Looking back in Cambodia…..20 years after

It was my first travel out of my country and ten minutes before the plane took off, I arrived at the check-in window. The man who was kind enough to check my passport and ticket in seconds told me to literally run to the gate so I could catch the plane. He also said that I should have been there two hours before. Two of my colleagues were already on their seats when I entered the plane. I sat somewhere farther, but I didn’t mind. Just glad that I made it!

We arrived in Bangkok in the middle of the night but were not allowed to go to our hotel because there were military officials in the airport and we were told later that there was a ‘coup d’etat’ in the country. After several hours of negotiation between the UN Representatives and some country/military officials, we were finally whisked out of the airport but the other passengers remained inside.

I was thinking, “Is this a premonition of what’s going to happen to this mission?” I joined the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia to help in the biggest international election in the country. As a Civic Education and Training Specialist, I was supposed to teach Human Rights and Democracy in Cambodia and in the latter part, I will have to change my job title into a District Electoral Supervisor on a different mission.

As an Electoral Supervisor, I trained 130+ Cambodians as Registrars and during the election, 25 of them, the brightest and smartest in the group helped in the polling site. They helped make the whole mission a total success with 96% of the 30,000 adult population in my district (including the members of the Khmer Rouge) registering and voting for the first time after 20 years.

During the entire 14-month mission, we were allowed to go back to our home country and see our family every four months. I have to go through Bangkok to go to my country and every time I got out of Cambodia, there would be a sigh of relief thinking, “Thanks God, I made it alive.” Then when it was time to go back to continue my mission I would say to myself, “Are you crazy?”

When everything is over, I vowed not to go to a war-torn country anymore. However after 20 years I visited a group of Cambodians during one of their anniversary celebrations and witnessed how their children and the young ones are enjoying the exotic dances and learning the Cambodian language and culture while their parents are trying so hard to make their life in America better and to continue their legacy as a culture and a nation despite being in the dark for more than four decades.

This time I feel a sigh of relief for being a part of the Cambodian history. Will I go to another war-torn country after Cambodia? You bet!


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