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April 2014, vol 10, no 1

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Jonathan McKeown

Khmer Rouge

tuk tuk dust ground between teeth

April 17th 1975 was my 8th birthday. At that time I had no idea it was also day one of year zero in the calendar of the Pol Pot regime. Today, nearly 40 years later, I am wandering around the stations of the Killing Fields with my ten-year-old daughter listening to an audio tour. We have the headphones on but keep regular eye contact with one another: she, making sure we are up to the same place, listening to the same things at the same time; me, watching her reactions to the information she is hearing. It’s hot and the other tourists wandering about look like somnambulists each distractedly seeking a piece of shade to shelter in. I remember a joke I haven’t thought about for years. I heard it from school kids in the playground when I was about my daughter’s age: What’s black and runs 100 miles an hour? Answer: A Kampuchean with a McDonalds voucher. At the time I didn’t know anything about Kampuchea; I thought it was somewhere in Africa. I pictured a comical image of a small black boy with a big head on a skinny body tearing down a dirt track waving his voucher . . . It made me giggle when I thought of it and I remember repeating it on occasions when people were swapping jokes – assuming it would conjure a similar image for them. I don’t recall anyone ever telling me they didn’t get it . . . or that it wasn’t really funny.

out of town the skin colour of earth