There are places you cannot go

A friendship born out of the ruins of a nation, a dangerous journey home, and a 40-year search for the truth.

One day in February 2019, Cindy Coleman sped through central Cambodia in a motorcycle rickshaw. Most of the half-hour ride from the capital, Phnom Penh, to her destination followed a narrow two-lane road through poor, bustling towns. The rickshaw, or tuk-tuk, passed a busy wet market with fish gasping in styrofoam boxes, meat hanging from rusty hooks, and women in face masks pushing wagons of river snails. “The kids aren’t in school,” Coleman shouted over the roar of the wind and the engines, referring to a gaggle of roaming children. It was a national holiday, and hot. The air smelled of mangos, burning charcoal, and sour trash.

The tuk-tuk came to a stop at the edge of the Bassac River. Coleman, petite, with short white hair and an airy white shirt, ducked out of the rickshaw and made her way toward a shaded school across the street from the water. Dogs began barking. “Oh, be quiet,” she rejoined. The last time Coleman visited Cambodia, she walked with a cane. A recent hip replacement meant she didn’t need it anymore, but she kept a pad in her shoe to compensate for a leg shortened by the surgical procedure—an annoyance for the 77-year-old retired social worker and teacher from northern Michigan. She preferred flip-flops.

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