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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Love blossoms out of mine blast tragedy

Love blossoms out of mine blast tragedy

W

HEN love-shy Un Vuthy married his bride Chea Sopheap they seemed like any other

happy couple and some wedding guests may not have known the incredible story

behind how their love blossomed from a mine explosion in which Sopheap lost her

leg.

Sopheap's remarkable recovery was made possible by a sympathetic

foreigner, Ron Podlaski, who offered to fit her with an artificial leg free of

charge after he heard about the accident and went to see her in the

hospital.

He promised her, as she lay in the Calmette bed suffering from

severe depression and a death wish, "I'll dance with you at your

wedding."

Little did Sopheap realize then that her accident would be the

catalyst for Vuthy gaining the confidence to woo her, which would enable her to

hold Podlaski to his promise 16 months later.

Two years before the

accident, Vuthy, who describes himself as a quiet country boy, moved into his

aunt's house in Phnom Penh and became Sopheap's neighbor.

He said: "When

I first saw Sopheap I thought she was very beautiful, I would often see her and

smile, but never talk, I was too afraid."

He confessed: "Before the

accident I dared not talk to her because I was so poor and thought I was not

good enough for her. I was afraid that her parents would object to me starting a

friendship with her.

"

Vuthy told how on Nov 9, 1991, he heard she had

been injured by a land mine explosion at the stand where she sold fruit juice

each day near the old French Embassy.

"I was very fearful and rushed to

the hospital to see if she was all right. Her family was there and it was very

crowded. She was in a state of shock, babbling incoherently and very worried.

"But I kept visiting, and began to care for her very much. Soon we

talked for the first time and from then our love grew.

"Last year I asked

her to marry me. My parents were supportive but my friends and relatives were

against me. They said if I married a cripple there would be no future for

me.

"I absolutely never followed their persuasion. I do not mind if she

is whole or handicapped. I married her because I love her, it will work so long

as we can mutually rely on each other.

"She always worries that I

will ignore her someday when her beauty fades. I tell her 'I will be yours

forever, don't worry, darling!' "

Sopheap said: "When I used to be a

sugar-cane juice and coconut juice seller many boys would come and talk to me,

but they failed to win my love.

"Some of them became jealous and spread

rumors that I was a flirt and that I had many boyfriends. Actually I had none.

Some people say the land mine may have been deliberately planted by someone

seeking revenge."

Sopheap said that in the hospital when she realized she

had lost her leg she became very depressed and thought she would be doomed to a

life of misery as a social outcast, begging in the streets to survive.

"I

thought I would rather die than live as a handicapped person, I often cried and

felt sorry for my life."

Podlaski, a former Green Beret working with the

Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation to rehabilitate Cambodian amputees, went

to visit Sopheap in Calmette Hospital on hearing of the incident.

Several visits later in an attempt to help her overcome her depression

he brought with him two severely disabled double-amputees.

He told

Sopheap if she wanted to feel sorry for someone, she should feel sorry for

people who had really severe disabilities.

Podlaski told Sopheap when

her wounds healed he would give her an artificial leg so that she could walk

again.

Sopheap said: " When I heard Ron would give me an artificial leg

for free I was so glad. I knew they were very expensive."

One year later

Sopheap was fitted with the artificial leg through the support of the Indo-China

Project, then managed by Podlaski.

Sopheap said: "When I started walking

again with the prosthetic it was very hard and painful. I cried. The next day my

stump was so tender I couldn't continue the exercises. I thought I would be

destined to use crutches or live in a wheelchair."

She said with the

support of family and friends, especially her mother and Podlaski, she gradually

learnt to overcome the pain until walking with her new leg became easy. With

Podlaski's help she was able to find a job.

Last month Sopheap was

married to Vuthy in a traditionally colorful banquet with a dance band.

She said: "I felt so happy, like I really belonged to society. I

remembered Ron's words when I was in the hospital, 'I'll dance with you at your

wedding' ".

"I made my way through the crowded wedding party to Ron' s

table, bowed and said: 'Let's dance'. We danced together for a series of three

songs."

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