Jungle Beat: Alice's Fantasy and Tragedy

Alice hung herself today.

I didn't know her well -- in fact, I met her just once, at her home on Mango Grove Road in Hawaii. But her story moved me.

When I met her, I was visiting a friend who lives on the same tropical three acres that Alice's husband Ray has owned for 20 years in a rural, very beautiful part of Hawaii. Their television and other appliances run thanks to a gas generator; the stove and refrigerator are propane; and the sun powers other so-called modern conveniences. They welcomed me warmly and we chatted about events of the past 20 years while nibbling barbecued ahi.

Alice seemed happy and comfortable with her husband and her home. She was openly affectionate toward Ray and it was clear that he also was happy. I had heard that she was a "mail order bride" from Indonesia somewhere, so I was curious about the woman that Ray had virtually picked up at auction.

Born to a poor family in rural Indonesia, Alice left home at 16 to start a life for herself in Jakarta. She resisted the temptation of prostitution's easy money and instead worked as a waitress, or in a factory, or whatever "honest" work she could find. She shared a ramshackle apartment with several other young women and life was not too terrible. She was doing what she wanted. She had food to eat and could occasionally afford a new dress and pair of shoes to help her feel pretty. The young men of Jakarta found her pretty too, and soon she had a steady boyfriend who treated her well and took her to nice restaurants and parties. Soon, she became pregnant. The boyfriend stuck around for a while and made flimsy promises about getting married. Then, when she was seven months along, he vanished. She was frantic: it was too late to have an abortion and there was no way that she could feed another mouth. The restaurant where she was working let her go because of her condition and it was only because of the kindness of her roommates that she had a place to live.

Then as she was walking home from the open market one hot afternoon, she saw a poster on a telephone pole that caught her eye: "LIVE IN AMERICA!" it said. "Handsome, wealthy men in America want Indonesian wives because American women are too independent and want too many things." She tore the sign off the pole and took it home. She borrowed the coins she needed to make a phone call from one of her roommates and the next day called the number on the poster.

When she called, the promises on the poster appeared to be true: there were indeed American men who were willing to come to her country, meet with several prospective brides, and then marry one and take her home to the States. Soon, she met with the people running the program, but they were hesitant because of her pregnancy. They said they would do what they could and would check their files for men who might want a ready-made family.

A week passed, and Alice went back to the bride office to follow up. But her hopes were fading as her stomach grew. No, they had nothing this week. Come back next week, they said. So she did. Much to her surprise, during her third visit, the woman in charge told her she might have a man who would be interested in a woman about to give birth. Alice's hopes soared as she learned about this man who could rescue her and her unborn child from a life of poverty and hardship. His name was Ray and he was an attorney in Hawaii. He was older, around 50, and had never been married, but was longing to settle down after spending 10 years in prison for marijuana cultivation. He liked her photo and wanted to fly to Indonesia to meet her.

Alice prayed constantly for the next two weeks, and when it was time for Ray to arrive, the agency woman picked her up and took her to the airport to greet his plane. Ray's and Alice's eyes met before they were introduced and she thought, "I could learn to love this man." Ray is a very outgoing, jolly man, with a great sense of fun.

They completed the necessary papers, and were married in Jakarta when Alice was eight months pregnant. Ray wanted her to give birth in the States, so they flew to Hawaii immediately after the civil ceremony.

Alice gave birth to her baby boy several weeks after arriving at her new home in Hawaii. She was happy and relieved that she and her child had a home and a good man to look after them. And because of her great gratitude towards Ray, she did feel love for him.

Ray doted on her and was always telling friends how happy he was being a family man. He loved the little boy, whom they named Pablo, and taught him all the good things that a father teaches his own son.

But the American dream that she wound up with was not what she had imagined. There were no white picket fences and she soon learned that Ray had been disbarred because of his conviction and really had no money. He expected her to do all the work around the house and massage his feet every night. But she continued to be happy because she had escaped a miserable existence in Indonesia.

The nearest large town was 40 miles away and Alice was unable to go there very often. There were no parties, no dances, no shopping sprees, no close neighbors. She was stuck in the middle of nowhere with no friends and no relatives, and no one who spoke her native language. She was always friendly toward Ray's friends. She always had a smile on her shining face.

Now people say that perhaps she suffered from manic depression. They say that she and Ray had a big argument. They say that perhaps she was trying to scare Ray and slipped. They say a lot of things to try to explain what happened to their neighbor, but the bottom line is this: Alice is gone. She was 26 years old. She was loved. She left no note or any kind of warning signs. Everyone whose life she touched will forever ask "why?"