i hustled over to the marina in san francisco last thursday. my goal was to make it a couple hours ahead of time so i could sit down and catch up on work. returning emails, drafting contracts, preparation for that evening’s meetings. i had two hours before my beautiful september bride was going to meet me for some coffee and wedding detail chit-chat. after yelping the address, i discovered the mom & pop cafe was closed. so i decided to stay with my husband at the chestnut street coffee roastery. i grabbed two cups of dark coffees a lite snack and snuggled up in my corner. an hour in, i hopped over to the bathroom where a man was working hard at organizing the coffee bean sacks. he struck up a small conversation about the bathroom needing soap to be refilled. you know, the conversations that totally enlighten one’s imagination. he was of asian descent and i could tell that he was from either laos, vietnam or some other southeastern country. so, i decided to ask him. cambodia, he said. my eyes lit up. where in cambodia, i asked. surprised that i would even continue the conversation, he mentioned his small village outside of angkor wat. i got excited again. oh, i love cambodia. it is one of my favorite countries (next to turkey). at that moment, the bathroom became available and our conversation was over.
an hour passes while i am fervishly upload photos and make myself stop daydreaming about dinner. my head down towards my laptop, i hear his deep accent above me. so you have been to cambodia?
yes, we traveled there in 2010 and we loved it. we want to go back again.
he took a moment to respond. his eyes studying us deeply as if he didn’t know if he should continue. but he did. what he then decided to share with us was something i had only ever read about. i had read an autobiography back in 2010 by lounge ung called “first they killed my father”. a memoir of a young middle-class girl who survived the four-year-violent genocide by the khmer rouge. this man, the owner of a wildly successful coffee house in downtown san francisco had survived pol pot’s violent mass killings of millions. however, six of his 13 siblings as well as his mother were not so lucky.
at the young age when boys are studying multiplication tables, he was fighting in the war. he did not distinguish if he was a rebel who fought against pol pot or if he was indeed in pol pot’s army. the majority of pol pot’s army was made up of sons and daughters who turned their back on the country in order to keep their families from being killed. it was the only way of survival.
i could have listened to him speak for hours. after visiting phnom penh, siem reap, angkor wat and the mekong delta, my heart goes out for that country. on the brink of yesteryear’s memories, cambodia is a nation still under extreme oppression. children are forced to find the land mines that have yet to go off from a war three decades before. yet some were able to escape and start a new life in america. and for this coffee shop owner in san francisco, the trials in this world are finite. and there is a new life ahead of many.
after wrapping up my workday and my client meeting, he came back to us and offered to make us cambodian food for dinner. if we had not already made plans with family in the city, i would have jumped on that opportunity. all i could leave him with was a promise that we would return and continue our conversation. five days later, i am still digesting the stories he told us. even more so, i am humbled. i have survived trials in my lifetime, but my world has never (and most likely will never) been as difficult as the lives of cambodians. i am saddened to say that many americans still are not aware of the genocide that occurs daily around the world. this is why i am such a huge advocate for travel. it is not so you can mark a country off your list, its so that you can look outside of yourself and see the bigger picture. the world is hurting. we need a Deliverer.
chestnut street coffee roastery is located on chestnut street in the marina district of san francisco, california.
(warning: some of the photos below are hard to take-in. however, these are true events of a monster who killed millions of innocent lives.)
the killing fields in phnom penh display the skulls of the victims of pol pot’s regime.
Bethany, this is such a heart-warming/wrentching post! Thank you for sharing it with us and your experiences 😉 I can’t wait to start traveling again and seeing outside of myself and our comforts here. Thanks!
Beautiful story and images. Thanks so much for sharing!!
Great images. Great heart. Amen!
Thank you so much for sharing this story. The many tragic stories of the Cambodian genocide and its people are not shared enough in our country.
Wow. These images and your story touch my heart! Beautiful.