Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (22)

My dearest Sombath,

Today is again 15 December 2020. Every year as this date approaches, my heart aches even more than normally. Today, eight years ago, you were abruptly and so cruelly taken away from me. The images of how you were taken away flashed across my mind just as vividly now as eight years ago when I first saw the footages of your abduction from the police CCTV camera.

Eight years is a long time to wait for some news of what happened to you and your whereabouts. Are you well? Are you healthy? Are your living conditions okay? And invariably the question that comes to my head everyday, which I inevitably tries to push away as soon as it arises is “Are you still alive?”

Sombath, I am sure you know that not one day passes that I do not think about you or not long for you to come home, even though knowing that the hope of seeing you walk through the front door would be slim. But my hope remains, and that is the hope I have to hold on to in order to go on.

My dearest Sombath, this year as with previous years, we held a blessing ceremony for you at your favorite temple, Wat Nakhoun Noi forest temple. We together with members of the family, friends and other well wishers gathered together to pray for you, to wish you well, and to wish for your safe return. Again this year as with other years, I felt your warm presence next to me comforting me. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I do feel your presence, and that helps renew my faith and belief that I will see you again.

Sombath, I must tell you that despite the passing of time, you are still so loved and remembered by so many people inside and outside Laos. Over the past few days, I have received hundreds of heartfelt messages from friends, supporters, and even people we have never met, reassuring me that your work for the Lao communities and Lao people continue to inspire them, and that even with the passing of time, you will not be forgotten.

There are too many of these messages for me to share here, but I have chosen a poem written by Anne-Sophie Gindroz to share here, as what she said has encapsulated the sentiments of the many messages of how other people see you.

Eight years, and still growing

They thought we will forget
That they could bury you in oblivion.
But years are piling up like a mountain
Becoming more visible in the distance

Every passing year constitutes a growing evidence
Of the unwillingness of the government to investigate,
Of the immunity granted by the regime to the perpetrators,
Of the complicity of those who keep silent.

Time will not make your disappearance fade away
For you cannot bury a seed
You plant it and it grows
Stronger year after year

So the story goes and will continue to be told
The story of a man who loved his country so much
That he returned to Laos at a time other were fleeing,
A man who trusted the regime so much
That he believed in its ability to open up to new ideas,
A man who had faith in young generation to lead
A man who celebrated nature by practicing sustainable living
A man who will always be remembered

So the story goes and will continue to be told
Because there will always be people to pass it on
Because they can disappear a man, not his ideas
Because a tree only grows stronger over time

This 8th anniversary is not only to pay tribute to his memory,
but to spread his thoughts,
to share his wisdom,
to keep Sombath alive.

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