Q continued, 'I could get thirty a day initially, but as the years went on rats declined but the quota didn't. There were increasingly severe punishments for failure to collect enough tails. If a kid failed over a long time they disappeared.
Q's rat story
When I was nine, in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge came to power, all children six and older were separated from their families to live at a children's unit for indoctrination. We were taught to hate and destroy other countries. Any enemies of the Khmer Rouge will be destroyed. We love our country. Destroy enemy. And the newest enemy of Khmer Rouge was the rat. We were assigned to kill the enemy. Every kid was told, ‘You must destroy thirty rats every day. Show us you have done that by bringing us the collected tails.’The reason rats were enemies was because they eat rice. All the people in the collective were ordered to produce three tons of rice per hectare. Rats caused shrinkage and needed to be destroyed."
We were ordered to dig a hole in the rice field bank and line it with rice straw. In the wet season the rats climb trees. We would whack the tree with slingshot or stick and drive them into ditches. (Or drive do to the water and the rats drown.) Rats can't get out quickly. I just went under the trees. Under the tree were the leavings of the night hawks that only ate the body of the rat and dropped the tails. That’s what I collected. Some kids took many, many tails on one day and then couldn’t find thirty the next, but each day I only took thirty to leave enough for tomorrow. I didn't care if they smelled bad.
But I didn’t tell anyone else that’s what I was doing. The smarter we were the longer we survived. Secrecy was the key to victory.
People were considered enemies of the Khmer Rouge too because they ate the rice of the Khmer Rouge. Before the Khmer Rouge the population of Cambodia was nine million. After it was six. Pol Pot claimed he did not kill three million people, only two-something. This is probably true. The rest died of disease and starvation.
Plantations are owned by private companies and the government. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge the plantations were abandoned. When the independent families returned to their plantations after 1979, they didn't have economic trees and they couldn't wait the five to seven years for new trees to mature. So, they had to sell to either the government or the big private companies.
The corporations figured out quickly how to be economic without waiting five years for the trees to mature. They planted between the rows of trees: banana, papaya, corn, cassava, tobacco. There are over 280,000 hectares of rubber plantations in Cambodia. The rubber tree is white gold. One hectare produces 1,500 to 1,800 kg of latex per year at $US 3,300 per tonne.
I thought I'd leave you with a sweet taste.
Rice bamboo is a favourite snack in Cambodia. Coconut slice, sugar, coconut cream, sticky rice all put in bamboo tube, corked with leaves or coconut skin, and cooked. After it's cooked, you peel it like a banana and eat. Can be kept up to two days, longer with refrigeration. Most people don't have refrigerators, there is not enough electricity since most of it comes from Vietnam and Thailand.
Coming up next: Snake Soup and Ships
Photos: K. Marion