While in Battambang, Cambodia I had the absolute pleasure of spending the day with a man named Thoeun who was my driver around the town. He lived through the Khmer Rouge control. While we were together, he told me his story:
At the age of 12, the Khmer Rouge took over in Cambodia. Thoeun lived in a small village far away from any large cities which were the places most affected by the awful power. For the 4 years Khmer Rouge ruled the country, Thoeun hid out in his village. His family wasn’t so lucky; his aunts, his uncles, and his brothers were killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers. He told me that he still misses them and thinks about them 35 years later. In 1980, Thoeun escaped to a Thai refugee camp where he stayed for 12 years. While there, he learned English from American and British doctors at the camp. He moved to Battambang in 1993 where he works as a tuk tuk driver. Despite the sad beginnings his life had, Thoeun was always delightful.
Thoeun shared his life story with me while he drove a motorbike to the Killing Caves, the sight of 1,200 deaths of the educated: teachers, government officials, English and French speakers, etc.
He described to me with poise that no one type of person was spared – women, children, husbands, and the elderly were all murdered with their arms tied behind their backs and shoved down the hole of a cave. This story is one of a myriad. Nearly 2,000,000 Cambodians were brutally murdered and tortured. With all of the awful events that’ve happened here, the Cambodians are still some of the kindest and friendliest, smiliest, rich-in-love people I’ve encountered in all of my travels.
*I wrote a bit more about the Khmer Rouge’s reign in my Phnom Penh post.