Today Noit led me to the very spot where she was held during most of her time as a slave of the Khmer Rouge. Though the houses were gone and new ones built, the waterways were dried up and the stench of death was gone, she led us exactly to the spot where her little shelter stood. The villagers confirmed her amazing memory. I think with the horrors of those years it is impossible to forget. The village is just as poor today as it was during the Khmer Rouge, yet now people own the property. As we talked with the people in the village, many of the women would ask me, “What is her name?” This may not sound like a unique question to a westerner, but to an Asian it is rare that we speak of a person’s name. Sometimes we could know a person for years and never know their name. We speak to them with terms of respect like ‘brother’, ‘sister’ or ‘uncle’.
Wherever my son and I walked today they were puzzled to see a foreigner walking, so I had to tell them the reason for my walk. It led to many amazing conversations. I told them that during the Khmer Rouge my wife forced to work and nearly everyone in her family died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. When she was freed, she simply walked heading to her home over 150 miles away. The journey took two months. Then I tell them that I want my son to know what his mother went through. That is why we are walking, in honor of her. The first response was immediately, “What is her name?”
This is most unusual. Then they would often tell me their Khmer Rouge story. Most people I met here held in the same general area as my wife. I heard some shocking stories today, actually, not much different from my wife’s, but horrible nonetheless. Most people I met lost their entire family. Then I realized why they were asking. It is because they are looking for a connection. They are looking for someone to empathize with them. They are asking out of pain. They are just hoping that my wife would be one of their long-lost friends who they thought may have been killed during the Khmer Rouge. They are hoping that they just might be reunited with a long-lost villager who went through the same pain they did. Who starved like them; who lost like them; who saw unimaginable horrors like them.
So I would tell them, her name is ‘Nimol’, but her nickname is ‘Noit’. Sometimes they would ask about her dead family members hoping they could at least add a piece of information to how they did, but often just to feel the pain. As one Aunty asked her name, her response was, “Nimol is a beautiful name, I am sure she is a beautiful person too.” Nimol means “perfect” or “without fault.” Yes, indeed, Nimol is an amazing and beautiful woman. She has survived hell and lives to love others with all her heart.