Poverty Caused My Husband and Me to Separate

Posted by khmernews on July 4, 2007

Pivoine Beang
“My husband separated from me because my family was very poor after the Khmer Rouge was toppled. He firmly refused to live with me in my homeland. He was determined to settle down alone in Phnom Penh in search of a better standard of living than the one in my village,” said Koem Yoeung. After the Khmer Rouge was overthrown, Koem Yoeung took on the responsibility for their two children.

Today, Koem Yoeung is a widow living in Koh Dach sub-district of Kandal province. She earns a living by weaving pha muong (traditional Khmer clothing usually worn by women) and by doing a little farm work to support her family. She picked up weaving skills before the Khmer Rouge regime; however, she did not use them during Democratic Kampuchea.

During the Lon Nol regime, Koem Yoeung’s family earned their living by weaving and farming. Their peaceful and ordinary lives became miserable when the war spread to the village where they lived. Finding their lives disturbed, they moved out. Like other villagers, KoemYeoung’s family decided to move to a place they believed to be safe. Her family found the area around Chroy Chang Va to be more secure, and they stayed there for a while with an old friend. Not forgetting her weaving skills, Koem Yoeung continued making pha muong with the hand-made loom she had brought from her village. She took her products to a regular buyer at the market.

In addition, the Red Cross provided Koem Yoeung’s family with food aid such as rice, fish sauce, dried and salted white radish, and soy sauce. Her family received this sort of food aid every day.

Before 1975, there were incessant explosions everywhere around Koem Yoeung’s house. The sounds of bombs and gunfire could be heard all day and night. One day the sounds slackened and Koem Yoeung saw Khmer Rouge soldiers armed with guns. They came to announce that the country had found peace. No doubt, Yoeung thought that her country was really at peace, and she felt very glad, thinking that she could return to her homeland safely.

However, things turned out completely the opposite. The Khmer Rouge forced Koem Yoeung and others to leave Choy Chang Va and walk along National Road 6. Still believing the Khmer Rouge, Koem Yoeung thought that they were evacuating people because they wanted to rout out the enemy and organize the city. Thinking that this was only a temporary situation, Koem packed only some dishes, a cooking pot, rice, and clothes.

It took several days to reach Prek Pnoeu. The next day, the Khmer Rouge drove Koem Yeoung’s family and others in a truck that was heading for Kampong Cham province. There, the Angkarassigned them to live in the area of Stoeung Thom in Kroch Chmar district. Koem Yoeung and her family were put in an old people’s unit which grew vegetables and cultivated rice. Her children were sent to work in mobile units. The family members were allowed to meet only once a month.

Koem Yoeung complained that her life during Khmer Rouge regime was the worst possible. She encountered untold hardships that she can never forget. Starvation and overwork made people miserable. With insufficient food, people were too frail to complete the hard work assigned to them, yet they were forced to work as beasts of burden. What is more, the most boring but terrifying thing was the frequent denunciations.

Koem Yoeung said that the base people (those living in areas controlled by the Khmer Rouge before they came to power) at Stoeung Thom were very vicious and arrogant. They always mistreated evacuees like Koem Yeoung. They were always looking down on her, mocking her, saying that new people like Koem Yoeung were useless. The base people blamed Koem Yoeung for eating too much, saying it caused her to be sick. In fact, the Angkarprovided neither proper food nor medicine. Consequently, many people gradually died.

For example, Koem Yoeung’s mother died of malaria. When her mother felt ill, the Angkar sent her to a hospital where there was nothing to cure the patient besides rabbit-dung medicine and coconut juice that was used for intravenous injections. Because of improper medicine and unprofessional medical workers, her mother never recovered. The Khmer Rouge did not let relatives visit patients. Instead, they kept the relatives busy in the mobile units. It was only when Koem Yoeung’s mother was near death that the Angkar agreed to allow her relatives to visit her. When Koem Yoeung arrived at the hospital, her mother had already breathed her last breath. As a daughter, Koem Yoeung was supposed to bury her mother’s body, but the Angkar did not allow her to do this. Koem Yoeung did not even know where her mother was buried.

After the Vietnamese army overthrew the Khmer Rouge, Koem Yoeung and her family returned to their homeland. Traveling on foot, their journey home took nearly a month. It was then that Koem Yoeung’s husband left her because he wanted to try his luck in the city, which he believed would offer better opportunities. Not knowing how to resist, Koem Yoeung let her husband go alone.

Koem Yoeung still cannot forget the pain she bore during the Khmer Rouge regime. However, she was relieved and glad to hear that the Khmer Rouge Tribunal will start soon. She feels optimistic about the upcoming trials and hopes they will bring justice to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime, especially her mother.

Extracted from: Searching for the Trust Magazine, Fourth Quarter 2006, page 27-28: “Poverty Caused My Husband and Me to Separate.”


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