From a series of interviews with Lebanese middle- and upper-class women in their latter years, the paper traces an oral history of domestic service in Lebanon over the past century. The interviews reveal various periods when women and girls were recruited from the local village poor as well from among Syrians, Palestinians, Kurds, Egyptians, and others in accordance with convenience and regional political circumstances. The long-term employment of Arab women in domestic service, with a primary focus on “live-in” maids, may be characterized as carrying a “burden” of obligation and responsibility in terms of relations of patronage and fictive kin. For example, Arab women in service, after they left the employing family, continued to claim patronage and resources for themselves and sometimes for their children as well. The outbreak of the civil war in 1975, however, marked a radical shift in the source of domestic labor, from Arab to non-Arab migrant workers, where patronage obligations were no longer required (or claimed). The paper provides anecdotal testimonies of prewar relations, identifying a continuing dependency, but now on quasi-contractual arrangements with Asian and African migrant domestic workers.

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