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First They Killed My Father
Transcript of First They Killed My Father
The Khmer soldiers relocate the family to Anlungthmor, another village full of refugees. During their stay there, Loung and her syblings become ill and must stay home while her family goes and works in the fields. With no doctors available since the takeover of the Khmer Rouge, Ma has to try to help them. Loung's fear and illness begin to break her down. "When I am very hot, I see ghosts and monsters coming to kill me," (Ung 51). The families rations are very small and causes the family to search for mushrooms and leaves to sustain themselves. A few months later the family is moved again due to the lack of food available.
On the eighth day of their journey, the Ung family arrives in Krang Truop, a small village where Ma's brother lives with his family. The Chief grants the family permission to stay with their Uncles family. Ma and Pa begin to work in the fields with the other families. Loung sees the poverty around her and begins to question why her family can not reveal who they really are. Pa tells Loung she must forget about there old life in Penom Penh. Late at night Loung listens as Pa talks with the other adults about the government and politics, but she is too young to understand.
The novel introduces Loung as a very energetic and outgoing girl. For being only five years old, she is very smart and curious. She spends the majority of her time going to the market with Ma, going to school, or playing with her school friends. It is clear that Loung looks up to Pa, and respects his knowledge. Loung feels very safe in Phnom Penh.
The Ung Family
The Seven Day Walk
Ma's Little Monkey
Gold for Chicken
The Last Gathering
The Walls Crumble
The Youn Invasion
The First Foster Family
Khmer Rouge Attack
Back To Bat Deng
From Cambodia to Vietnam
Lam Sing Refugee Camp
As they evacuate Phnom Penh,the family travels for many hours in their truck until the truck runs out of gas. With the Khmer Rouge having shut down any available gas station, they continue on foot in the dusty heat, only stopping to eat and sleep. The Ung family is tired and sore from the long journey and conditions that they are not used to. Loung is still confused of why her family is so concerned. Her youth causes her to be naive to the reality of the situation and the dangers her family faces due to their privileged life in Penom Penh.
It is in this chapter that Loung begins to realize the danger of the situation. Having been originally told that her family would return to the city in three days, she is confused about why her family has yet to turn back home. "In Penom Penh, the soldiers said we would return home after three days...I do not understand but I guess three days is how long it takes them to clean up the city," (Ung 29). After another day walking in the heat, Loung begins to whine about going home. It is then that Pa is honest with her and tells her that they will not be going home. At a checkpoint on the way, Khmer Rouge soldiers line up the families for questioning and inspections. They ask all members of the former government to step into a separate line for work. Pa lies to the soldiers telling them he is a poor shipping packer and Ma sells old clothes in the market. They later discover that those who signed up for work were killed. This is a turning point for Loung because she begins to realize the danger her family is in.
The village continues to receive more refugees from Penom Penh. This forces the Ung family to move in order to keep their identities secret. The Chief arranges transportation for the family to be moved to another village by the Khmer Rouge soldiers. However, the destination in which the family wanted to go was changed when the soldiers took the family to a location of their choosing. At a waiting station along the way, Loung sees an old woman slowly dying. She asks for someone to get a doctor to help the old woman but no one does anything. It is Loung's first encounter with death first hand.
The family arrives in Ro Leap, the third village on their journey. When they arrive, the people of Ro Leap insult the Ungs by spitting at Pa’s feet. Loung describes the people as looking like “hungry tigers ready to pounce on us” (57). The people of Ro Leap shout that “Capitalists should be shot and killed” (57) which scares Loung. The Khmer Rouge think the original villagers are ideal citizens. They are allowed to live in their village homes, while the people from cities are forced to move on the when the Khmer Rouge’s orders said so. In the town square the soldiers empty every bag into a pile. The soldiers then set fire to all of the bright, colorful clothes as they explain that the new people will all wear the same Khmer uniform of black pants and tops. The soldiers also explain the way that the new people will address each other, what children will call their parents, and how the food will be rationed. Loung realizes quickly that the people in Ro Leap are not equal, because the soldiers and village chief are above the base people who are above the new people.
A few months after arriving at Ro Leap, the situation for the Ung family gets worse. Food rations are being cut and young women are being taken from their homes at night by soldiers. In fear that his eldest sons will be forced into to be soldiers for the Khmer Rouge, Pa arranges marriages for Meng and Khouy. The women they marry will also be protected from being taken by the soldiers for sex. After they are married, the Chief decides to send the boys and their wives to a labor camp. While they are still able to see their family every month or so, the separation is difficult for the family.
Eight months after Keav was taken to the womens labor camp, a girl arrives to tell Ma and Pa that Keav is seriously ill and has requested to see them. Ma is given permission to go see Keav. She had gotten food poisoning and lost control of her bodily functions. She was sent to the infirmary but without doctors or medicine she was left to sit in her own filth until her mother arrived to care for her. When Ma arrived she knew there was nothing she could do to save Keav and returned to Ro Leap to bring Pa to say good bye. When they returned to the labor camp Keav had already died. The people in the infirmary did not know where any of her belongs were and Ma and pa were forced to go home empty handed. This lose plays a major role in the change in Loung. "I cup my hands over my mouth and scream in pain over the cruel death of my sister," (Ung 99). She begins to be hateful and angry.
In Cambodian culture, children turn a year older on the celebration of New Years. During these celebrations there is fest meals, fireworks, and gifts for the children. Loung recalls her memories of her and her sisters in beautiful red dresses, eating delicious sweet cakes. However, In Ro Leap there is no celebration or acknowledgment of the holiday. In contrast she began describing her physical appearance. Her stomach protrudes out from her small body and her ribs are easily outlined. Food rations continue too be cut and the village people began to become desperate, eating anything they can. Pa befriends the Cheif in order to get more food.
Four months after the death of Keav, the family still doesnt talk about it. They worry about the soldiers coming to take Pa away. Several families had gone missing and Pa had begun talking to mom about spliting up the kids and hiding them in order to keep them safe. The next evening soldiers show up asking to take Pa away for the night, promising to return him in the morning. The family knows they are lying and they begin to say their goodbyes. Ma is inside the hut crying as the soldiers take away Pa. Kim is left to be the man of the home. That night Loung dreams of sending her strength to her father before his death. She speaks darkly of her revenge against Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. For a few weeks Ma hopes that Pa is still alive and continues to wait for him to return.
With Meng and Khouy still away at the labor camp, Kim becomes the man of the house. He decides that in order to keep his family from starving he would steal corn from the fields. It is very dangerous but he does what he can to feed the girls. His first night he is successful, bringing back two bags of corn. His second trip, however, is not successful. In the rain, Khmer soldiers beat Kim for his treason. They release him and he goes running home. He was twelve years old trying to be a man. "He is no longer a boy trying to be the man of the house,trying to be brave, wanting to take care of his family. He is a twelve-year-old boy now, looking down the barrel of a rifle,"(Ung 128). When he returns home, Ma is heart broken that her little boy was hurt trying to feed them.
A month later food rations increase, but they know that this will not last. With more families disappearing, Ma fears that they are in danger. Ma decides to split up the children and move them across different camps in order to protect them. They are told to say they are orphans and to settle in new identities. The kids are reluctant to leave but Ma makes them leaving saying that she could not take care of them anymore. Chou and Loung find a small children's camp were they are taken in and put to work. In the camp Loung and Chou are bullied by the other girls. A turning point for Loung is when she gets in a fist fight with one of the bullies in order to defend herself and Chou. Loung is punished with extra work for her actions.
Loung's strength is recognized by the camp supervisors and she is sent to a new camp for young soldiers. The camp has a very different approach to propaganda that is much more aggressive than she is used too. Loung is invited to be apart of a group of dancers at the camp and begins training with the other dancers. She works in the ponds and is trained on how to use guns and weapons in case of an invasion from Vietnam. During training Loung's supervisor tell her “Children must be taught to follow orders without hesitation, without question, and to shoot and kill even their traitor parents” (Ung 136). Loung thinks to herself that she would never kill her mother as she is filled with more rage against the Angkar.
The supervisor gives the children a day off. Loung travels to Ro Leap to see her mother and Geak. The village is noticeably quieter than Loung remembers. After talking to Ma she realizes that Chou visits ma as well. Ma tells Loung about how she went to a nearby village to trade a pair of ruby earrings for some meat for Geak. The lady she meant to trade with sent her away until the following day. When Ma returned she was attacked in the woman's hut by a large man who stole her earrings. The bruises infuriates Loung."I am tormented by the knowledge of how much my family is willing to sacriice for each other. I have done nothing," (Ung 149). She begins to feel shame that she has not provided more for her family. Loung walks back to her camp unsure when she will see Ma and Geak again.
Food supply has run short again causing the pattern of increasing and decreasing to continue. This time the lack of nutrition begins to cause Loung serious pain in her joints and muscles. She is finally sent to the infirmary. When she arrives she realizes that all of her remaining family, aside from Khouy, were also in the infirmary. For a week they all stay there together eating as much as they can to rebuild their strength. It is a enlightening moment in the novel for Loung. Her family had been so separated and torn apart that just being together for short amount of time lifted all of there spirits. Loung gains strength and is forced to go back to her camp. "Walking away, I break my farewell rule and look back to see Ma, Chou, and Geak crying and standing in the doorway," (Ung 157). This a very difficult point in the novel because it is the last time Loung sees her Ma and Geak.
In this chapter, Loung faces a lot of emotional backlash from built up emotions and new wounds. Pa had always told Loung she had a sixth sense for sensing when something was wrong. One morning Loung wakes up with a terrible feeling of dread. On impulse she runs back to Ro Leap to find that her mother and Geak had died. Heartbroken Loung lays in the hut and falls apart. She decribes her pain as “My wall crumbles and collapses on top of me. Tears run uncontrollably down my face. My chest compresses, my insides gnaw at me, eating away at my sanity” (Loung 160). When Loung walks back to her camp in a zombie like daze, she hardly remembers how she got there or how long it took.
April 17, 1975
In this chapter, Loung describes the personalities and dynamics of her family members and their role in society. Her family lives comfortably in the middle class of society. With her father working in the government as a military police captain, her family has everything they need and more. Her family has more privileges than most families in Cambodia. Loung says, "Pa never forgot what it was like to be poor, and as a result, he takes time to help many others in need," (Ung 5).She has a very special connection with her father and idolizes him in many ways. While she doesn't have strong connections with her brothers, she is very close with her older sister Keav and her baby sister Geak. Her mother is Chinese while her father is Chinese-Cambodian. Her mother is very proper and strict while her father is very relaxed and wise. In the chapter, Loung says "If Ma is known for her beauty, Pa is loved for his generous heart,"( Ung 5).
The chapter opens with the supervisor, Met Bong, pacing and telling the girls that the Vietnamese (the Youns) have finally attacked. That night, everyone remains restless due to the constant explosions of Youn bombs. Eventually, a mortar strikes Loung’s hut, killing some of the girls. The three siblings (Loung, Chao, and Kim), grabbed what they could and joined a large crowd of people walking to an unknown location. As they wandered with the herd, they began to question the truth and power of the Khmer and the Angkar. Eventually, they learn that the crowd is walking toward Pursat City.
When they arrive, instead of the killing the Cambodian, like the Khmer promised they would, the Vietnamese provided food, shelter, and protection. The siblings' next objective was to find a foster family to take them in.
A week after their arrival in Pursat City, a family agrees to take them in. Strangely, the family that decided to take Loung and her kin included the boy Loung saw who was collecting palm fruit. This gives Loung hope that everything will be alright. One afternoon, Chou, Loung, and a friend named Pithy are out collecting water when a Vietnamese soldier approaches them. Despite the curious situation, Loung goes with the soldier, leaving the other two girls behind. The soldier then attempts to rape her. Loung fights him off, screaming until she could kick him in the groin. Loung runs away as fast as she could, reaching her friend who runs back to the camp along side her. Her caretakers tell her she will amount to nothing when she returns. In response, Loung states, “No, you’re wrong. I’m going to be somebody great” (182).
A month after living with the family, Loung learns to hate them, but remains in the house for safety and for a place to sleep. The Khmer Rouges continue to close in on the refugee camp, but everyone has difficulty determining who the Khmer are or who is a refugee because they are all wearing the same black clothes. One afternoon, bullets soar into the camp, piercing the hut Loung is in. The bullets hit the grandmother of the family that was caring for the siblings. Shortly after, the kids decide its time to leave the foster family. Eventually, they move in with another family that treats them much better than the first one. During their time with the new family, people in Pursat City start wearing colorful clothing. While Loung was searching for firewood, she comes across a decaying corpse of a Khmer soldier. Just a few days later while collecting water, she comes across another dead body in a river. Oddly enough, Loung and her kin all develop “red eye disease” (193) which supposedly comes from looking at dead bodies. The mother of their new foster family shames them for their red eyes.
The Khmer soldiers attack Pursat City. The Loung's foster father guides his family across a river to an abandoned warehouse with many other families from Pursat City. The Khmer attack the warehouse and several are killed, including Pithy. Kim, Chou, and Loung run as fast as they could, dropping Kim's mother’s backpack behind, so Loung runs back to get it. She feels like this was her chance to help her family in a way that she was not able to do earlier. Later, the siblings and the foster family find a safe place to stay while the men clean up the dead bodies. Two months later, Kim decides it is time to look for Meng and Khouy in another Vietnamese camp. It does not take him long to find them, and he brings Meng back to get Chou and Loung. The four siblings return to their camp and they share their stories of escape and survival. With the remaining members of her family together, the feeling of safety and security wash over Loung. The older brothers share their desire to search for their remaining aunts and uncles in Bat Deng, their mother’s hometown. The only problem is that Bat Deng is far away and many of the areas along the way are still controlled by Khmer soldiers.
The Vietnamese capture a Khmer soldier and the people of refugee camp want revenge with a public execution. Loung wants to go, but Chou will have none of it. Loung proceeds to attend and makes her way to the front of the refugee circle. Some of the refugees announce that the man will die and that they want volunteers for the actual killing. Several women volunteer for the job, but the killing is awarded to an old woman who lost her children and grandchildren to the Khmer. She is given a hammer that she uses to crack the soldier’s skull. The old woman then gives the hammer to a younger woman who continues smashing it into the soldier. Once he was dead, people return to their home, but Loung and some other children stay to see what would happen to the body.
The remaining family members decide to leave for the Bat Deng. This journey away from Pursat City made Loung think about their first journey four years ago when they left their home. She thinks about how weak she was, crying and whining to her father; now she sees how much she has changed, especially how her heart has hardened. After they reach their home, Loung’s aunt gives her clean clothes in a beautiful sky blue color. The family then tells their story as the uncle comments that their mother only needed “two more months, just two more months, and she would have made it” (213). After living in Bat Deng for a few months, one of Loung’s aunts appears, looking for Meng. Her message is that many Cambodians were leaving for Vietnam and Thailand. Meng, as the oldest male in the family, decides that the he and Loung would be the two to leave Cambodia first. The following morning, the siblings get on a single bike, and leave for Vietnam.
Meng and Loung arrive in Phnom Penh, their hometown, in the beginning of the chapter. The once-lovely capital city has become filled with litter, potholes, and a foul stench. The first things Loung asks her brother to do is take her to their old home, but Meng does not take her there. He explains that he saw it on an earlier visit, but it does not look the same. Instead, they make their way to a water port. Upon arrival, Meng sells his boat and the pair get into a small boat. They ride in the small fisherman’s boat all the way to Vietnam with Meng and Loung hiding under a plastic tarp covered with fish. Once they leave the boat, they get into a bus and ride to Saigon. The first thing Loung notices in Saigon is how comfortable everyone is. While in Saigon, they prepare for their trip by boat to Thailand. On the third day of the trip, pirates overtake the boat and the loot a small Buddha from Loung. Fortunately, the pirates are just thieves, so after they loot the boat, they direct it on to Thailand and the Lam Sing Refugee Camp.
Meng and Loung join with some other refugees to purchase a hut and stock it full of necessities like pots and pans. Every refugee needs a sponsoring family before they can leave Thailand for America. Loung comments on how “camp consists of standing in one line after another for our food and water rations” (229). Eventually, the two siblings are baptized as Christians by being dunked into the ocean. Meng quickly explains to Loung that they need to be made into Christians so they could be sponsored faster. After five long years of their journey, Meng and Loung discover that they have been accepted to go to America, specifically, to Vermont. The night before they leave, Loung has a dream about her father. In their short conversation, she tells him she misses him and he says he will find her. The next morning, “Heartened by my dream of Pa, I walk onto the aircraft” (233).
A group of soldiers wearing black pants, black shirts, red sashes, and scarves ride into town on large cargo trucks. Along with their unusual outfits, Loung immediately notices their long greasy hair because “It is believed that men who wear their hair long must have something to hide” (17). A cheering crowd formed around the men, but Loung’s father knows that something is not right. the daughter and father return to their home to find her mother packing what she can. At this time, Loung's biggest concern was worrying about what car they would take - the Mazda or the truck. She wanted to take the Mazda because she liked it better. Once they pack up and leave their home, the family find chaos in the streets as the soldier shout to everyone in Phnom Penh to leave the city immediately. These people were truly a threat.