Saturday, May 17, 2014

She named him Lucky

She named her new born son, Samnang, or "Lucky," an inconceivable choice on the night he arrived sometime in April of 1975.  She gave him life, afraid for her own and her family's.  No nurses could help her, soldiers fighting nearby could be heard, and within days of his arrival, he and his family were refugees, fleeing the Khmer Rouge.  Maybe she had a precognition and knew he would be the only one of her family of seven to survive.

We met Lucky at our bus station. Our accommodation, the Battambang Resort, sent him to fetch us to their peaceful place among rice fields near the town of Battambang.  It was not so peaceful four decades ago as his dad, a local police commander, knew it was time to hide his identity and flee northward with his family.  They, along with millions of other refugees, were swept up by the revolution.  Lucky's oldest brother was only 12, his three sisters 9, 7, and 5.  The family was split up as refugee children 5 and older were sent to distant child labor camps.  His siblings worked at making fertilizer by collecting cow dung from the rice fields and mixing it with vegetation.  They were worked hard, fed little, and one by one each starved to death.  His dad successfully hid his identity for a year and a half, but someone finally recognized and reported him.  His previous occupation, like those of teachers, administrators, and doctors, was now a death warrant.  He was taken away and never seen again.

Lucky and his mom were now alone, with his mom required to perform hard labor in the fields each day.
 She hid the young toddler in pits in the ground as the Khmer Rouge soldiers would bayonet crying babies who distracted their mothers from their fieldwork.  As the Vietnamese arrived, the now four-year-old boy and his mother escaped to a series of refugee camps, first near, then over, the Thai border.  Some had no support, but by 1982, Bangphu, where they ended up along with thousands of other Cambodian refugees, received support and supplies from other nations.  Lucky started to realize the meaning of his name at Bangphu when camp workers mistook him for a girl and gave him and his mother two ration cards.  Only girls and women received the cards that brought servings of rice and canned fish to the struggling family.  He vividly remembers and is forever grateful to the personnel of UNBRO (United Nations Border Relief Organization) who brought food and some stability to his war-torn life.  At the camp where he was to live for 9 years, he was able to go to primary and secondary school, learn some English, and eat much more regularly.  Despite the hospital there, his mother's bloody coughs led inevitably to her death when he was 14.  By 16, he was a migrant worker in Thailand, digging potatoes for a few months.  A family of opium dealers took him in to watch their children, promising him a dollar a day which he never received.  Leaving them a few months later, he followed others across the narrow trails through heavily land mined forest between Cambodia and Thailand, fearing even stopping to lie down to sleep.

Back in Cambodia, Lucky was finally reunited with cousins, aunts and uncles he had never met.  His life continued to improve with hard labor as a tree cutter then slowly working his way to buying his first tuk-tuk.  He practiced English by listening to radio free America and with tourists.  With time, he met his wonderful wife and now they have a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.  At 35, his mother's choice of his
name became fully realized.  An Australian family taking a tour with him became interested and invested in his life.  They helped him build a nice home and to acquire a new, fancy tuk-tuk when his old one died.  He cannot believe his "luck" and pictures of these special friends adorn the walls of his small, but beautiful new home.

Visiting his home, watching him play with his son, made us remember how "lucky" most of us really are who were born in a wealthy nation with significant peace and prosperity.  Unlike our new Cambodian friend, Lucky, we know the date of our birth.  We have albums full of family photos.  We have never had to face imminent starvation and the despair of being completely alone.  Though we may feel like we are walking a tightrope at times, there are no real land mines to face if we misstep, just imaginary ones.  We are lucky.

Images are of Lucky with his new Tuk Tuk, family and having a traditional Cambodian breakfast with Sally. If you would like to contact Lucky he can be reached from the Battambang Resort or at +855 12687098 (international) or 012687098 (local). Posted at Battambang, Cambodia.

1 comment:

  1. This is so beautiful and heart-aching-- beyond words. Thank you for sharing.