I was living in Holland and I needed to get back home. I was very, very sad, very lonely. I was only 22. I got on this old ship, the Waterman, and it was also ferrying people from various other countries that were migrating, like an immigration ship. We got through the Suez Canal and we had to get off the boat. I had Michael, my 22-month-old son on my hip, a bag with nappies and everything in it. When we got to passport control, there was a huge line of people. I was shuffling Michael from hip to hip and juggling my bag. Finally it was my turn. The passport control man, with every other passport, would just give them back almost instantly. With me, he held onto my passport and flicked it backwards and forwards.
Anyway, there was a tap on my shoulder, and this very decent looking young man asked if he could hold my baby for me, because I had to get a couple of things out of my bag for the passport man who kept asking me questions. So I handed my baby to this man behind me, because I thought he was just one of the passengers. Fortunately, there was a lady who recognised me from the ship, and she ran up to me and she said, ‘where’s your son?’
I turned around, and all of a sudden it all fell into place. Passport control man was in on my son being taken, kidnapped. I just grabbed my passport out of his hand, threw all my things to this lady. I said, ‘don’t move,’ and I ran. It was like an airport hangar, and there were people everywhere and I was bumping into people all the way to outside.
They were all dressed in white robes. They all looked the same. There was a road going left, one going right. There were a couple of other roads going in different directions, and for some reason, I don’t know why, but I took this particular road and I was literally kicking into people, fighting, falling over them, hitting; a mother’s instinct, I don’t know. And I saw a little bit of blonde hair flopping. And that was my son.
Had it been even 30 seconds later, I don’t think I would have gotten him back. That’s the scariest thing any woman can go through. And I often wondered how many other babies were taken from women that were migrating and weren’t missed. Because if you weren’t back on the ship at a certain time, the ship would go.
I grabbed the man, I almost pulled him off his feet. I just grabbed my son out of his arms and raced. Raced back. I was in shock. I was in so much shock. And I can understand now, when you see these programmes and you go, why didn’t they report it? Why didn’t they do this or that? I know why. Because you go into a different hemisphere.
It changed how I saw the world. I didn’t trust anymore after that. It made me stronger. I still kept travelling with my children.