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Writing for Raksmey: A Story of Cambodia



On January 3rd, a short time before my plane lands in Pochentong Airport, military police armed with assault rifles open fire on several hundred workers demonstrating during a nation-wide strike for a just wage. At least four of the protesters or bystanders are dead and many more injured. One young man lying on the road bleeding from the head is not seen again. Nearby clinics are told to close their door against the injured. More than twenty are arrested and held without trial.

On the first day of my return Reaksa shows me a YouTube video of a Phnom Penh protest: a bank of military police, helmeted, booted, holding a body shield in one hand and a baton or AK-47 in the other, are advancing step by step towards unarmed protesters with placards, many without shoes. The dead lie in blood. The arrested, women and men together, lie face down on the road with hands tied behind their backs.

We talk through the afternoon and evening about the cost of struggling against oppression: of exploited garment workers, of families left homeless after their land has been grabbed by officials who will grow rich from its sale.

Reaksa sets up his laptop so that we can watch the film ‘The Lady’ together. ‘You will see’, he says. ‘It will help you to understand about politics in Cambodia.’ He needs me to see Aung San Suu Kyi’s courage and the way she was ready to suffer for the sake of poor people of her country, Burma, now Myanmar. I remark on the way she believed that there was a seed of good in everyone. Reaksa is more interested in the scene where soldiers raised their guns and Aung San Suu Kyi walked without flinching towards them. ‘This is it. Look at her. Nothing to fear but fear itself.’ He has not yet known fear. ‘Is it easier anywhere?’ he asks. ‘Could the UN give protection? Do people in other parts of the world care about what happens to us here?’

‘Write my story, use my name,’ he says. ‘I would like it to be published.’

I shake my head. ‘Think about this for a few days. Your friends might read it.’

He shakes his head. ‘They won’t read something like this until they are about thirty.’

He laughs and his mood changes. Reaksa is light-hearted now; he remembers his childhood. Spontaneously he begins to sing: he can hold a tune just as his mother could. He laughs and sings, ‘Row, row, row your boat’; then, ‘Incy wincy spider’.

We are both singing and making the shapes with our hands. ‘Out came the sunshine and dried up all the rain, then incy wincy spider climbed the spout again.’

For a moment I think that he has remembered songs I sang to him and games that made him laugh before he could talk. ‘Where did you learn these things?’

‘On TV. Playschool.’

‘Ah. Yes’

‘This little piggy went to market’, he says.

‘Kookaburra sits on an old gum tree’, I sing.

‘Yes, yes.’ We sing together, still singing on the motorbike as we set out to meet Raksmey.

Writing for Raksmey: A Story of Cambodia

   by Joan Healy