LONG LOVE, SHORT LIFE CHAPTER 11
LONG LOVE, SHORT LIFE
After working for nearly three years with The Cambodia Diamond as a reporter, Dara then obtained a scholarship to Los Angeles in the U.S. in 1997. Leaving love for L.A. is a new world for him.
At the weekend, he visited his family in the village. Dara looked quite happy and smiled happily at his wife upon his arrival home in the countryside.
“Hey darling, you look so happy today. Anything interesting happen?” she asked.
Dara walked to his wife and whispered: “can you believe, I received a scholarship to study in the U.S.”
“No way, darling,” she replied, adding, “You’re telling me a lie. It does not make any sense. How can you receive a scholarship when you are not good at writing articles? You are not qualified to be on such a prestigious journalism program in the United States. You are good at writing love letters instead. Look on the table next to our bed where there is a stack of love letters you have written to me since the 1980s and then some more from 1994 when you attended an environmental journalism course in Japan. You are a good liar.
The noisy of the chickens and geese flapping and chasing around, along with the blackbirds chirping in the trees meant Dara did not hear what Duongchan had said correctly.
Dara turned to Duongchan, saying: “Of course I am your good lover.”
Duongchan laughed, “that is not what I meant. I said you are a good liar.”
Dara replied “Ah, I see. No problem whatever you say… good liar, good lover… you name it since I am your long-lasting lover. And you are right if my journalism was already great then they would not select me to attend journalism classes in the U.S. Darling, I am not joking, I obtained the scholarship and I just got a call from Washington last night. I was working in the office late yesterday and the phone rang. An American lady called to the office number and she told my friends, who are American journalists, that she needed to talk to the Cambodian journalist with the name Dara.
Duongchan was surprised to hear that and asked, “Then, what is next?
Dara laughed and talked as his wife showed gestures of not believing him. “That American lady, I did not know her before. She told me that her name is Galaxy Cosmo Angelicarole from the ‘Free World Forever’ in Washington, something I cannot remember. Her voice was something like alien from space… Duongchan interrupted and shook his shoulder to tell her the truth and stop telling jokes. “I do not understand what you are talking about, Dara”
“I mean she speaks American very fast, American-English. I did not understand that much about what she meant although I just kept responding with positive words; yes, and you? three years, OK, right, great and excellent, yes I do, one wife and one daughter.”
Duongchan then further asked him, “then what did she ask you that brought you to say such things as yes, no, Ok, and so on”.
Dara shook his head like a cow shaking head to scare flies away. “She asked me, am I married? I said yes. Do I accept the scholarship? … I said yes. How long do I have been working as journalist? I responded three years. She will fax me the letter of agreement to sign along with some relevant documents. I said OK… Do I have any children? I responded: one beautiful wife since the Cold War, one daughter after the Cold War was over.”
Duongchan could not stop laughing as she heard Dara talk. “Wait a minute, why did she ask you about your status, I mean marital status?”
Dara explained to his wife why the American lady asked him if he is still single. “If I am still a bachelor, they think I might fall in love with a beautiful American girl and I will not come back and that is the big problem for a sponsor like the Freedom World Forever Institution. Such situations have happened in the past and they do not want me to follow in those footsteps. I am thankful to you for that as well. I mean my sponsor feels safe and is sure that I will return home after the program”.
His charming wife Duongchan raised her hand into the air, saying that, “Oh, I see. That is why you say OK, right, great, and excellent like that.
Dara placed his right hand on her shoulder, “You get it now. With such conversation, my responses with those terms fits well”.
Duongchan was so happy to hear all that, “So, when will you go?
“I am waiting for some more information from the American lady. I would love to bring you along, but it is not allowed so I will go alone,” he said.
“For how long will you be away? Which state and university?” she asked.
To be continued …
Dara is not really thrilled about leaving his wife and daughter: “I do not know yet but I will know the answer hopefully by next week and see what I have to do next”.
She said that she is very proud of him. “You are a committed person. You have been working quite hard with the newspaper. You deserve it. Congratulations!”
Thoughtful Dara, after dinner, talked to his wife, saying “Darling, I was happy and sad at the same time when I received the news about my fellowship to U.S. I am sad because I will think of you and Sakura when I am away since I am the main breadwinner but more than that, I will miss you both dearly. I am happy and thrilled because I will learn more than about journalism but also other aspects about the outside world”.
His wife told him that she is thankful for all his love and care of the family. But she added, “I want you to go and see the outside world and study in a country like the United States. This will help you shape your ideas to get a better future. Journalism is one thing but once you understand the global trends, you can deal with other issues than the ones you report on now,” she encouraged.
Dara shared her values. “You are right. In the Cold War era when I left you, I needed to save my life and limbs to the fighting with the communist rebel Khmers and other Khmers. It is different this time as I leave you to learn in the U.S. I will come back healthy and I do not have to worry losing limbs in America.”
“Have you told anyone else about your plans?” she asked.
Dara said no. But then he thought of his former UN supervisor, John. “My ex-boss from my UN days is from New York. I am unsure if his home phone still works but I will try. I do not know anybody else in the U.S.”
At that point, Duongchan remembered that she had learned from her husband that Dara’s parents have relatives, who survived the killing field and fled via Thailand before they settled in the U.S. in the early 1980s. “You should call your relatives in the USA,” she said
“Ah, Duongchan, you are right,” he said. “My uncle and his wife along with their children settled in America. I am not sure how to find them given America is so big. I heard they lived in California but California is a different world from Cambodia. If I get a chance to see them, it will be the first time ever in my life.”
“First time ever? she asked nervously.
“Yes, I was born in 1967 in Takeo and they lived in Phnom Penh. At the age of 5 I was living with my parents as refugees in South Vietnam. My uncle and his family were trapped by the Khmer Rouge when they came to power in April 1975. After the Vietnamese troops ousted Pol Pot from power in early 1979, my parents returned to Cambodia from South Vietnam. By then, my uncle and his family fled to Thailand,” said Dara.
He continued, “After returning to Cambodia, there was nothing we could do given it was a civil war back then. So if I have chance to see my relatives in the U.S., it will be awesome.”
“You are lucky your uncle and his family survived the killing fields and made their way to the U.S. while my father could not manage to flee the country and was taken away by young Khmer Rouge young soldiers.” she continued.
The couple talked and talked sitting with their daughter playing near the wooden wall surrounded by flowers. Dara continued “It was only in 1990 that my mom heard that my uncle now lived in California in a small town somewhere called Rowland Height? I am not familiar with the name, but before she found that out, my mom cried a lot as she believed that my uncle and his family had died under the Khmer Rouge. My mom’s parents died of starvation and disease. We learned about that from relatives who survived the Khmer Rouge regime.”
Duongchan keeps recalling, although her voice was breaking, what she learned from her mom. “The Khmer Rouge tied my dad’s hands behind his back and threw him into military truck and drove away. Luckily my mom survived.”
Dara interrupted since Cambodians have many different stories of suffering during the country’s civil war. “My mom visited my dad in prison in Vietnam in 1976 as I told you once before”.
Duongchan continued, “My dad’s situation was much worse than your dad’s. Khmer Rouge soldiers in black clad raided my mom’s house in Phnom Penh on the morning of 17th April 1975. I learned this from my mom, and they took my dad way”.
The young couple shared pain about what had happened in the past much as nearly every family in Cambodia. “We do not forget but we try to forgive. We cannot change the past but we can learn from it and how we can better shape our life,” said Dara.
Duongchan looked into the sky and saw the sun shining at a low angle, noting that it is late afternoon now “I need to go to the local market and get some food for dinner. Is there anything you would like to eat?
Dara said that he can eat anything. “I eat any kind of food that you and Sakura eat. One thing, when you buy local food you do not have to bargain the price although we are not rich. Just pay it because I understand the pains and the difficulties when those villagers, such as children, catch fish and crabs from the muddy canals and in the rice fields and take them to sell at the market. One day on my way home here, I stopped over and pissed in the bush since there was no toilet around. I saw from a distance that a crab had hurt a girl’s hand while a boy tried to remove it. The other day, I saw another lady try to remove the leech from sucking on her leg as she was standing in the water next to the fishing net”.
To be continued …
The pleasant and open minded wife nodded her head as a sign of approval before she picked a basket made of rattan and going to the local market in the village. “Would you like some crabs, snake, and fish then? she asked Dara.
“Sounds great. Can we make soup of snake and fried crabs with garlic, but no rat, please. I stopped eating rat since I saw some rats living below my office in Phnom Penh. One rat somehow made its way into office one day and scared the American journalists. They screamed and jumped on the desks breaking laptops and others clung to the windows as the rat ran everywhere trying to find a safe place. Then a Cambodian journalist killed the animal with a tripod, making the Dutch photographer get mad because the tripod was broken and stained with the rat’s blood.
“Ok. No mouse or rat then but snake, rice crabs, and fish. Please take care of Sakura. I will be back in about half an hour,” said Duongchan as she put her purse in the basket and walked through along the dusty path heading to the market.
Late December is part of the dry season in Cambodia. Some trees, on both sides of boulevards in Phnom Penh, have flowers in white and purple although most parts of Cambodia look grey. Time goes by fast, this year Sakura turns three years old. Dara, although he does not have much money, sees his family as the true riches he has in his life. As his wife Duongchan was shopping at the local market, Dara chatted with Sakura and put her on his shoulder and walked around the house. They tossed the paddy rice for chickens. They watered the vegetables and flowers behind the house which Duongchan planted.
Even in 1997, the life of Cambodians living in the countryside still faced many difficulties; given the country’s infrastructure was virtually zero after the country’s 30 years of civil war. No clean water, no electricity, no pesticides available in remote areas. The people living in the countryside faced lots of social problems. After nightfall they used small lamps connected to batteries. Mosquitos and insects flew in from different directions and bit people as they enjoyed dinner. The family had to enjoy their meal and slap the mosquitos at the same time.
“I am sorry Dara, I think mosquitos bite you the most since you are a stranger to them,” said Duongchan as she swatted the insects.
Dara laughed “You are right. I am the new ingredient for the mosquitos. Let them enjoy it this weekend while I am here but we cannot continue to go through this. I will find a way to kill them by getting some pesticide from Phnom Penh. We will have to replace the old mosquito nets as well. Dara used a fan made of palm leaf to swat away the insects from Sakura who was sitting between them.
Two weeks later, Dara told his wife about his scholarship plan.
Dara said that he is leaving for the scholarship in early January for spring semester. “I am designated to a prestige university in California. Almost everything will be new to me, except one thing I am familiar with from the white American culture at work. It will be fun to see Khmericans there in the US.”
Duongchan interrupted, “what did you just say? Khmerican?”
Dara explained that he means Khmer-Americans whose community is in Long Beach in California after they fled Cambodia and lived as refugees along the Cambodia-Thailand border for a number of years. They were granted political refugee status, the same as my uncle’s family, in California.”
“What exact date you will leave for the U.S?” she asked.
“7th January, 1997” he answered.
Duongchan could not believe her ears given the date. 7th January is the anniversary of Vietnamese troops saving Cambodian survivors from the Khmer Rouge in 1979. “The day that you are leaving is the day Cambodia celebrates the 27th anniversary marking the victory over the Khmer Rouge. Cambodians call the 7th January the country’s second birthday.”
Dara, who was very familiar with the country’s history, explained to his wife that some people have different interpretations of the event because of their political background and values. That is to say that some called the liberation day of 7th January and the toppling of Pol Pot from power as the second birthday of Cambodia. Others called it the anniversary of the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.
Duongchan gets a little lost because of her husband’s statement. “So, what is your view about the event?
Dara said that he called it both. “I mean; I am grateful to whoever helped me but one thing that upset me was the politics. Meaning, that we are thankful to the Vietnamese soldiers who drove Pol Pot from power. But when the Vietnamese, after they liberated us from the Khmer Rouge, ruled Cambodia till 1989, that was another thing—politics.”
Duongchan disagreed with her husband. “Now you are not only partially right but wrong. I mean, if the Vietnamese left us right after the liberation in early 1979, the Khmer Rouge would have returned and killed all of us”.
Dara backs off from his statement. “You are quite correct otherwise we would have been killed and had no chance of finding love then in the 1980s. I am sorry, I am wrong.”
Duongchan insisted, “Let’s put aside the politics for now and focus on your coming trip”.
Dara replied that he already received flight tickets. “I may need some pocket money,” he said sadly knowing his wife does not have money either.
The wife, who totally understood her husband, said, “I know you are broke. I can help you some. I am going to sell some chickens and give you some money”.
“That would be very kind of you,” said Dara, “I will pay back that money when I make it in the future”.
“Do not mention it. We are husband and wife,” she said.
END OF CHAPTER 11