Caught in the Crossfire

Cunningham lay on the ground staring in shock. Half the head of the person lying beside her had been blasted away, leaving only a lifeless corpse.
Story Jenna Sparling

Wedged between two buildings in Bangkok, terrified and alone, Kara Cunningham tried to make sense of what had just occurred.

She had arrived in the city only hours before, unaware of the political problems brewing below the surface. As she stepped onto the street outside her hotel, she noticed a crowd of protesters. The military, only steps away, did not seem threatening. Then, without warning, guns began to fire. The crowd hit the ground like a wave. People scattered, some unhurt, some injured, and others not as lucky. To escape the horror she could only close her eyes, certain that if she moved she also would be killed. Once the sound of guns had moved away, Cunningham crawled towards two buildings and hid in a small opening between them. Her body shook with fear as the chaos continued in the distance.

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Post massacre memorial.

Between the buildings, Kara Cunningham thought about her family and friends far away. “I remember being wedged between those walls and all I could really think about was the people who love me. If I would have been killed on the streets that day, I would have been hauled away like the rest of the corpses and who knows what would have happened. My family didn’t know I was in Thailand. I could have been gone, just like that, and nobody would have known.”

Cunningham began her travels in Japan a year earlier. She visited countries including Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia before entering Thailand, where the pleasures of travel quickly evaporated.

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Student protestors unaware of the impending violence.

In May 1992, General Kraprayoon Suchinda ordered troops to fire on unarmed demonstrators who were protesting his attempt to become unelected Prime Minister. Cunningham was caught in the conflict. “Nobody told me. I hadn’t watched the news—you know, being an ignorant foreigner. I didn’t realize that Thailand was on the brink of a military coup.” Shocked and deeply depressed, Cunningham left Bangkok soon after.

Now back in Canada, she says in retrospect, “As Westerners we are very sheltered, we don’t see stuff like that. It’s on TV, it’s not real. We take for granted democracy, we take for granted safety, we take so many things for granted.”