Today was the day that many of us were dreading. We planned to visit both the killing fields and the Tuol Sleng prison, however, due to another impromtu schedule change, the prison visit is postponed until tomorrow. I think I appreciate the time to process between these two difficult locations.
I brought along my journal to the killing fields, and this is what I wrote while I was walking through the campus:
Wrapping your head around the reality of this place is so difficult. Especially when you begin to listen. There is a school directly on the other side of the fence behind me, and it is definitely recess right now. The sounds of kids laughing and playing reaches my ears from behind, birds are happily chattering on my right, and someone is loudly playing Khmer music on the road across from the complex on my right. It is a sunny, breezy, beautiful day.
This beautiful location is the burial place for 20,000 people.
Mass graves stretch over 6 acres, where the earth still shows signs of shifting mounds and human bones are still resurfacing to the paths when it rains. Bullets were expensive, so victims were forced to kneel in front of a mass grave, then were hit with whatever the guards had available. Inside the museum, multiple common tools were on display. Some of them were the same tools we used to clean out the drainage trench at NIBI. How disgusting.
The clubbing did not always kill the victims, so poisons like DDT were sprinkled over the mass graves to complete the job and cover the smell of decay.
These are just a few of the atrocities that we heard about, and this is just one of the 200 mass graves found around Cambodia.
It is impossible for me to comprehend how something like this genocide could have happened. How do so many people fail to stop a movement that is so obviously wrong? A political statement that involves murdering children? Pol Pot said, “To keep you is no gain, to lose you is no loss.” What a reign of fear. Combined with ignorance. It is horrifying how incredible, efficient, secretive, and cruel this was. Humans are capable of some very, very scary things.
On a brighter note, tonight we had the privilege of eating dinner with Theary Seng, and we had the chance to ask her questions. I appreciated hearing Ms. Seng’s perspective on the general mindset of Cambodia: “A citizen is someone who knows her rights and exercises them. We are not citizens, we are subjects. And the Khmer Rouge made us survivors. ”
Cambodia is not where it should be today, and it faces some serious and complicated problems as a nation. However, we have seen many organizations in just the past two weeks that are operating out of a spirit of hope. The Cambodian people seem acutely aware of the challenges of developing their country, but I see hope in the people all around me.