ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From Cambodia now, a hopeful story that begins in the darkest period of that country's history. In the mid-to-late 1970s, the Khmer Rouge killed over a million people in Cambodia and tore countless families apart.
From Phnom Penh, NPR's Anthony Kuhn introduces us to one such family that has been reunited by a peculiar series of events.
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ANTHONY KUHN: Peou Phyrun steers his motorcycle down the rutted dirt road to his father's home in southern Cambodia's Kampot province. His father, 85-year-old Peou Nam, lives in a traditional Khmer farmhouse on stilts, among verdant rice paddies and towering sugar palms.
Father and son sit down together to tell their story. Phyrun's father had served as an official in the Lon Nol government, which the Khmer Rouge toppled in 1975. The family was told that their father had been executed. In the early 1980s, Phyrun and his six siblings immigrated to Canada. One night last year, he recalls having a vivid dream.
PEOU PHYRUN: In the dream, I saw my father walking. And I was walking, and then I met him unexpectedly. And he said: Hey, dear son, I'm still alive, come to me.
KUHN: Phyrun went to Cambodia and spent months searching for his dad, along the Thai-Cambodian border. He distributed fliers with his father's picture and story. Just at that time, Phyrun's father remembers being at home when an inexplicable impulse came over him.
PEOU NAM: (Through translator) I felt unsettled, restless. I had this urge to go to the town of Poi Pet, where I had worked before. I didn't realize my children were looking for me. Then I saw posters for a missing person. The person in the picture looked familiar and the story matched my own.
KUHN: Townsfolk in the border town of Poi Pet insisted that Phyrun speak to a local spirit medium. Phyrun didn't believe in the supernatural, but he went anyway. The medium told Phyrun exactly when and where to meet his father and then he predicted...
PHYRUN: You will see him, but I warn you, you will not recognize your father and your father will deny you. But you are his son and he is your father.
KUHN: Indeed, both father and son thought they had the wrong person. Some things just didn't match. The old man had a mole on his face, which Phyrun's father didn't have. And while the son remembered his father had a blackened fingernail, the man before him had a normal pink one. Hoping to confirm the man's identity, Phyrun's sister in Canada turned to Connie Adams, a psychic in Merrickville, Ontario. Adams recalls the family asking her about their father.
CONNIE ADAMS: And I could see him very clearly in my mind as an older man, not a young man. So that tells me that he was alive. But I also talked in detail during the reading about things or markings he would have had on his body or things that would identify him as their father.
KUHN: The clincher came when the old man spoke to his former wife in Canada by phone.
NAM: (Through translator) I began to communicate with my son's mother by phone. She wasn't sure about me either, so we started to test each other, asking questions about our private life that no other family member could possibly know about.
KUHN: Peou's amnesia gradually lifted and he remembered his lost family. He also remembered how the Khmer Rouge bludgeoned him and left him for dead in a mass grave, how he climbed out from under the corpses and wandered the land in a traumatized state, how he changed his name, remarried and had six more children.
NAM: (Through translator) My memory is incomplete. I just remember that I was forced to do labor and cut trees. If I didn't please my captors, they tortured me however they liked. I just endured it to survive, but I don't know how I survived.
KUHN: The elder Peou says that he always believed that he would reunite with his lost family in a future life, but fate brought them back together in this life, he says, which he now feels is complete.
As for the mole, that had grown out in just the past couple of years. And Phyrun explains about that blackened fingernail.
PHYRUN: Then, finally, he told my mother that the reason why my nails are now nice and white, because when I was in prison, they pulled out my nails.
KUHN: While the Peou family's reunion was extraordinary, their separation was not. Since their story was aired by local media, other Cambodians whose families were torn apart by the Khmer Rouge have contacted the Peou family and told them that their story has given them hope.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Phnom Penh.
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