My mom’s name is Lorenca Gutteres da Conceicão. She was born in small village called Suai in 1948.
Lorenca’s father died a week before she was born. What a life for my grandma without a husband. She couldn’t do much to look after my mom and her sister, Aquilina. She was only a housewife without a job. When Lorenca’s mother’s mother heard the news, she went to Suai to bring my mother and her daughters to live with her in another village called Aitutu.
Life in the new village of Aitutu was very hard for Lorenca. My mother was two years old when her mother remarried a man named Martinho Rodriguez. As the second daughter, the more she grew, the more responsibility she was given. By the age of five, my mom was a very tough girl. She had to do chores every day. If she didn’t cook, farm, and look after her siblings, she would get beaten by her step father and her mom.
In 1957, when she was nine, Lorenca went to dormitory school in Ainaro where she lived with the nuns for four years. She started in the ABC class and moved on to a grade called Primeria where she learned to read and write a little. But in 1961, my mother had to quit school and move back to Aitutu because of economic problems. Lorenca had to help look after her stepbrothers and sisters. From that time on, she never knew what education might be possible for her.
In 1963, when Lorenca turned 18, my grandma arranged a marriage for her. Lorenca had no idea who her husband would be. She recalls being very nervous at the time, not understanding what love would be. All she heard from her parents was that it was time for her to marry. Surprisingly, the wedding went well. Two weeks before, people from the groom’s side brought five horses, four cows and two Belaks — a kind of gold or silver given to the bride’s parents as part of Timorese culture.
After 18 years of life with her parents, Lorenca married my father, Jorge Dearaujo. She had to move to Ainaro and start a new life there. She started to love my father and, although it took a while before they had kids, for the first time, Lorenca felt free.
“In life you never know what’s going to happen next,” is what my mom said when I asked her to tell me her life’s story. My eldest brother was born in 1974. Lorenca was very happy to have her first baby but, unfortunately, after only three months, my brother passed away, and left my mom with sadness and disappointment.
Shortly after that, in 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, and my mom’s life changed again. Two year later my brother died. In 1976, my mom had a second baby. It was a girl. Another girl followed in 1978.
In 1979, the Indonesian army took my father away from Lorenca and put him in prison because they thought my parents were working with Fretelin. One of the Indonesian soldiers accused my father of this because he was married to mom, who had some relatives in Fretelin. The truth was that my parents were ordinary people. They had nothing to do with Fretelin. However, instead of listening to my father, the military tortured him for two months in Fatuk-Maria. During those two months, Lorenca never had the chance to talk to her lovely husband. The whole time, she brought him food, all the while carrying her one year old daughter in her arms. Eventually, she realized he would die if he wasn’t released. She decided she had to go and fight for his life.
When she arrived at Fatuk-Maria, she spoke to a man named Joao, who was the head of the village and an APODETE member, meaning that he worked for the Indonesian side.
She tried to explain that her husband was innocent, but Joao slapped her face twice. He called her a liar and told her to go away. The love that Lorenca had for her husband gave her courage. She wouldn’t stop and she didn’t go away.
Instead, she knelt down in front Joao and an Indonesian Army officer. She swore to God and on the Indonesian flag that they had nothing to do with Fretelin. Finally, they let my father free. My mom took him with her. They both went home safely.
My parents realized immediately that having children was a big responsibility. In twelve years, Lorenca had eight children. I was the seventh. Eight children is a huge family, but my mother was a happy woman. Besides, she knew people that had more than eight.
Lorenca and Jorge did the best they could with their kids. They didn’t have time to care much about educating them. They were far too busy trying to feed them. Still, my mother and her husband worked very hard, day and night, to save a little money so that my brothers and sisters and I could be sent off to school.
In 1990, my father went to Suai for a few days to get some sacks of dried corn for our family. He went with my brothers, leaving my mother and the rest of the children in the house. Lorenca hoped he would bring some food and a little money for our family upon his return.
The day my father and brothers were supposed to come, early in the morning, mom and one of my sisters went to the farm and picked some vegetables to cook a meal for them. By one o’clock, they still hadn’t arrived. Lorenca couldn’t say why she was worried, but she had a bad feeling, so she prayed and hoped that everything would be fine.
Later that day my father’s bus came, but he wasn’t on it. The driver told my mom, “Your husband was not feeling well, so he asked me to drop him with your sons in Kamilaran.” An hour after the bus driver left, my uncle came on a motorbike and called out Lorenca’s name. “Aunt,” he told her. “Your husband just passed away in our house. You and your children should get ready and see him.”
My mother didn’t utter a single word. She just tried to be brave as she hugged all of us and cried. Some relatives from my dad’s side asked my mother to give them some of her children so they could adopt them and educate them.
Lorenca had no choice. She gave four children to relatives in Dili.
I was four years old at the time I was adopted. I didn’t see my mom again for twelve years. I wouldn’t know the truth about my family until my mom came to Dili the year I turned 16. She looked just like the mother that I had always known in my heart. I wished she would hug me, but she did not. Maybe she was scared of my adopted parents.
In 2003, I went to my village to visit my grandma. She told me about my mother’s life after my father died. She said, “For two years after your father, George passed away, after you were adopted, your mother had really hard time in her life. She worked very hard to look after the rest of the children, the ones that stayed with her.”
That’s when I found out that I actually had a stepfather.
Grandma said, “Lorenca met a man in 1992. They both had a lot in common so they decided to live together.”
In 1994, my mother had married Serminho De Araujo, and they had a son. Some people talked badly about her because she took a second husband which was not common in Timor in the olden days. But my mother did not care about other people’s ideas about her life.
As a daughter who did not know much about her, I believe she made the right choice for herself.
In 2009, Lorenca’s husband Serminho was very sick. She took him to a hospital in Dili for medical treatment, but his condition kept getting worse. During the week she stayed with him in the hospital, she never let go of his hand, hoping he would get better. But unfortunately, he passed away at mid-day, right beside my mom.
From that time on, my mother lived with her son and took care of my sister’s kids. When I asked about her life with my stepfather, she said “I had a great time with him. He was a nice man who always took care of me and the family. Both your father and your stepfather were great men. They were always the best.”
“Now, I am happy with what I have,” she continued. “With my children and my grandchildren surrounding me, I believe that God has better plans for my life. Life is just the way it is; tears, laughter, happiness, sadness, all these things make life meaningful. All you have to do is appreciate what you have, because you never know when your last breath will be.”
Lorenca Gutteres da Conceicão was born in 1948. Thank you, mom. Without you, I wouldn’t be in this world, standing here like I am now. I am so proud of you. No matter what happened to us, you have always been my Mom.