This was the way with the Khmer Rouge: we would work for months on one project, like this rice field where I guess that two out of ten of us died or were killed in the course of three months. Then one evening, well before the ploughing was finished, the new field leader (the old one seemed to have been liquidated) appeared at the commune meeting and told us we were to go back to our co-operative. What that meant, quite simply, was that all our work had been pointless. There was nobody else in this isolated region to continue it, and anyway the land we had been preparing was so dry and infertile that it would never have been much use. Now we were told that the rice growing on our co-operatives was in urgent need of protection from birds. We had to pack our things, return communal property such as ploughs and oxen and bullocks to the labour field headquarters, and go back the next day.

At about five o’clock in the morning our unit leader, Comrade Khann, told us what our duties would be. The next work would not be difficult. We would have to stay in the fields waiting for flocks of birds, and as soon as we saw them we had to shout and make as much noise as possible in order to scare them away. We had all our belongings with us at the meeting. Mine were: one torn mosquito net, one broken spoon, one ragged cloth called a kramar, one yoke, one torn tarpaulin.

‘And now,’ said the unit leader, ‘we can leave,’ and he got on to his rusty Chinese bicycle and pedalled away ahead of us.

A Question of Geography