The End of a Beginning (Cont.)
The local Khmer Rouge cadres at Prek Rumdeng required all evacuees, whom by then were called new people, to register their presence with the village’s chief and, once again, write their autobiography reports to Angkar. As a precaution, my father decided to change his name from Chhay Ny to Chhay Ngy utilizing the Khmer alphabets noh and ngoh which look similar in writing but have a different sounds. At that point, my parents were also thinking of breaking the family apart so that if the Khmer Rouge were to come after my father, only those who were with him would be taken along. Besides the immediate family members, two of my mother’s siblings, Aunt Muoy and her husband, Kun, along with her younger brother, Lai Hea, were also with us. Among all the options being considered for breaking the family unit apart, one of them was to have my father leave the family, for he was the principal subject of Khmer Rouge’s persecution. But my mother was not willing to let him go; she felt such a radical option was absolutely unfair to him even though he wanted to leave the family. In such circumstances, when the Khmer Rouge’s apparatus were actively rounding up people whom they suspected of formerly working for the Lon Nol’s regime, a lone middle-aged man like my father going around without any family member with him would certainly attract the Khmer Rouge’s suspicion. Hence, the only other options were to send some of us to live with different relatives because it was common practice in Cambodia that parents sometimes sent their children to live with their aunts or uncles, just as my brother, Hong, did in the late 1960s when he went to attend high school in Kompong Cham City.
Taking advantage of the Khmer Rouge’s loose regulation during the first few months of evacuating people from the cities all around the country, my parents decided to send one of my older brothers, Heang, and my uncle, Lai Hea, to live with one of my maternal aunts, Om Ly, in Chamkar Leur district which was located about 40 miles west of where we were. After they had crossed the Mekong River and arrived in the town of Peam Chi Kong on their way to Chamkar Leur, Heang and Lai Hea were stopped by Khmer Rouge soldiers who had set up a checkpoint there. They were suspected of being Lon Nol’s soldiers and put in a holding center nearby along with other suspected people. In a brave or maybe brazen act of disobedience, Heang and Lai Hea decided to sneak out of the holding center and run away. By sheer luck, they were able to find their way across the Mekong River and make it back to Prek Rumdeng safely.
After learning of the debacle that my brother, Heang, and uncle Lai Hea went through during their attempted trip to Chamkar Leur, my mother decided to never again let any of her children go to live with her relatives. If we were to die, she said, we would die together as a family. The only remaining issue for us to contend with was Aunt Muoy, her husband, Kun, and Uncle Lai Hea who were living with us as one big extended family. During one of Grandma Seung’s visits, we all talked about the possibility of having Aunt Muoy, her husband, Kun, and Uncle Lai Hea returned to live in Phum Chi Ro as they were not part of the Chhay family and, therefore, the Khmer Rouge would have no reasons to persecute them. On the other hand, if the Chhay family were to be taken away or prosecuted by the Khmer Rouge, they (my aunt and uncle) could be spared if they were not with us. After thinking it through, Grandma Seung agreed to the idea and allowed my aunt and uncle to return to live with her in Phum Chi Ro, but at a different time. Thus, upon her return to Phum Chi Ro, Grandma Seung took Uncle Lai Hea with her and promised to come back and take Aunt Muoy and her husband on her next visit.
A few weeks later, Grandma Seung came to visit us again with a plan to take Aunt Muoy and her husband, Kun, with her upon her return to Phum Chi Ro. However, when it was time for her and her husband to leave for Phum Chi Ro, Aunt Muoy had a last minute change of heart. Aunt Muoy had lived with my mother since she was a teenager. My mother had raised her and even acted as her guardian when she got married in late 1974. Hence, the bond between them was more than sisters. It was like mother and daughter. (By the way, my mother did not have any daughters).
For Aunt Muoy, the issue of her last minute change of heart was not a personal safety reason; it was a moral reason. She didn’t feel it was right for her to abandon my mother in such a situation. After a lengthy and tearful discussion, Grandma Seung and my parents agreed to let Aunt Muoy and her husband remain with us. However, as a precaution, Aunt Muoy and her husband would have to register as a separate family unit and keep our relationship at arm’s length so that if one family were to be taken away by the Khmer Rouge the other might still have a chance to survive. As an internal rule among us, it was almost absolute that if the Khmer Rouge were to persecute any one of our families, the other must not show any form of connection so that it could avoid being persecuted as well.
(To be continued)