Enduring bond: Mom, daughter reunite 20 years after abduction
Lilly Martin anxiously scanned the passengers walking off the airplane at Tampa International Airport. Then she saw the woman with a red hijab – her daughter.
Dalal Waked is now 25. Her mother had not seen her for 20 years. Martin speaks Spanish and English, Waked mostly Arabic.
It didn’t matter.
“I went running towards her like a crazy person to hug her and kiss her,” said Martin, 51, of Brandon. “I was in disbelief that I could smell her, kiss her, touch her.”
Martin doesn’t know much Arabic, but she remembered this much as she held her daughter tight: “You are my daughter. I am your mother. I love you so much.’’
Dalal Waked, 25, felt faint when she met her mother at around 12:45 a.m. Wednesday.
“I felt like my heart broke out of my body and was walking beside me,” Dalal Waked said.
Twenty years ago, the two lived in Miami as a family. Lilly Martin, who was born in Colombia, was married to Mohammed Waked. They had two daughters, Dalal and her younger sister, Lamia.
One day while Martin was at cosmetology school, Mohammed Waked left with their daughters and fled to Syria. He and the two girls later lived in Saudi Arabia and then Egypt, where they have been the last 10 years.
Dalal was 4 and Lamia was 21 months old when their father abducted them. The girls were mostly raised by their paternal grandparents. At home they were forbidden to speak about their mother, Dalal said.
Martin said remembers having restless nights over the years. She wondered if her daughters had enough to eat, were happy or sick. She regularly prayed and sent them blessings.
“After 21 years I woke up today having felt that I slept relaxed,” Martin said. “I feel like she’s at home. She’s home. My girl has arrived home.”
Dalal replayed scenes of what she remembers of her mother. Lamia was too young when she was taken to remember her mother. But Dalal would help fill the void by telling her younger sister stories about their mother.
And she prayed.
“When I prayed, I prayed to find my mom,” said Dalal, who is fluent in Arabic and speaks limited English. “I did it in secret. I never told that to anyone in my family.
“I had a lot of love for my mom in my heart,” she said. “That made me to think about my mom. She’s part of me.”
Over the years, Martin tried to contact her daughters, whom she thought were still in Syria. She sought help from the U.S. government but was never able to make contact with her children.
She suffered several years of depression. Later, she married to José Martin. They had a daughter, Kelly Martin, who is now 16. They raised her and Lilly’s son, Juan Sebastian Jimenez, from a previous relationship.
Eleven years ago, they moved to moved to Hillsborough County from South Florida. They now live in Brandon.
Last year, she changed her Facebook profile from Lilly Martin to Lilly Waked, her former name with ex-husband Mohammed Waked.
In May 2012, she received a Facebook post from Dalal.
The feeling of making contact was powerful but the feeling of coming together has been indescribable, mother and daughter said.
“All night we slept together,” Martin said. “It was like a dream turned into reality.”
Dalal, who was born in Miami and is a U.S. citizen, plans to stay with her mother and study fashion. She says she loves Egypt but would only return to visit; her husband is planning to join her in the United States in the future.
Her sister, 22-year-old Lamia, wasn’t able to make this trip because she’s pregnant and doctors told her not to fly. She’s planning on coming soon to visit her mother, though she doesn’t plan to stay permanently, Dalal said.
Dalal is anxious to visit Miami and confirm some of her memories. She wants to see the home where she lived as a child in Miami and other places she still vaguely recalls. She wants to go to Walt Disney World.
Martin said she has no hard feelings towards her ex-husband and is concentrating on her new life with her daughter.
“I don’t want to talk or think about the past. I want to think about the future,” Martin said. “I want to focus on building on our future.”
Dalal said she has a strong bond with her father and cares for him deeply.
“I forgive him because I am happy now,” Dalal said. “He told me, ‘One day I’ll let you see your mom.’”
Martin said their differences and time apart won’t pose a challenge. Lilly is Catholic and Dalal is Muslim, but the mother-daughter bond is too powerful, they said.
Martin hopes their story can serve as an inspiration.
“It sends a message to all fathers and mothers,” Martin said. “It’s a message of love, of inspiration, of family unity, of faith.”
“I was always optimistic,” she said. “I always had faith.”