“My grandfather died when my mother was pregnant with me. He was a noble person and my parents wanted me to bear his name. But I was a girl and it was a disappointment. In our family, unfortunately, the man’s voice is more important than the woman’s. Our parents gave us principles: not to steal, not to lie, to be honest. But also to be dependent on a man, to be careful to have a good reputation, etc. When my dad discussed a family matter with our brother, we were not allowed to give our opinion. When we were preparing food, we would always ask what the men wanted. We ate according to their preferences.
I had a pampered childhood, always surrounded by affection. But always with a nanny or a driver. We could only go out 1-2 times a week at specific times, and never alone. I was very frustrated. I often looked at the sky and imagined a different life. I was revolted that I couldn’t experience life on my own. How to pay a bill? How to take the bus? How to love someone? And I had this challenge to do something good so that my parents would be proud and not regret that I was a girl. So I was preparing myself, because one day life would begin.
After a diplomatic life abroad, my family returned home and I worked for a private bank. That’s when life started! I started at the bottom, at the counter. I liked the popular side of colleagues who refused to accept their situation and sought to climb upwards. But sometimes they were prepared to climb over dead bodies to succeed. The pressure was immense. I cried all the time, I had bulimia, I had anxieties. My father was a well-known Algerian diplomat, and some colleagues always brought me back to the fact that I was the daughter of… What is this girl who has lived a comfortable life doing among us? It was harder than I had imagined.
But I was a fighter and I didn’t want to stay in my father’s shadow. I knew that if I stayed in the family cocoon, I wouldn’t be able to grow. So I held on for seven years. Then I ended up having a burnout and I felt I had to stop. I had completed a first step in my life challenge. Because I was still living with my parents. As long as the girl is not married to a man who can take over, she stays with her parents… That’s when I met my husband. He was already living in Geneva and I joined him to live under a different sky, thinking: bye bye domination (laughs)!
On the one hand, I found calm again. But I also found in him a bit of my father’s spirit. I wanted to work but he refused. He wanted me to be just for him. But here I had to learn to manage on my own: shopping, rent, bills, insurance, a lot of administrative stuff… And I had no friends, no habits, no reference points. I felt like a wall between me and the people of Geneva. I had a moment of weakness when I really wanted to return to my environment. All this rebellion I wanted to do, “No, I want to live independently from my dad, etc.”. Now you have to take responsibility for your choices (laughs)!
Then I realised that the people I met in the street are not all Swiss. They are Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabs. I said to myself: they must have a story like mine. That was the first thing that reassured me. I started to do training courses, voluntary work, I met other migrants, I listened to their stories, their anxieties, which were the same as mine. Then I realised that this wall between me and Geneva did not exist. And little by little I was able to create my own space here in Geneva.
In the meantime, my older brother and my father passed away. There are no longer any men in our family. And although I am the youngest, my mother appointed me as the head of the family. I had the feeling that I had been preparing for this day since I was a child. But I haven’t quite succeeded in my challenge yet. I am still a housewife and I still need the comfort of a man. But those are the fears of the little girl that I was! Sometimes she says to me: “Oh, what a mess you’ve made!” But she also says to me: you’ve stayed true to yourself. I still have a long way to go, but I have never lost my passion for life and my love of people.”
Published as part of the mini-series “Of frontiers and women”, produced in partnership with APDH.