Thursday, May 05, 2011

Little Mountain background, part 3

Dancer at Cambodian New Year celebration,
Lowell, Mass. 1980
One day in late 1979 or early 1980, I heard on the radio that a family of Cambodian refugees were being flown into Boston and had no place to stay once they landed. My wife and I decided to offer them temporary shelter, but by the time we called, those people had found help. Soon, though, we found ourselves hosting a family: a man and woman, their baby son, and the ten-year-old sister of the woman. Only the man, named Song, spoke a few words of English, and none of us had any idea what we were getting into. Why are all the trees dead? was one of Song's first questions--he'd never seen a deciduous tree before.

Various members of the community pitched in to help provide linens, used clothing and other necessities to help the family get started on their own. We had a little trouble getting them launched, and they stayed with us for seven weeks. That was longer than they or we wanted, but then they moved into an apartment in Lowell.

Meanwhile, we were generally miserable. I came down with double pneumonia, and Song shook with a terrible fever. He had a relapse of malaria, the first but hardly the last such case that the local hospital would ever see. His wife, named Sceur Ly (pronounced sir-LEE) and her younger sister, nicknamed Tong, had ailments of one sort or another. Only my wife Nancy stayed healthy, and she was a rock.

One evening we all sat down to watch The Poseidon Adventure on television. In the midst of all the fictional disaster and chaos, Song kept exclaiming "Choi mai! Choi mai!" We cheerfully imitated him, repeating the phrase until I learned that it was a strong vulgarity.

Many Cambodians started coming to the Lowell area, for reasons I'll write about later. We were all invited in February to a Cambodian New Year celebration, where Nancy thought the women and children looked happy and the men looked like lost souls.

It was only after Song and family moved out when we learned that our new friends' issues ran much deeper than their physical illnesses.



Learn more by clicking the Little Mountain tab at the top of this page, or purchase a copy by clicking the book image at the right.

2 comments:

Loralie Hall said...

This is a fascinating story. I've only just found you today, but I'm going to have to make time to go back and read your archives. This looks very interesting.

And I applaud your help and efforts

Ruth D~ said...

These posts providing background are captivating, Bob. Might there be a memoir in you as well as the fiction?