An Alaska Woman’s Voyage Out of the Killing Fields of Cambodia (KTVA.com exclusive)
Samantha Bouasri recalls her hellish trip escaping the Khmer Rouge and arriving in an America not as welcoming as she’d imagined
“It was hell on earth.”
Her statement triggers memories of one of the roughest nights during the war.
In the village Bouasri was moved to, she began to starve, like many others. She can’t remember the name of the place; she was a stranger to the area and was moved on several occasions.
One large bowl of lukewarm water mixed with bits of rice was the daily meal. As the days passed, the bowl eventually came with only water.
Late in the night, Bouasri decided to take charge. She went searching for food. The Cambodian jungles are home to large mango trees. “It was almost a dare to see who was brave enough to pick because we were not allowed to pick anything, steal anything. If they caught us they torture us, then kill us.”
Once she was within the leaves, Bouasri became hidden from the outside world.
Bouasri crawled in the tall grass until she hit the tree line. She quickly began climbing, as if she were able to enjoy the childhood torn away from her by Pol Pot’s regime. She began pulling ripe mangos from the tree, but her happiness was interrupted by a gunshot.
She moved her hands through the green of the leaves and looked down into one of the infamous killing fields. “They were lined up, and they opened fire.” Bouasri says. She remembers the sound of gunshots, screams, bodies hitting the ground and shovels scraping the dirt.
She began to get restless. She wanted to get down, but she saw a soldier looking into the jungle. She was certain the man – she refers to him as “evil” – had heard her rustling in the treetops. “I climbed higher to make sure I was hidden, then I laid my head down and tried to stay still. I began to sweat, but I was ice cold.”
Eventually the executions faded away; the guerillas simply starved the rest. The Khmer Rouge had no interest in wasting any more ammunition, according to Bouasri.
“They hit people on the head, push them in a pit and bury them alive.”
Death pits were filled to the brim, causing bodies to pile up in school fields, temple yards and street corners.
Bouasri feels confident she knows the fate of her four older adopted siblings. She thinks they were killed behind the school – schools and churches later became popular killing grounds – along with most of the school’s teachers. She credits their death to simply being at the “wrong place at the wrong time.
“They were celebrating. They thought we were getting help fighting the Americans.”
At that time, Bouasri had already become the head of her household. Her mother and father had been taken away by the guerilla fighters. She was left with her only biological sibling, a younger brother who eventually died due to illness, and three adopted siblings.
“They die[d] one by one. They were not healthy children and my brother he was already ill and needed medicine but we couldn’t get it.”