Inside her grandmother’s home, 30 kilometres outside Phnom Penh, Sor Zamel knelt before a woman’s photograph propped up on an altar, engulfed by an incense haze. As she finished her Buddhist prayer, she included a final request: “Please show me a way to find my father.” 

That was in 2016, when Zamel, who is now in her late 20s, was visiting her native village of Sdao Konleng in Cambodia’s Kandal Province, hoping to learn more about the man responsible for bringing her into the world. She was a child when her mother died, leaving little information about him. 

Even today, all she knows is that she resembles the Ghanian United Nations peacekeeper who left Cambodia shortly after her birth in the early 1990s. The exact year of the man’s repatriation and Zamel’s birthday, like many aspects of her biography, are unclear. Her family identification document, or family book, says she was born in 1990, but that is almost certainly incorrect. Mistakes on official documents, especially dates of birth, are common in Cambodia. Zamel’s given name on her ID card is “Untac”—the acronym for the UN mission that brought her father to Cambodia and lasted from 1992 to 1993.

Members only

Log in or

Join New Naratif as a member to continue reading

We are independent, ad-free and pro-democracy. Our operations are member-funded. Membership starts from just US$5/month! Alternatively, write to to request a free sponsored membership. As a member, you are supporting fair payment of freelancers, and a movement for democracy and transnational community building in Southeast Asia.

Marta Kasztelan

Marta Kasztelan is a filmmaker and freelance journalist focused on human rights, environment and radical groups around Europe and Southeast Asia.