Saturday, September 5, 2015

Pioneer Girl on a Bike

This is Part 3 in a story that starts here: Read part one first.
Read part two next: 

Phi-Phi and her father hired a second coyote. Still in flip-flops, she rode on the back of a bicycle with her father another 150 miles down a trade route that stretched from Cambodia to Thailand.

Riding/walking both day and night through a dense jungle, pedaling their way through brush and vines, it took them an entire week to get to Thailand. She never left her father’s side. Phi-Phi remembers drinking from cattle troughs, and using her hands to scoop water from mud puddles on the ground (her father gave her pills so it wouldn’t make her sick). They just did whatever was necessary to stay alive.

This was the most dangerous part of the entire escape, because the deadly, xenophobic Khmer Rouge, in power since 1975, was an extremist rule known for routinely executing escapees, foreigners and intellectuals. (Phi-Phi's father fit all three categories).

Finally at the border of Cambodia and Thailand, they were greeted by volunteers from the Red Cross, who were there expecting 2-3 hundred refugees a day. Instead they received 2-3 thousand per day. As you can imagine, resources were extremely limited.

This photo is not one of Phi-Phi's, but was taken at a camp from the same time period in Thailand. The conditions appear to be identical to Phi-Phi's description. It is from this website:

Phi-Phi and her father were assigned to Camp 009 in Thailand. “Camp” consisted of tarps spread on the dirt, no actual shelter—not even a tent. There was hardly any food or water. They received some watery soup from a truck every day.

Phi-Phi remembers being constantly hungry, thirsty and hot during their stay at Camp 009. They were supposed to be there only briefly—2 or 3 days—but because of the limited resources they were there for nine months.

About halfway through their stay the camp was attacked by warfare. There were shootings and bombings and all the refugees had to run for cover. Phi-Phi’s dad grabbed her by the hand and kept saying, “Just run faster!” They (and thousands of others) ran into the relative shelter of a trench until it was safe to go back to camp.

While they were there her father added their names to two departure lists: one headed for Sweden, the other to the United States. He was hoping for Sweden because he thought their life might be easier there, where he had been to school in the past.

Finally their names were called for the list headed to the U.S. (It turned out only 6 refugees were admitted to Sweden.)  Phi-Phi and her father were transferred to a second camp...where they actually had shelter this time.

Read Part 4 here.

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