‘In the Spotlight’ #2: Ladan

At six months pregnant, Ladan fled her homeland in an attempt to bring safety to her unborn child after persecution by her family for marrying someone outside her tribe. Now, nurturing her baby girl in shelter provided by Caritas Cyprus, Ladan talks about the safety she has found amongst us.
By Melissa Hekkers

Ladan holds her six-month old little girl in her arms as I introduce myself within the premises of the Caritas Cyprus Women’s Shelter in Nicosia, home to up to fifteen migrant women seeking emergency shelter. It’s mid-morning and a couple of ladies refuged on location are preparing breakfast in the kitchen that leads to a backyard garden.

As I place my hand in between her infant’s clasp, I’m told that she has just had her head shaved, one of the Somali traditions Ladan has chosen to abide by; there aren’t many ideals she can enrich as she awaits for her interview with the asylum services that will determine whether she will be granted asylum to remain on the island.

At 22 years old, and seven months pregnant, Ladan left her small village in Somalia, “a big decision” as she names it, yet remains undeniably grounded as she depicts the journey that led her to Nicosia.

Not having heard from her father since 2012 who had fled their home village in search of a better future for his family, it was her father’s brother who took the reigns of Ladan’s family, including her mother and eight siblings, one of which her mother adopted after finding her starving on the streets.

It’s when I ask her why she left her home and landed in Cyprus that she introduces her uncle.

“My uncle wanted to kill my baby, he wanted me to have an abortion because my husband and I are from different tribes,” she reveals.

In Somalia, marriages don’t just symbolise a bond between a man and a woman but can also initiate a deeper relation between tribes and families. Tribes are still very much seen as a social insurance and obligations and duties toward one’s tribe are not to be dismissed.

What Ladan did was break the cultural and social norms of her own tribe. Her departure didn’t just have to do with the threat posed on her child’s life, but her very own life too.

Ladan and her husband initially met when he arrived in Ladan’s village in search for work. It was then that her uncle forbade her to come into contact with him and forced the couple to meet in secret.

“My uncle left the village for six months to go and work in the city. We got married in secret and after six months he saw I was pregnant and that I was living with my husband,” recalls Ladan as she fiddles with the fingers.

“He beat my husband with a stick and my husband ran away.”

That’s when her uncle told her that the following morning he would take her to the city to abort her baby.

“I said no and he locked me in my room.”

With her mother’s approval Ladan fled her home and embarked on a long journey bearing a six-month baby in her womb. Three months after Ladan arrived on the island, she gave birth to her little girl at the Nicosia General Hospital alone, in a foreign country, in a foreign language and with little postnatal support other than Caritas Cyprus, who made sure she followed prenatal appointments at the hospital and had a room to come home to once she had given birth.

“Now I’m alone,” she affirms after she tells me it took five hours of labour to bring her child to life. “But my baby is alive,” she adds as a matter of fact, “my life is better because my baby is alive.”

Deeming that there is nothing that could stand in the way of a mother’s love for her child, I can only fully embrace Ladan’s strength and her perseverance in attaining a better life for her daughter, albeit alone.

I ask her how she chose to name her child; a notion I understand will have a deeper meaning considering her fate.

“Amreen,” she whispers with a smile.

“And what does that mean?” I continue.

“It means sky,” she replies. “Because we share the same sky,” she adds.

From where she stands today, Ladan shares the same sky with all of us. But I know that for her, it also means that wherever she is, she will always share the same sky as her home, her country, her father, her mother, her siblings and her husband that she hopes one day will be able to join her to raise their loving daughter as one.

*** Caritas Cyprus provides shelter for Ladan and her daughter, baby supplies, and transportation and support during medical appointments. Caritas Cyprus also provides psychosocial support while Ladan awaits her decision from asylum services regarding her case.

*** The names of persons interviewed in these short stories have been changed in order to protect the privacy of the individuals.

For more information, ways to get involved, or inquiries, please call us at 22662606 or email us at administration@caritascyprus.org.

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London