Personal Stories

The Truth Why I Left Dubi

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   anne is a mother of two and native to Belgium.  while living with her husband in dubai for a season, she recounts the events leading up to her son's death and the struggle to get to the truth of  what really happened .  Her journey of courage to in the face of tragedy and injustice has given her a new voice  - a voice to speak truth for those who are unable to speak for themselves.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  anne is a mother of two and native to Belgium.  while living with her husband in dubai for a season, she recounts the events leading up to her son's death and the struggle to get to the truth of what really happened.  Her journey of courage to in the face of tragedy and injustice has given her a new voice  - a voice to speak truth for those who are unable to speak for themselves.  

Yes, I've deliberately chosen a catchy headline to get your attention on this post. I've postponed it for months and months but it's something that I need to address. For me, because I know it's going to be therapeutic but to honor my son most importantly... 

I've wanted to write this for ages but I was scared and not prepared. Not prepared because talking about the death of my son is something I will never get used to and scared because the freedom of speech in Dubai is simply nonexistent. 

We moved to Dubai in September 2013 for work. In July 2015 our little Benjamin who was 5 at the time was attending a reputable sports camp in the city. He drowned on the 21st of July in a swimming-pool that was supposed to be supervised by 'competent' caregivers. 

I don't want to go into too many details because this is extremely hard to write but we got a call from the camp that morning around 11am saying that our son has been transported to the hospital because he IS not breathing. The trainer hung up the phone with no other information. At that time we had no idea what happened. 

We rushed to the hospital and found our Benji in the resuscitation room. At that moment we were not allowed to see him as the doctors were trying to save his life. The hospital staff told us he was brought by ambulance alone. Yes, you read it right, alone. Nobody from the camp had the heart nor the decency to accompany him, and that shows you the kind of people we were going to deal with. They just put him in the ambulance like a dog. No compassion, even though he had been attending the camp everyday for two weeks already. 

He stayed in the ICU for 6 days battling like a little warrior for his life. He was brain dead, after many exams the doctors told us that he had been under water for more than 10 minutes to be in such a stage... Yes, the pool was full of children, supposedly supervised by 5 trainers but nobody was there at some point. NOBODY.

We still don't know what really happened to our little boy because the CCTV cameras were not operating as it was summer holidays and none of these monsters is willing to take responsibility.

After 6 days Benji lost his battle. His organs shut down. We stayed constantly with him while he was at the hospital. We barely slept, ate or showered. He died in our arms on the 27th in the afternoon... It still feels so surreal to type these words. After that started the battle to find the culprits and to know what really happened. Obviously, our will was to bring Benjamin back to Belgium, which we did. It took a few days to arrange the rapatriation. During those days Benji had to stay at the morgue. The day of the deportation we went there to identify his little body. As we were crying our eyes out one of the local police officers looked at us and said 'Why you cry? You are young, you can have another one!'. How can somebody be so heartless? Do I need to say more? What kind of animal says that? At this point we just wanted to smack his face for being so disrespectful but obviously we would have to face the consequences. 

After Benjamin's burial we stayed for two months in Belgium. We needed our family more than ever. We were completely broken and couldn't face to come back to the place where our son died. In October we eventually went back and this is when our legal battle started. Well I say 'started' but it really never happened. Our lawyers promised us the moon but they didn't care at all. They didn't do their job. They kept us waiting and waiting, promising 'INSHALLAH we will punish them, INSHALLAH they will face the consequences!' They assured us that everything was done to keep the culprits in the country and that they couldn't leave Dubai, that they would be judged but they lied to us. There were 5 at the beginning. Three of them have been immediately acquitted (why?) and the other two never really showed up at the court hearings. One of them escaped, she is now back in her home country in Australia and the other one (british) is living wild and free under the Dubai sun. 

Losing a child is the equivalent of facing a lifetime sentence but yet these monsters didn't get any punishment. I don't care about the money, no amount will ever bring our son back but we didn't even get a compensation for the mental damages. On top of that our lawyers took advantage of our rage and sorrow to suck money out of us. There is no other word, they sucked every dirham they could, promising that Benjamin will get justice. We tried everything we could, we even involved the Belgian embassy in Abu Dhabi. We talked personally to the ambassador which said to us 'unfortunately there are two types of justice in Dubai. One for the locals, one for the expats and I've never been impressed by the latter'. These are her words. So basically we were stuck. I'm sure that if we were locals things would have been very different! These monsters would be rotting in jail since the day of the accident.

As an expat in Dubai you have no right, that's also the reason why I'm telling you our story. Pardon my French but once shit hits the fan you are well and truly on your own. Sad but true. 

My husband who was working for Emirates didn't get any support from the company either. He was put offline for a year as he wasn't mentally fit to fly. He was about to become a captain but everything was thrown out of the way. 

I'm writing this now because we are both back in Belgium with our little girl. I left Dubai with her in September 2017. I had to make a choice. Staying in Dubai was just not an option for me anymore. I was suffocating, suffering from terrible anxiety and utterly depressed. I was at my lowest during summer 2017, even lower than those months which followed Benji's passing. Having a baby whilst grieving my little boy has been the hardest challenge of my life.

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My husband had no choice but to stay in Dubai, working full time whilst looking for other jobs. We've been away from each other for 6 months. It was really really tough to be so far. Fortunately he worked hard and found a new position as a pilot and resigned straight away from Emirates. After his three months notice he came back to Belgium at the beginning of March so that's why I can finally talk about it. There is no such a thing as 'freedom of speech' in Dubai and I was too scared to talk back then. Call me paranoid but we've seen enough aberration there to feel this way.

The hardest thing in our story is that Benji will never be recognized as a victim. Justice will never be done. We entrusted him to these 'professionals' and they killed him. Yes, to me this is not negligence, this is more than that. He was found by other kids after long minutes, THEY alerted the adults. How can you leave kids without supervision in a pool? 

I'm not writing this post to get your pity nor sympathy. I just want to speak the truth because my son deserves it. Dubai is portrayed as this paradise where everything is perfect and human rights are a priority. Well, it's not. Dubai is a soul-less place, built on smoke and mirrors by slave labour to satisfy the excesses of hypocrites.

Nothing will ever bring our little boy back but it's my duty as his mom to share his story, our story with you. I want you to think twice if you are considering to move there. Don't believe everything you see on social media. This is the sad and ugly truth about Dubai. 

If you are a parent or you know somebody who wants to move to Dubai (or is already living in Dubai) please do me a favour and share this post with them. Please warn them of the dangers, help me prevent other families being destroyed. I would be forever grateful to any of you who is willing to share my words. Together we can make a difference...

Thank you so much for taking the time to read our story. 

I love you Benji... I really do.


Okay But Not Okay, and That's Okay

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The funeral director told us it was time to close the casket and suddenly I gasped for air and tried to hold back my tears - but nothing could stay my sorrow. This was it. I wasn't ready to look upon my son for the last time – to say goodbye to his little body, his sweet face … this little boy I used to cuddle, hug and laugh with. My youngest son, Wyatt stood beside me and watched me in grief and sorrow tuck his older brother one last time. 

I carefully pulled Mitchell’s favorite blanket up to his chin, like I did every night, and said “I love you little boy … my sweet son. Oh, how I love you.” I cried a father’s tears … and until that moment I had tasted no deeper tears. I had never known so great a sorrow as to say goodbye to my child. Sweet Mitch trusted that I could keep him safe from harm. He thought there wasn't anything I couldn't do. When he looked at me he saw superman. When I looked in the mirror I saw a broken man. But I tried. God knows how hard I tried. But I was only human.

Months later, my oldest son, Ethan, came into my office while I was writing an entry for Mitchell’s Journey. I was unprepared for the interruption and my eyes were red and filled with tears. Ethan asked, “Dad, are you okay?” I immediately tried to be superman and put on a brave face, wiping my eyes and said, “Yeah, I’m okay” … as if to suggest all was well and that I was simply rubbing my tired eyes. But Ethan was discerning and knew better … I could tell by his expression he knew I was grieving. 

In that moment I thought to myself, “What good do I do my children when I pretend?” I realized I do him no favors when I am not being real. I paused a moment then looked Ethan in the eye and said, “Actually, I’m not okay. But I’m okay. Do you know what I mean?” Relief washed over his face and I could tell he not only understood but that he was glad I was being real … as if it gave him permission to be real, too. I wanted my son to know that it is okay to hurt … that you can be “okay” but “not okay” and that’s okay.

Ethan and I talked about Mitch for a while and he shared some of his sorrows about losing his younger brother. We both cried together. I hugged Ethan and let him know how much I loved him – every bit as much. We crossed a threshold with grief that day. My son knew it was okay to hurt and that pretending otherwise serves nobody, not even ourselves. To the contrary, we do a great disservice when we pretend. 

I had a moment of truth a few years prior when I read the words of an 18th Century French writer who observed, “We discover in ourselves what others hide from us, and we recognize in others what we hide from ourselves.” When I read those words I vowed to retire my masks and get real. 

I've tried to have similar exchanges with my other kids. My children, each unique, process their grief differently. And that’s okay, too. In all things I want to be real with them – for it is when we’re real that we become equipped to deal with real life.

I am still walking on Jupiter. The gravity of grief is great. The air is thin and my tears fall as generously as spring rains. Yes, I have moments of sweet relief and happiness is returning – but grief and sorrow linger. I cannot run from sorrow any more than I can run from my shadow on a sunny day. I must learn to live with love and sorrow – there seems no other way. 

I’m okay … but I’m not okay … and that’s okay. That is part of being human.

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See original article here.