pic right).

 

Popular Swan Market takes place on Grote Markt from 11am- 5pm with its usual array of stands offering homemade food and locally made products, such as clothes, stationery, jewellery and accessories, from small businesses and local creators.

As it’s the first Sunday of the month, it’s Sunday shopping in Antwerp with shops on Meir and beyond opening for business from midday.

The weather looks like it will be changeable, with both bright spots and showers, but also the possibility of storms. Temperatures around 10-11 degrees.

Miscellaneous

If you’re a runner enthused by the Antwerp 10 Miles last weekend, you may want to sign up for the annual Silver Run but be warned -this is no ordinary run: it consists of running up and down 1-3 tower blocks. Think you’re up to it? You can register here

WwelcomelogoTwo recent special Nessacityblog posts are available now: one about The Chef’s Cut, for foodies, and one about the VZW Wwelcome, which has a variety of services for newcomers to the city, to help them settle in and integrate into local life.

 

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This weekend in Antwerp: 2nd, 3rd & 4th November

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Hello! What a crappy week it has been, but if you are catching this post on Thursday, then you still have time to catch a holiday rommelmarkt on Theaterplein, courtesy of Goegekregen, from 9am -6pm as the 1st November is a public holiday. Good.

I always think there is a bit of a lull in events and activities at this time of year, between summer and winter, but here are a few things coming up this weekend.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on Nessascityblog Facebook (Events in Antwerp: in conjunction with London Calling), Twitter & Pinterest & Instagram where additional events and info are also posted.

There’s the annual huge Antwerp Book Expo on at the moment and until 11th November. For non-Dutch speakers there are a few stands exhibiting books in English.

Friday

For something a little different why not start your weekend at Bar Venetie on Turnhoutsebaan at a Dia de los muertos party starting at 8pm, 5 euros in. Playing music from recently departed greats. Also New Orleans funeral music.

Saturday

Down at Costa Sint Andries it’s the Opening of Lokaal 25 a community pop-up on Sint-Andriesplaats. Discover what’s on offer in terms of events, readings and workshops between 10am and 2pm -music and snacks on offer too.

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Meanwhile in the same area it’s local Farmers’ Market Kraakvers on the square from 9am -2pm.

On the other side of town (but not too far away) it’s the “mega groote rommelmarkt” on Sint-Jansplein from 10am -6pm

Sunday

It’s the first Sunday of the month, so shops will be open on Meir and other shopping areas in town (Kloosterstraat, Nationalestraat) for Sunday shopping.

Swan Market (food, gifts, design, stationery, jewellery, accessories) will be at Meatpack on Samberstraat from 11-5pm

Miscellaneous

I am pleased to share this interview I did for The Bulletin about life in Antwerp.

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It’s been a little while since we had a guest blog, so if you -YES, YOU! – have been thinking about writing a post for Nessascityblog, do seize the day -I’d love to hear your Antwerp story, or hear about an aspect of Antwerp life that you know well. Drop me a line at nessascityblog@gmail.com

Rain is predicted up to and including Friday, but thereafter it could be dry and reasonably mild (13- 14 degrees).

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This weekend in Antwerp: 4th, 5th & 6th May

There is so much on all of a sudden -Zomer van Antwerp has not yet officially started, but the sun should be shining this weekend and it is starting to feel like Antwerp is getting its summer on, so here is your GOOGLE MAP so you can catch some rays at all the locations mentioned in this post …

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Diamond museum DIVA holds its grand opening weekend, starting Friday. If you have not been able to book one of the hour long slots, you might still want to swing by Suikerrui “and join in the festivities

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Until 6th May (Sunday) its Amateur Arts Week (Week Van De Amateurkunsten). Search the link for events in your area.

And it’s Belmodo Fashion Days , also until the 6th (Sunday). These are fashion and designer stocks sales taking place at participating outlets (listed on the Belmodo site). A chance to grab a designer bargain or pick up something unique from a local or Belgian designer …

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Abelone Wilhelmsen/ Belmodo Fashion Days

Abelone Wilhelmsen (right) is a local designer based in Borgerhout, taking part in Belmodo Fashion Days.

 

 

Friday

Hungry? Picnic on Theaterplein between midday and 2pm. Organised by Broederlijke Delen and Oxfam Wereldwinkels, bring your own food and don’t waste what you have: the purpose is to raise awareness of food waste.

Antwerp locals will be familiar with Aper’eau, providers of alfresco summer drinks, music and food. On Friday from 5pm they begin their season with the summer kick-off event on Grote Markt

 

Saturday

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Shout out to our favourite international school, who hold their unmissable International Day event just once every two years, making it extra special (particularly as this year is the 50th anniversary of the school). Experience the countries and cultures that make up this diverse learning community of young people, families and staff, as they showcase food, activities, performances and music from around the world, from 10am -5pm on the school’s campus in Ekeren.

It’s Dag van de Gever in Antwerp’s second-hand stores, so a good time to make space and take down unwanted goods which are in good condition to one of the “Kringloopwinkels” in the city. Get a free potplant, and the chance to win a weekend away. There are 8 shops in the Antwerp area: Abdijstraat 104, 2020 Antwerpen-Kiel; Bredabaan 397, 2170 Merksem; Kapelsestraat 237, 2950 Kapellen; Kroonstraat 166, 2140 Borgerhout; Sint-Jorispoort 29, 2000 Antwerpen; Venstraat 153 b, 2900 Schoten; Vosstraat 305, 2100 Deurne and Bredabaan 651, 2930 Brasschaat

A choice of street parties back in town: it’s the Marnix Feest (pic below left) on Marnixplaats from 2pm, where there will be a street party, complete with kids’ entertainment, music, food and drinks until 10pm or the Twintig Achtien free festival (pic below right, courtesy of Twintig Achtien) along the Konijnenwei from 13.30.

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Sunday

It’s the first Sunday of the month, so … Sunday shopping in and around the city centre.

Go and discover creative Berchem at the Made In Berchem and learn why it is becoming a hotspot for innovative and artistic ventures taking place in these locations around the district. Map and brochure to download here.

It’s the annual PVDA Divercity Festival at Park Spoor Noord from 2pm -8pm. Music, food and a footie tournament. Also in Park Spoor Noord it’s the Pink Ladies Games.

Open Werven Dag opens up construction and development sites in and around Antwerp to the public. This is more interesting than it might sound (if you are someone who is often frustrated by the amount of construction which seems to take place around the city, you might feel averse to visiting an actual construction site). Last year, we went on a cool below-ground tour of the Noorderlijn works. This year, I’m thinking of seeing this building.

Goegekregen are holding a Vinyl Sale at HAAR from 10am -5pm and Swan Market are on Grote Markt from 11 -6pm.

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It’s to be a weekend of sunshine, with increasingly warmer temperatures – getting up to 23 degrees on Sunday!

 

 

Miscellaneous

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Stad Antwerp website

I’m pleased to share this blog post: Three Great Spots For When The Sun Is Shining which was published last week on the Stad Antwerpen website and optimistically describes three places in the city you might want to check out if the weather holds out …

Open- air swimming pool De Molen is now open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from  midday until 6pm.

Summer bars now open: Bar Jardim and Bar Paniek.

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This weekend in Antwerp: 9th, 10th & 11th February

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Here’s your GOOGLE MAP to help you find the events listed in this post.

This weekend, it’s the Asia In Antwerp event which takes place over both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets can be reserved online here. There will be food and drink stands from all over Asia (as well as cooking and food preparation workshops) and performances of Asian music and dance from a variety of countries: Bali, Indonesia, Korea, China and Thailand. (Images courtesy of Azie in Antwerpen)Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 19.52.20

Antwerp Pateekesweek continues until 11th February. During Pateekesweek, various bakeries, patisseries, coffee & tea houses take part, and the idea is to allow cake-lovers to sample a variety of treats at different places. To take part, you buy a Pateekes Pas for 10 euros which has 10 bonnetjes (vouchers) on it. These can be exchanged in the participating venues which are listed here and you can buy the Pateekes Pas at the tourist offices on Grote Markt or at Antwerp Central Station.

 

Friday


Hear a musical story in English at ‘T Werkhuys (Inter-Musikas – ‘Measure 23 of Life’): Adam Clarke, Canadian composer who studies here in Antwerp. Adam composes pieces for guitar, guitar duo, bagpipe and- for the first time- flute. He will tell his migration story and how it changed his way of thinking, and his style of composing. The story will be told totally in English.

Saturday

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Old City Wall visible on the Frankrijklei last year

This weekend you can view the foundations at Kipdorpbrug which are exposed as a result of the building work on the Noorderlijn in the centre of Antwerp. Last year, a similar opportunity occurred on the Frankrijklei, when the old city wall was visible and it was possible to go and see it. It’s worth doing as it is just for this weekend that the public are able to go this archeological site. You can visit the site from 1pm -10pm. This continues onto Sunday (10am -6pm). The pop-up café Opera Plein 1 will be exhibiting some of the objects found at the site. The site is likely to be muddy, so wear your sturdiest boots. A food archeologist will be around between 2 and 6pm, and DJ Barok will be playing very old-school hits, so you can party like it’s 1799.

More music at this free choral concertat 8pm at St Andries Kerk. “Inner Voices” is a youth choir from London established in 2011, and with a wide repertoire of different songs.

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If you have younger kids, you will know Het Steen Café. We have been here often since we moved here, for play facilities, workshops and even our son’s birthday party. Het Steen is closing this weekend and is holding a free closing party (from 3pm) to say goodbye. The kids facilities will move to Droogdokkensite (in the Eilandje area) and re-open in June under the new name “Stormkop”.

Sunday

Kipdorp archeological event -see above (Saturday)

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It’s the annual Rivierenhof Valentines Run with 5k and 10k runs, you can arrive from 9.30am and the starting pistol is fired at 11am. To take part costs five euros on the day itself, but is free if you register beforehand. 

It’s Goegekregen in the Parkloods (Park Spoor Noord) a secondhand/ retro/ vintage market with something for everyone -free.

It’s not exactly bikini weather. Friday looks particularly chilly (2 degrees) even with the possibility of some snow. It’s a little warmer on Saturday and Sunday, but Sunday could be showery.

 

Miscellaneous

This month sees the start of some blog posts that I am writing for Visit Antwerp this year. Check out my FIVE FEBRUARY FAVOURITES

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At the Permeke Library the free exhibition Legends of Liondance is on until 25th February. I recommend this as I went last year with my kids. It’s also a good chance to see the relocated children’s section of the Permeke library.

Schools are off next week for the February break (aka Krokusvakantie). Museums across Belgium are putting on some special activities for kids. Here’s the selection from the Antwerp area.

Valentine’s Day is next Wednesday.

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