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Manoa 16.1 (2004) 201-207

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Crossing the Killing Fields

In the temple of Balath, through the dim light of a lamp, I sat in my sickbed looking at other workers who lay in their sickbeds. Some were tossing and turning, for the bedbugs and mosquitoes had been pestering them. Some were moaning painfully, some lay unconscious, and some were dying. It grieved me to see this peaceful temple turned into a makeshift clinic without medicine or proper treatment for patients, but I knew that my children and I would be leaving soon.

Next to me, a teenage girl lay dying in her bed, and her moans were fading with each breath. I walked over to her, sat on the edge of her bed, and prayed for her life. As I whispered the Buddhist last rites into her ear, she breathed her last. I lifted her arms, put her palms together, and rested them on her chest. Then I tore off a small part of my krama, covered her face with it, and wept silently. Young Sister, I said in my thoughts, rest in peace. Do you remember that a few days ago I promised to try my best to convey your last words to your mother? Now I don't think that will be possible, for tomorrow my children and I will be taken away. You have just faced death by disease, but can you imagine what it feels like to face death knowing that you will be killed in some horrible way? I am now facing just that. It is better to die as you have: by an act of God. Good-bye, Sister.

Broken-hearted, I went back to my bed. I pulled a small piece of paper from my pocket and reread it for the hundredth time. My teardrops had smeared the words, but I had no trouble reading them. It was a letter from my husband that had been handed to me secretly six months ago.

To Min,

Sweetheart, I am doing OK.Please take good care of our children for me, and tell them that I miss them terribly.

                Your husband,

My husband's face lingered in my mind. I wondered if he was still alive. It had been seven months since his arrest. Next to me, my children, aged five and three, were sound asleep. With my krama in one hand, I shooed [End Page 201] the mosquitoes away from them. With pity, I looked at their innocent faces and bent down to kiss them through my tears. Children, please forgive me, I thought to myself, for Mommy can't protect you. I would do anything for your sakes, but it is impossible for me to save our lives. God, why did it have to happen this way? I lay down next to my kids, put my arms around them, and tried to get some sleep.

When it was near dawn, I raised myself slowly and wiped the tears from my face. Heavy-hearted, I woke my children and watched them wash their faces. I was lost in thought when a voice calling my name startled me. A lady in her early thirties approached. She was a Khmer Rouge collaborator who had been appointed leader of my work group. She told me that an oxcart was waiting for my family in front of the temple.

Before we left, the lady told us she was sending us to live with my husband in Konpong Koar Village, located about twenty miles from thetemple. "Go to live with your husband," "Let's move to a better place"—these were ploys by which the Khmer Rouge made their captives and workers go where they wanted. Though the Khmer Rouge never said what they did with their captives, the rumor heard throughout the villages was that the victims were tortured to death. No one ever again saw the victims 0 r heard of their whereabouts. When someone was arrested, his family members and friends would not dare cry or show their sorrow, for they were afraid they themselves would...


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