Awareness. This is what hits you in the face and throughout your whole being as you are listening and acknowledging someone’s story. You become so aware of everything that you have gone through to get to this moment and now – when you’re in it- you will be aware of it. But most of all you will be aware of the person sitting in front of you actually has experienced and are living through the things we talk about so often.
When our translator prepares us for our third interview today he confirms the fact that she often starts to cry when talking about what happened to her but that she still wants to talk to us. Our third interviewee was only a child during the Khmer Rouge insurgency and is a living evidence of all our theoretical discussions about post-conflict. Post-conflict reconciliation. Post-conflict trauma. Post-conflict justice. Post-conflict reparation. But she is so much more than this. She is a real person sharing her most personal stories with us. She tells us about her family that was killed by the Khmer Rouge and starts to cry when I ask her what is was that helped her continue life. I had to fight back my own tears and at the same time all the theoretical do-and don’ts started to run through my head. How do I not re-traumatize her? Is it too late already? How could I be so dumb to ask this question? Didn’t I learn anything from all the articles I’ve read that so clearly tells you to do no harm?
When our translator looks at me and tells me that this question might be too sensitive for her to answer I decide to try and change the perspective of the subject and asks if she could tell me what she likes about her life. What happens next is one of the clearest confirmations of healing that I’ve ever seen.
One of her friends that has joined us at the table jumps in and tells us that she will never forget or forgive what the Khmer Rouge did to all the victims. The other woman again dries the tears from her eyes and looks at us when she explains that she often cries when she thinks about the past. But it’s not a bad thing. She needs to cry when she remembers, and she wants to commemorate the victims by remembering. She wants to tell us this and she is so happy to be interviewed by foreign researchers like us.
This is when my complete awareness of and practical confusion of the do no harm– theory just seem to leave me alone for a moment and I see how telling us her story is part of her individual reconciliation with her past. Her needs may be found in theory but right now I can only trust my personal commitment to and feelings for what she is telling me.
I come to understand that the tears are part of her and I decide to rethink the theoretical aspect of do no harm to focus on the human need and confirmation that I see you. The rest of the interview I do not feel scared or do not question myself about her tears. Between the tears she often smiles when I get eye contact with her and it’s the warmest of all smiles.
At the end of the interview she again tells us how happy she is that she got to share her story with us and even asks to make a suggestion for how reconciliation can be realized in Cambodia.
After finishing the interview she invites us for dinner with her and her family and if we ever need anything or wants to talk to her again we are more than welcome to come back to her house. We all take a picture together and promise that we will come for dinner as soon as we have time.
In the tuk-tuk on our way from her house our translator looks at us and says with a smile: ”She is amazing. So strong. I really want to see her again so I will personally deliver the photo we took today to her as soon as we have printed it”
This woman smiled so many times through her tears and we are so looking forward meeting her again.