Magazine article New Internationalist

Hear No Evil: Fear Has Ruled Cambodian Life for 20 Years, but Ritta Believes It Can Be Challenged by Solidarity

Magazine article New Internationalist

Hear No Evil: Fear Has Ruled Cambodian Life for 20 Years, but Ritta Believes It Can Be Challenged by Solidarity

Article excerpt

CANDLE light intensifies the large dark eyes of the young woman as she talks of her dream for her village. She is not well educated but alert and thoughtful. Her brown curling hair brushes against the handmade lace collar of her soft blouse. Her feet are bare inside the house of course, but she wears with neat precision the tight skirt, the locally - made sombot.

I look at the photographs framed against the bare wooden wall, for I know well this family in their Svey Reing village. The honoured image is of aupuk (the father), executed in Pol Pot times simply because he was the widely respected teacher, the most educated man in the village. Ritta was six at the time. She remembers most of all that the family dared not weep when the news of father's death was whispered to them. Spies who were watching for tears were ready to denounce the whole family as traitors. I watch her forthright expression, her graceful gestures. If the man who looks down from the photograph could see her now he would indeed be proud.

The widowed mother has never managed to climb from poverty to educate the six children to their potential. Simply to sit for an examination costs thousands of riels which the family can never find. But the qualities of the parents live on in the children. Ritta has received a heritage of intelligence and wisdom. Her aupuk is remembered with respect throughout the district even now, and many women and men come to her mother for wise advice. The spirit of this family has not been quenched in all the hardship of the last 20 years.

Ritta is firm in her assessment of Cambodia's main problem. She gains confidence as she speaks and her voice is strong with conviction. 'Most of our people are so poor that the hearts of all must be moved with pity. But the rich do not care about the poor. Sometimes even the people of the village do not help one another. My mother told me of the way people trusted and helped one another when she was young. But the terrible times broke down the trust. The people must make a new solidarity.'

Ritta's own short life has seen this breaking of trust. While she was a very small girl army convoys with supplies for the communist forces in nearby Vietnam came trundling through the village. The people were warned that they must stay inside their houses after dark: 'Hear no evil. …

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