Majida is a 52-year old chef in a successful family-run Syrian restaurant that opened two years ago in central Marseille. The family is originally from Deir al-Zur and Raqqa. They left six years ago when Isis and al-Nusra militias became increasingly menacing and the bombardment was intolerable. Their property in Raqqa was entirely destroyed and they never returned to visit Syria.
She and her family were granted asylum readily in France, helped by the fact that they had lived in Toulouse decades ago when her husband studied engineering and her sons were all born in Toulouse. She, her husband and three sons are all engineers but have had to change careers since arriving in France. The youngest son, after 6 years of restaurant work, found employment in the north of France as a petrol engineer.
They chose to live in Marseille as she did not like the weather in Toulouse. Several years ago she saw an ad for chef training for refugee women with Alain Ducasse. She signed-up and trained for 9 months. She formed good relationships with the other women and instructors during this time, and also with her current clients. She often receives invitations to events and conferences in Marseille. She attends most of them and often gives interviews about their restaurant. And yet, she says, she has no friends outside Syria. Her husband has an illness and she and her sons all work very long hours. Her social life is within the family, who live in the same building.
She says landlords take advantage of her family and other refugees as they do not have all the paperwork needed to rent from agencies. They pay 1200 Euros a month and the neighbours pay 750 for the same space.
She misses all aspects of her life in Syria - the water, the food, the air, the land, her friends and the proximity of all her loved ones. She says she has not changed since coming to France as (she adds proudly) she comes from a highly educated family - her parents were open-minded and they all lived a rich life and wanted for nothing. Her extended family is now dispersed in Europe and the USA. She seems despondent and grieving, and immerses herself in work and the pleasures of family and grandchildren.