The Cambodian Daily, 18 February
Three Genocide Survivors Tum
Their Childhood Horrors Into a Poignant Play
By Michelle Vachon and Kuch Naren
"As people walked, without knowing were they
were going or how long they would be on the road, the little girls
kept asking, "Are we going home now?"
"It's only for three days," their parents had replied.
But would it be a lifetime of fear, pain and hunger before the
little girls would return to Phnom Penh.
Chhon Sina, Kauv Sotheary and Morm Sokly were children in 1975
when the Khmer Rouge herded thousands of people out of Phnom Penh,
telling them it was "only for three days."
Now 41-year-old actresses and teachers at the Royal University
of Fine Arts, the three women have turned their childhood memories
of that era into a play.
Entitled "3 Years, 8 Months, 20 Days" after the duration
of the Pol Pot regime, the play is presented Saturday and Sunday
at Sovanna Phum Theatre at 7:30 pm, in Khmer with English subtitles.
In a production the more poignant for its simplicity, they speak
in short sentences - more poetry than narration - their faces
almost stoic, dressed in Khmer Rouge-style uniforms, but dark
blue instead of black.
Accompanied by singer Nam Narem and singer/musician Ieng Sakonna,
they speak in the present, recalling facts that children would,
thrown into events they could not comprehend.
There is Kauv Sotheary's 2-year-old sister who gets ill. "Her
skinny hands keep touching my chest and her eyes open at me. There
is nothing I can do," she says in the play.
She died, breaking Kauv Sotheary's 9-year-old heart.
"Mother carries me," says Morm Sokly. "Mother drops
me. Mother falls down." Morm Sokly would loss both her parents.
"Maybe it is a dream," Chon Sina says. "Everything
is a dream. I will wake up in the silence and never sleep again-or
The idea of the play came up when Fred Frumberg, director of the
NOG Amrita Performing Arts, invited Annemarie Prins to give a
workshop and stage a play in Cambodia.
A director, writer and actress who has been a familiar face of
stage and screen in The Netherlands for decades, Prins agreed
to the workshop.
But before committing herself to a play, she wanted to find out
whether Cambodian performers would be comfortable working with
her and her with them. "Otherwise I would not have done it,"
Prins gave the workshop a year ago, saw that they could work together,
and asked a group of actresses to write about their lives during
the Khmer Rouge regime. Back in The Netherlands, she selected
three actresses and their texts as a basis for the play and started
to work on the script.
"I read and read and read," Prins said. "I wanted
it to be a very personal performance, like a tale, a theatrical
tale," of three women's lives, she said.
Fer Smidt, a Dutch opera and theatre stage designer, had come
with her for the workshop (2005). To get ideas for the set, he
said, "I took lots and lots of photos."
He toyed with several concepts and finally settled on basic elements:
sand would cover the stage, bamboo the walls and a pond would
stretch the whole length of the stage.
The Dutch Fund for Amateur and Performing Arts agreed to fund
the play, which Amrita would produce.
So, Prins and Smidt returned to Cambodia in early January for
five weeks of rehearsals.
"I had never been so happy in my work for years," said
Prins, who found the actresses both talented and easy to work
with. "Here, I had a sense that my profession matters."
Smidt, who expected skepticism at his request to build a 5-meter-long
water pond on Sovanna Phum's stage, was actually met with enthusiasm,
Ieng Sakkona wrote original music to add to existing pieces during
For props, the three actresses have block of clay they use at
the start of the play to fashion characters they line up on the
edge of the stage, recalling residents marching out of Phnom Penh.
They keep the clay with them throughout the play - the burden
they cannot leave behind. At times, Nam Narem aims a small camera
at actresses, projecting giant black-and-white close-ups on the
Toward the end, the three women huddle together, recalling battles
as Vietnamese forces pushed the Khmer Rouge to the Thai border
" May the wind take all my pain away," lament Nam Narem
and Ieng Sakkona, as photographs of people who never returned
are projected on the wall.
But the three little girls survived, and the play ends on a joyful
"I never expected to survive the Pol Pot regime," said
Kauv Sotheary in an interview.
"That regime deeply affected human beings" minds and
growth - that regime demoralized Cambodian people."
Regardless of the actual pain they feel each time they perform,
they consider it vital to do so.
"All Cambodians, old and young who went through the Pol Pot
regime should stand up together and speak of their harsh life
during that brutal regime," said Chhon Sina.
Maybe it would make leaders of other countries stop killing their
own, she said