Thursday, April 2, 2009

Love Story or Survival

Yes, I am going the tell the awaited story that I have been promising. I hope I will do it justice. Writing is not my strong point, but I will do the best I can.

To talk about mother, I will have to talk about my father as well.

My mother, Vath, was born in a small rural village with 9 brothers and sisters. She helped with farming and helped take care of her brothers and sisters, as she is the 3rd oldest. She is a strong and bold woman. Her family could be described as country people.

My father, Am, lived in the city with 1 brother and 2 sisters. He was of Chinese descent. He studied to be a dentist and a very quiet man. His family had money and were educated. His family was very different than my mom's family.

I noticed these difference a great deal as I visited both families when I went to Cambodia. I have asked my parents many times how they got together and I never really got a straight answer. They once told me that my dad saw my mom and asked his mom to ask for my mom's hand in marriage. I believed that until I met both side of my family. There was no way they would met that way. So finally, I asked the members of my dad's family if the two families are so different how did my mom and dad get married. They said the Khmer Rouge.

In this century, there has probably been no other revolution which so completely altered the lives of an entire population. Literally overnight, entire cities were emptied. Property was abolished. Money became worthless. Homes and families were destroyed. Every aspect of every life was suddenly dictated by the new government. There was no transition period; hundreds of thousands of people... store clerks, factory workers, taxi drivers, cooks... suddenly became farmers. Thousands were executed immediately. Overnight, Cambodia became a nation of slaves. For every Cambodian old enough to remember the events of 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge reign would mark a turning point in their lives.

Am was taken from the city and from his family put in a working camp (village). Vath was taken from her family and put in the working camp. (They still don't talk to me about this so I will have to guess what happened.) There have been writing about how the Khmer Rouge would line up men in one line and women in one line and told to face each other. The one you are facing is the one that you will be marrying. The Khmer Rouge's goal was to eliminate class systems so they would also would like to find two completely different people and put them together. The ultimate arrange marriages.

In this work camp Vath was a cook and Am would work in the field or whatever the Khmer Rouge would subject him to. The Khmer Rouge idealize rural people and think that educated individual had faults. So people like Am would be treated more harshly. (My mom have talked about some experiences they encountered during these years.) Vath would save/steal food for her husband. There were weeks when Am would come home with blistering backs. Vath not wanting to leave her children fatherless went to fields to see what tortures they were putting her husband in. She saw him in a field with no shirt for long periods of time working in the sun with no breaks. Due to the fact that she believed that she was favored, she talked them into giving him easier work. "Do you see my old man, he is not use to this kind of work, he is small and weak. Give him a break. It is not right for you to do this to him."

In December of 1979, Am was out getting firewood for Vath and their second child, when there was an order to run, because the Vietnamese was taking over the country. The son was only a week old and Vath had a 18 month old daughter, but she got them and ran for the Thailand border without her husband.

Some ask why do God let bad things happen to people. Why didn't he stop wars and genocide? Free will is one thing that God gave us and everyone have a choice to do good or bad. He can't control their free will. With all the stories I read and heard about, I know that God is present especially during hardship. People just have to be open to feel him. During, the chaos and confusion, people were saved, people survived, and family members found each other as they listen to the promptings.

During the escape, Vath went through a lot. Others kicked her out of hiding places because her children were crying. She had to find food where she can. Digging for potatoes, or eating insects or bugs were what she had to do. If she was not breast feeding, her children would have starved. One day she saw three toddlers and babies crying on the side of the road. No one would help them. Vath was already carrying two of her own, but she felt prompted to help these children. She put them in a boat and put them a drift hoping that someone in the village down the river would help them.

Many days later, Am somehow found his wife and kids in a safe villiage and that is when they journeyed together to the refugee camps in Thailand. After 4-5 years in the refugee camps they imgrated to the United States, but that is another story.

Dad, his brother and friends in Siem Reap.

Grandpa Chea and his friend at Ankgor Wat.

Pictures in the Refugee Camps

Vath and her friends

Chea Family in America

Vath and youngest daughter, Satha

1 comment:

sblimes said...

You are a great writer, please keep these stories coming. Bill is saving them in your PAF biography for family history.