Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Starvation, siblings, & a secret

My mother, Hue Pho, is typically a shy woman who is not used to talking about herself.  However, once I told her about this project, she was only too excited to share her experiences.  She insists on providing some of the background information about the Khmer Rouge regime before answering some of my questions, even though my father has already done so.  Regardless, this system works out because I ended up asking her questions based on what she has told me.  She also reveals some very interesting family history near the end.

N.B.: If you have questions about the Khmer Rouge regime or anything related to the subject matter that you would like to ask my family, please submit your question through the comment feature.  My family will answer your questions on the next blog entry.

H: On the morning of April 18, the Communists came into the capital city.  They said, "everyone go outside!"  My family didn't take much.  Only took a few things, a few clothes and pots.  Everyone was walking.  The Communists kept telling people to go outside.  We walked until the evening.  We slept on the ground.  We looked for water and wood and cooked rice.  After we made rice, we slept on the ground.  The next morning, we had to keep walking.  The Communists wouldn't let us stay in one spot.  We walked for ten days.  We saw dead people on the ground.  Know why?  They have no rice to eat.  They were sick and then they died.  We asked why people were dead.  The Communists said to ignore them.  They treated the dead people like dogs.  We walked until we saw a farm.  We were forced to work on the farms.  In my family there were six people.  I have two sisters and one brother.  The Communists sent me and my brother and sisters to go far away to different farms.  Your dad and I could not see each other.  We worked for four years.  We worked on the farm, waking up at early mornings.  At lunch we only ate corn and salt.  After that we worked until 4 or 5 and then they sent us back to the refugee camp where we would eat together.  We had corn and salt again.  No meat.  After four years, we were free.  We could go back to the capital city where I was reunited with your dad and my younger sister.  My mom, older sister, and brother were dead.

C: What kind of work did you do on the farm?

H: I planted rice and corn.  I chopped down trees.  I carried corn in pots on my head.

She demonstrated by grabbing a nearby box and putting it on her head.

C: You carried out the same job for four years?

H: Yes.

C: If you got tired and took a break, would the Communists punish you?

H: Yes!  You never got a break.  Even if you were sick, you still had to work.  There was no medicine.  When the Communists gave out food, the portions were small.  Everybody was so skinny.  You know why?  There was no rice to eat.  There was no medicine.  And we always had to work.

C: Why did you not see your siblings for four years?

H: I was sent to one farm while they were sent to other farms.  We didn't see each other for four years.

C:  They didn't allow you to see each other?

M:  It was forbidden.

C: Who told you that your parents, sister, and brother died?

H: I heard it from my friends, but I still don't know if it was true.  I never saw their deaths.

C: So they could still be alive somewhere in Cambodia?  Or do you know for sure that they are dead?

H: I don't know.  I never had the courage to look for them.

C: You don't want to look for them?

H: [chuckles] I want to look for them, but I don't know how to start.

I had always assumed that my maternal grandparents, aunt, and uncle were dead.  After speaking with my mother, I am definitely curious to find out if they are still alive.  Like my mother, I wouldn't know where to start with my search either.  What do you guys think I should do?


  1. Wow! This is a crazy story. I'm excited for you as you're delving into your family history.
    As for where you should start, I believe there are sites online where you can connect with long-lost people. Worth a shot, perhaps.

  2. What do the rest of your family think - are they curious to know?

  3. Reading stories like these make it impossible to ignore how unbelievably easy and comfortable my life is. Great post.

  4. Great post Cindy. So many people never get around to having these talks with their parents.

  5. You might be interested in Crystal Laderas's IPP. She is also dealing with a family history filtered through war years.