The horrors have faded some. Twelve years old now, Bory Pak recalls both the wars and the kindergartens of Cambodia in the same tones. One minute she tells of trading her lunch money for a friend's toys, the next she talks of a new year's celebration when bullets suddenly sprayed above her head.
Bory's parents would like her to forget the war altogether. They have been here more than four years, living in a quiet suburb where the only tools of battle are toys strewn along the sidewalk. But the real war won't go away, for Bory or for them. Its aftermath continues in the form of hundreds of refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos who arrive in Washington each month -- and Bory, like so many refugees who have built new lives here, is torn between the need to help herself and the need to help her people.
"My parents told me don't worry about that. My parents told me just worry about going to school," she said. But she worries about both. She knows what it is to be a refugee, and believes she can use what she has learned to help those arriving here now from the fetid camps of Southeast Asia.
Bory never expected to leave Cambodia herself, and never thought about it. Then in April 1975, her father told her mother and Bory and the rest of her brothers and sisters that they would be taking a little vacation in Thailand. The father, Ban Pak, was a driver for the American Embassy in Phnom Penh, and the ambassador had told all Cambodian employes to send their families out of the country. They would be back in two weeks, the ambassador told them. Bory's father was on one of the last helicopters to leave Phnom Penh as it fell to the communist troops of Pol Pot.
Bory remembers one of her uncles being asked to go on "the vacation," but he said, "Oh, I'm busy. My pig is pregnant and I couldn't come." Another uncle couldn't go because his wife wouldn't let him, she remembers.
"He was my favorite," Bory said. "That time was so lonely. Every time he came to our house he made me so happy. He would bring me surprises. He gave me horsy rides. Every time I think about him it makes me cry. That's why I don't want to think . . . I wonder what happened to him. I've never seen him in so long."
When more than 70 refugees, most of them Cambodian, arrived together in Washington early last month, their sponsors at the Vietnamese-run Buddhist Social Services found them temporary housing at a Trinity College dormitory. But the Vietnamese sponsors spoke no Cambodian and the historical district between the two nationalities began to breed scores of bitter little disputes and frictions.
Bory went there. "When I hear that the refugees come in I feel awful," she told a reporter who met her at the dormitory. "I thought that some of my family might be here, but they're not."
With a child's facility for languages, she spoke English and Cambodian better than any of the adults who were trying to translate. She decided to stay in the dorm with the new arrivals.
"At first my parents didn't want me to," she said. "But I did for just one night . . . and then the next night and the next one. I just stayed."
Living among the new arrivals, Bory heard stories that sounded like fairy tales: The tale of a little boy who followed Communist soldiers into the woods and saw them kill and eat parts of his relatives; another about a boy who was seriously hurt when he fell from a tree picking fruit and was forced to keep working until he died.
When it came time for the refugees to move from their temporary home at Trinity -- the summer was ending and the students were coming back to classes -- many of the Cambodian families, especially the large ones, had no place to go.
Bory's mother and father decided to take one family into their rented home off King's Highway south of Alexandria. They had not known Lim Sorang or her eight children before, though they had once lived on opposite sides of the same temple in Phnom Penh.
Now they lived together, sharing the house's four bedrooms, living mostly on the wages Ban Pak earns working in the bakery of Washington's Regency Hyatt House.
'soon Lim Sorang's children will be going to school with Bory, with the same hopeful expectations and the same truamas she experienced four years ago, except that she will be there with them.
"When I came to America, I thought to myself if I don't study what's going to happen to me? I can be anything I want," Bory remembers. At first there were many problems. She spoke no English. Other children teased her, called her names, threatened her, stole from her, told her to meet them after school to get beat up, she said.
"I didn't understand what they were saying at first," she remembers. "But when I understood they stopped saying those things. Now I get along fine."
She started as an eighth grader this month and she says she'll be building on a B average. Her best subject is English.
Opinionated, independent, she often seems older than 12. But then there are the things that adults come to accept that she cannot or will not understand. She cannot conprehend, for instance, the jealousies and bickerings -- why the other Cambodian refugees at Trinity College became angry with her parents when they took in Lim Sarong.
"They said, 'Why you take her? Why you not take us?' I told them 'You're in America. You're okay now. There's nothing to be afraid of.'"
Bory does not listen when her father tells her that because of the wars and murders and starvation that have swept through the country since she left, her uncles in Cambodia are probably dead. "I talk to people who come out," her father said, "and my friends have been killed."
Bory thinks far into the future. She wants to help refugees here now. Then, "Whenever my country gets well, and I can go back, the first thing I'll do is go find my family. . . .That's all I think about."