The Brutal Legacy of Genocide and the Children of Cambodia

This Blog is Taking a Break to walk a Difficult Path

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

This is a story that I have to tell.  I want to write more about the story but Hoy Pheakdey and I have been cut off from communicating with each other.  This censorship happened to me also in Inner Mongolia.  Shaobu was my English guide and translator.  We promised to keep in touch after we spent three fantastic days in the grasslands and little villages of Inner Mongolia.  Our emails were blocked.  Only recently did he find me on Facebook.

He is living in another country and the Chinese could not block his communications.

Hoy Pheakdey, Tour Guide

Hoy Pheakdey, Tour Guide

I met Hoy in Cambodia during Christmas break of 2013.  He was our cultural guide at Angkor Wat and the killing fields that surrounded it.  Hoy is about fifty years old now and speaks very good English.  As he told his story, tears streamed down his face.

Only a day earlier, we had been taken to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum where the Khmer Rouge had tortured and killed 17,000 people.  Only twelve people survived.  Hoy told us that they targeted the educated people.  It was so horrible.  The photographs were so horrible that my husband and I could not continue in the tour.  The insanity and brutality were too much for us.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  School where victims were housed.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. School where victims were housed.

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Rules of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

As I tell the story, I am sure that the details are fuzzy.  Hoy lived on the outskirts of Angkor Wat with his parents and siblings.  He was the youngest in the family.  One day while he was away, the Khmer Rouge took away his family.  His family was very well educated.  They were teachers and medical doctors.  Returning home, Hoy asked his neighbors about his family.  The neighbors lied and told him that they did not know.  What was an eleven year old boy going to do without a

Only one shot of the hundreds of pictures of dead bodies and bones.

Only one shot of the hundreds of pictures of dead bodies and bones.

family?  He was afraid.  He stayed in his house for several days but his family was gone, so he began to run.  He hid out in the trees and rice fields.

Finally, a neighbor came to him and told him, “When they take you, agree with everything they say.  Whatever they want you to do, do it.  Don’t argue with them.  This will save your life.”   The Khmer Rouge came for him, just like the neighbor said.  He did not resist.

Hoy was taken to a boarding school where he was indoctrinated by the Communists.  He lived with many other boys and tried to help them by telling them about his neighbor’s advice.  They would not listen to him.  They were afraid.  “If they tell you that you must hate your mother and father and you must kill them, say, “I do and I will.”  Hoy repeated everything they said and told them that he would kill anyone they wanted him to kill.  He was a model student.  The boys who resisted disappeared.  Finally, after weeks of indoctrination, Hoy was allowed to go back home for a visit.

Hoy’s neighbor met him on the road and told him the sad story.  The people who had been indoctrinating him executed his family. Hoy’s mind blew up!  He screamed and began to run and run and run away.  This time he ran far away from his home.  He had no water or food and knew that he was going to die.  He was not going back to the school ever!

For days and days he would go to the farms and ask people to help.  He would work for food.  This kept him alive.  At night he lived in the jungle by himself.  Finally a young family invited him to live with them.  He stayed with them and worked the fields for them.

The Khmer Rouge were gradually taking all of Cambodia and everyone knew about the genocide but no one could stop it.  They killed everyone they thought was a threat.  The family Hoy was living with were very afraid and wanted to leave the country.  They received letters telling them to go to a certain border crossing to Thailand.  There they would find safety and freedom.  Hoy and the family made their way to the Thai border.

His new family met with officials and were told that they had permission to cross into Thailand.  Hoy waited outside the office for them.  The family came and told him that they were going to Thailand but he could not cross the border with them.  Hoy pleaded with them.  Where was he going to go?  He had no money, no food, nothing?  He turned his back on them and began to run again, vowing never to love or trust anyone again!

He went back to staying in the jungle by himself and worked for food during the day.  He had no friends, no family, no attachments.  He was lost!

One day when the US military were on patrol near the Thai border, a military officer noticed a dead child in the road.  He went over to pick up the filthy-dusty-flea-ridden body but realized that there was still life in the young boy.  He could see life in his eyes.  Carefully they picked up the child, Hoy, and carried him back to the base hospital.  He had contracted Yellow Fever and would most likely die soon.

But Hoy did not die.  After weeks of rehabilitation, Hoy was ready to leave the hospital but he had no where to go.  The US military officer who saved his life, decided to help him.  He sent him to a language school on the Thai border.  This helped Hoy to find jobs so he could take care of himself for the rest of his life.

This military officer became a father to Hoy.  As Hoy tried to make a life for himself, he would send him money to help him.  Even in Hoy’s later years, the officer paid for him to go to Tourism School.  He lost his father about two years ago.

Water Village on the edge of nowhere

Water Village on the edge of nowhere

There is so much more to this story that I will never know.  Hoy’s story touched me.  I talked with him about writing about his life.  He grabbed me and hugged me and said, “God Bless you mum.”  His new job will be teaching abandoned children who live in the water villages on the river in Cambodia.  He will adopt them.

No one  knows the total number of people in Cambodia who were executed by the Khmer Rouge or died of curable diseases.

Children coming home from a school on the water

Children coming home from a school on the water

Estimations range that from one to three million people are buried in unmarked graves all over Cambodia.

On the way to Angkor Wat, Hoy pointed to the forests surrounding this ancient city.  “Cambodians are buried in those forests, and we will never cut them down.”

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This entry was posted in Children of Cambodia, Communism, Genocide in Cambodia, Khmer Rouge and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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