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Cyprus

The kindness born of tragedy

Annamaria's new place filled with items donated by residents of Oroklini

After the tragedy in Oroklini village two weeks ago when a 41-year-old Egyptian man was shot dead by police after he threatened to kill his son, the community has come together in every way it can to support the 36-year-old widow from Hungary who is now trying to piece her life back together.

By 6am on May 21, negotiators and swat teams had been at the couple’s home in the village outside Larnaca for 12 hours trying to change the father’s mind while he threw Molotov cocktails in the flat that is today still blackened with smoke.

During the ordeal he held the couple’s 16-month-old son hostage in the flat and made repeated threats to kill him. Annamaria, who had been out of the flat when the tragedy started, was sitting helplessly in a police station as police officers were desperately trying to talk her husband into releasing the boy and giving himself up.

Although no one knows exactly what went on inside that flat that night, the toddler sustained a 10cm knife wound on his neck before police fatally shot his father.

Out of the blue, Annamaria became a widow and although she is still dealing with the shock of everything that happened, she has found herself surrounded with friends and strangers alike who have stepped forward to support her.

She remembers her few days in the hospital in a haze. Apart from vague memories of women coming to her saying they were social workers, Annamaria can barely remember a thing of the aftermath.

When the doctor told her she was free to go, she was confused. There was nowhere for her to go. The flat, apart from the psychological turmoil it would cause to return, was not fit for habitation.

The Molotov cocktails her husband had thrown that dreadful night had destroyed much of the interior.

Most of her paperwork had been burnt to ashes and should she begin a hunt for a new flat – carrying a 16-month-old baby – she had no money, no phone, no car and no ID.

The kindess of strangers, June Hayes (left) and Belinda Salthouse
The kindess of strangers, June Hayes (left) and Belinda Salthouse
The hospital allowed her to stay in a small room for a couple of days, but it was 66-year-old Oroklini resident June Hayes and her friend Belinda Salthouse, 52, who came to the rescue.
When Hayes heard of the tragedy, she went to visit Annamaria and see if she could do anything to help and immediately realised Annamaria had nowhere to go.

She contacted Salthouse who, without meeting Annamaria, brought her into her own home and then helped her find a more permanent place to stay.

“I picked her up from the hospital put her in my flat…The social services left the baby and the mother, she had nothing, nowhere to sleep. It was just her and that cut baby,” said Salthouse.

“Oroklini village got together to keep her safe. I’m not rich but whatever me and my friends got together we gave her. Everyone donated furniture, we got a cot, clothes, towels, food, anything we could think of.

“There was no care plan for her for when she would leave the hospital.”

Earlier this week, however, the social services gave Annamaria a lump sum of €400 to help her meet any immediate needs and is assisting her in her application for Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI).

Although she has a job, at the moment she doesn’t feel ready to work. It was only a few days ago that she let her son out of her sight when her mother, who flew in from Hungary and some friends took the boy to the beach.

Annamaria described how she nervously clutched the door as he was going.

Social services confirmed to the Sunday Mail that irrespective of whether her GMI application is approved she will also receive single parent and child benefits.

Annamaria is trying to bring some semblance of normality to her son's life
Annamaria is trying to bring some semblance of normality to her son’s life
As of now, Annamaria is trying to do a million things at once. Get her life back together, be strong for her son, plan for their future while all the while still dealing with a life-changing brutal reality: her husband is dead and he threatened to kill his own son and injured him.

Next week Annamaria is scheduled for a surgery for a wound she has on her cheek sustained from when she says her husband cut her with a knife, a week before his death.

That was when the threats over their son’s life began, but she is clueless as to why.

She doesn’t understand how the man she met and fell in love with at a chance encounter in Limassol when she first arrived to Cyprus just under three years ago looking for a job and a better life, resulted in a controlling marriage.

“We didn’t fight. None of that is true. But he controlled me, terrorised me. I had to do what he said. If I said no, I would be black and blue. He wouldn’t let me talk to my mother or talk to anyone. He said to me ‘If you don’t do what I say I will kill our son’.”

At the beginning, however, it was all so very different.
“He was very, very nice. Not only from the outside. Inside. I felt love from him. He would give me flowers every time he would come to me. We would dance at the beach under the moon. He thought of me, he was very good,” Annamaria, who did not want her last name used nor her photo taken, told the Sunday Mail this week.

“I believed we would have a good family. I said I didn’t need anything in life. Not a lot of money or a big house, just a normal life. I work, doesn’t matter it’s no problem for me. Just a normal life and even if we have any problem outside we hug each other and finish, nothing else.”
One of the key messages she wants everyone to know is that her husband’s nationality and Muslim faith had absolutely nothing to do with what happened.
She dismisses out of hand those who have suggested she should’ve known what she was getting into by marrying an Arab man.

“Many, many people are good. Many are not good from everywhere in the world. It’s not about religion. I think people like to hate other people so they want to find a reason to hate other people. We don’t love, we find a reason to find something wrong.”

Her son, she says, wakes up many times in the night.
“He shouts, he cries, he has bad dreams. I know he remembers and I feel it. But he will get better he needs time, like I need time. I can’t imagine what he has inside his small mind and what he survived in that small flat with a fire while he was inside.”

She knows that one day she’ll need to have a conversation with her son and plans to be entirely honest. “I’ll tell him the truth. I forgive him (my husband), I pray to God to forgive him also and you, my son, have to forgive your father because he was sick. So we have to forgive to remember some good things. I will tell him some good stories about him, not bad because that’s not good.

“I want my baby to have a good heart and not feel bad. If I fill his mind with bad things about his father, he will grow up and have a problem in his life. Maybe I’m crazy, but the things that happened aren’t because my husband was a bad person. He was nice before, but something happened and we never understood.”

Although financial hardship is not new to her – she endured it throughout her marriage – Annamaria has never had such a strong network of support from people who are so willing to help her, let alone from people she didn’t even know until two weeks ago.

These strangers are quickly becoming family.

When I comment on how strong she is, Annamaria looks at Salthouse and says, “it’s because of her”. In turn, Salthouse remarks on Hayes “who is absolutely amazing.”

Annamaria said she was also immensely grateful to Oroklini council, which donated what it could for her, the Hungarian community in Cyprus, Larnaca and Nicosia hospitals for treating her and her son, the social services, the fire department, police and CID.

“I know what they did was very hard,” she said of the police officers who shot her husband.
“But they had no other choice.”

Migrant support group KISA is trying to raise donations for Annamaria and her son via gofundme at https://www.gofundme.com/KISAmotherchild

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