A brutal endingApril 7 in Cambodia ⋅ 🌧 33 °C
I fly home tomorrow from Phnom Penh and so far in Cambodia I have not seen anything of the brutal recent history that was the Khmer Genocide. It has been in my mind often and I find myself imagining what these people have seen and lived through. Ideally I wouldn't finish on this experience, but I can't leave the country ignorant to it and I think it is important to learn more. So today I visited the Killing Fields and S-21, a prison where innocent people were tortured.
This is not a nice story, but I'm sharing it because it should not be forgotten. The horrors of history like this would be completely pointless if we didn't learn from them and help them shape our future.
In 1975 Pol Pot began a derranged revolution in which he wanted to rid the country of capitalism and 'begin again from the year 0'. He believed the education and tecnological advancements were dangerous to his country and so he led an utterly brutal cleansing system which killed 3 million of the country's 8 million population. It began by emptying all the cities and forcing everyone to the countryside. Here, if people survived the arduous journey people were given the chance to 'live' if they were paupers-Pots favoured class, they continued life in arduous slavery working up to 21 hours a day in burning sun to create farms in traditional laboursome methods, as he banned all new equipment.
Anyone with smooth hands, who wore glasses, had an education or who spoke a foreign language were the enemy. Their fate was much worse. S-21, now a museum, used to be a school and was turned into a prison where these people were taken for days, weeks, months, in some cases years of brutal torture, until they confessed to a crime. Once they 'confessed' they were taken to the killing fields to be killed. The prison was run by officers indoctrinated by Pot, many of whom were children. What they did to people here defies belief, the museum gave accounts from some of the few survivors and had paintings by a survivor who recreated scenes he had witnessed.
Visiting this museum was always going to be a harrowing experience so I will try not to dwell on that. The tour is led by an audio guide, which allows them for personal reflection along the way. I suspect it would be too much to have locals be guides here, to relive their history so frequently. It was a very well curated exhibition sensitively showing graffic images of the bodies found when the Khmer were pushed out. The Khmer were very vigilant about documenting everything and some hasn't been destroyed, so there are photos of prisoners and of guards lining the rooms that were used for cells. Walking through the buildings that have some evidence of blood stains on, with these faces staring at you is a powerful experience. I felt I had to look every face in the eye to let them keep living.
After 1.5 hours immersed in the shocking truth of Khmer we got back in the tuktuk to go to the killing Fields. We were a group of four who met that morning and had chatted the whole way there. Now the mood had significantly changed and we had periods of silence stirred by deep discussions about what we had seen. Trying to get our heads around it seemed an impossible quest, how could such a massive cruel act upon an entire country, by someone of its' own, ever make sense?
We arrived at the killing Fields and braced ourselves for more. I won't go into further detail because I rattle on a lot and it won't be a pleasant read. But it didn't get any nicer. Nothing can prepare you for seeing the evidence that remains here of what happened in those fields.
I found it hard upon leaving to know what to do next with my day. The four of us went for lunch and hung out in the pool at our hostel. We shared reflections on the morning and we returned to normal travel chat. But I don't think any of us will ever forget what we have seen.
There aren't many old people in this country, I've noticed that since I arrived. Anyone that I do see that is over 40 makes me wonder how they live from day to day without fear and suffering. Because this is fresh, the country is still recovering and everyone has lost family members to the hideous crimes of the genocide.
But there are people laughing, singing, kids playing and new businesses. You have to look in the corners to see it, beyond the poverty and child labour. Cambodia is a long way from being the country it deserves to be. But there is hope.Read more