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Maria, Not Nadra

by Shika Holtzem about a month ago in humanity
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My first story on Vocal! This short written portrait is based on Maria Hertogh, a Dutch girl living in Southeast Asia who was the subject of race riots in 1950.

It is December 12th, 1950, and 13-year-old Maria Bertha Hertogh has alighted from an aeroplane flown from Singapore to Amsterdam with a woman named Adeline who claims to be her mother. There, she is greeted by a man who claims to be her father, who embraces the two women, as well as crowds of White Dutch people who celebrate her return. They cheer as the reunited family enter their car and drive to their home amidst the crowds, rejoicing the rescue of their own kin from Oriental heathenry back to European civilization. But little do they know that in Maria’s sad eyes, there is homesickness. She does not smile, for deep down she knows she does not belong to the cold skies of the Netherlands, but rather the warm, tropic summers of Southeast Asia. And her name, really, is Nadra.

Nadra recalls her youth in Southeast Asia, when the war broke out and the Japanese invaded, sending many innocent individuals to concentration camps and leaving bloodshed in their wake. To avoid this fate, she is sent to stay with Aminah, a wealthy Malay Muslim woman who is forty-two years of age, divorced, and has no children of her own, save for her adopted older daughter Kamariah. However, Aminah also takes Maria in as her own daughter, her little Nadra. And Nadra loves her as a mother, too – she promptly gives up her Catholic faith for Islam and dons a hijab, but never feels out of place.

But that all changes when the war is over, in which the defeated Japanese surrender. Word of Nadra’s survival reaches the Hertogh family in Europe and are determined to get her back, and she is threatened to be separated from Aminah forever as the two move to Singapore. However, the custody battle gains public attention. “Aminah is my mother. She has loved me, cared for me, and brought me up,” she declares tearfully to the press in Malay.

After Nadra’s three-month stay at Girls Homecraft Centre in York Hill, mother and daughter are reunited. She also gets to see Mansoor again, a schoolteacher nine years her senior who came with Aminah on two of her supervised visits. And yet, they grew to have romantic attraction to each other and were eventually married on August 1st. Islamic law allowed girls to marry after puberty, but despite them being of legal age and Nadra marrying out of her own free will, that marriage was the final straw for the Hertoghs.

And so, the legal battles resume. But this time, the Hertoghs win the war. Nadra’s marriage to Mansoor is deemed illegal, and the enraged Muslims who rooted for Nadra to stay break into a violent riot that not even the police can contain. “I don’t want to go! I want to stay here!” Nadra screams as she is dragged away from her equally tearful Aminah. But her cries are to no avail, and she never sees her mother or her true love again.

There is hollowness as Nadra, now Maria, returns to the present. Despite being only thirteen, she made herself to the strangers known as the Hertoghs very clear: “I am a Muslim. I have made my choice, and I will stay with my husband now until we die.”But now she is taken by those strangers, who claim that she is one of them. She knows that the effects of this forced abduction will echo in her future, that somehow she will feel like a prisoner in her own home, that her broken heart will always belong in Southeast Asia. And the strangers will never know.

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Shika Holtzem

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