The sadness

Trip Start Oct 04, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, March 6, 2006

Stepping off relative quiet of the bus that had taken me from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh I was hit with the noise, smells, and just general chaos. I wanted to teleport myself back to the comfort of the countryside that I had grown to love in just three short days. But, the strong, independent woman that I am, I waved to the motodriver eyeing me for a fare. And I was off, weaving in between the cars, dodging minibuses, and barely missing brave pedestrians trying to cross the street. After bumping along an alleyway that I don't think had ever been paved, and seriously wondering if I was in for some trouble, I spotted the sign for the Lazy Fish Guesthouse. And there were Steve and Lee! It was a great reunion, with the first thing out of their months being that they had found a great place to eat that even serves "Happy" milkshakes (made extra happy for a mere dollar). But after having a very "happy" night at the aptly named Flying Elephant, the next day was definitely a sobering experience.

At first I didn't understand. The labels were all written in Cambodian. But as I looked at row after row of pictures, wall after wall, room after room, a building full of pictures, I suddenly realized. Looking back at me through the glass - some puzzled, some scared, and some smiling with the ignorance of what was to come - were the victims of S-21. People taken from their homes for no other reason then they knew how to read or they were related to someone who had angered the Khmer Rouge or even just because. They were brought here by the thousands, tortured, and killed. The blood still stained the floors of what had originally been a school. In one room, all of the shackles used on the prisoners were piled half way up the wall. In another, the instruments of torture were displayed, along with pictures of what they did to the poor souls they were used upon. The horror of the place was overwhelming. As I walked along the corridors, looking into the tiny cells of lesser inmates, I thought how if the wheels of fate had just turned a little differently, it could have been me. The Khmer Rouge did not just kill those that opposed them, they killed their own if a change in attitude was merely suspected. Earlier that morning we had been to the killing fields where the ground was covered in ditches and pits that had once been mass graves. A sign next to one tree said how children were beat against it, and speakers were hung in another to cover the sounds of the moans. It's hard to comprehend all the terrible things that happened in these places, but I feel that it is so important to try and do so. This was people at their worst, in a country where I have only been shown kindness. It just makes me so sad to look at the skulls in the bone pagoda and think how the Cambodians must look at it. Every single family here, lost at least one person during the Khmer Rouge's rule, most lost more. This site is not just a memorial for them, it's a burial ground for loved ones. And until I came to Cambodia, I had no idea that any of this happened. As I see all of this, and feel all of it, my sadness turns to anger. This happened only thirty years ago, millions of people were killed in a matter of years, and I was never knew. I never learned about it in school, it was never a topic of conversation, the aftermath never became big news. While every child knows about the Holocaust and the Vietnam War, why aren't they also told about the horrors that also happened in a little country called Cambodia? Being here is such a wonderful experience, it's opened both my eyes and my heart to so much, but it's just so emotionally exhausting. I'm lucky that I can take a breather, I can try to escape the images that I've seen, because at the end of the day, I'm just a tourist. This isn't my life. I will leave this land and live a life that at the moment seems so far away, but it is still my version of "real life". Tomorrow I leave for Sihanoukville, a little beach town, for a little relaxation. Though I feel almost guilty saying this, I'm eager to leave this place for somewhere less intense. I feel my heart breaking and I want to just not think for awhile...
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