January 26, 2013: Phnom Penh Interview

January 26, 2013: Phnom Penh

Our second interview was with Sok Samith, who lives in a single-story white house down a quiet lane nearby a busy pagoda close to the city center of Phnom Penh. We were greeted by her two dogs, Sasa and Kacy, and one cat, Lily. Sok Samith is unmarried and lives with a niece in her early 20s.  Sok Samith's story reminds of how Khmer Rouge discriminated against "New People," those urban dwellers evacuated from the cities when the regime took power. Often from the educated classes, they knew little about farming or how to survive the jungle elements, and they were often subjected to harsh punishment for being suspected enemy spies. 

 Sok Samith spent her early childhood in rural Srey Rieng province. The area was often bombed by the U.S. as part of the neighboring Vietnam War across the nearby border. Many residents, including Sok Samith and her family, fled to Phnom Penh for safety,  and the city was crowded with refugees when the Khmer Rouge took power on April 15, 1975, forcibly evacuating the city in three days time. Although Sok Samith and her family were native to rural Srey Rieng, they were treated as “New People” as they lived in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge entered the city. Her fate is most likely shared by many refugees who had fled to the city to avoid the armed conflict on the border.  


January 24, 2013: Takeo Interview

This was our first interview in the field, traveling about two hours by car out of Phnom Penh to Takeo to visit Kim Khem at her home in a rural area about 30 minutes from the  provincial capital city. Taing Samrich joined Sotheary and me as part of the team. It did make a difference that a male was part of our team, and at one point Kim Khem deferred telling details of a part of her story concerning rape as "the nephew was here with us." Though not formally educated, Kim Khem was learned in the ways of Chbap Srey, or the Code of Womenhood, and she prepared for us with canned drinks from the market and dressed in her traditional Khmer silk skirt.  We also noticed that Kim Khem had a unique and traditional way of expressing herself, often using sounds rather than words (onomonpia), and frequently repeating whole sentences for emphasis and rhythm. Kim Khem's story is so important, among other reasons, because it spans a very long time over her 80-plus year life. We are able to see how she was impacted by armed conflict and oppressive regimes from her earliest childhood until even today. We interviewed Kim Khem inside the house she shared with her daughter, and the family, animals, and neighbors were always close by and are captured on the audio as part of Kim Khem's everyday environment.