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Refugee, Survivor and Mother: Kim Sang’s Story

Refugee, Survivor and Mother
By Renée Baillargeon

Editor’s Note: This monologue is an adaptation from Renée Baillargeon’s short play, Family is Forever. The play is inspired by the facts surrounding the life of Kim Sang Mai (1954 – 2017). Kim was a victim of both the Vietnam war and the “killing fields” of Cambodia. If she had not escaped prison that fateful day with her two year old son harnessed to her back and pregnant with another child – Renée’s life would not be what it is today. The child Kim carried in her belly became Renée’s loving daughter-in-law.

I have always lived for my children. I talk to them wherever they are. All of them. Every day. I know they can feel my presence.

When I’m gone I will miss my family. And my three little grandchildren who live with us. They are so very beautiful and so very happy. There are seven of us, sometimes eight, living in five tiny rooms. Still it is bigger than where I grew up in Vietnam. And I sleep on a mattress now not on a mat. And there are no longer machine guns ringing through the night sky.

I grew up with bombing and gunshots and screaming. When we heard the planes we would run to the soccer field to save ourselves and my little brother would be in charge of holding tightly onto our pig. The soccer fields were safer because the enemy liked to bomb villages not open spaces. That way they could kill more people. I like the quiet here. Sometimes I get up at night, just to listen to the quiet. It is not the quiet of death. It is the quiet of peace.

I thought when I moved to Cambodia at seventeen, my life would be different and I could find work. At first everything was perfect. I fell in love, got married, and we had two children, a son and a daughter. My husband was a 1st Lieutenant. I was so proud of him. He was handsome and kind. I loved him very much. But during the Cambodian Civil War, I lost my family.

My husband and son were shot by the Khmer Rouge and my baby starved to death.

The Khmer Rouge would not let me leave Cambodia and when I was 26, I met and married Sonny. He was a teacher. We had a beautiful son together. But Cambodia was so dangerous that when I became pregnant again, I tried to escape to Thailand. I was caught, separated from my husband and imprisoned. A few months later, with my one year old son harnessed to my shoulders and six months pregnant, I escaped from the prison. Then, my little son and I travelled for two days straight through the Cambodian jungle and the war zone. We would only stop when I had morning sickness. I hate the woods now. I hate all bushes and trees and forests. It’s much nicer to look at the Niagara River, breathe in the clean air and know there will always be food in the grocery store.

Eventually my son and I crossed the Cambodian border into Thailand. The Thai refugee camp became our home.

There were thousands and thousands of us and the time went by very slowly. There was no school and our tent leaked but my lovely little girl was born there safely.

I tried so hard to find Sonny that first year, praying he was still alive. And he was. It was complicated but we were eventually reunited and we had a third child together in the camp. Another beautiful daughter. I wish that I had not contracted hepatitis in the camp and passed it onto my little girls during my pregnancies. My husband Sonny and our son did not catch the hepatitis. I think they had cleaner needles. Mine were used many times on many mothers.

After 5 long years in the camp, our family was granted refugee status and emigrated to Québec. In Montreal Sonny and I had our fourth child, another son. We were proud to give him a Canadian name. He was a good boy. He was a happy boy. He was so excited to start school. I wish he could’ve stayed home longer with me.

I never learned French or English. It was too cold to go outside in Québec and it was all so confusing. Especially shopping. It was also difficult to find work but we were all safe from gunshots. And the happiest day of my life was when we became Canadian citizens. We heard about Cambodians who worked in Niagara at the fruit farms. Sonny had a bad back but I was strong enough. So we moved again. I started working here in Niagara, eighteen years ago and I still work every day in the summer packing fruit. Our Canadian boss cheated in his reports so last year the Revenue Canada says we owe a lot of money, but the doctor says I must stop working because I am so tired. My hepatitis is cirrhosis now.

Last year my youngest son died. The one with the English name and the only one born in Canada. He was 26. He inherited my hepatitis and it turned into liver cancer.

I miss him. I miss them all. But I have to go home now. My grandchildren will be up soon and my daughter needs me to help her before I go to work. I am sorry I will not live to see my three little granddaughters grow up but my oldest daughter is a good mother. She is a strong girl. She is the one who I carried inside me through the forest. My son-in-law is a good man too. He is Canadian and he is studying hard at College. He will help my living children look after Sonny who is sometimes “difficult”. And it will all be OK. I know that. I will soon be with my first family and my Canadian son. It is time for others to keep their family safe and make every moment count.

 

Also on TheatreArtLife:

Interview With A Playwright – Jonathan Dorf

Taryn Temple – Playwright Of The Hit Comedy “The Princess Capers”

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