Hi I’m Sambath Meas
I entered this world at a time of civil war in Cambodia, when the Khmer Republic and the Khmer Rouge dismembered and disemboweled each other like the depictions of Naraka (Hell in Buddhist cosmology). Over a year later, on April 17, 1975, the China-backed Khmer Rouge (Democratic Kampuchea) overpowered the United States-backed Khmer Republic (Lon Nol regime). A few days later, my family and the rest of the population of Pailin, my birthplace, were forced to evacuate at gunpoint. For almost four years, we lived and worked in the fields. When it was all said and done, about two million lives, as conservatively estimated by historians, were lost. They were the cream of Khmer society: former government officials, educated members of society, royal family members, teachers, religious figures, artists, doctors, engineers, city dwellers, and anyone seen as a threat as useless to the regime.
Having survived the effects of the Vietnam War, the Khmer Civil War, and the Khmer Rouge regime, my parents decided not to stick around for another phase of mass killings. As Democratic Kampuchea and its former ally, communist Vietnam, fought each other bitterly, my family, like thousands of other Khmers, fled to the Cambodian-Thai border.
We dodged bullets, bombs, and land mines in search of peace, education, and prosperity. Many died trying. Thanks to UNCHR, UNICEF and other international organizations, we were brought into Thailand. Still, this was not our final destination. Violence and suffering greeted us again, at the hand of barbaric Thai soldiers. Those who were educated and came from an elitist background went on to find refuge in First World countries. As uneducated people and peasants, we were left behind to feel the wrath of the Thai soldiers. When news emerged about them raping, brutalizing, and trucking Khmers by the thousands to be buried alive or dumped in areas infested by land mines, only then did kind-hearted people, clergymen and members of the Western churches come to our rescue.
My father worked feverishly to write letters to First World countries to sponsor us, to give us a chance to survive. After being displaced in the refugee camps for two years, my family received three sponsorships: one to New Zealand and two to the United States of America (Washington, D.C. and Chicago, Illinois). We departed for Chicago, only hearing about the other two offers after we had left the camps. On a cold night in September 1981, we landed at O’Hare International Airport.
Uptown Chicago in the 1980s consisted of dilapidated buildings that were left over from the glory days of previous immigrants from England, Ireland, and other Western European countries. By this time, they had moved on to greener pastures. A small number of Native Americans, African Americans, Latin Americans, Southeast Asians and Eastern Europeans who escaped their war-torn and communist countries dominated Uptown. We did our best to obtain whatever education the state had to offer and worked at whatever odd jobs we could find. The entrepreneurs among us opened up grocery stores and restaurants. Through tears, sweat, and hard work, we had food—good and delicious food—to sustain us. We had clothes and houses to protect us from all types of unpredictable weather. My father was able to give me that education he always wanted me to have.
My family survives the mean streets of Uptown, Chicago. We are grateful. We remain forever grateful to the universe and the good people within it to see us through our toughest and darkest times.
After having graduated from Loyola University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in political science, and having worked in the corporate world for many years, I have decided to continue to improve myself and to contribute to the richness that is Chicago literature. I love reading history, mystery, supernatural, and science-fiction books. Reading generates ideas, and story ideas are flowing out of me like the Tonle Sap River. I am moving forward to chase that sought-after dream of being a writer. That is why I am attending Northwestern University in Chicago to hone my writing skills and to obtain my master’s degree in creative nonfiction. Writing is my refuge.
While I am currently investigating the brutal murders of my uncle, his wife, and their fellow villagers in 1995, I am also working on my debut science-fiction novel. I hope to finish it this year.