Maher Gecko Tales
Mr.Chanta is in the weekly men’s group I lead and he told us his personal life story last week. I asked for permission to share it. I hope you are able read the whole story as recorded below
Hi, I’m is Chantha, and I’m 23 years old. I was born in the same village as my father, which is called “Rokha in the most southern part of Kompong Thom province in early 1992. He was born in the village proper, but I was born on the far side of the village near the mouth of a pond called Bung Consign.
Kompong Thom was always a hotspot for Khmer Rouge, and in 1994 there was fighting in the Bung Consign area and my parents and I fled. My mother told me that as my father fled, he held me under one arm while firing an automatic rifle back at the Khmer Rouge. We traveled north with the intent to seek refuge at the house of my grandmother (on my mother’s side), which is almost 100 kilometers or so away, north of the provincial city of Kompong Thom. My grandmother lived in the Prasat Sambo District that has many ancient temples, dating back to 800 B.C. We eventually reached Grandma who lived in the village of Tuk Andong, but she would not let us stay with her because she hated my father. So my father journeyed back to Rokha to look for work and my mother and I slept under a mango tree. My grandmother hated me because I was my father’s son and hated my mother because she married him. My mother built us a makeshift shelter out of a blue tarp and we lived there for two or three months. We had no rice, and no cooking utensils but my mother’s younger sister was able to steal just enough utensils and rice for us to live on. Because my mother was destitute, she was going to sell me to a Cham (Ethnic Islamic Group) family who had no children. I was to be sold for 15 Dumlung (1994), but my father’s mother heard of it and would not allow it.
When my dad earned enough money, he came back and bought a piece of land and built a rather small house, just across the river from Grandma. My dad eked out a living doing odd jobs, planting rice, or selling his labor to construction outfits. He saved a bit of money and bought a few more parcels of farmland for growing rice. When my brother Bonourng was 2 months old, they planted corn and made enough money to buy what they needed to produce traditional Khmer wine. That was very lucrative but then my father started drinking up the profits. This caused arguments and beatings, then one day my father came home with a gun to shoot my mother. My mother, my baby brother and I huddled together crying loudly until the villagers came and stopped my father. So my father took me back to Bung Consign (southern K.Thom) and there he made a living catching eels to sell. As a very young boy (5), I became a duck herder and I made a few pennies each day. I made sure the ducks got to the pond and then back to their pens. Even though I had a bit of pocket change, there was nothing to eat at home because grandmother (father’s mother) was so poor. Sometimes we had rice, other times we had the only the bulbs of native grasses growing nearby. I once remember my uncle eating his fill of rice, and not even bothering to save the least bit for me when my stomach so ached with hunger. When I had nothing to eat, I would go to the well and pick apart pieces of the disintegrating clay bricks that surrounded that well and mix it with water and eat it.
I also ate pieces of Date palm branches.
I was living in the village with my relatives while my father was staying on the other side of the village catching eels. I rarely saw him. Every 2 or 3 months he would come back to our side of the village to visit us. He would bring fish and eels to sell in the village. He used to catch significant amounts and when he finally saved enough, he took me back to my mother up north, and they settled their differences.
Our living situation improved some, but our house was still made of date palm fronds. After being back in Tek Andong for a while, my sister was born (1997). When she was 5 or 6 months our Grandma was extremely unhappy. She took the piece of land she gave my mother back because she didn’t want my mother in the village close to her. My parents petitioned the village chief but grandma had already bribed the chief in anticipation, and the chief only ended up giving us a small sliver of land to live on. Because my grandmother had to give up some of her land, this meant she lost a lot of face in the village, and so she poisoned some of the ground around the tender bamboo shoot we normally eat. When my parents came back from the rice fields, my father cut out tender part of some bamboo shoots and had my mother make soup. When she was ready to serve it to us, a relative rushed in to warn us not to eat the soup. “Don’t eat the bamboo shoots, “she said, and we learned how she had planned to kill us.
My mother threw it all away and made a new batch of soup. After that, our Grandmother stopped harassing us but my father starting drinking heavily again. He then became ill, and went to the provincial city to get treatment. He spent all our money on treatment, and sold most of our land to pay the doctors. He also owed everyone in the village money. When he got well, he went to the Thai border to seek work as a laborer, and he worked as an illegal in Thailand as a construction worker. He worked there for 2 years before he came home. When he came home, he paid his biggest debts off, just owing a little here and there. After having returned from Thailand, he began dealing in the buying and selling piglets, which he transported over many kilos on the back of his bicycle. When that got old, he went back to rice farming.
One day my mother went to a wedding reception in another village and my dad went to work the rice fields. He told me to stay home and watch my younger siblings, and not to play near the pond. I was 7 at the time. When he left, my younger brother, some friends and I sneaked off to the pond to catch fish (mud fishing). We left our little sister who was just two years old, home alone. When my father returned from working the fields, he could not seem to find hide or hair of us, just our baby sister who, remarkably, was still alive. He carried her on his shoulders as he looked for us. He knew exactly where we would be and sure enough, he found us mud fishing. He was enraged and shouted to us to say put. He caught my younger brother and whipped him good, but I ran away and when he finally caught me, he beat me good with a date palm branch until I was unconscious. He dragged me by the feet from the pond to our house and put me on the bed. He built a bed of coals and put them under my bed (that is what they do when someone is unconscious). When I came to, he beat me again. He forced me to bow prostrate at his feet, and beg his forgiveness for disobeying him.
Later that year, I entered first grade. I remember one day after school when we were eating as a family, and my parents finished first. My sister and I were still eating and there was one piece of meat left and I grabbed it. My sister apparently wanted it just as badly because she hit my hand and the chunk of meat dropped onto the mat. She tried to get it, but I got it first and gobbled it up. She then proceeded to beat me around the head with the ladle. It hurt so much that I hit her on the head with my knuckles and she screamed bloody murder. My father came running in and punched me twice in the face and kicked me twice in the back. I passed out and when I came to, I woke up in my aunt’ s house with an I.V. drip. When I asked why I was at my aunt’s house, she said your Parents split up again. On top of being injured by the beating, I immediately contracted dengue fever and went through many many bags of I.V. drip. Not long after, my parents soon got back together, once again. On my sick bed, my father would bring me pigeon rice soup every day. He took down our old house and rebuilt it, but it was still made out of palm fronds. When I got better, he brought us all to the new house. I got sick once again and was sent to the provincial hospital. My parents had no money at all left over from my medical expenses and borrowed money from my aunt. Soon we were able to live a bit better because my mother got a job teaching kindergarten at the public school for $30/month.
One day when I was about 14 year old, an itinerant Evangelist by the name of Vuthea came to our village and led some kids club for about 3 days. He taught English, the bible and prepared curry dishes for meal times. Since we had no money, I wasn’t going to school at the time, so he suggested I go to PP to school. He knew a place where I could stay. My mother, thrilled with the idea of having one less mouth to feed, asked him to take me with her, but I didn’t want to go so they told me the center where they would send me had a big area to play, a swimming pool, and a helicopter to take us sight seeing. When I heard that, I decided to go. When I arrived in 2006, I saw that the Center was just a small place. When I met the director of the Center, Teacher Bophal, I asked her where the swimming pool and helicopter were. She had no idea what I was talking about. I then asked the older children where the pool was, and they told me to wait a few more months until the rainy season came, then there would be a pool at Centre of Peace. I was mad at my mother for telling me such a horrendous lie, and begged her to let me come home but she would not take me back so I decided to stay and after a few months, began to enjoy the fellowship and friendship with other kids, the games, and I really loved it when we had visitors from overseas who brought us things, and led us in games and planned lots of other fun things for us to do. I began to forget about missing home. It wasn’t easy at Centre of Peace in the beginning because Teacher Bophal did not have enough funding for decent food. When it flooded, it was difficult to use the toilet facilities. At home, when was hungry, I could at least go to the forest to pick fruit. But, then again, at Centre of Peace I could get an education, and be around good people, so I could have a good future unlike most of the children back in my village who will most likely have to survive by selling their labor in construction work in Thailand.
At the end of 2006, I came down with some sort of polio. Up to this point, I never had a single vaccination for anything. My right leg and arm began to shrivel up. I could not walk, and I could not even hold a spoon to eat rice soup. Teacher Bophal took me to Kanthata Bopha’s Children’s hospital where I stayed there for a week. The doctors took a big syringe and stuck it in my back to take out the fluid in order to test it. Most people would have screamed. I didn’t feel a thing. After they tested the fluid, they said I would never walk again. Vaneth, one of my female peers at the center offered to get me a wheel chair from her children’s club where volunteered. As they got ready to bring it, Nek Kru Bophal, her friends, colleagues, and all the kids at COP fasted and prayed for me and within a few weeks, I was able to walk again and do normal things. I am not 100% normal, but I can play soccer on the COP team and compete against other teams, ride my bike, walk and do most things everyone else can do.
I was 14 when I arrived at Centre of Peace, and I immediately entered the 7th grade. I walked to school from then until 12th grade. I graduated from high school and now I am in university and I am studying Public Administration, and I am in my second year. I am doing better in college than I had done in high school. When I graduate, I want to work for the government, which will afford me some free time to help Centre of Peace or help other projects that help the poor in the community. If I didn’t come to COP to study so many years ago, I would either be working construction in Thailand or working as an industrial fisherman on a rig in the Gulf of Thailand. When I finish my studies, get a job, and save enough money, I hope to find a good wife to marry and have some children.
Please consider a donation to Center or Peace or for our family. We want to continue help bring a quality life to people who suffer. Thanks, Brian and Bophal
How to donate:
Go to the BreakThrough Partners Website (http://www.breakthroughpartners.org/donate.aspx)
· Go to “Donate.” Scroll down to recurring donations. Put in $ where asked.
· See "Brian Maher” and select my name. In the description box designate to COP or to Brian Maher.
Or you can mail in a check to: BreakThrough Partners
110 Third Ave N, Suite 101, Edmonds, WA. 98020 Phone- 1-425 775-3362
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