Expat Interview with Harvesting Stones Author Paula Lucas


Interview and story by Shelley Antscherl (www.disparatehuisvrouw.com)

The first thing I notice about author Paula Lucas when I arrive to meet her at a Vancouver hotel, is that she’s slight of build.

As she stands up to greet me with a big smile and a friendly hug, I’m struck by the fact that she’s small – petite even; and her bubbly nature.

None of which should be particularly relevant, except that I’d just finished reading her new autobiography Harvesting Stones; the horrifying true-life account of how she and her three sons were abused in the Middle East by her violent ex-husband.

Seeing her in the flesh lets me imagine, albeit fleetingly, just how terrifying it must have been living far away from home under the tyranny of a six-foot brute, and the person who should have been their protector.

After fleeing Dubai with their three young sons in scenes not out of place in a Hollywood thriller, Lucas escaped back to the U.S., and it was there, while living in domestic violence shelters and surviving on welfare, that Lucas went on to establish the first and only charity serving the needs of abused U.S. expats living abroad, Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVC).

In Harvesting Stones (www.harvestingstonesbook.com), Lucas tells her story of growing up in rural California as an ‘isolated Catholic farm girl’, and how in her early 20s she met a wealthy and charismatic international photographer when she moved to San Francisco in the 1980s.

Ty, as he is known in the book (not his real name – to protect the people still living under his control) started out as the perfect boyfriend; he was sophisticated and attentive with beautiful manners. To begin with he was considerate and generous to a fault, often lavishing Lucas with flowers and gifts and charming the people around him. And during these early years he always behaved impeccably towards her in front of family and friends.

Not long after they got married and with considerable pressure from her new husband, Lucas gave up her career to help Ty develop his photography business. And despite his obsession with obtaining an American passport, they left the U.S. and moved to the U.K., before eventually relocating to Dubai where they could expand the business and take advantage of the UAE’s burgeoning economy at that time.

Reading through the first few chapters of the book as Ty’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and, at times, downright controlling, it’s hard to understand how a confident, intelligent and capable woman like Lucas didn’t see the warning signs before it was too late. Ty had also confiscated the family’s passports; meaning Lucas and her sons were prevented from leaving the UAE

But as she explains when we meet, he hadn’t yet been violent towards her, and his irrational behavior was escalating at the same time Lucas was facing the emotional trauma of losing both her parents in very close succession. She mentions how, when Lucas’ sister called her in the U.K. to tell her their mother was dying and to return home to the U.S. immediately, Ty refused to give her the money to travel, effectively obstructing her from leaving, and preventing the her from seeing her mother before she died.

“I was devastated when my mom died just two years after my dad, and so [at that time] I just pretty much handed Ty the reins to my life,” she explains. Later on it was her increasingly close relationship with Ty’s caring and affectionate mother, ‘Mama Wafa’, while she was still grieving the loss of her own, which inadvertently helped blur the reality of what was really going on. “When Mama Wafa came into the picture, she became my surrogate mother and I think the support I had from her trumped Ty’s strange behavior,” Lucas reflects ruefully.

They went on to have three sons together in Dubai, and that’s when the story really takes a sinister turn. The controlling tendencies and temper tantrums Ty had occasionally exhibited before moving to the Middle East suddenly escalated into regular fits of aggression and violence towards her and their three young boys.

In one of the chapters she goes into terrifying detail about the time he tried to kill her in a high-speed road accident (and then refused – on her behalf – any hospital treatment for the head injuries she suffered in the crash); and how she was only saved by the safety features of the Volvo they’d been driving in. In the following days she had to carry on as normal despite crippling pain, pretending nothing was wrong; and while dealing with the obvious psychological trauma of facing what had happened.

But if the physical violence wasn’t enough to cope with, Ty had also confiscated the family’s passports; meaning Lucas and her sons were prevented from leaving the UAE, and completely dependent on him for everything, financially and otherwise.

As she recounts in the book, it’s a common misconception that this could only happen to U.S. citizens living in the Middle East; but in reality affects any American living abroad, as embassies are generally very reluctant to issue children’s passports without the permission of both parents, except in extreme cases. What had to happen to constitute an ‘extreme’ case back then is anyone’s guess, but at that time, for whatever reason, Lucas’s plight clearly didn’t fall into this category. Suffice to say, Lucas did eventually find a way to get herself and the boys out of the UAE – thanks to a series of people she refers to as ‘angels’. One of whom was an anonymous and faceless thief who stole Ty’s bag (ironically containing his passport), while he was on a business trip in Europe. This ‘divine intervention,’ as she now jokingly refers to it, gave Lucas and her sons enough time to recover their hidden passports and flee to the U.S. while Ty was effectively stuck in Europe and barred from returning to Dubai while he waited to be issued with new travel documents.

Paula Lucas and Colin Powell

Paula Lucas and Colin Powell

Without divulging the full astonishing real-life drama in Harvesting Stones, it’s fair to say that during the following years Lucas and her boys faced enormous hardship living in various domestic violence shelters and existing on food stamps. At the same time Lucas had to fight for jurisdiction in the Oregon courts to retain custody of her three boys, while their father vindictively and relentlessly dragged them all through the U.S. legal system; in his bid to try and force them to return to the UAE.

It was while Lucas was living in shelters that she decided to set up a charity to help other American women suffering abuse while living overseas. And it’s how she met another ‘angel’, Louise Bauschard, founder of Voices Set Free, a non-profit organization that helps women in prison gain clemency after killing their abusive spouses.

With the love, help and support of Lucas’s family and friends (including Bauschard and fellow Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) Susan Ulbright), Lucas turned her dream of setting up a charity into reality and the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVC) was born.

Fourteen years later it is still the only domestic abuse charity that exists to provide logistical, financial and emotional support to the estimated 6.8 million U.S. expats living in foreign countries. In that time, Lucas and her team have won numerous awards and funding in the form of government grants from the U.S. State Department, and financial assistance from global brands like Volvo Cars of North America, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

Paula Lucas with Richard Branson and her son Faris

Paula Lucas with Richard Branson and her son Faris

They’ve since gone on to set up the Sexual Assault Support & Help for Americans Abroad Partnership (SASHAA), a corporate domestic violence and sexual assault program where overseas employers can put in preventative measures to reduce the risk of abuse, and demonstrate their commitment to the welfare of their U.S. expat employees.

As with any funding for non-profit organizations, the running costs are significant, and obviously vital to the charity’s long-term survival. AODVC currently requires $350,000 per year to provide their essential services, which include pro-bono legal consultation and representation, and their free and confidential 24/7 crisis line that is accessible from 175 countries.

One of the huge problems expat mothers face when fleeing to their home country with young children, is they are often forced to defend a Hague Convention Petition lodged by the parent left behind. Fighting these petitions in court can cost up to $250,000, part of which may be funded by charities like AODVC.

Although Lucas is hopeful new grants will materialize; it is, she says, a constant struggle seeking out and securing new and untapped reserves of corporate and government funding.

Paula Lucas and her second husband Sami Rayes

Paula Lucas and her second husband Sami Rayes

In her personal life, Lucas has been lucky enough to find true love a second time around with Sami; ironically a one-time business acquaintance of Ty’s, who is, she’s at great pains to stress, “a good man.” And she freely admits that initially her family were mortified “and just about died” when she began a relationship with Sami soon after he showed up to testify at the boys’ custody hearing in Oregon in 1999.

But 14 years later, they’re still together, happily married, and the smiling family photographs of Lucas, Sami and her three grown up sons all sat around their kitchen dining table speak volumes.

And why did she wait until now to write her story? “My boys,” she says simply. “They experienced a lot of abuse and I knew reading the book would trigger memories and be re-traumatizing.” She adds, “I wanted them to have distance from the past and obtain the maturity and stability that age brings into their lives.”

It was last spring when Paula Lucas first brought up the idea of writing a book about what they’d all been through, “and they wanted me to tell our story; so here we are.”

To contact the toll-free crisis line from 175 countries overseas, first dial your AT&T USADirect access number and at the prompt, enter our phone number: 866-USWOMEN (879-6636). The center serves abused Americans, mostly women and children, in both civilian and military populations overseas. Visit the center online HERE

Harvesting Stones is available HERE on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle. 

For more information on Paula Lucas, click here.

Paula Lucas, Louise Bauschard, Susan Ulbright and Shelley Antscherl

Paula Lucas, Louise Bauschard, Susan Ulbright and Shelley Antscherl

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Comments are closed.