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"At first the locals were not willing to help these 'foreigners' since the brother had been a bad influence in the community."
- Raj Ramaiya

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A Healing Journey to Cambodia
by Raj Ramaiya, 59, Daly City, California, USA
Jan 6, 2000

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Buth and Soun, two Cambodian-American brothers invited me to accompany them to visit their long lost relatives in the rural Preah Vihear province of northwest Cambodia. It was the week of Punchum Bun. A Khmer annual tradition to honor the departed loved ones. They were going there to honor three family members. I learned that this journey really started almost 15 years ago. Then, the two brothers had sent telegrams all over the globe to locate their mother. About two years later, they got a 5 word telex saying "your mother lives in Thailand."

They did eventually meet their mother. She was a border tradeswoman. She died shortly after their brief encounter. As she was crossing her border one day she stepped on a land-mine and was gone. Another sister had died lack of medical care. And a younger brother was killed while stealing a buffalo in a rural area.

We rented a 4 wheeler and with a local driver we headed toward bad rain-flooded road. Almost 10 hours later we arrived in a small town. At first the locals were not willing to help these 'foreigners' since the brothers had been a bad influence in the community. But after explanation of how these two brothers got lucky by having better life in USA compared to the one who got stuck there, the people were kind of supportive to help with the coordination of the ceremony. The other family members, sisters and close relatives lived about 6 miles away. The 30+ families were returning refugees.

In the years of civil war between the Khmer Rouge and the government soldiers they had escaped across the border. But the new policies forced them to come back and they could only reach this far. Now they were on government given small plot of lands that were also land mine infested. This bad road could only be reached by motorcycles. It took us another two days to coordinate the ceremonies. The two Cambodian-American brothers look totally different from their brothers, sisters and relatives who were living there.

Each morning we would come to the refugee village with supplies. We would meet elders to plan for the event. There were two wells on the desolated road. Each family had almost one acre of land. Some were able to clear the land and were growing rice. A few had small animals. Most homes were grass shacks built on stilts. There must be at least 100+ kids in the area. No school. No playground. No clinic. And no services. Each evening as the mosquitos begin to take us over, we would go back to the small town to our guest house.

on the first day of the ceremony..

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