Monday, February 14, 2011

Khmer Rouge Re-Visit


A Mother’s Love
One day, out of the blue, my mother came to visit me during our noon time break for lunch. My mother, along with a small group of other younger elderly from Ponlear Chey, had been sent to work in a field near Bonteay Staung (the distance between Ponlear Chey and Bonteay Staung was about one and a half hour’s walk) and she took the opportunity to make inquiry of my whereabouts as she learned that the children’s mobile brigades had been stationed there. So, during her lunch break, my mother went to the place where the children from the mobile work brigades came to receive their meal ration and eventually tracked me down to the house where I was staying. I was both surprised and excited to see my mother. We talked briefly as my mother had to return to her worksite. Just as she was about to walk back to work, my mother took me aside, pulled out a sweet yam, which she steam-cooked in her kettle early in the morning before she came to work, from her pocket and put it discreetly in my hand. Without waiting for her to tell me what to do with it, I gobbled up the whole yam and savored every bit of it. It was the tastiest yam I had ever tasted in my life. After seeing that I had eaten all the forbidden food (under Khmer Rouge’s draconian rule, possession of foodstuff other than that given by Angkar, even a yam, could get a person in trouble), my mother returned to her worksite.
After our initial meeting, my mother continued to come to visit me whenever she had the opportunity to come to work near Bonteay Staung. Sometimes, I think she might have come all the way from Ponlear Chey to see me. Every time she came to visit me, my mother always brought a yam or a small rice cake which she wrapped inside banana leaves for me to eat. I didn’t know where or how my mother obtained those foodstuffs which she brought for me. As hunger had complete control on my reasoning, I just ate those foodstuffs like a blind chick being fed by its mother. However, at one point, my conscience freed me from the grip of hunger as I started thinking about the possibility of how my mother might have obtained the foodstuffs she brought me. If she didn’t steal those foodstuffs from the communal kitchen, my mother must have bartered them from her neighbors by using jewelry or valuable clothes that she might have in her possession. Either way, it was illegal, for the Khmer Rouge did not allow people to barter with one another. People were not even allowed to have possession of foodstuffs which had not been provided by the communal kitchen. Hence, every time my mother brought me that tiny piece of yam or rice cake carried the risk of grave punishment if she were caught. The more I thought about the consequences, the more concerned I became. So, one day, I told my mother about my concern and asked her to stop coming to visit me. But it was to no avail. My mother still continued to come to visit me every time she got a chance.
One evening, as I was returning from work, I felt extremely fatigued and my body temperature appeared to be high. Upon arriving at our lodge, I went to the homeowners to ask if they had any coin that I could borrow to use as a scratching device to scratch my skin in a form of Cambodian traditional treatment called kaus khchol. As I went into their quarter, I walked in front of a tall vanity mirror which was imbedded in the door of a 6ft. tall cabinet. Upon seeing my image in the mirror, I was quite startled that my flesh and bones looked like a living skeleton. My eyes sank rather deeply into their sockets and the muscle on my face shrank to reveal the contour of my cheek bones which made my head looked more like a skull than a living human head. At that instance, I realized that my mother must have been moved by the fact that I was a walking skeleton which compelled her to use any means possible to find food to feed me and risk being punished by the Khmer Rouge’s authority just for the sake of saving me from starving to death.

(Excerpt from unpublished manuscript)

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