Cambodian Naval Ship P111 was built for a crew of 28 men, with officers’ quarters, a galley canteen, and two heads belowdecks. But on April 20, 1975, the landing craft rode low and slow, weighed down by more than three hundred people and everything they had hoisted on board. One woman dragged a mattress on deck, which she flopped down near our family, and piled her children, husband, and other relatives on top. The family stayed like that, marooned on their own private island in the middle of all of us.
Three days earlier, Cambodia had fallen to the Communist Khmer Rouge regime, and my family hurried to the dock at Ream Naval Base to board one of four Cambodian navy vessels reserved for military personnel and their families.
There were kids and pigs and no space for either to run around. Up on deck, the sun burned so hot, Ma was certain her family would shrivel up and die. My family cordoned off a spot under one of the two fifty-millimeter mounted machine guns at the front of the ship, marking a perimeter with flipflops and kramas.