After lights out, I lay on my hard mosquito net-enclosed bed , listening to the night sounds. I heard the generator sputter out, indicating total lights out in the compound and then the night was still, except for the creak of a nearby bed as it’s occupant turned over. Then I listened to the gentle rustle of palm fronds swaying in the warm breeze. Beyond the palms at the bottom of the garden, the incoming tide washed softly over the pebble beach and then came the nightly song of cicadas.
I thought mainly of my mother, far away in Thailand, as I tried to sleep, those many nights in the Cambodian boarding school. I got into trouble for telling her, in a letter, that my bed was hard. All our mail was censored, and Mother Superior was not impressed, even though what I said was true.
Many years later, my friend Tim found the building which had been the boarding school. He took this picture of the room where I had slept with perhaps a hundred other girls. It gave me an eerie feeling. When the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia, the school had been used as an interrogation centre.
My parents were in a part of Thailand where there were no schools I could have attended. At first I was sent to a boarding school in Dalat, Vietnam, but the political situation there soon deteriorated and it was no longer considered safe.
The school in Kep, Cambodia, was an alternative to going to a boarding school back in England. It was not the nicest experience, but the school was located in a place that was heavenly.
My first term at Mater Dei, as it was called, I was with an Australian friend and her sweet parents came frequently to visit, but when her dad was re-posted, she left, and life got a bit difficult because of political issues between Thailand and Cambodia.
As a result I was finally sent to a convent school back in England, which felt very strange after six years in Asia.
Most of the students at Mater Dei were children of wealthy Cambodians. I always wondered how many of them escaped the coming holocaust and how many were swept up by it.
Having been educated in French, I had to switch back to my mother-tongue. It was not a problem except in “maths” which was a real challenge. We had a lay-teacher who would not accept that I was as stupid as I seemed, and thanks to his help, in the end I got it. When I was sent to the States, two years later, however, the “new math” was all too much and I gave it up.
More than half a century later, I can still hear the sounds that came to me in the Cambodian night, and I will always remember the sunsets that were so stunningly beautiful, we were allowed out of study-hour to witness them.
Cambodia was a place I loved, and I planned to return some day, but after all that happened there, I wasn’t sure I would be able to bear it.