Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Road of Lost Innocence

I read "The Road of Lost Innocence" recently.

I do not consider myself an avid reader but I like to look out for books that open up my horizon . This book did just that.

It is written by Somaly Man, a Cambodian girl who was sold into slavery when she was about 12. She was forced to work in a brothel where she faced punishment in the form of hunger, bashing and sexual abuse on a daily basis. That went on for several years until she met an NGO worker. She left the horrendous life and went on to work on other things. Meanwhile, she could not forget the fates of those sex workers. She decided to go back to the brothels but this time, to help those who were still suffering the same fate as hers before.

To write the book, Somaly had to relive her awful past. She had to dig into her healed wounds and recall all the ugly details she fought to forget. As I walked through the dark years of her life, described in sordid details, I felt her pain.

I get the sense that Somaly is a private person. No surprise as most Cambodians are. I admire her courage to pry into her own sorrowful life and share her past. There is nothing glorifying about what she has experienced. So, it seems clear to me that her main reason for writing this memoir is to educate people on the plight of prostitution and the destruction it brought to very young girls.

During the cruel reign of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian people suffered greatly. After decades of fighting, genocides and starvation, the friendly and smiley people in the country turned monstrous as they fended for themselves.

Just a couple of days ago, it was reported that the long-awaited trial of a 66 years old Cambodian, Duch was to be finally opened. He is charged with committing war crimes at the notorious S21 prison where at least 14,000 people were reported to have died there. The trial seeks to bring justice to the victims and their families. Hopefully, it will also bring some closure to decades of pain inflicted by senseless killing.

It was against such a harsh backdrop that Somaly had to find her survival route. She courageously walked out of her torturous life and went on to set up the Somaly Mam Foundation. It was set up as a non-profit charity committed to ending slavery. For what she has done, Glamour magazine named her "Woman of the Year" in 2006 and that is just one of the international recognitions she has received so far.

A portion of the proceeds from her books will be donated to the foundation. I am glad that I bought it and made my puny contribution to the cause.

Some books are dangerously eye-opening and they make me see the world around me in a different light. These books usually leave me pondering about my naive ignorance and arrogant presumptions. An after taste of guilt and shame is not uncommon.

Somaly's memoir brings me into the world of human trafficking, child prostitution and slavery. Being a victim, she did not succumb to her seemingly inescapable fate but instead, she was so very determined to rally for international help to fight for the rights of other young women who have been in her situation. I feel totally humbled by her courage.

I do not live a cushy posh life but I consider my life blessed with comfort and security. When we are surrounded by all the good stuff (which we take for granted many a time), we tend to become oblivious to all the real suffering taking place else where. Our ignorance may be further compounded as we get too caught up with complaining about the tiniest trivia, such as a 5-cent hike in bus fare.

We all love beautifully written books with captivating stories. However, when a story did not come from the figment of imagination by some professional authors, concocted just to support their writing career, it is likely to hit me harder. Real stories usually speak louder, just like that of Somaly's.

I would expect a lot of anger and angst from a person with Somaly's past. She would have all the legitimate reasons to pour her rage for the inhumane things done to her. Instead, she wrote the book in a rather calm, quiet, understated and almost uncomplaining manner. I believe her pain was tremendous but she chose to disguise her emotion just so that she can bring her main message to the foreground. I am thoroughly intrigued by her impersonal disposition.

This book left me thinking and feeling helpless.


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