By Francine Curran

Maden is the 4th of 10 children, one of 3 boys. He was born during the time of the Khmer Rouge, and his mother pretended to be mentally ill in hopes of not being arrested, but both parents were arrested, and he was born in prison. Their mother wouldn’t care for him in prison because he cried too much. I had a belly button problem, and my older brother fixed it.

He left home at 13 to find a job. Worked 15-20 hours in a Chinese restaurant and sent money home. Sometimes he and his friends would have fun after work, and he would only sleep 2-3 hours. Later had a food cart and hired children to play music near so people would come to him. He trusted someone who said he had worked, so Maden went with him and was taken as a slave to work on a Thai boat fishing. About 100 people lived in a flat like animals and were held for 2-3 months, with one bathroom, until someone would buy them for work.

There were only 10 Cambodians and 60 Thai on the boat, so they were poorly treated and had to sleep on the roof in heat and cold. They had no clothes or shoes, just underwear. Boss worked them hard, and one time Maden tried to kill the boss with a machete, but the guards stopped him. Thai like spicy food that Cambodians can’t eat, so they ate plain rice. If they didn’t have enough food, they would get boat-sick (seasick). To go to the bathroom on the boat, a rope was tied around the person’s waist and lowered over the side.

A manager liked Maden and said he should run away when they came to port for repairs. Maden didn’t tell his two friends until they arrived, and they left with nothing, wearing only underwear. He walked for a week towards the east, which he thought was the direction of Cambodia. They slept in the fields with banana leaves for covering. Thai people were kind and gave them food and coca cola. Eventually arrested by police with a gun to their head and handcuffed. The head of the police did not want to put them in jail, so he brought them to his home and fed them rice and 35 eggs. He asked if they wanted to go home or work in Thailand. Maden wanted to stay and work, but his friends cried that they missed home and their mothers. All had to stay, or all had to go, so they went back. The police chief gave them 1500 bot, and a truck with a police escort took them to the border. Maden told his friends to hide their money, but they didn’t. When Cambodian police searched them for drugs, they found the friend’s money and took it. They are fortunate that the Cambodian police didn’t hurt them. Maden’s money was gone soon.

            He felt he would find his brother in a specific town, so they walked there, but still no shoes. And found him. The brother had a job but stayed in a pagoda at night. Maden went back to see his family but had to leave again soon to find work. He got a job as a trekking guide leading people into the jungle carrying heavy packs. The jungle was cut down, so the company went out of business. He borrowed some money to start another business but went bankrupt. He is married but does not have to pay a bride price to his wife’s family because she loves him. An average bride price is $3,000-$4,000 US dollars. They have four children, three girls and a boy.

He came back with $10. He borrowed a tuk-tuk from his brother to earn money. A tuk-tuk is a motorcycle with a carriage covered by a roof that carries tourists and luggage

from the airport to the sights. He met a friend from Sweden who told him about Air B&B. Maden said he couldn’t invite people home because they slept on the floor. The friend helped him build a website, and people came to stay with him. He and his family worked for two months, but the bank charged so many fees that no money was left. Then he found a way to process the money through Western Union, and now they have some profit. Two weeks ago, they moved to a big blue building with many rooms, beds, and indoor squat toilets. There is a pillow and blanket for the bed, two fans, a sink, and a pipe coming down from the ceiling in the bathroom for a shower.

He said he would if he ever had a chance to employ people. Now he has friends that are tuk-tuk drivers and guides, and his guests hire them. Some friends were having trouble, so Maden and his family took in 3 puppies and two cats because they couldn’t afford to keep them. Things are not good for the family, so Maden took in one of the children, a 1-year-old girl.

Maden doesn’t know how old he is, and his mother doesn’t remember, so he picked his birthday as January 1, 1970.

We stayed with Maden and his family for about five days.  Maden cook breakfast and dinner for the guests.  He was hoping to make enough money to stay in this new place.  We went by the first place and decided it was so bad that we could not have stayed there.  This experience made it, so we were grateful for everything we have.