Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cambodia, Part 1: Sadness

S-21, the high school turned concentration camp in Phnom Penh

   If you look closely, you can see bones in the ground along with the clothes.

This past Christmas was spent in Cambodia. We spent a few days in Phnom Penh (P-nom. We were told that the Vietnamese call it "Nom" Penh and that is WRONG) and a few days in Siem Reap.

We visited sites associated with the Khmer Rouge on the first day.

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge moved people from the cities to the country and started what they called "Year Zero", turning back time to a "utopian" agrarian society.  They killed all doctors, teachers, and anyone wearing glasses (a sign of intelligence).  

Our tour guide Wan Tay told us that he was lucky because only three of his brothers were killed during the time of the Khmer Rouge.  Two million people died during this time.  Many of the skulls we saw had large holes...because the Khmer Rouge refused to use a bullet on people they believed were traitors.

Cheoung Ek was a small town that became the burial fields for S-21, essentially the concentration camp for "political prisoners".  Of the over 17,000 people who were kept at S-21, only 4 people survived.  At The Killing Fields (Thank you, Sam Waterston), there is a tree with a sign that points out that this is where children and infants were beaten against the trunk to kill them.  If they didn't die, they were then tossed in the air and caught on the end of a bayonet.
I get so angry when I talk about these things.  How could people do this?  How can people do this?  My friend told me that people can't reconcile the loving God and the angry God, but that our love of something can bring out our anger when the object of our love is hurt.  The Cambodian people are STILL suffering from the Khmer Rouge.   There aren't enough teachers in the schools because so many were killed.  There are still 6 million landmines dotting the country.  Adults will cut off the limbs of the children so that, when they beg for foreigners, they will get more money.

What about Darfur?  Every time I see something about Darfur, I can't help but think about Cambodia.  We always say that this will NEVER happen again.  And still...

As uncomfortable as I felt in Cambodia at times, I think I fell in love with it almost immediately.  I hope that I can go back someday, on the back of a motor bike.

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