“I believe that I cannot complain.” by Sonn Sam

His name was Samdang Sam; he was my brother.  He died of starvation a little before his second birthday.  I never met Samdang, but he’s probably the person who has most impacted my life.

My mother followed the tradition of strict discipline found in most Cambodian households; she shared stories of the horrific struggles she and my father endured to make it to America as she taught me right from wrong.  My parents are survivors of one the most gruesome genocides known to man. Approximately two million people were brutally murdered in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, a communist regime led by Pol Pot. Once Pot was in power, my parents and Samdang, like all of the other citizens, were forced into a life of slavery.  

They were sent to labor camps and their sole purpose was to harvest rice that fed the Pol Pot regime.   My parents were led to work at sun-up and each day my brother was given to soldiers of the camp.   My mother told me how she cried every waking moment, not from working like a mule in the rice fields, being whipped and/or beaten for resting because of exhaustion, or being fed one spoon of rice a day, but from the fear that she might not see her child alive when she returned to the camp.

My mother spoke of how Samdang was an energetic and playful child, always smiling, even in the midst of the tragedy that unfolded. However, as time passed his playfulness dissipated because he just didn’t have the energy.  One spoonful of rice does not provide nearly enough nutrition for a developing infant.  Samdang grew weaker and weaker.

One story in particular resonates with me.  One day while working in the rice fields, my father caught a baby crab and immediately tucked it into the inner lining of his uniform pants. While secretly creeping by a camp bon fire he threw the crab in, and came back for it a few minutes later.  He then gave the crab to Samdang.  Its shell was burnt to a crisp but the meat was somewhat cooked enough to eat.  My mother explained how indescribably painful it was for them to see their weak child slowly eat while they too were starving.  Shortly after, Samdang died in my mother’s arms.   


Stories like Samdang’s have shaped my core beliefs about life. Through these stories I believe that life is about sacrifice, courage, and love.   I believe that I have absolutely nothing to complain about and everything to appreciate.  I cannot complain because complaining only focuses on the negative, and my parents taught me that their survival depended on their optimism and the fierce fighting spirit of love for their family. I believe that I cannot complain because I’ve learned that the true measure of human worthiness is not what we gain, but in the sacrifices we are willing to make for others.

And most importantly, I believe that I cannot and will never complain or take anything in my life for granted because until his last moment, my brother never did.