Monday, April 8, 2013

WAR AND GENOCIDE

The Hardship (Cont.)
I arrived in Kompong Thom in late 1982. Hong and his wife, Narath, along with their two little children, ages one and two years old, lived in a small house next to his mother-in-law in Prek Sbov village. Unbeknownst to me, their houses were located just a stone’s throw away from the birthplace home of the notorious Khmer Rouge’s leader, Pol Pot. I spent several months living in Kompong Thom province doing nothing, except for looking after my brother’s two little children, a boy named Monry and a girl named Pom. To cope with boredom, I asked my brother to find me old textbooks to read so that I could teach myself some knowledge. Hong brought me a bundle of textbooks, as well as some novels that were life savers for me during those do nothing times.


In about March 1983, I had a horrible toothache. The pain was so unbearable that I cried like a little child. Narath’s siblings who were working at Kompong Thom’s provincial hospital gave me some medicines to soothe the pain, but they had no effect at all. Seeing that nothing could help me cope with the excruciating pain, Hong’s mother-in-law, Yeay Ra, decided to seek advice from a traditional healer who lived nearby. After she went into a trance, the healer spoke of my father’s anger toward me for leaving my mother to work on the farm alone. My excruciating toothache was his punishment upon me. Upon learning of my father’s anger, my brother, his wife and mother-in-law, pleaded with my father’s spirit through the healer that they would ensure that I return to live with my mother. After the spirit was satisfied, the traditional healer recovered from her trance. Amazingly, my toothache had also disappeared. Though I had my doubts about the whole thing, I was nevertheless happy with the disappearance of my toothache. Whatever the power that cured it, I didn’t care. What I cared most was that I was free from pain, and that I would return to live with my mother within the next few days.

I returned to Phum Chi Ro in late March just in time to prepare farmlands for growing corn. With a pair of oxen, I toiled the lands one hectare at a time and managed to get about three hectares of corn-growing lands prepared. As soon as the raining season arrived, which began in late April, my mother and I started planting corn seeds immediately. It usually took a couple of months for corn to grow and bear crops.

Our corn crops gave us high yields that year. Besides selling some of them fresh on the market in Kompong Cham City, we left the remaining ears to ripe in the fields and harvest their kernels to be sold to the state. We managed to harvest our corn crops just before the Mekong River flooded the fields. After keeping some for our consumption, we had a surplus of about one ton of corn kernels left. Thus, at the crest of the Mekong River’s flooding, I loaded all our surplus corn crops onto a boat and took them to be sold at the state warehouse which was located in the town of Tonle Bet. I received a substantial sum of money for that one ton of corn. My hands were shaking as I received cash payment for the corn crops, which I had spent almost five months growing and harvesting. It was, if we converted the Cambodian currency during that time to the U.S. dollar, about $60.

The Mekong River’s flooding in 1983 appeared to be one of the greatest floods in its history. The road in front of our house was about one meter under water. There was water everywhere. Everything was submerged including some houses which were built on lower ground. We had to build platforms as shelters for our farm animals. The water lingered for about one month, before it finally receded.

During the Mekong’s flood of 1983, I received a letter from my brother, Heang, who had, by now, arrived in the state of Minnesota, U.S.A. We were so excited to hear that he was safe and sound in the U.S.A. On top of that, we learned that Sokha, my other brother, had recently been admitted to come to the United States, too. The news brought tears of joy to our eyes. But, at the same time, we were also concerned about our lives as the government under which we lived was not on good terms with the U.S.A. Because of its authoritarian control, the Cambodian Ministry of Post and Telecommunication had opened Heang’s letter to see its content. Hence, if there was anything deemed politically incorrect, we could be in trouble. But Heang was smart enough not to write anything besides telling us where he was and how he was doing.

(To be continued)

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