ON THE ROAD WITH ANN – Cambodia and a loss of words

Our guide, Tra

Tra is not his real name, but it is what we call our Cambodian guide for the sake of simplicity.

If you are unaware of the name Pol Pot and the unspeakable atrocities he committed in the name of the Khmer Rouge between 1975-78, you may want to Google it.

I will say here only that French-educated Pol Pot wished to turn Cambodia into an entirely agrarian society where all property and even children were held in common. To achieve his vision, he started slaughtering all he considered to stand in his way. He started with the wealthy and the educated. Wearing glasses, having a gold tooth, or even knowing how to read was enough to get you executed.

Pol Pot’s intention was to reduce the population of Cambodia to 40,000 pure souls and start again. Children of suspect parents had to be killed since he believed bourgeois tendencies were passed by blood through the generations.

Blessedly, this wholesale genocide was brought to a stop before he reached his goal.

Back to Tra, our kind, informative and imperturbable guide. We learned that his father had been a professionally-trained paratrooper for ‘the other side.’ Knowing the double jeopardy his biography put him in, Tra’s father obliterated all family history and changed everyone’s name to those used commonly among peasants. The family moved to the countryside.

Still suspected by the Khmer Rouge, many boobie traps were set to get the family to reveal their educated origins. Three times the entire family was rounded up for execution, only to be saved by peasant neighbours who pleaded that Tra’s family’s work was essential to community.

Unlike what we experienced in Vietnam, Tra is recounting living memories, not secondhand stories passed down about events before he was born. I find it impossible to take in.

No time to speak of the twenty or so practical uses he showed us for the scarf he is wearing, hammock, baby sling, and fruit basket, among them.

Tomorrow morning, we disembark and travel to Siem Reap for our final days at  Angkor Wat.

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One Comment

  1. Paula Nelson says:

    Beautiful vivid writing. Thanks for your comments.

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