photo courtesy of http://ethancrowley.com
“Do you know what we call this sky?” Mak asked, glancing up. Her hands clasped the steering wheel.
I peered through the windshield. Low lying storm clouds hovered above us, against a dark gray sky.
“During the Khmer Rouge, we called it, Maig Bee Bak Jet. Upset skies…”
“Why, Mak?” I turned towards the driver seat to look at my mom.
She bit her lip, paused for a moment. Then, her eyes began to water.
“Because during the Khmer Rouge, only when the sky looked like this- with dark clouds like it’s going to rain, that is the only time when I was free to cry.”
Her grief unleashed quiet, painful tears from the corner of her eyes.
“If I was hungry or sick,
Or my sister was starving,
Or my mom was dying,
I could not cry.
If I cried, I would be killed.
Only in Maig bee bak jet, were my tears masked by the rainfall.”
A lump grew thick inside my throat.
In the Khmer language, the word jet, means heart. Not the physical form (as a cardiac muscle) but heart, as an emotional state of being.
To describe different emotions in Khmer, you simply change the adjective associated with jet, your heart.
For example, in English, the word “angry” could be described as kdauv jet, a hot heart. Or “happy” could be described as ping jet, a full heart.
So when Mak describes the sky as Maig bee bak jet, it translates to:
Skies with a difficult heart.
Broken hearted skies. Upset skies.
On a seemingly normal day, I was unraveling small pieces of Mak’s tragic past, and learning what it means to be a daughter of genocide, one heartbreaking story at a time…
my head swarms; my heart is about to burst at its seams.
Maig bee bak jet…
I understand now, Mak.