We were seated in Happy Lucky’s Teahouse in Old Town Fort Collins just a few days before Thanksgiving and Kari Grady Grossman, co-owner of the teahouse, stopped by. We were chatting with a mutual friend, Dr. Bill Timpson, and he introduced us to Kari. Our book, The Leopard Tree, came up in the conversation and we gave her a copy. She then gave us a copy of Bones That Float, her book about adopting their child from Cambodia. We had heard that a percentage of profits at the Teahouse go to support of a school in Cambodia but did not know the deeper story.
I was already started on the Kindle book, In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree by Vaddey Ratner at home on my iPad. Raami, a 7-year-old girl from a Cambodian royal family, narrates the story. She walks with a brace due to polio and is the apple of her poet father’s eye. When the Khmer Rouge overrun Phnom Penh in 1975, she and her family are placed on a forced journey to a remote village, while hiding their identity as privileged royalty. To be discovered is certain death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The book tells the story of four years of desperate struggles with hunger and abuse. Raami is a survivor despite her disability, but she ages emotionally as she is forced to grow up and live without parental protection.
In the epilogue to the book the author explains that the book is fiction that closely parallels her actual growing up years in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge domination. The poetry of Vaddey Ratner’s language is charming and offsets to some degree the pain of the story. People suffered greatly and died in great numbers form 1975 to 1979 in Cambodia. I finished the book with a sense of relief and appreciation of the arduous journey many people have had in that nation.
Bones That Float: A Story of Adopting Cambodia is not a Kindle book so as soon as I finished In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree, I picked up the hard copy Kari gave us and began reading. For two days I could only put it down to do chores and necessary work. Her non-fiction story follows her own journey from unsuccessful attempts to have a child with her husband, George, through their decision to adopt a boy from a Cambodian orphanage. They would slowly find they were adopting a very troubled nation as well.
Kari learned that many orphans in Cambodia are actually the child of a family or parent who feels ill-equipped to raise and feed the child. She learned her son might have living family in Cambodia. Would he want to know them one day? Would his sister end up in a brothel for the lack of opportunities now available to her younger brother living in Colorado? Kari reveals her inner thoughts throughout the book, which follows her journeys to Cambodia to find their son’s family. In the process she becomes friends with an endearing taxi driver, who helps them as they start a school in rural Cambodia.
Bones That Float is a braided story of Kari’s search for her son’s family, the hardships faced by friends from Cambodia before immigrating, and the challenges of starting a school in a nation where corruption is the norm. Some names were changed to protect people in Cambodia, but the story is true, compelling and important.
The story is shared in local schools in Fort Collins in a reading program under an appropriate version for young people entitled, Teacher Absent Often. Sales of the book help with support of the school in Cambodia through the nonprofit, Sustainable Schools International.
Happy Lucky’s Teahouse is a regular stop for us to meet friends and talk. It has an even more special feel with the knowledge of the journey behind the family and their work in Cambodia. Healing is a process that does not end in months or even years after genocide, but people who help with the healing and restoration are a treasure.
– Tim Merriman