I F goatherds are a rare sight in the country, old Pakistani goatherds have to be unique. Not surprisingly, Haji Rahman, a Pakistan national who lives across the Japanese Friendship Bridge and has lived here for about sixty five years, thinks he is one of just two 'Pakistani Khmers' in the country. The other is his sister.
The seventy-year-old Rahman, who came to the country with his parents in 1929 when he was just five, says there were nearly 2,000 people from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh in the country before 1975. "Most of them fled when Pol Pot came, and the few who stayed here must have died," he says. Rahman himself lost three children. His sister, who also survived, now lives in Kandal.
Rahman, who says his native village Dabrei in Badgram district of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, is a Pathan, a race which traditionally lives in the hills of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He speaks his native language Pashtu but is more fluent in Khmer. He married his wife, who is half Malay and half Pakistani, here, and all his 11 children were born here.
Rahman says he came to the country by ship with his parents, and his father was a small businessman in Phnom Penh. "My father went back to Pakistan with one of my sons in 1957, and my mother died here in Cambodia. We planned that all of us should try to go back one by one, but I never had enough money," he says.
"There were many different foreigners here before 1975. But when the Khmer Rouge came to Phnom Penh, they announced that all foreigners should leave at once. I missed the announcement and was caught here. My own brother fled to France, my nephew left for Malaysia," he reminisces.
"They took away my passport, and our family was sent to different places. I was in Kandal for a while, then I was made to go to Battambang. It was very bad then, three of my children died of starvation. The Khmer Rouge also killed foreigners.
"I was lucky because I was allowed to work for the local Khmer Rouge chief in Battambang. I looked after his cows. That's how I was spared.
"After the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979, I walked back to Phnom Penh. It took me 27 days, I was so thin you could only see my face and knees, no flesh in between," he says.
Since then, Rahman and his wife have been living in a small wooden house across the bridge with three of their children. Four others live in Sisophon, near Poipet. He now has 17 grandchildren. He says he worked for a time in a tobacco factory, then started to raise and sell goats.
"I bring the goats from Sisophon, it costs me about 200,000 riel to bring them here in a wagon. But I raise them here and I can sell the meat for about $3 a kilo." Since mutton is not a common part of Khmer food, he sells some to restaurants.
Rahman's family lives among a community of Cham, and there are three mosques in the neighborhood. He says he has been happy living as an ordinary Khmer, but wants to go home. "I want to go back, I am now trying to make a new passport from the Pakistani embassy in Bangkok. I hope we can all go back one by one when we have the money," he says.
His SOC identity card says he is a Pakistani national, and though his children were born here their cards say the same. "I want to go back too, I want to see my home," says 31-year-old son Badi Rahman who cannot speak any language except Khmer. They say they have not been discriminated against in any way, except that they cannot get government jobs.
"Actually its good we're foreigners, because my sons do not have to do any military service," Haji Rahman says. None of them have voted in an election, neither last year nor during the Sihanouk period.