Dubai: On Saturday night the arrivals area at Dubai airport was the setting for a very special family reunion.
A father, face to face with his estranged daughter, fell short of words to express his joy. A very emotional daughter walked towards him after a few moments of hesitation and hugged him tightly for a long time. He responded by holding her chin up and planting a gentle kiss on her cheek.
All communications with them were cut off. I tried a lot but there was no way of finding my daughter. All I had was just one baby photograph
Last time Mohammad Shamson saw Lyena she was just four years old. Now 37, she was with her 12-year-old son, equally happy to see his grandfather for the first time.
“As the years passed, I was in a lot of despair and I had given up all hope of finding her,” Shamson told Gulf News.
Originally from Oman, Shamson worked for the InterContinental Hotels Group for 27 years. He met Lyena’s mother, a Liberian during an assignment to Liberia and the couple married. It was his second marriage. Shortly after they relocated to Kenya as part of his work. Lyena was born there in 1976.
“But Lyena’s mother was not comfortable with the relocation and she went back to Liberia, while I stayed on and completed my assignment, Shamson said.
By the time he returned to Liberia they had grown apart and decided to separate, Shamson said. But he used to meet Lyena and her mother used to regularly send him letters and pictures of Lyena. He remained in Liberia for four more years.
“Then in 1980 things fell apart. Civil unrest began in Liberia and people were moving in large numbers to other countries.”
“By the time, I had already moved out of Liberia. All communications with them were cut off. I tried a lot but there was no way of finding my daughter. All I had was just one baby photograph of her.”
Years later he moved on and remarried It was his wife Jameela, a Kenyan national, who helped him reunite with Lyena.
Jameela works for a company in Deira selling cosmetics. Each time she had a Liberian customer she would tell them about how Shamson was on the lookout for his daughter.
“One of our regular clients made several attempts but nothing happened,” Jameela recounted. “Each visit she would tell me that she had no luck.”
“Then a few months ago, Isaac, a Liberian lawyer and his wife, walked in to our lives,” Shamson said.
“I first met them as customers. When they heard our story, they promised to help,” said Jameela.
“Once in Liberia, they put out a message on the radio and as fate had it one of Lyena’s relatives heard it and contacted Lyena and her mother.”
They had moved to London and made it their home.
The lawyer reconfirmed the details with Lyena’s birth certificate and childhood photographs and contacted Shamson.
“It was hard to believe at first…that Lyena was found. It was such a wonderful day for all of us. This was during Ramadan,” Jameela said.
Lyena's point of view
“I’ll never forget the first call from my father,” Lyena said.
“I thought it was the solicitor, but when I answered the call it was daddy.”
“I just cried…it was a very special moment.”
She said she had memories of her father, although she was very small then.
My mother told me that after we left Liberia she had tried to reach daddy by calling the hotel where he worked, but each time they would say he was at a different place and she never got through to him, she said.
“We left the past behind and started a new life in London. It was about getting adjusted to a new culture and way of life.”
But Lyena never really attempted to find out more about her father, until she had a child of her own, she confessed.
Around that time, she contacted the Salvation Army in the UK and attempted to trace her father but her efforts were unsuccessful. Even when Shamson had given up hope, it was Lyena’s half-sister (born to Jameela) and two half-brothers (born to Shamson’s first wife) who were positive about finding Lyena.
Attempts to find Lyena online were thwarted mostly because she adopted her stepfather’s surname.
With years of catching up to do the family said they wouldn’t run out of things to talk about.