Chapter 45: Pig Watching
But I was already out the door and on my way back to Skon to start registration in my district. Like drill sergeants, Wati and I herded, cajoled, shouted encouragement and deployed our team members out into the district for the first day of registration. They wouldn’t be back for hours. The office was a hive of activity as the staff bustled around, trying to monitor the teams in the field. Tired and hung over, I was mostly in the way―or at least I used that as my excuse to go home.
Brielle and Leannán were in the house, but I wasn’t quite ready to announce my crush on the Polish captain. I stood at the foot of the stairs, my eyes squinting in the glaring sun, unable to force myself to move.
My thoughts raced. I’m not going to look for a man to give my life purpose again. I already own that t-shirt!
I retreated to our porch, where I could keep an eye on the neighbor’s sows. The beasts liked to chew the collars off my blouses that were hung out to dry.
My pig watching ended abruptly with the arrival of the captain of a registration team. “Momma, som toh, and Sister Wati, come? Panyaha! Khmer Rouge blow up bridge to registration work. Some Untac slop!” Brielle and Leannán came out to see what was going on. Leannán, who could speak some Khmae, asked him some questions and then explained, “It was an unspoken warning: Do not register to vote.”
I knew the word slop all too well—it meant dead. “But who is dead? CivPol? A team member?” I asked, looking from Leannán to the team captain. His face was stoic. Like many Cambodians, he covered his emotions with a mask of resignation. “Who is slop?” I demanded.
“Mnoussa chea chre ei n slop.”
“Many people are dead,” Leannán translated.
Wati was off with Kyrill getting the cots and mosquito nets that we would use when we stayed in the villages with our registration teams. So Leannán agreed to go with me to where the team was working while Brielle looked for Wati, the Unmos and the CivPol. I tried raising Kosal on my walkie-talkie, but he had gone out with a registration team to fill in for a sick team member and no one answered my call.
Leannán drove, the team captain showing him the way. They talked quietly in Khmae. Although I thought I heard someone say “Kosal,” I was so preoccupied in the backseat trying again to radio him that I couldn’t be sure. Why had Kosal not come to get us himself instead of sending the team captain? Why wasn’t he on the radio?
As we approached the commune a crowd of villagers gathered in front of us; behind them, a tall, thick column of black smoke curled into the sky. The door to a UN land cruiser lay about five meters out in a field. The air was acrid, smelling of gunpowder and burnt flesh. I sat in the backseat, my head in my hands.
Leannán twisted around to look at me. “You may not want to get out. Kosal was in the vehicle with two CivPol when the bridge blew up underneath them.” I opened the door. Leannán came around and took my hand. We walked as far as we could, the wreckage strewn before us. I sank to my knees.