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A Return From France, 1975: A Decision

Neou Sarem says goodbye to her husband, Nuon Sari, and her 3-year old daugther, Nuon Sari Sakhura, at Pochentong Airport, 1974.

If you were a Cambodian living abroad as the Khmer Rouge took over the country, would you dare go back? One woman did: VOA Khmer's Neou Sarem. A teacher in France at the onset of Year Zero, Neou Sarem understood the Khmer Rouge were dangerous, but she couldn't bear the separation of her family. VOA Khmer presents "A Return From France, 1975," the story of Neou Sarem's journey back and search of her family. Part one of an occasional oral history series.

When I first heard of the Khmer Rouge evacuation of Phnom Penh, I was so depressed that tears fell on my plate. I heard the voices of my children. I wished a car would hit me, or that I could forget my life. I dreamed I could go far back in time, when I was in high school.

One day, when I was looking at a picture of my family, my three-year-old daughter, the youngest, jumped out to hug me.

Appointments to see the gastronomic physician were frequent on my calendar, and I knew that I had to go back to Cambodia, the sooner the better. I applied to return under the National United Front of Kampuchea, the FUNK, in Paris.

I knew about the evacuation of Phnom Penh, and the Khmer Rouge attack on the US merchant ship Mayaguez, and the rumors of killings. I also knew the Khmer Rouge had lied about an American plan to bomb Cambodia.

But I saw my life in France as not worth living, where I was helpless to aid my children. So I spent almost all my savings to buy the necessary things to take back. I bought medicine, vitamins, small knives and flints in the thousands, and a lot of bras, as well as fishing hooks and black material for the uniforms of the Khmer Rouge.