Oliver the Dog and Arashi the Cat: the cutest best friends ever!
I give up I will never find a friendship like this
On Wednesday Blake, Norm and I Tuk Tuked out to The Killing Fields just a bit outside of the main area in Phnom Penh. The ride was about 20 minutes through some pretty bumpy, dusty roads. I knew that visiting here was going to be really sad, but I wanted to go see The Killing Fields while I…
Choeung Ek Genocidal Center & Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
You are not human.
In the middle of the night, you and your family are abruptly awaken, dragged from your homes and crammed onto buses in pitch black darkness. You’re told you’re being taken to the country-side for a new job. One hour, two hours, three hours pass in an eerily silent bus.
You’re dumped off and shoved into corrugated metal shacks, separated from your children and spouse. Resisting would result in the unimaginable. Laying down isn’t an option; there’s not enough space with everyone inside. Not everyone on the bus is now in the shack with you. Some are missing.
Diesel generators rumble nearby, spewing their black soot to power the tinny speakers blaring the sounds of government officials chanting haunting propaganda. Whack! The sound startles as the doors swing open and people are dragged by their arms and legs out into the dirt.
You witness the stuff nightmares.
Layers of corpses in ditches. Screaming pleas for life. Flesh, children, bones, death. Your family is nowhere. Suddenly you see nothing, black. Blurry vision creeps upon you looking into the overcast sky. Blood mattes the hair on the back of your head. A firm, unforgiving grip takes you by the arm and forces you to your feet. The person who pulled you to stand holds a bamboo cane smeared with blood. As your name is called you quickly affirm in hope of anything. You don’t know, but there is none. No hope.
Fabric wraps your eyes. Roughly and tightly a knot is tied and you see nothing. A boot kicks your back and you fall to your knees. All it takes is one swift blow and it’s over. You’re another nameless corpse in a ditch.
This is the horror of the Khmer Rouge.
This is a more forgiving portrayal. Others were forced to kill the innocent, brutally, without regard to age, status, gender, religious affiliation or occupation, even their own family members, children. Without complete submission and allegiance to the powers that be, you would be faced with absolutely unfathomable horrors even the imagination could not create. Even with it, it still made no difference.
Now, every month, volunteers respectfully collect the bones and teeth of those lost when the rains cause them to surface from the mass graves. They are gathered into cases and minded by staff for them to be honored and remembered. Cases containing bones, teeth and scraps of clothing stand around the grounds as heed and honor of the victims. Even with a periodic collection effort, there are still too many remains to collect them all. Some remains are intentionally not recovered as they rest at the bottom of ponds in an effort to allow them a peaceful rest and to not be disturbed.
As many visitors walk around the grounds listening to the audio guides, even with many people, no one speaks. Blank, thoughtful, mournful stares gaze into the distance as listeners hear first-hand accounts of survivors through their headphones. Eerie silence persists in the space as it did nearly four decades ago, but now with a sense of mourning and respect.
The Killing Fields is the saddest place I have visited. It is haunting, quiet and now peaceful. If you find yourself in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia, I strongly urge you to pay your respects to those passed and take the experience as a chilling reminder of what humans can do to each other, but also as a thought of hope that such an atrocity never be permitted to occur again.
I took many photographs while on this tour, many of victims, most of whom don looks of despair and resignation. I do not claim to know the context of the final photograph above of the man who wears a semblance of a smile. However, I include it as the last one in hope that his expression is a reflection of human resilience and spirit, even while surrounded by merciless horror.
Never Staying Still