The Balinese Calendar identified September 28, 2003, as an auspicious date to bless a marital union. And the couple, Babette Munting Geurtsen and John McCarthy of Idaho (U.S.A.), had dreamed of gathering Babette's five siblings for a celebratory reunion. The family had not been together in one place since an elder sister's wedding 30 years ago in Jakarta.
Facing the challenge of collecting a family whose Dutch-Indonesian roots stretch back three generations, Bali seemed the ideal choice for the proposed celebration. Their Indonesian connections include imprisonment in Japanese prisoner of war camps, siblings born in Sumatra, and years spent growing up in Jakarta. Indonesia was a familiar and logical destination for this family. Travel warnings and security were not issues. Love would conquer all.
Wedding plans were set into motion on the ground by a Bali resident ó a childhood friend of the bride. Attractive travel package arrangements were secured for participants traveling from the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Cambodia.
Forty family members and friends gathered on a Bali beach to celebrate Babette's and John's love. They came from all walks of life: nurses, photographers, artists, business managers, athletes, social workers, carpenters, medical technicians, conservationists, students, homemakers, marketers and salespeople. Extended family members and friends from across Indonesia also traveled to Bali to join the festivities.
On the day deemed favorable for the Manusa Yadnya "rite of passage," a Balinese priest and a dozen helpers prepared offerings on Batu Belig beach. As the sun slowly set, the wedding couple, barefoot and in traditional Balinese garments, walked onto the damp sand. There, encircled by their family and friends, all dressed in colorful, traditional Balinese ceremonial attire, John and Babette pledged their troth.
Flanked by their adult children, the bride and groom exchanged words of love and thanked their family for making the long trip to be at this special place in time. The Balinese priest recited blessing prayers as the sun sank over the horizon, its rays of light proxied by the glow of a new moon. Incense and the priest's chiming bells filled magic-infused sea breezes. Balinese friends coached sarong-clad foreigners through Hindu prayers of devotion as the bride and groom relished the customary traditions.
Normal for such occasions, there were plenty of tears, but nowhere was there an element of concern or fear for personal safety. "Everyone thought I was crazy to come," said one American guest. "But I think it would have been crazy not to come. This was the most special time in a most beautiful place. There's no way I would have missed it."
After a 30-year absence from Bali, one brother was more fearful of the island's changes than security issues. "The island is different now, certainly. But the people are still wonderful and it's still an inspiring place." He spent the days sharing old haunts with his wife and daughters, making new memories and copious photos. "We'll be back," his wife promised.
Missing from this reunion were only three family members: the bride's late parents and her son, a U.S. Coast Guard seaman prohibited from visiting Indonesia by his government. A life-size photographic image of the sailor, dressed in a sarong, marked his place in the events and the family's thoughts.
On the reunion's final day, the family re-converged at the shore line, for a more somber occasion. With their father's cremated remains in a box, each child and grandchild waded into the water to scatter ashes onto the waves lapping against Legian's shores. Their mother's ashes had been similarly cast off the shores of West Java 29 years ago. "We hope Mammie and Pappie will find each other out there somewhere between Java and Bali," the bride and youngest of the Munting clan said with a final, tearful smile.
balidiscovery.com thanks Bali-based Debe Campbell for contributing photographs and material for this story.
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