Resiliency Another Perspective – Part 2 – Loung
First They Killed My Father – Author’s Note: “From 1975 to 1979 – through execution, starvation, disease, and forced labor – the Khumer Rouge systematically killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians, almost a fourth of the country’s population.”
About this time last year, my husband and I were returning from one of the most amazing and enlightening river cruises. We began the journey up the Mekong River in Vietnam and finished it in Cambodia. Cambodia is the most peaceful place I ever been. I don’t know if you have ever walked into a room, a spiritual place, a garden, or maybe a forest and felt as if the energy there was just different. It feels almost as if you have been swept away from the earth and have been taken to another world. Well, that is how Cambodia felt. There was a special calm, ease, and tranquility that we experienced; it is unlike any other place we have ever been. I say “we”, because both my husband and I both felt it.
We spent time in cities and in rural villages. We saw local schools. We saw villagers work. We walked dirt roads. We even got to visit spiritual places, but in all honesty, the whole country felt as it was one big, spiritual place.
I had read a little bit about Cambodia’s history, but it was years ago, and I am not sure that I retained their dark history. When we went there, my husband kept saying, “I don’t know how they can be so harmonious when you consider their past?” Honestly, I did not know exactly what he was referring to until I read this book. When I say history, I don’t mean 100 years ago. I mean recent enough that the middle-age adults would have LIVED through it and would clearly remember it. Quite frankly, the middle-age adults that live in Cambodia now are lucky to be alive. Literally, one in four was killed within the short 4 year time span of 1975-1979.
I am not a historian, and I don’t know a whole lot about Cambodia, but I recently read Loung Ung’s memoir, and this short write up of resiliency comes from the book. Should you be interested in the whole story, I strongly urge you to buy it or check it out from your local library. It is worth your time. Should you be interested in my other blogs about resiliency, I encourage you to read the past 2 weeks.
Now, back to the memoir. Where do I start? What is worse – what you see or what you feel? Loung eloquently describes both. In her memoir, she experiences years of starvation. She eats things that are unimaginable. She uses money to wiper herself after she uses the bathroom because the money has no value – until they run out of bills. Then, she uses whatever she can find. Do you remember a few months ago when people went wild buying up all of the toilet paper? Can you imagine using $20 bills because the toilet paper is gone and the bills have no value anyway? Then, when you have used up all of your bills, you begin to look for leaves, but you never want to go at night for fear that you won’t see what is on the leaves before you use them on your backside. Never mind creature comforts like toothbrushes and tooth paste. Wait, you view those as necessities, not creature comforts? Well, after the Khumer Rouge came into power, Loung doesn’t have access toothbrushes or toothpaste. Once they took over, she used hay to run over her teeth; she is desperate to keep them clean. She does miles of hiking, in flip flops, with no real destination with her family, and this is all before the killings begin. They have burned all of her clothes. She only has what is on her back – until they gave her a black, pajama-like uniform. Then, literally all of her clothes have been destroyed.
What does she see? People starving. People working until they die; they die from being overworked and because they are malnourished. What does she not see? She never sees pregnant women or babies. Women cannot become pregnant if they are malnourished. “Pa says there will be a generation of children completely missing from our country.” The teenage girls are never seen alone. Their parents know better than to allow for their daughters to be alone because when you are alone, the soldiers will do what they wish. Once abducted by the soldiers, the only protection is suicide.
Shortly after Loung’s older sister, Keav, dies of dysentery, her father, the family’s protector, is taken away and killed. The killings have just begun.
Loung claims to be an orphan, just to become a slave, and in that slavery, somehow she survives. She begins the journey at age 5. She lives to tell her story.
Now, if that is not resiliency, I don’t know what is.