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Timeline: First They Killed my Father

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Katherine B

on 19 February 2013

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Transcript of Timeline: First They Killed my Father

By: Katherine Baillie Timeline: "First They Killed my Father" by Loung Ung Setting: "First they Killed my Father" by Loung Ung is set in Cambodia 1975-1980, directly after the Khmer Rouge had won the Cambodian civil war, and taken over the country. Her memoir depicts her struggle to escape the Khmer Rouge regime, and the story that many Cambodians in the 1970's shared. After many years (presumably more than 5) Loung returns to Cambodia to see the family she left behind. Immigration laws prevented her family from joining her in America, but they thrived in Cambodia. Characters: After moving to two different villages as to not arouse suspicion of their former city lives, whilst under the Khmer Rouge Loung and her family arrive in the village of Ro Leap. November 1975 As starvation and low food rations plague Ro Lead all teenagers are recruited to join the Angkar, so Loung’s oldest sister Keav (age 14) is forced to leave to join the military. January 1976 August 1976 "Out fingers clasped around each other naturally as if the chain was never broken..." (epilogue)
Ma (mother)
Pa (father)
Siblings (in order of age)
Meng (Eldest sibling)
Khouy (brother)
Keav (Eldest sister)
Kim (brother)
Chou (sister)
Loung (Narrator)
Geak (youngest sister) April 1975 The Cambodian civil war ends and the Khmer Rouge ride through Phonm Pen victoriously. Loung and her family pack up and quickly evacuate the city without much explanation. They walk for many days along dirt roads with thousands of other evacuated Cambodians. “After each round of rifle fire, people push and shove one another in a panicked frenzy trying to evacuate the city” (22) NOTE: Each equates to 1 month on the timeline. “The clouds separate in the sky and the sun shines beams of white light on our new home.”(56)

“Though the Angkar says we are all equal in Democratic Kampuchea, we are not” (66) The Khmer Rouge (the Angkar) wish to execute anyone who has worked for the previous government (as Pa did) or has been "tainted" by living in the cities. To stay alive Loung and her family pretend to be ignorant farmers. What lengths will Pa go to to protect his family? “My heart feels as if an animal has clawed it out. I try to muster a smile, so I can send my sister on her way with a final picture of hope” (73)

“I wonder if I will ever see her again.” (74) Many girls are being abducted and married off to soldiers, and many boys are being recruited as soldiers. To prevent this Loung’s parents arrange with their friends for Loung’s brother Khouy (16 years old) to marry their daughter. They then have to go live in a work camp, along with Meng. “It is clear even to me that it is a marriage of convenience and not of love.” (72) - - Keav falls ill with dysentery at her training camp, and while Ma gets a chance to visit her she dies before Pa can see her again. Her body is quickly disposed of, and unable to be found by Keav's family. “… ...scream out in pain over the cruel death of my sister.” (99)
“Hunger and death have numbed our spirits. It is as if we have lost all out energy for life.” (100) December 1976 “ I think how the world is still somehow beautiful even when I feel no joy at being alive within it.” (102)

“The Angkar has taught me to hate so deeply that I now know I have the power to destroy and kill” (105)

“We all know that Pa will not return, but no one dares say it out loud for it will shatter our illusion of hope.” (105)

“I need to believe Pa was killed quickly. I need to believe they did not make him suffer.” (105)

"I am awakened by the sound of Ma sobbing on the steps, still waiting for Pa.” (109) The Angkar soldiers come and request that Pa help them "fix their cart". He bravely goes with them, knowing that he will likely be executed. His family waits for his return, but based on their neighbors experiences they doubt he will ever come back. or May 1977 Families are being executed in Ro Leap by the Angkar, so Ma forces Chou, Kim and Loung to run away. They go in separate directions, and change their names. Geak is too young, and stays with Ma. “But I am not yet eight. I have nobody. I am completely alone” (123) Loung and Chou decide to stay together, and they go to a children’s work camp posing as orphans.

Was it okay for Ma to send her kids away? Even if she had their best interests at heart, would they truly understand that? What would you have done in that situation? August 1977 Loung is “promoted” to a military camp for youth ages 10-15 (although she is only 7) because she is strong and feisty. Her sister Chou is left behind at the orphan work camp. The new camp is a training ground for Khmer Soldiers, where the kids are bombarded with propaganda preaching the wonderful acts of the Angkar and Pol Pot (leader of the Angkar). “All this information we get in gory detail until we too become desensitized to the violence.” (137) Although Loung pretends to be as devoted to the Angkar as the other children, she hides a passionate hate for them. She dreams of coming back to kill them all, and avenge her family's suffering. However, at the moment she can do nothing to act on her hatred, and just try to survive. “The water washes away the dirt, but it will never put out the fire of hate I have for the Khmer Rouge.” (127) November 1978 Loung senses something is wrong, and she travels to Ro Leap to find Ma and Geak. She gets there only to find out that they were taken away by the Angkar. She vividly imagines the cruel ways in which they were executed. The trauma causes Loung to wander and have no memory of where she went or what happened for three days. “Now it is all real. How I no longer have to pretend to be an orphan” (164) “ the blackness swallows my surrounding and me with it.” (163) Discovering her Ma and Geak's death only further fueled Loung's hatred for the Khmer Rouge. Now she is desperately alone, after facing the death of both of her parents and two sisters. Without any of her siblings with her, Loung continues to hide her loathing of the Angkar and just tries to survive in her training camp.

How did Loung know that something was amiss with her mother and Geak? How would one cope with such a devastating experience alone? How would someone as young as Loung be able to keep going, knowing that no one is left to take care of her? January 1979 There is an attack at Loung’s camp, allegedly by the Youns, that forces everyone to evacuate. She is reunited with Kim and Chou, and they continue walking with the crowds, much like when they evacuated Phonm Pen. They are directed to a refugee camp in Pursat City. "On every side of us, men talk vehemently about the Youn invasion and the defeat of Pol Pot's army." (169) They find that the Youns are not the enemies that Pol Pot made them out to be. Many victims of the Khmer Rouge seek justice as the head towards the nearest refugee camp. Although the Youns (Vietnamese) have saved them from the Khmer Rouge, many are still abusing and raping refugees.

Who would Loung be able to trust in this situation? Could she trust the Youns? Her new foster family? February 1979 After being apart for many months, Loung, Kim, and Chou are reunited with their older brothers Khouy and Meng. Meng and Khouy had recently escaped from being used as errand boys for Khmer Soldiers. While Khouy's wife had escaped their village earlier and is unable to be found, the others are glad to have found their remaining family. "My heart soars quickly at the touch of his hand. He is real- not a figment of my imagination!" (200) Being reunited gives Loung hope that they will one day be happy again. She feels safer returning to her older brothers, instead of living with harsh foster families. Although they are among the poorest at the refugee camp, she is determined to survive. What is Meng feeling during these times, knowing that he now has four younger siblings to care for? April 1979 Loung and her remaining family trek to Bat Deng to meet their uncle. Their aunts and uncles turn out to be alive and they live together in their village.Meng is soon married, and travels to Vietnam so his wife can see her family. He returns with news that they can travel to a refugee camp in Thailand, and then to America. There is only enough money for 2 people to go, and he chooses Loung to accompany him as she is the youngest. They plan to gain enough money, and return to them in 5 years. "Men gets on his bike and slowly begins to peddle, breaking Chou's hold on my hand... I grit my teech and fight back the tears. 'Five years,' I think as we ride away. 'In five years I will se them again.'" (217) As the new head of the family, Meng wants to do what is best for everyone. Although he will miss his other family members dearly, he is doing what he truly believes will be beneficial in the long run. How would the others getting left behind feel? If they are jealous of Loung, why do they not voice their opinions? Possibly, because they know they're in a tight situation, and have few options.
How would things have been different if Ma had just survived a couple more months? Or if Pa had not been taken away? June 1980 After a perilous journey from Cambodia to Vietnam by bus, and then to Thailand on a treacherous boat ride Loung, Meng and Eang (Meng's wife) are living at the Lam Sing refugee camp in Thailand. After four month of living there, in June their family gains a sponsor that will take them to America. “…I think of Pa. I know his spirit can travel over land to be with me but worry if he can cross the ocean to America.” (232) While Loung is excited to travel to America, and escape the suffering and oppression she is devastated to leave her family and her home behind. Loung is hesitant and even a bit scared to travel to this new, unknown place. How will Loung cope in America? Will she be able to forget her violent past, without forgetting her roots? Will she even want to remember where she came from? An unspecified amount of time later... Keav's death affects Loung immensely, because Keav was always the one that would take care of Loung. When they evacuated Phomn Pen, Keav was the one that comforted Loung. How will Loung be impacted by Keav's death? How will Loung interpret the violence around her? Would it be seen differently through the eyes of a child? How would a parent cope with their child being taken away? Is it right to just let them go? In Keav's case, was it right for Ma and Pa to let her go? Was there any more they could have done? Do the other kids at camp truly support the Angkar? Or are the against them as well, but just as petrified as Loung that their secrets will be revealed and they will be punished?

How has Loung managed to stay true to her view on the Angkar at such a young age? Has the trauma she has survived made her immune to their propaganda?
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