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BONUS READ
BY ROBERT KIENER
Mother
Finding My
Lost and given up for adoptionJoel de Carteret returned to the place of his birth to do the impossible
 
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I
 
DON’T BELIEVE IT! IT CAN’T BE!”
Joel de Carteret says to himself when a market seller in metro Manila’s bustling Munoz Market brings him the incredible news. Joel feels his heart pounding like a snare drum and beads of perspiration run down his forehead as the 35-year-old listens to the stallholder give him the information he has been searching for so long: “I think I know who your mother is. And where she is.” From that moment on, Joel realizes, his life will never be the same.
Many, especially his Australian adop-tive mother Julie de Carteret, worried about him, explaining, “You’ll just get  your heart broken.However, the idea of reuniting with his Filipino mother has gnawed at Joel for decades. “I have to do this,” he has often said. “I owe it to myself and to my biological mother. I must have broken her heart by getting lost.” Pri- vately, he has also felt that he needed to find his birth mother to discover that part of him “that has been miss-ing for all these years.” But Julie tried to dissuade him. Recently in a Sydney restaurant,  when Joel told her he planned to  visit the Philippines to find his birth mother, she told him, “But, Joel, you don’t know your mother’s name, your birth date, or where you lived. You didn’t even know your name when  you arrived at the orphanage.” Joel understood from documents that the orphanage gave him his name. As a waiter refilled their water glasses, she continued: “You also don’t know  where your mother may be. Is she alive? How will you ever find her?” Julie blinked back a tear and felt her heart break when Joel told her, “I know, mum. But I have to try.Julie persisted, hoping to save Joel from a broken heart. She leaned across the table and asked, “How will you feel if you don’t find her? Will you be able to move on if you don’t find any-thing?” Joel paused, took a bite of his salad and looked Julie in the eyes, explaining, “I know what  you’re saying, Mum, and I un-derstand. But I have to do this. I have to find out who I am and  where I came from. A few weeks later Joel called Julie as he was waiting for his flight to Manila to begin his search. “I’m off, Mum,” he told her. “Wish me luck.” Julie held back her tears and said, “I love you, Joel. Good luck.” But she had little hope he would find his birth mother.Now, after years of wondering about—and weeks of desperate searching for—a woman he could barely remember, in a country where he couldn’t speak the language, he is sure he has some-how found that needle in the haystack. Thanks to a well-meaning stranger, he is about to be reunited with his long-lost birth mother.
THREE DECADES EARLIER,
on the morning of July 25, 1985, Linda Rio looked in on her five-year-old son and  watched as he slept soundly in their modest home in Quezon City on the outskirts of metro Manila. “I’ll let him sleep,” she thought as she watched his tiny chest rise and fall. The single mother gathered her purse and set out to her job as a dressmaker at a nearby clothing factory, leaving her son in the company of a flat mate.  An hour or so later, he awoke,  jumped out of bed and began look-ing for “Ma.” He searched through the house and when he couldn’t find her, began panicking. This was unlike her; they traveled together daily to her  workplace, taking the colorful public transport vehicles known as jeepneys.  When he realized she was gone,
THIRTY YEARS AFTER 
 being adopted by an Australian family and raised in Melbourne, Joel de Carteret has come back to the country where he was born. He is on a seemingly impossible quest—to find his birth mother.  Although he doesn’t know his mother’s name, or even remember  what she looks like, he is determined to find her. He has spent much of the last month in the Philippines tire-lessly—and unsuccessfully—search-ing for clues about his mother’s iden-tity. And now this. Friends and family in Australia had told him there was little chance of lo-cating his mother after all these years.
“BUT JOEL,YOU DON’T KNOW YOUR MOTHER’S NAME,” JULIE SAID.
“YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW  YOUR BIRTH DATE.”
 A photo of Joel, age 5, taken upon his arrival at the orphanage. He was adopted 18 months later.
 
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he darted out into the street to find her. Dodging strangers, stray dogs,  jeepneys and delivery trucks that filled the busy street, he looked every- where for her. But she was nowhere to be found. His eyes filled with tears as he wandered the busy back streets of Quezon City. “Ma!,” he said to himself. “Where are you?”Eventually, he arrived at the sprawling, jam-packed Munoz Mar-ket, where he walked along aisles crowded with hundreds of vendors hawking everything from just-slaugh-tered chickens to freshly caught fish, to trussed-up, squealing piglets. The chaotic sights and sounds—the huge, flashing knives chopping up food and customers shouting out requests to  vendors, as well as the pungent, of-ten sickly-sweet aroma of the food on sale—assaulted his senses. He began crying as he walked aim-lessly through the crowded aisles in his flip-flops, shorts, and singlet, hop-ing to catch sight of his mother. After hours of searching and penetrating deeper and deeper into the maze-like market with no sign of Linda, the tiny, shy five-year-old realized she was gone and, frighteningly, knew he was now lost as well.  A local jeepney driver named Jose Manselo spotted the boy crying and curled up into a ball near the back of the cavernous market. He instantly knew something was wrong, but the child was too terrified to say more than that he was lost. Manselo took him to his home and then to the po-lice station. But the most the terrified five year-old could tell the police was “Ma” was a dressmaker and “Papa”  was a jeepney driver.Meanwhile, Linda had returned home for lunch and was shocked to find that her son was missing. She looked around the neighborhood and even rushed back to the clothing factory, thinking he might have gone there to find her. But no one had seen him. She and several friends searched everywhere for him and she eventu-ally took off from work to look for her son full time. She even went on local radio stations, pleading with listeners to help find him. But no one had seen the five-year-old.  Weeks, then months passed without news. It was as if he had vanished.
“THEY ARE AS TALL AS TREES.
They look like white ghosts,” thought Joel, as he looked up at the towering—and  very white—figures of George and Julie de Carteret at Manila’s RSCC orphan-age, which he had entered some 18 months earlier. “And they smell funny,” he thought. The Australian couple had come to the Philippine orphanage to meet Joel because they were interested in adopting. Julie had not been able to become pregnant, but she and George had been desperate to start a family. Joel had been too young to know his mother’s name and, because no one had come forward to claim him, had originally been declared a “foundling”—an “unknown child”—and was severely malnourished. Then, after social workers exhausted every method they knew of to find his parents, he was eventually declared “abandoned.” He was now eligible for adoption. At first he cowered behind the or-phanage’s social worker but soon came to feel at ease with both George and Ju-lie. They had such kind eyes and their  warm, soothing voices relaxed him.  When a social worker asked Joel if he  wanted to go to Australia, he immedi-ately shook his head “yes.” After a year and a half of loneliness he once again had a home and new, loving—and very tall—parents.Once settled into his new Mel-bourne home, Joel flourished. Al-though he couldn’t speak a word of English he became fast friends with the children on his street, loved play-ing cricket, and learned English by  watching Australian television. Often Julie would marvel as she watched him listening to a popular nightly quiz show, repeating many of the random  words he heard the TV host say. In his first year of school he would stubbornly stumble through his “show and tell” talks, bravely searching his memory for just the right word as his classmates looked on. His teacher once told Julie, “Joel is one very, very determined little boy!”Julie and George were thrilled  with the way Joel adapted to his new home and the Australian way of life,  which was so very different from his hardscrabble existence in the Philip-pines. Nevertheless, there were hints that something was brewing beneath his smiling exterior. One day about six months after coming to Australia, Joel asked Julie, “When am I going to turn white?” She discovered he had expected his skin to “magically” turn  white after living in Australia awhile. Another time, when he was ten  years old, he walked into the kitchen as Julie was cooking dinner and asked her, “So, when are we going to find my mum?” Julie was startled but sat Joel down and told him gently that, as much as she wished it weren’t so, neither she nor the Manila adop-tion agency knew Joel’s surname, his mother’s or where she lived. “I’m sorry, love,” she told him as she held his tiny brown hands in hers. “But there’s no chance we could ever find your mother. I wish we could but it’s just not possible. But I can tell you this; she loved you very much.”
 IN HIS FIRST YEAR OF SCHOOL, HIS TEACHER ONCE TOLD JULIE,
“JOEL IS ONE VERY, VERY DETERMINED LITTLE BOY.”
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