Over 30 years ago my husband was born in a 3 sided hut on a mountainside in Cambodia. At the time a war raged. He was the 3rd child born to his parents. The 2nd child, a girl, died before she turned a year old. My father-in-law had to burry his infant daughter. He still says it was the hardest thing he ever did. When Proeun was born his father was in a prisoner of war camp. It would be 6 months before he saw his son. The night of the first meeting was also the night the village left their mountain in Cambodia. A family member bribed the prison guards to allow my father-in-law and 2 other men to come home for the evening. They came home and the village left. If anyone had stayed they would have been killed when the “escape” was discovered.
They would never return to the life they loved. They hunted and fished and gathered. They grew some crops. Wove mats to trade over the border in Thailand and had a few animals. I have heard stories of amazing hunting dogs that saved the village from starvation and wild cats to be feared. When they crossed the border they didn’t know that they would never return. Some could argue that this way of life ended when the war began but now they were physically leaving their home.
One hundred and 27 people left. Seven did not make it. It was a harrowing journey. The dogs couldn’t come because they would draw attention to the group and had to be killed so they wouldn’t follow. Family members saw relatives step on mines in front of them. Crying children where an especial danger. An older cousin caused a particular problem. It crossed her father’s mind that she may have to be left to protect the others. He didn’t, but just to even have to think that is enough to make me shudder.
Fast forward 30 some years. This week was a special week for my father-in- law. He passed his citizenship test and retired. Somehow the years have not separated these families. Though they came to this country at different times and were sent to different locations they have continually worked to be near each other again. On Saturday we held a celebration for my father. It wasn’t in a 3 sided hut on the side of a mountain in Cambodia. But it did have a freshly killed and roast pig with all the fixings. Family sat on the floor and ate from a communal bowl. The young people served the old, there were plenty of children running around and the stories flowed freely. There was much laughing and eating and everyone was filled in more ways then one. It was a wonderful evening. it made me sad. When this generation passes who will continue the traditions? I honestly don’t know if we are up to the challenge but that is a huge part of the journey we have chosen. The mountainside in Cambodia is now a casino. That home is gone, but can we recreate something like it? By growing our own food, being as self-sufficient as possible and drawing family to us perhaps so.