Tuesday, January 24, 2006

My Family and the Magic Monk under the Khmer Rouge

Neou Kim Ann

In 1986-1987 I saw a monk whose face was similar to that of Chaing Chaem. My memory of him encouraged me to look for Chaing Chaem’s photographs. I asked my cousin, Pen An, for help in looking for them. Pen An got this picture from two old women who were Buddhist followers and respected Monk Chaem when he was alive. It was a half-body picture of him in saffron robes.

I managed to find another photo taken in 1968-1969 of my aunt Et (on the right), grandmother Chiro (second from the right), my cousin Voek (third from the right). This picture was given to me by my cousin Sieng. Actually I didn’t know how they kept the photos or how they got them. I had searched for them in 1986 and 1987, and when these pictures were found, it gave me hope that I might find one of my father as well. But I could not. Then I realized that none of his photographs were left because they showed him in the uniform of a volunteer soldier in the Sangkum Reas Niyum.

The Magic Monk

Chaing Chaem headed the Tet Mountain monastery in Bos Khnaor village, Bos Khnaor subdistrict, Chamkar Leu district, Kampong Cham province. He was famous for his black magic. My grandmother Voek was a Buddhist who believed in his magical powers. When I was young, she took me to pay respect to this monk and asked him to change my birth name, which was Neou Kim Sieng. When we were about six or seven meters from the monk, he shouted out “Call him Kim Ann, and he will no longer get sick.” One time while we were preparing the food, I had the chance to witness a miracle he created. From the dining hall, he pointed toward the rice fields and shouted, “Come up, please.” When I looked at where he was pointing, I saw many nuns walking in the fields. But when I looked again there was no one. This made me believe in his magical powers.

A year after the 1970 coup d’état, monk Chaem fled the village. I don’t know why, but I knew he had a kinship with the royal family and was a supporter of King Sihanouk. After the Khmer Rouge’s victory, I saw him in a yellow robe returning to Bos Khnaor village. Several days after his return, the village chief sent him to the security office at Prakk Sisaha Hill about one kilometer from my house. The villagers were very happy about his presence and came to see. him. While he was held there, the Khmer Rouge did not allow me to give him food. Two weeks later, the Khmer Rouge brought him to be executed. Before he died, they undermined his powers by removing all of his magical hip laces and killed him at 6:30 in the evening. Some villagers did not believe he was killed, and in 1986-1987 I heard them say there was a monk who looked really like Chaem. Many concluded that he hadn’t died; they said he was ordained again, but dared not stay in his home village. Every time I think about my grandparents, I miss him too.

My Grandmother and Her Sister

My grandmother’s name was Voek. She had two sons: my uncle Neou Kao and my father. She lived with my family until the Khmer Rouge took control of the country in 1975. She became a Buddhist nun after the death of her husband; at that time, my father was just four years old. Under Democratic Kampuchea, she lived with my father in Samaky village, Bos Knaor subdistrict, Kampong Cham province. The Khmer Rouge assigned her to look after small kids, weave mats, and polish rice. Finally, she became ill and died of malnutrition.

My grandmother’s sister Chy Ro was also a widow. She has a son named Et who planted and sold vegetables. In 1975 his family was evacuated from Kampong Cham to Kampong Thmar subdistrict in Kampong Thom province. He had sent my father a letter asking him if he could come back to my father’s birth village, but my father did not agree because my family was a target of the Khmer Rouge. Later I learned that all of Chy Ro’s family members who were evacuated to Kampong Thmar died there.

My Family and the Evacuation

Before the 1975 evacuation my family lived in Samaky village, Bos Khnaor subdistrict, Chamkar Leu district, Kampong Cham province. My father’s name was Neou Try; my mother’s name was Siek Kim Hun. My father used to be a volunteer soldier in the Sihanouk regime. These soldiers were armed and trained to protect local communities. He also worked at the house of my aunt Ney Huoy, one of the richest families in Bos Khnaor village. After the 1970 coup d’état, my aunt and another uncle, who were merchants buying farm produce in Kampong Cham province, moved to Phnom Penh .

In the same year, my father led a group of rioters to demonstrate against the coup, which removed King Sihanouk from power. When the procession reached Prek Kdam, the Lon Nol soldiers shot off one of his ears. After that, the Lon Nol soldiers chased him. He fled and hid in the forest, and then served in the liberation army for a short period of time. I brought some medicine and rice for him when he was hiding in the jungle. When the situation calmed down, he returned to the village.

In 1971 my family was evacuated by the Khmer Rouge army to the village of Kean Khlaing ; it was in the liberated zone about 40 kilometers east of Bos Khnaor village. When my family returned to Bos Khnaor, our house had been burnt down. In 1972 my family was again evacuated to Speu village, Chamkar Leu district for two years. In 1974 we returned to our home village. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge evacuated us to Samaky village, Bos Khnaor subdistrict, Chamkar Leu district; we lived there until 1979.

In 1976 when I was sixteen years old, Angkar put me into child’s mobile work brigade in Lvea Leu. My father was assigned to raise pigs. His eyes were impaired and he had to work until night. In the dry season, he fell into a waterless well about 4 meters deep, and fell sick. <>

In dry season of 1977 there was no rain and many cows died. Angkar allowed the villagers to eat them. My sister did not eat beef, only ate rice with salt. I felt so much pity for her that I cut a fruitless papaya tree to make chhai peou (a preserved salty food) for her. Angkar nevertheless accused me of destroying its papaya tree. Pornm, the chief of my unit, lied to me, saying I should go to the Samaky village office, where the village chief Kien would have me bring food to the work site. He told me to hurry as the chief was waiting. When I arrived, Kien slapped my face and pulled my hair. Then he called Chan, a militiaman, to tie my hands behind my back and ordered him to bring me to the bamboo forest east of the village. I was horrified when I heard that. Although the militiaman hit me hard, I didn’t feel pain because my mind was occupied with fright. The bamboo forest was a killing field. When I refused to go, the militiaman violently pulled me up. “Brother Comrade, I cut the papaya tree because it has not borne fruit for two years and it will not bear any fruit again. If you don’t believe me, please go and see it,” I pleaded. The chief village whispered something to the militiaman, who then loosened my binds a little, and then escorted me to the village security office where a prison guard put me in chains. The militiaman told the guard to watch me so I did not escape. When I saw the guard’s face, I realized that we knew each other. His name was Chakk. After he interrogated me, he removed my shackles and brought me to a place where I was to collect manure to make fertilizers. I had to collect 12 buckets a day. I worked hard in order to gain Angkar’s trust. After a month, Angkar reduced my punishment and sent me to work at the subdistrict office of the special unit for Bos Khnaor village. There, I was assigned to thresh rice, clear forests, excavate hills, etc. One night while I was threshing rice, I saw a Land Rover come out of the rubber plantation and head to a village about 700 meters from where I stood. There was a deep well in that village. The next day, I followed the car’s tracks with Mauv (who now heads Sreh Chak school), who worked in the mobile brigade with me. We came to a well and I felt that something was under my shoes. I bent down and found coagulating blood on the dead leaves. I abruptly looked into the well and saw many corpses. I was terribly scared and I tried to build myself in Angkar’s eyes with hard work. Seeing that I was a clever child, Angkar wanted to place me in a special unit under a ministry. However, they told me that the name Neou Kim Ann was a Vietnamese name and I was not permitted to join the special unit. This made me even more frightened. Then Angkar sent me to be trained on agricultural techniques at Stung Kdei dam, where there was an agriculture experiment station. I stayed there until the Vietnamese army attacked Cambodia at the end of 1978.

The Vietnamese army had not yet liberated my region completely, so I tried to hide from the Khmer Rouge. It was only when the Vietnamese troops liberated the whole country that I was able to come back to the village and live with my family.

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