One Family’s Story of Survival Under the Khmer Rouge, No Longer Buried

Photos testify to the Rama’s journey from Battambang to Shreveport.

THOUGH 10-YEAR-OLD VIRA RAMA DIDN’T understand what his family’s secrets were, he knew that they had to be kept hidden. At first glance, they seemed innocuous enough: a stash of family photos of trips to the beach and Siem Reap, a photo of Rama in a youth scout uniform, all wrapped up in a bag made of cut tarp.

When the Khmer Rouge seized control of the country in April 1975, Rama’s mother, Kim Pean Ky, had insisted on taking this bundle of photos with her as her family was forcibly relocated from their home in the northwestern city of Battambang. She kept them concealed as soldiers marched them into the country on dusty roads congested with people fleeing in three-wheeled tuk-tuks, on ox-driven carts, and even on foot. As soon as the family was resettled in a village called O’ Srarlao, located in what the military regime called Zone 4, Rama watched as his mother dug a hole under their small wooden hut just large enough for the bag of photos. He didn’t ask questions as she hid the traces of their middle-class life under a pile of banana leaves. Though the family would travel to several other zones during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, from 1975 to 1979, Rama’s mother never forgot about the photos. Each time they moved, she quietly and dutifully excavated the bag and then buried again, and again, and again. If the severe, unpredictable, paranoid Khmer Rouge had found it, their lives would be forfeit.

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