How a Law Degree Led to Being Pen Pals with the Khmer Rouge

So a looonnnngggg time ago, in a far away place, I found myself working with the UN in rural Cambodia. I was officially called a district electoral supervisor and civic education trainer. I was living in a Garden of Eden kind of place called Prek Presap on the Mekong River in Kratie. We were renting a barn as an office and someone else’s home as our home. I had civilian police and soldiers to protect me and the work we were doing. We had drivers, translators, toyota trucks and boats at our disposal. Oh and yes, as a Canadian, I was there because I spoke French (well… sort of) and had a law degree. I had hit the jackpot; won the job lottery and I was only 22!!!

Over the course of the year, so many things happened. Landmines went off, monsoons hit, trucks got stuck in the mud, many wedding invitations were received and danced at, Christmas celebrations were held with fellow Colombians, Buddhist traditions were learned, relationships with the local monks were formed, used radios were delivered to the people, Cambodians were registered, tons of la vache qui rit was eaten, millions of baguettes were consumed, our cat Unnie learned how to kill the mice that were foraging through my chocolate stache, driving a standard was “mastered”and how to knock off the door of said standard backing up, sleeping in a hammock was learnt, the BBC became our friend as it told us what was actually happening in the country where we lived, and oh yah, the infamous arrival of the letters.

Now the letters that arrived to our house were written in Khmer so that was kind of pointless for me. Upon delivering them to the team of UN experts, it was discovered that they were the genuine authentic deal; actually written by the Khmer Rouge and informing us that we were in danger; thanks to them of course.

So sadly we left our Garden of Eden and so our daily commute down the Mekong began as we had to relocate to the capital city of Kratie. Our district wasn’t quite the same; it felt a bit tainted as we were no longer as safe and secure there. Unfortunately as the election got closer, the security situation waned and our barn, known as our office, became a bit of a fortress complete with sand bags, guns, look out posts, MREs (meals ready to eat that had indeed expired), and flak jackets. Fortunately we had a high voter turn out rate in our district on the election days and only one landmine went off and the person on her bike was injured; but not killed. In Cambodia at that time, that is considered a success.

It has been years since I have lived there or have visited this Garden of Eden and I hope to return to it some day soon. I can now visit YouTube and see how the capital city looks and see the number of hotels and restaurants that have been built so tourists can go to see the pink dolphins situated close by. How strange! I lived on and off there for a year and didn’t even know of the dolphins at that time. I guess I had a different focus back then with electoral plans, security plans and evacuation plans on the go. I must admit I am relieved to see that YouTube however, has not found Prek Presap yet and I hope it stays that way.

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