Little did we know then that a little girl would become the point of reconnection for us to a special memory decades old.
Indeed, Mariette's smile was a treat nearly every afternoon during the two months we stayed with Pastor Marco in Kupang, Timor, Indonesia. Her shy eyes would observe a world in us that must have seemed so distant, so foreign, so strange.
Conflict Leads to Adoption
Less than five years old, little Mariette was adopted by Pastor Marco of West Timor, Indonesia, as the war for East Timor (now known as Timor-Leste) independence from Indonesia raged on. Her father feared for her welfare and, although he didn’t want to let her go, he did.
Mariette recalls now, “It’s hard to believe that they just gave me away like that without any paperwork, but it did happen with too many Timorese kids.”
This wisp of a child had a smile that ran from ear to ear, and eyes that seemed full of life.
Mariette left a strong impression on us, but that was back in the late 80’s. Although we were able to keep up with Pastor Marco, sadly, Mariette became a distant, cherished memory.
So when Mariette friended us on Facebook in 2009, what a shock! Although she was sadly no longer on our immediate radar, we discovered that we were on hers – a truly joyful surprise! A welcome reconnection.
“I understood very well since Day One that I was different and was adopted. I even remember the first day we left Timor-Leste. Besides, they treated me very differently. Ibu Maria (Pastor Marco’s wife) reminded me often that I am different and not the biological daughter. She also told me that my parents passed away and that I was found in the jungle.”
Maria did not like the new addition to their home and began to verbally and physically abuse Mariette. “Because of how hard my life was, I tried to run away many times.”
“Pastor Marco taught me God’s love and how to pray. I would hide behind the bathroom door and pray to God to protect my biological parents. And I would pray for God to forgive Ibu Maria because I could tell she didn’t know what she was doing. I think she just really didn't understand how her treatment affected me.”
In 1998, so weary of the abuse, Mariette opened up and shared with Pastor Marco how Ibu Maria had been treating her. Thankfully, most of the abuse stopped from that time on.
Reconnection with Biological Family
Around this time, she got an out-of-the-blue phone call from one of her three biological brothers, who was living on Bali. In fact, she learned that all of her family, except her dad, were living there. She learned that her biological father had divorced her mother and was still in Timor-Leste.
She decided to move to Bali from East Java to meet her biological mother and her other siblings for the first time. “I felt so grateful, but also funny to see a similar face!”
The Indonesians granted Timor-Leste independence in 1999 (and formally in 2002). The war had taken a huge toll on the people of Timor-Leste. Estimates reveal a minimum of 102,800 conflict-related deaths in the period 1974–1999 (Source: Wikipedia).
In 2002, Mariette saw a headline in one of Indonesia’s major newspapers about the Indonesian President receiving the first Timor-Leste Ambassador to Indonesia. “My brother told me, ‘That’s our uncle!’ The first thing that came into my mind was, ‘God, how can I see him?’” She so longed for reconnection with her birth family.
Not much later, she received a phone call from Kupang, where she had grown up. It was her uncle, the ambassador, who was inquiring for her. “Could you imagine how I felt? He came to Bali to see me the next day! In 2003, I moved to Jakarta to live with him and his family.”
Return to Timor-Leste
Then, in October, 2004, Mariette finally got to realize her dream of returning to her homeland. She was thrilled at making this reconnection after so long! She met her father and some other relatives while there and realized that she needed to become part of building a new country.
In 2007 she was able to return to Timor-Leste with her uncle, since he finished his posting in Jakarta. Her first job there was as a Logistic Assistant for a German NGO. Eventually she applied for a receptionist position with the Australian Embassy in Dili, Timor-Leste. Now she is the Passport/Consular and Protocol Officer. Six years have passed.
I asked her if she had travelled or lived outside of Indonesia or Timor-Leste. She replied that her work has taken her to seven countries, and that she is saving money for some big trips. She mentioned that she is also thinking about applying for scholarships that will enable her to study more and eventually get a university degree.
“My relationship with all of my natural family is very good. Still, I find it difficult sometimes to fit in. For me, my first family is the one that raised me in Kupang. I think my Timor-Leste/Bali family understands and accepts my unique situation.”
Through all of this, Mariette reflects, God has been faithful. “He loves me, he takes care of me and he continues to bless me. I pray for my future husband and I believe God will provide me one someday. Forgiveness has not been easy, but I remember that God forgave me, and this helps me forgive all the things that happened in my past. I can see they are all for a reason.”
Although I have many friends in Southeast Asia, I have to say that I count Mariette among my most precious. True, we haven’t seen each other since the late ‘80’s. And she is not someone I interact with every day. Still, what a jewel. Her life has been difficult in many ways, but the way she has overcome her circumstances is an inspiration to me. I am so grateful for our reconnection (kudos to Facebook!).
Is there a Mariette in your life? Can you share your experiences?