This is perhaps the toughest post to write yet. I have sat here with this screen open many days and written, erased, and written again. The problem is that even though we did this tour a month ago, I still have yet to process all that I feel about the day. Let me attempt to explain.
I knew coming to Cambodia that I had a lot to learn about the country's tumultuous history, but once I got here and started to read more about the Khmer Rouge and speak to locals in Siem Reap and Battambang, I realized how little I really knew.
After visiting the killing fields in Battambang, I knew I really wanted to tour the main fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital and the first city that Pol Pot evacuated during his 4-year siege on the country. I feel that it's important to be reminded of the bad things that happen in the world in order to prevent a re-occurrence in the future.
As my 13-year-old and I left for the day, we looked at each other, silently acknowledging that this was going to be a tough one. It surprised us, though, just how tough it was and continues to be as we look at the faces of the locals all around Cambodia knowing anyone over the age of 40 lived through hell and possibly participated. No justice was ever served.
We drove through the streets for almost an hour and that in itself was difficult to see, past all the factories where children and women poured out to grab a quick bite to eat. The heat was staggering and from the looks on their faces we could tell their working conditions were not good.
As soon as we arrived at our first stop, the Killing fields themselves, we were greeted by men and women, shockingly thin, missing limbs, and begging for help. Sadness doesn't even begin to cover the feelings, but at the moment that is all I can remember.
|The mausoleum, where the skulls of visctims have been displayed|
The tour is done beautifully, no guide just your listening device needed. It takes you around the property explaining what happened and telling the tales from survivors of the Pol Pot regime. In their own words (translated of course), and touching to say the least. We were comfortable there and left feeling that the whole world needs to see this and hear this as a reminder. We cannot forget this was less than 40 years ago. Read here to learn more of Cambodians tragic history.
|The killing tree, where infants were smashed against, bullets were not to be wasted|
|A moving tribute surrounding the area that women and children were found in a mass grave|
|Clothing, shoes and bones are still being discovered everyday!|
|Very small cells|
|The holding area|
|One of the many torture rooms|
I think what we found to be the most difficult component to the day was being in an area that symbolized deep prejudice and injustice. Pol Pot killed people that were different, any difference at all. He ordered children to kill family members and rid the population of as many educated people as possible in order to create the agrarian society he thought would benefit Cambodia most.
The perversion of logic is so hard to imagine and accept as reality Facing the realization, head on, that there is a depth of cruelty possible in the human race that I prefer to 1) shield myself and my family from, 2) think does not exist, and 3) am still shocked to see and hear about, is a very humbling experience.
We have talked a lot about that day and can't help but feel that heaviness throughout the country. It is still with them, a nation of people that are lacking in certain age ranges, that cannot build up an economy due to the landmines still in place, and that still look at us with genuine love, smiles and happiness.
Of all the things we've learned here, it isn't the atrocities or bloodstains that will stay with us the longest, it is the gentle people who we have had the privilege to know and the resiliency of humans to overcome even the worst that this world has to dish out!
If you get a chance to visit, I highly suggest it to anyone over age 12. If you cannot get to Cambodia, please honor these people by educating yourself so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and move forward. The history of Pol Pot is an education on Cambodia as a whole, while the numerous memoirs, like First They Killed My Father, will give you an inside view into the average Cambodians life throughout the siege.
Please share this story and spread the word that this can and does happen!