Little Srey Mao: A Story of Survival

By Janet Alexander –

When I walked in the door for my first day on the job at Sonoma Valley Hospital in 1988, the last thing on my mind was that, on that day, I would meet and start a life-enriching friendship with one of my co-workers.

Savanna is one of the most amazing and strongest people I have ever met. She was born in Cambodia in 1962 and was sponsored to come to the United States with her family when she was nineteen, having miraculously survived the Cambodian Civil War waged and won by the Khmer Rouge, which resulted in Pol Pot’s leadership that continued for nearly four years.

Outside of work, we liked to take long walks together, and she shared many graphic details about growing up in Cambodia. My mind couldn’t comprehend the horrific details, and I wanted to believe she was making them up, but I knew that everything she was telling me was true. She kept saying that one day she wanted to write a book about her life… Thirty years later we sat down to write it together.

But why would she want to write about memories that the mind wants to bury as deeply as possible? One of the main reasons she wrote it was for her two daughters. Life experiences contribute in a major way to making people who they are, and she wanted her daughters to understand her better. She didn’t want them to forget their roots or their relatives. She wanted them to help keep Cambodian culture alive here in this country, and for them to feel proud of their heritage. As a survivor, she also felt an obligation to document her story in the hopes that the nearly three million people who needlessly lost their lives––as a result of mass killings, starvation, strenuous working conditions, and poor medical care––would be remembered.

Savanna’s account starts with her earliest childhood memories and progresses through the war, continuing to follow her as she and her family finally escape to Thailand and are ultimately able to resettle and assimilate in the United States.


* Janet Alexander is a retired nurse and language teacher living in Sonoma, California with her husband. To access the full text of the book as told to Janet, see ឡុង សាវ៉ាណា / LONG Savanna