In the Dark

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When the sun sets in Cambodia… (2005)

In honor of Father’s Day, a conversation with Ba.

Sept. 13, 2006

~ ~ ~

Deep, navy sky surrounded us.  Only the reflection of the moon and a peep of light gleamed from inside the house.

“Ba, do you want the light on?” I asked.  To keep the house smelling new (and less likewhat we’re eating), we always grilled and fried all our food outdoors.

“It’s okay,” he replied.  Blue flames danced underneath the wok.  He poured in the oil to coat the bottom of the pan.

How can you see what you’re cooking? I wondered.  But I didn’t say anything, just watched my dad as he worked his magic.  His wrist moved the spatula around like a magician’s wand, evenly browning each piece of garlic.

“During the Khmer Rouge… it was just like this.  Every night, you do what you can, by the light of the moon.  No other light.  That’s it,” Ba began.

I envisioned my dad fleeing through the black night of Cambodia, escaping death.  No compass.  No map.  No directions.  Only the sun, the moon, and a heart destined for freedom.  How did he survive? How on earth did he make it here, alive? Continue reading

I Miss Sweet Potatoes

Reaching over, the parents handed steaming hot, half peeled sweet potatoes to their children. One for each.  Their kids, actually, growing teenagers, grabbed the sweet potatoes with huge smiles and bit into them, steam hitting their faces.

“Wah! I really miss sweet potatoes!” I declared, watching that TV scene. It reminded me so much of my family. “Did you ever eat sweet potatoes with your parents growing up?” I nudged my husband.

“Huh? No,” he continued reading. He didn’t bother looking up from his book, sitting beside me as I watched a Kdrama.

“Ahhh… but I love sweet potatoes,” I sighed.

Growing up, Continue reading

The Definition of Home

the definition of home

my students leaping with joy

Waiting at the gate to board, I searched for my boarding pass. My hand brushed against a Ziploc bag.

Fresh coconut slices.

I held the bag in my hands. It was a bit of a nuisance; if the juice leaked from the bag, it would soak my journal, laptop, chargers, and travel pillow. My backpack was already cramped.

But Ba had insisted.

~ ~ ~

Before coming to the airport, Ba stood in the kitchen, holding a fresh coconut.

“We have fresh coconuts?!” I asked, a bit bewildered.

“It’s for you, កូន (daughter), drink the juice,” Ba grabbed a mini axe, the size of a butcher knife, then hacked away at the head of coconut. He flipped the coconut upside down and drained the clear coconut juice into a tall glass. He carved the pearly, white flesh out into thin slivers, and packed them into a ziploc.

“Drink.” He pointed to the glass. “For the plane ride.” He handed me the bag.

It was a short trip home, and I didn’t get to spend as much time with my parents as I had wanted. Actually, I spent the least time with Ba. It was the weekend before Father’s Day, and I was not able to stay another week to celebrate Father’s Day with him either.

Yet he continued to care for me, in the best way he knew how.

Food. Continue reading

Knees to the Earth

My feet paced up and down the hall. My mind a whirlwind.

It’s been 2 hours already.  Is Ba ok? 

~ ~ ~

 July 30, 2005 

“Hurry, let’s go,” the surgical team rushed, preparing the patient to return to the catheterization lab (cath lab)

A woman hovered against the isolation glass, looking on through her dried tears.  She watched in anxiety as the patient was about to be rolled away.  Would she see him again, alive? No one knew.  Her face crumbled, her chest heaved, and hot streams flowed down.  She sobbed fear into her hands.

The heart surgeon led the way.  Her lips sealed tight together; she didn’t say a word.

But I could read it on her face…  Continue reading

Music from the Mortar

Clunk clunk clunk.  The sharp sound of a clay pestle striking against the mortar startled me.

Nearly every Saturday morning, the sounds of my parents laboring in the kitchen awoke me from my slumber. Still in bed, I wondered, what were Mak and Ba cooking today? Continue reading