They've wept, they’ve yelled and they’ve prayed as they watched excavators tear down their homes, so perhaps it’s understandable that the residents of Boeung Kak lake are now turning to song.
“Mom goes to protest, the children cry and sleep on the ground,” go the lyrics to the plaintive title track on Development Separates Families, a music CD written and composed by Boeung Kak residents facing eviction by real estate developer Shukaku Inc.
Sitting in a blue tent on the site where eight of their homes were demolished little more than a month ago, villager Tep Vanny, who sings on one of the eight tracks, said yesterday that the song is meant to express the loneliness of the children of Boeung Kak lake residents, who often have nobody to take care of them when their mothers go to protest.
“On one hand, we are worried about leaving our children at home alone, but on the other, we are worried about their facing arrest or the use of violence by the authorities,” she said, adding that sometimes villagers involved in the protests see their children as little as once a week.
Tep Vanny said that villagers in Boeung Kak produced the album because they want to show people how difficult life has been for the children there, some of whom have lost their will to study after having their mothers arrested by police at the protests.
“Mum carries you in her arms, and caresses you with her tears. Mum feels so stifled in her mind because we need a home,” read the lyrics of another of the songs, one of five sung by 34-year-old Kep Nimol.
“My tears were falling down when I sang this song, because all of our suffering is showing in the meaning of the song,” she said.
The music and lyrics for all eight songs – including titles such as Money Destroys the Future, 12.44 Hectares, My Fortune and Suffering as Sand Inundates Our Homes – were written exclusively by Boeung Kak villagers in the span of about two weeks, with work beginning almost immediately in the wake of the September 16 demolition of their homes.
The houses were ripped down by excavators as an activist was beaten unconscious by police following a decision by officials to exclude some families from a 12.44 hectare on site relocation package signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Before it was abated, that deal was supposed to bring a close to the long-running land dispute began in 2007, after Phnom Penh Municipality inked a 99-year-lease with developer Shukaku Inc, owned by CPP senator Lao Meng Khin and his wife Choeung Sopheap.
In August 2008, the company began filling the lake in with sand, eventually pumping it directly into the homes of residents of Boeung Kak.
One of the songwriters, 31-year-old Khek Chan Reasmey, said yesterday the reason a group of villagers were able to compose the songs so fast was because of the personal nature of their experience.
“The meaning of every song comes from the heart,” she said, “and these songs are a souvenir for our villagers in Boeung Kak in case we are arrested and detained in prison.”
Villagers cobbled together US$225 of their own money to pay for the first pressing of 100 albums, while rights group Licadho provided the studio space for the recording session. Another pressing may be in the works, though villagers say they must first raise additional funds to pay for it.
The CD’s initial 100 copies were distributed at Meta House on Saturday during their Eviction Free Zone party, an appropriate venue, according to Khek Chan Reasmey. “I think that all the people who listen to this music, they will know about the feeling of forced eviction,” she said.
Sitting just outside the blue tent yesterday, Mom Sokheng, said that while the songs on the album express the suffering in the minds of the victims, they also act as a form of therapy.
“These songs are the medicine that treats our suffering minds and make us feel better,” she said. “When people take time to listen to our music, they will understand our pain.”