Frenchman and Syrian bond over shared interest in cooking
Lucien lives in a nice apartment, tastefully furnished in bourgeois-bohemian style. It is the perfect sanctuary for the 50-something single musician whose life revolves around overseas tours and dinners with friends. It was one of those friends who sparked in him the idea of taking in a refugee.
“You see, my mother was Algerian and my father was a ‘pied noir’ (Algerian-born Frenchman),” he told UNHCR. “My parents left Algeria in 1962, leaving everything behind, and settled in France. So I know what being an exile means.”
“I was thinking of taking in a refugee, but frankly I had misgivings since I travel a lot for work and I’m not here all the time. I thought it would bother me to leave someone alone in my home.”
Then his friend took in a Syrian woman and her teenage son. “I put a lot into making them feel welcomed. We spent a lot of time together, we organized get-togethers and tea parties so they could meet people, try the food…”
A few months later the family’s eldest son, Hussam, 29, arrived in France. There was no room for him to stay with his mother and brother, and he found accommodation on the premises of an organization for which he was volunteering.
“It was a stock room where they stored things, clothes, donations to be sent off,” he says in almost unaccented French. “There was a tiny, unheated room where I slept with four other people.” At the time, he was regularly visiting his mother and brother. That was when he bumped into Lucien.
“Hussam had accommodation problems and didn’t have a permanent place, so I told him he could stay with me for a few days if he wanted, and he stayed on. At first, I didn’t see him very often because he was always busy.
“A refugee’s life involves a lot of rushing around, from appointment to appointment, sorting out ID papers. It can take days at a time … And also, he had trouble settling down. It was a while since he left home and he had travelled, moved around a lot, and when he arrived here he couldn’t stay in one place for more than a minute.
Lucien has unlocked the door to French life for me.
“When he slowed down a little, we began to enjoy our time together. Often, I would help him with his French in the morning and we would share meals together.”
Hussam adds eagerly: “Lucien has unlocked the door to French life for me. He has taught me lots of French words and explained their origin, which I find very interesting. He has also introduced me to the food.”
Lucien agrees. “We often find ourselves discovering new dishes together.”
Last New Year’s Eve, Hussam and Lucien invited their mothers to an international meal of hummus and tabbouleh, shoulder of lamb French style and Syrian pastries.
“Broadly speaking, we are discovering a lot about our respective cultures”, adds Lucien. “We all have our convictions, our prejudices, our ways of thinking, the defences we build around ourselves every day. When you have to deal with others, it shakes those defences up a little. In that sense, it’s really positive. We all need that.”
Portrait by Aubrey Wade
Assisted by Stjepan Sedlar
Text by Clémentine Baron
This story is part of the No Stranger Place series, which tells stories of refugees and locals living together in Europe. The project was initiated by Aubrey Wade, Sarah Böttcher and Stjepan Sedlar, and developed in partnership with UNHCR.