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Chapter 14 Teacher, Let the Monkeys Out

Rattling along in an old school bus to the National Cultural Arts University to see a revival of traditional Cambodian dance, one of the teachers stood up at the front and held up his hands for quiet.

“Announcements,” he said gravely. The bus was airless and silent as all eyes moved in unison to focus on the speaker. He stared directly at me, his face as blank as a moonless sea. My heart was throbbing in my throat, which had suddenly gone all dry and scratchy. Heartbeats ticked by before he spoke again. “My congratulations. Everyone has passed and will graduate,” he said, a sort of parental pride immediately replacing his impassive expression.

I looked at Brielle, surprise and relief registering on my face. Brielle rolled her eyes at me and shook her head dismissively. I caught the sly look that passed between her and her favorite teacher. The teachers must have cheated on my behalf, but how they managed was a mystery that I didn’t want solved. As everyone piled out of the old bus, I felt like it was the last day of third grade before summer vacation.

Inside the auditorium, the stage came alive with lithe, graceful dancers in a riot of color and subtle movement as they performed ancient themes from the epic poem, “Reamker.” Then it was our turn to perform. We UNVs sang “Auld Lang Syne” in Khmae.

Our visit to the university was also the occasion of our graduation ceremony. Shouts of “hip, hip, hooray” accompanied backslapping and handshakes. We were free. And I was free to live my fantasy of being a global warrior—free to get my foot blown off by one of Cambodia’s millions of landmines.

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