IN MEMORY OF MY MOTHER - Nâng Thet Borey 1931-2008

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What have you told the world today?

 Humanity: "There's no difference between one's killing and making decisions that will send others to kill. It's exactly the same thing, or even worse." -Golda Meir
 confronting the past
 By Vorak Ny
Do You Have a Story to Tell? Don't You!

This could be You!




Present-Day Health Center
(formely Warehouse in 1976)

A half block from our hut was a medicine station where traditional herbs and roots were made into medicines for the sick.

I went there a few dozen times for medicine, not because I was sick, but because sometimes the medicines were made with palm sugar and I needed the carbohydrates for strength. Also, Kan and I often stole mangoes from a giant tree every time there was a rainstorm.

It took an effort to walk to the field behind the tree line. I stood and looked out to area where I think my twin brother Phal�s grave is. I sense his presence all the time. I feel closer to him now than ever before.

I recognized a fruit tree, but further down, the small pond where my brother and I used to swim is no longer there. There are many places carved out in my memory. They all here, except the people I lost; they, like my 14-year old twin, cannot be replaced. Also Read: To My Mother With Love

As soon as I stepped off the paved road, I began to feel that I was back where I left off more than thirty years ago. I began looking for familiar faces and names, like that of my brother Omarith who disappeared while building a dam in 1977.


Phal was the first death in our family at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. When he died, I was too worn out to be sad, so I just cradled his head in my arms. Two nurses immediately began digging his grave, wanting to buy him as quickly as possible.

While they were digging, I leaned close to him and grabbed his cool and pale hands. I said, please don't leave me. I must have looked odd. I wasn't crying. Inside I felt somewhat at peace. His face told me that he was no longer in pain.


Everything felt so wrong, and I had no idea of how to make it better; everything was dreamlike and indistinct. Five of us, the two nurses, my mother, my sister, and me, gave our last condolences, surrounded by bushes and freshly dug graves.

The anguish in my mother's face was plain. My sister Amarine was speechless. Something fundamental had died in Chrey that day. I lost a brother.

That sinking feeling lasted for nearly a year. At night, when I lay awake, I missed him and regretted things I hadn't said or done. I imagined his soul drifting closer and closer to heaven, his final resting place, and I also felt that a part of me was drifting further away from him. The world was very beautiful at that hour, and the night usually comforted me. The darkness made things less painful, and Phnom Penh felt very near.

Back inside the makeshift hospital, on Phal�s bed, which my mother had shared with him during his last few nights, his clothes were still warm 15 minutes after his burial. His small cloth bag, which he used to wear across his shoulder, hung at the end of the bed on a bamboo pole.

A few of his personal belongings were still inside: his aluminum spoon, a tin milk can, a few crumbs of rock salt, dried rice, his red and white checked karma, and a filthy but beautiful long-sleeved shirt. Now that we had done everything in our power, my mother gave his belongings to those who needed them and left the hospital.

Wat Por Compound

Many thoughts went through my mind in Chrey village. An appealing one is that I want a place closer to him, perhaps a small plot of land with a small house, and to start a life here. In the meantime, on my mother's next visit, we plan to erect a Buddhist shrine at Wat Chrey in memory of our lost family members.

There seem to be more inhabitants in Chrey than when I left in 1978. People I used to know have relocated or died. Among the many faces in the village are the sons and daughters of former Khmer Rouge. Many others left, just like us.

Some went to the cities seeking work. One villager asked me when I left Chrey. I had to pause for a minute, for it seemed I had been there all of my life. At that moment, America and Phnom Penh were something I could only imagine.

I traveled along the dam to Ream Kun village where Wat Tom Ma Yut, a notorious detention and torture site, is located. By design, this vast plain stretching to the national road will be submerged when the floodgates close, taking all of the farmland and its people with it.

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About the Author: Vorak, Ny is the founder of A survivor of Democratic Kampuchea and a reader of Searching for the truth

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