Juliette Mako Ibrahim is 52-years old. She has been a French citizen for many decades but is originally from Al-Hawash in Syria. At 21 she came to visit her aunts in France and met her future husband, a Chaldean Iraqi. She married him and stayed in France. They moved to Marseille and she raised four children.
She learned French with difficulty at first because she was not working and she had only taken 6 months of language courses. She made Syrian and Arab friends (her husband’s family is in Marseille) and is friends with her French neighbours. She did not finish middle school and reads French with difficulty, describing her spoken French as just “passable.” She says she learned to speak while at work and made friends with her French colleagues.
Ten years after her arrival, she began work as a care worker for elderly people in their homes and also in a nursery school. She then opened her own restaurant with dance and music soirees but found it financially difficult to stay afloat. Now, she is working as a cook specialising in Syrian and Lebanese cuisine in two different restaurants in Marseille, one in the mornings and the other in the evenings. She works every day but finishes at 2pm on Sundays. She says she would really like to have Sundays off to stay at home with her children but she enjoys working and likes to cook. She engages in no civil society or cultural events as she has no time with work.
Juliette does not make sharp distinctions between Arabic-speaking and French friends. She says her friends are Syrian and Arab but then mentions how she played “14” (a card game) with a group of French neighbours three times a week for many years before she started working and is still friends with all of them.
She is Christian and goes to church every Sunday with friends and sometimes her children. Otherwise she exchanges visits and participates in holiday celebrations with Muslim friends, just as they used to do in Syria—so nothing has changed there, she says.
Her family is all in Al-Hawash. She recently visited and wanted to buy a place to live once she retires but she found it too expensive. She says her father, when still alive, put all the land in her two brothers’ names, leaving the four girls nothing (“It’s not the law! He wanted to avoid all the legal processes so that’s what he did!”). She feels this is wrong and is somewhat bitter about it. She says one of her brothers told her to build a floor above his house but she wants her own place. Her eldest brother was killed by a bomb in the war and her father died soon afterwards “from grief.” She tears up thinking how she misses her family and village.
She reminisces about how they went to school during the year and worked hard in the fields for long hours all summer from age 10. She says work in France (2 cooking jobs 7 days a week) is “nothing, a pastime—easy” in comparison. She says they were so happy in the summers, taking tea and meal breaks, dancing, singing and laughing with her parents and siblings and cousins, playing in the river that bordered their fields. She says she had a happy childhood. She has “gotten used” to life in Marseille and her children are here but she would like to return to Syria upon retirement.