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Writing for Raksmey: A Story of Cambodia



Nee knows that I want his advice about whether to seek a publisher for this manuscript I am working on. He is ready now to focus on what I have written. Before he turns the first page he advises that perhaps it should start with a chapter giving a sociological setting. I say I am choosing to write it as a story. He begins to read and his smile grows broader. ‘Yes. Yes. Felt like that. Smelt like that.’ He is nodding slowly to the words on the page.

I tell him about Raimond Gaita of Melbourne University, what he suffered in his life and the way he chose to tell it. I show Nee what Raimond Gaita wrote: ‘I deliberately avoided anything that looked like theoretical descriptions and concepts … I did this because I wanted to convey in ways not obscured or softened by theory the full terribleness … while not diminishing the dignity of those who suffered it.’

Nee holds in both hands a printout of the draft I have given him. He nods. ‘Thanks,’ he says.

Nee and I sit on the veranda of the partly-built farmhouse. It has been a whirlwind journey by bus and motorbike for the chance to spend a day and a night here. Nee wants to do some ploughing; he also wants to show me his farm. I agreed to make the journey with him because it is almost time for me to return to Australia and if Nee really does settle on this farm I would like to be able to picture it.

I plan to walk around the two-hectare block, set in surrounding hills, where the light changes as the sun passes across the sky from sunrise to sunset, the quiet place where Nee dreams of spending the ‘last part’ of his life. This is where he can have time for thinking and writing and watching things grow, as well as for teaching. This, we both agree, is a good place for us to check the stories I have written.

It is night. Today the earth has been ploughed for the first time; there are fish in the pond. During the heat of the day there were no ripples on the surface though good fish food floated there. Small fish shelter under the shady bank while the sun is strong. Now that it is dark the surface is ringed with ripples.

There is a moon in the sky but it is not full enough for reading. We have a small solar light the size of a jam tin; it is sufficient for one person to see the printed pages. Nee asks me to read aloud those parts of the draft manuscript that tell his share of the story. It takes a long time.

We are there again, in the camp, in the gloomy early days of return, in the struggle to bring healing, to bring life. The night is quiet; the freshly-ploughed earth has a good smell.

Nee says ‘Going back and remembering about these things is like coming through a dark tunnel. Each step comes from the step before.’

It is right that Raksmey and Srey Leak and Reaksa and one day the grandchildren should know all this, he says. Other people of good heart might understand these stories too. They need to be told. Publish them if you can.

We sit quietly, smelling the fresh earth, thinking of these things.

Writing for Raksmey: A Story of Cambodia

   by Joan Healy