Monday, June 6, 2011
Happy Birthday, Chanra!
My mother dreamed about a black diamond, the strongest of gems. It was deep and shimmering, and in the shape of a heart. The black diamond has not always been considered beautiful, but forever rare and enduring, and a sign of good fortune.
The dream foretold my birth in the small farming town of Koas Krala, in the western province of Battambang, Cambodia. It was the start of the monsoon season, when the rain clouds came in suddenly and the rice paddies in the flat and rich land filled with water. The great expanses of green fields stretched out to meet the lush surrounding jungles, and the mountains loomed dark in the distance against a backdrop of blue-gray sky.
Our house was built on stilts, about eight feet off the ground, and made of wood. A stairway ran up the middle and led to a balcony. The front door opened into the altar room, filled with statues of Buddha, artwork on the walls, and colorful pillows scattered on the floor. Behind that was our big kitchen and dining room, and on the other side, the living room and bedrooms, all divided by curtains. It was the finest house in the village, and so safe then, even as rain fell heavy on the red tile roof and thunder played like a drum roll for the event of my birth.
I came into the world, looking to mother just like the black diamond, with dark skin, dark curly hair, and a heart-shaped face. I was not a son, but the fourth daughter, seventh if you count my stepsisters.
"This baby is ‘ugly!’" my mother declared, loud enough for the spirits to hear, because superstition says that beautiful children may be taken away.
The midwife wrapped me up in a blanket and put me in my cradle that was delicately carved with lotus blossoms, a symbol of purity. Mother slept in a small bed, up off the ground, so that my father could put coals from the fire underneath to warm her body, like all Cambodian women did after childbirth. Mother believed it would help to retain her beauty. She drank only hot water and wine with herbs that father had been gathering in the mountains. Mother said I cried a lot, but she was right about the good spirits, because I was born into a very happy life.