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
She told anyone that would listen that she wanted to return to Cambodia.
In February of 1984 Samantha thought there was hope. She had found her father in New York City, but the man she found was mean, angry and a drunk.
“I thought it would be a happy reunion – it wasn’t.” From the moment she stepped off of airplane they fought. She couldn’t recall what started the enmity, but it wouldn’t end until 1985. Until then she watched her stepmother, grandmother, stepsiblings and half-sister suffer beatings from her father. Altogether 13 people lived in their tiny apartment in the Bronx.
Bouasri and her grandmother separated from the family and moved to Massachusetts, where she met her husband.
”I called my dad all the time, but he never want to talk to me.”
Bouasri and her husband moved to Alaska in 1994 searching for work. “They told us that in Alaska you could be your own boss. This was not true.” They picked up odd jobs to support a family that now consists of five.
She didn’t know what happened to her mother. She assumed she was dead.
“The only time I have seen my mom since Khmer Rouge, she was in a coffin,” Bouasri says. “I have four kids and a husband, they never met my mother, and have never met my father.” When she went to Cambodia for her mother’s funeral, in 2009, it was the one and only time she has ever gone back, although she aspires to return.
“When I went back I was happy to be in the place of my birth, but sad because of [the] memories. It was scary going back,” Bouasri says. “I felt like I was being sent back to the slaughterhouse. It was a prison with no walls, no windows and no escape. I need to go back though, put things in order, see the change in the dark days and say goodbye.”
She tries to explain her time in Cambodia to her four children – their ages range from 8 to 20 – but her memories seem unreal.
These days she struggles with the day-to-day issues of raising her immediate family – she says her eldest causes her the most trouble. But lately her thoughts have been focused on family in Cambodia.
Currently she is trying to find a way to financially support extended family members who’ve come across hard times. Young women in her family are being forced into prostitution to support themselves, and others are ill from AIDS.
Cousins are lying dead in an unmarked grave because there was not enough money to do anything else.
The reminders of her early years are everywhere. “I have scars on both sides of my feet from where they put nails in my feet, to keep me from trying to run away. They nearly beat me to death. They hang me by the nails in my feet. I have scars on my back from being stabbed, and I have scars on my knees. I have scars on my hands, they use them like ashtrays,” she says, pulling her hand out of her sleeve showing several round, pale, fading scars.