Türkçe Nupel | Français | English
Pour lire les autres articles suivez ce lien

The gor­geous hous­es of Europe. The wide, well aligned avenues, framed by pavil­ions, chalets, vil­las, sin­gle sto­ried or on sev­er­al lev­els, with gardens…And among them, there are those dis­tinc­tive ones, dec­o­rat­ed with all kinds of flow­ers and ros­es, designed to move the heart of every poor per­son, every  migrant, designed to plunge them into daydreams…

Ah, if that were my house, wouldn’t that be great? Look at that splen­did ter­race ! And the lay­out of the gar­den… My god, how beau­ti­ful it must be inside, how it must be filled with price­less things? Can a per­son liv­ing in such a house be unhap­py ? Tell me, can she be unhappy?” 

How many times have we heard those words, how many dreams were built on them, fol­lowed by a fall back into our real­i­ty, and then, oh how many sighs are heaved…

Of course, hap­pi­ness does not dwell in all the hous­es where the win­dows reflect the gold­en rays of the sun from afar… You can nev­er guess what secrets, what deep mis­for­tunes, what irrepara­ble soli­tudes lie behind the doors, enclosed with­in their high sur­round­ing walls…

The house­work fairies are the ones who know them best… The house­work fairies with their dust­ing cloths in one hand, their mops lick­ing the floors clean, the clear water in their buck­ets turn­ing dark as they move through their chores…

Yes, you’ve read cor­rect­ly; here, in Europe, most of these grand and soli­tary homes inevitably has an immi­grant as house cleaner…

They spread out, rang door­bells at ran­dom, every one of them tak­ing what­ev­er their fate hand­ed them.

Thus, they obtained a job, some­times tem­po­rary, some­times long-term. But if it’s unde­clared, with­out secu­ri­ty guar­an­tees, hon­est­ly, both par­ties are sat­is­fied. The own­ers are exempt­ed from insur­ance, tax­a­tion and respon­si­bil­i­ties, the work­ing women are hap­py with the sup­ple­men­tary income, a dai­ly amount hand­ed over in cash, ready to use for dai­ly needs, after the day’s work, in the near­est shop­ping center.

Gül­süm is one such immi­grant house­work fairies. Torn from the heart of Ana­to­lia, with wheat-col­ored skin, she gath­ers her hair as thick as sheaves, pulls them on her fore­head to wipe off the rain-like sweat, and heads out to clean the homes of those with an eas­i­er life. Gül­süm is a woman who was fed on the dark milk of pover­ty, who has tast­ed the heav­i­est of trea­sons, who was tripped and fell, a woman who passed through the sieve of fate. Per­haps this is why she stays away from peo­ple and choos­es soli­tude. She lives alone in an apart­ment with her two young chil­dren. In the morn­ing, the chil­dren leave for school, and Gül­süm for her housework…

Gül­süm seems to hail from an ancient tale when she comes homes, tired out, exhaust­ed, when she seems to be like the nan­ny-goat telling her kids: “Open the door, I’m home with my mouth full of grass, my teats full of milk, I’m home.” Because when she comes homes, her arms also are always full.

She does not call on any­one, and does not open her home eas­i­ly to oth­ers… Gül­süm is also beautiful…In the days when she had just sep­a­rat­ed from her hus­band, a friend advised her: “Be care­ful, you are young and you are beau­ti­ful also, don’t spend your time with mar­ried peo­ple, you nev­er know… I swear I’m not say­ing this in my case, but you sim­ply can’t keep people’s mouths shut like a purse”… In oth­er words, she was warn­ing her and since that day, Gül­süm has shut her­self off from oth­er peo­ple, think­ing “my but­ter will do, I’l go on liv­ing and fry­ing with it.” 

Approach­ing Gül­süm, talk­ing with her, becom­ing friends takes quite a lot of time and patience. But after­wards, you can lean on her, she has your back, Gül­süm, she is like a mountain…


Recent­ly, she told me about the inte­ri­or of one of those beau­ti­ful homes…This is why I felt the need to write this chron­i­cle, in the name of all immi­grant houseworkers.

After all, Gülsüm’s sto­ry, is also the sto­ry of all immi­grant houseworkers

For the past three weeks, I’ve been house­clean­ing in Elke’s house. She has a heart dis­ease, not a fin­ger has touch­er her home, it’s dirty, dis­gust­ing every­where… She didn’t even have the nec­es­sary clean­ing prod­ucts. In the sec­ond week, I made a list and bought all the prod­ucts, I turned up my sleeves and set to work… While the cur­tains and car­pets took turns in the machine, I cleaned every­where, from the win­dows to the doors and final­ly, there was noth­ing my hands hadn’t touched, I cov­ered the whole house.

A Ger­man cou­ple came for cof­fee at Elke’s. Appar­ent­ly, they admired how clean the house was and how nice­ly it smelled. They asked Elke if I could clean their home also. I accept­ed. As Mon­day is a hol­i­day, Hein­er­fest…1

On Mon­day morn­ing, I got up, did a bit of house­work at home, pre­pared a snack and had break­fast. I left a bit of mon­ey for the chil­dren to they could go and have fun at the fes­ti­val, or swim, and I left them a note. First, I re-cleaned Elke’s home for three hours. After­ward, I set out on the road with the Bergman couple’s address Elke had giv­en me. Their house was in the same dis­trict, six bus stops away.

An elite part of the com­mune with noth­ing but cot­tages. Mis­ter Bergman opened  the door, the house is not a house, but a palace… It is big and spa­cious, it could shel­ter an entire fam­i­ly with elders and their descen­dants, if it were built back home. His wife, Mare, was in the gar­den tak­ing in the sun in a lawn chair near the pool. The Bergmans had bought all the clean­ing prod­ucts, all that was required was that I set to work. Per­sian car­pets on the ground, fine­ly dec­o­rat­ed Chi­nese ceram­ics on the walls, paint­ings, orig­i­nal oil paint­ings. Two stairs down, a chim­ney, a big plas­ma tele­vi­sion as large as in a cin­e­ma… All the fur­ni­ture are peri­od pieces, the kind two peo­ple work­ing for ten years could still not afford…But that said, the house was so dirty it was as if no one had ever cleaned it. Even the hairs from their dog, dead for three years, were stuck every­where, and had stayed that way ever since. Trans­form­ing the kitchen into some­thing bear­able took me two hours. The mag­nets on their fridge showed there was not a sin­gle coun­try they had not vis­it­ed. Mid­dle East, Amer­i­ca, Africa, South­east Asia.

Mare inher­it­ed the house from her moth­er. So Bergman is in her debt. What­ev­er she orders, he obeys imme­di­ate­ly… “Bring me some water Bergman”, “Come here Bergman”, “Go away Bergman”…He is a tall thin man, about sev­en­ty years old. His looks are so sala­cious I can feel him detail­ing me even with my back turned. Mare ful­ly lives her life of spoiled heiress, plays on her smart­phone, con­stant­ly com­plains “drats, I lost again!” Mare is ill, she suf­fers from osteo­cla­sis, when she speaks, her words stick in her throat like peb­bles gur­gling in a stream…They have a daugh­ter, she is a diplo­mat in Frankfurt…

At last, after three cig­a­rette breaks, and cov­er­ing every nook and cor­ner of the house, I cleaned every­thing includ­ing the win­dows. I cleaned the ceram­ic on the floors not once, but three times. House­work is detail work, you must col­lect the spi­der webs on the ceil­ing and work your way down to the col­lec­tions of knick knacks, in every detail…

At one point, the door­bell rang, Bergman opened. They had ordered a meal from a Greek restau­rant… My god, how hun­gry I was. The smells from the dish­es crossed the rooms and land­ed in the gar­den. Sit­ting at the table, they ate with such appetite, such plea­sure, I can’t describe it. I said to myself “you dirty bour­geois, you who stole the salt and the spices from India, who attempt to qui­eten you food com­plex­es by overeat­ing, who are you show­ing off to?” Thus did they gorge them­selves to the end. These peo­ple, so called evolved, cul­tured, what are they next to my illit­er­ate moth­er? While at home, eat­ing a sin­gle  bite alone in your cor­ner is con­sid­ered inde­cent, for these bour­geois, gorg­ing them­selves alone is an exploit.

I was so dis­gust­ed, I told myself that was enough for the day.

Bergman, still with his dirty looks, paid my sev­en hours of work with a shaky hand. Out in the gar­den, Mare moved waved a good­bye. There you are, that’s how, hun­gry, thirsty, I went home, ful­ly con­scious again of where I stood, class-wise…My arms and shoul­ders still ache from it.

Gül­süm is from Mesopotamia… She comes from the birth­place of the first civ­i­liza­tion, from the fer­tiles lands watered by the Euphrates.  She is one of those who best knows friend­ship and   how to share.

Now she won­ders: “for the love of god, what am I doing in these lands of exile? For years now, I’ve been unable to make ends meet, all my time is spent work­ing, and expe­ri­enc­ing the lack of the peo­ple I love…”

Hon­est­ly, is not Gülsüm’s sto­ry that of all immi­grant women?

Illustration : Naz Oke 2022. adoptart.net
Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges

Sup­port Kedis­tan, MAKE A CONTRIBUTION.

We maintain the “Kedistan tool” as well as its archives. We are fiercely committed to it remaining free of charge, devoid of advertising and with ease of consultation for our readers, even if this has a financial costs, covered up till now by financial contributions (all the authors at Kedistan work on a volunteer basis).
You may use and share Kedistan’s articles and translations, specifying the source and adding a link in order to respect the writer(s) and translator(s) work. Thank you.
Suna Arev
Née en 1972 à Uzun­tar­la (Elazığ).Dans une famille de huits enfants, elle est immergée dès son plus jeune âge, par­mi les tra­vailleurs agri­coles à la tâche. Tel un miroir qui date de son enfance, la péri­ode du coup d’Etat mil­i­taire du 12 sep­tem­bre 1980 a for­mé sa vie poli­tique. Diplômée de l’École pro­fes­sion­nelle de com­merce d’Elazığ, elle a vécu, en grandeur nature les com­porte­ments fas­cistes et racistes dans sa ville. Mère de qua­tre enfants, depuis 1997, elle habite en Alle­magne, pour des raisons politiques.
Suna Arev was born in 1972 in the vil­lage of Uzun­tar­la, Elazığ dis­trict. From a fam­i­ly of eight chil­dren she became one of the agri­cul­tur­al work­ers at an ear­ly age. The mil­i­tary coup d’état of Sep­tem­ber 12 1980 served as a mir­ror in shap­ing her polit­i­cal out­look. After obtain­ing a diplo­ma from the Elazığ Pro­fes­sion­al Busi­ness School, she expe­ri­enced the full force of fas­cist and racist behav­iours in her town. She has lived in Ger­many since 1997, for polit­i­cal rea­sons. She is the moth­er of four children.