Letter From A Khmer Amputee
I want to tell you about the suffering which struck my heart and I cannot rid myself of. When I, an amputee, was grief stricken and those around me were cheerful and happy, how miserable I was. I had no strength to struggle and continue to exist in this world. My heart was either full of sorrow or hopelessness. Living for what? Just a little food to fill the hungry stomach and waiting for the end of the day. But I wanted to tell you about my feeling after my legs were blown off by a mine.
I lost all my sense of being and self-esteem and filled myself instead with cowardice, fear, and despair. I did not want to live. The words wouldn't stop ringing in my ears: "I am an amputee." There is no reason for living found in these words.
Filled with sorrow, shame, and humility at being discounted by other people.
Difficulty both physically and psychologically. Nothing to smile about, so never smiling.
Always under stress from the disregard of other people. Like living in a hell.
Living like a reptile which hides its face when it meets other animals or men, like a bird that gets its food from the female or like the kind of tree that grows on another tree. That's why others are frustrated and disregard me. I am a parasite. Everything that I could do before, walk, stand, sit, jump, run; I can do no more. Whenever I was in a group of people, I looked at myself and saw that I was the ugliest one of all.
If I had money (500 riels or so) and went to the store (on my bottom of course) to buy something to eat, the owner yelled at me to go away. How humiliated I was. They said that they were just opening the shop and so had nothing to give me. Oh God! How ashamed I was! I had entered the shop to buy not to beg, but they did not welcome me as any customer but as a beggar. I had money to pay them, but they took me for a beggar. I was a beggar! The heart of the amputee is filled with nothing but sorrow and shame. That is the gift of war and land mines to the amputee.
Every day there are only two words ringing in my ears: "Kyum chhunpika: I am an amputee." It seems like lightning and thunder striking my head from eight directions. My ears ring, my vision blurs, my throat tightens and there's a pain in my chest. Oh, Lord, show me the way to go, wither to struggle living in this dark world with no way, or just to leave it.
Forget about the possibility of heavy labor to earn a living like field or factory work, just to walk, or lie down to sleep or go to the bathroom is difficult or impossible for me, so how could I earn a living: there is no money to start up a business or no relatives to depend on for support. No way.
If I really wanted to work in the fields to grow rice or vegetables, it's miserable to my legs and arms which were blown off by a land mine. But I try to encourage myself that my legs and arms will grow back after Cambodia achieves peace and thinks about the social welfare of her people and not about greedy power. I dream that if it is like this I will be happy and try to be a good citizen in that society. Now so-called peace has arrived, but my legs and arms have still not grown back. How come? I have seen a crab and it can grow back it legs, also the earthworm can still survive if part of its body is broken off. But what happens to the legs and arms! When will they grow back?
So while waiting to grow back my arms and legs, my stomach feels hungry. It shouts for food. I am famished. What will I do to fill my hungry stomach? I will beg, which is full of shame. I will be chided and reproached and looked down on by others who don't care. I try to be patient and endure the bad fate which I face. I even cry. I cry with no tears. I even shout, a voiceless shout. But there is no mercy. I go begging everywhere, at the market, in restaurants, at the train station... everywhere I go I compare myself to others. They have happy faces, wear nice clothes, have smooth skin and smell good while I am soiled, have skin cut and scraped, I smell so awful and crawl around on my bottom, covered only by old khaki shorts. Mud cakes me and flies swarm around. I raise my hands together in respect to everyone who passes, even to those younger than me, to ask for some charity.
Note: The letter above, composed by Hay Loeuth, was originally written to the Campaign for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR), a voluntary agency working to aid war victims in Cambodia. As of 1996, the CPR's Bangkok office was at 87/2 Soi 15, Sukhumvit Rd, Bangkok 10110, Thailand, and the Cambodia office was at PO Box 144, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, phone 855-236-4205. The organization is apparently no longer active.