It was hard to the dark period of Khmer rouge for Cambodian people. The Killing field, mass graves and the scream of prisoners who was being tortured by Khmer rouge are in their mind. It is not easy to remind those bad experiences of losing brothers sisters, seeing people being killed or died of starvation however there is a family that open their mind telling us about their story during Khmer rouge.
Introduction of a family
This is the dried banana family who have worked with Soksabike for six years. There are thirteen members in this family. This family make a living making products made from Banana while some of their other family members are working in a casino at the Khmer-Thai border. The father of this family has shared a lot of his experiences to us over the past six years. He and his wife are now 78 years old. Being elders in the village, they would love to share their stories to young people as in Cambodia elders normally try to pass on their knowledge to new generations.
Here is an example of one of the stories that the father shared with us. In 1967 when he was 28 year old, he worked as a worker in jute factory in Battambang. He and his wife worked there until Khmer Rouge took over power in 1975. During Khmer-Rouge, his family and all the other families who worked in the factory were evacuated to Tap’de mountain. It was about 50 km from his hometown. First, they prepared food and packed only the important things with them when khmer-Rouge soldiers told them to leave their home. They didn’t know where should they go but the Khmer Rouge gathered them together and took them away. They walked us three days to somewhere we did not know. Tap’de mountain was our last stop. We were forced to live in a new village with factory worker families, father said. He said he had two children but they were sent to live in anther camp, referring to a children’s camp. “Do not talk about food!” He said. It was worse than you can imagine. It was a hard life living under control of the Angka, when asking about food and how life was during the Khmer Rouge.
He told us that at the first, Khmer Rouge gave him enough food to eat but the food was smaller and smaller day by day. I saw a lot of people die around me every day. Some of those people died because of starvation, some died of disease and killing, he said. He worried about his Children a lot. They had not enough food to eat and looked so skinny. Nobody was allowed to cook or to eat individually. If somebody was caught eating on their own, they would be arrested to be killed or tortured. Khmer-Rouge provided only porridge or cooked rice sometimes to people without any vitamin support and it was not enough. The father said he slept with a hungry stomach. It was not only him, but all Cambodian people who went to sleep with hungry stomach and what they dreamed every night was not roast chicken or grilled beef, but just a piece of rice to eat. The father told us that in order to be full he stole a lot things to eat. He eat everything fish, insects, frogs, and all eatable leaves. He said all tree had no leaves at that time. He and his wife worked in the corn field so sometimes they stole corn to eat. It was not only food they lacked, but also no salt to eat as well. A lot of people died because of this problem. it was only one time a year that people could get salt to eat. Lacking salt, his body swelled he could not even walk properly. Nobody could stop working even though they were sick. Khmer Rouge always used a slogan “If I keep you no gain, If I kill you no lose”. It was so lucky that nobody in this family died during that dark period. In 1979, this family came back to their home town but they were late. Their property and land was taken and they could not take it back. It took them a really long time to claim a plot of land his brother gave to this family because the villager chef didn’t allow them to stay on the land.
Many people might say it was better for Cambodian people after Khmer Rouge was toppled but it was not. People still died because of starvation and disease. There were so many things happening, conflict, civil war, food shortage, and poverty. In order to survive this family tried hard to get food the father needed to walk three days in the forest to Thailand so he could get some rice, donated by the UN and walk back home. He said, it was really hard and risky, he needed to escape from any soldiers because they would arrest him and make him a soldier or rob him and kill him. He needed to remember the way so he didn’t step on the land mine planted in the war. He carried 50 km of rice home over three days walking. His wife and children always went to the field where they could pick some leaves to eat and sell. They grow banana and made banana products to survive. Now this family still make banana products such as dried banana, banana chip and some dried mango.