Monday, October 15, 2012

Smiles Among the Horror

As most people know, Cambodia has an incredibly tragic history. From 1975-1979 the country was ruled by the Khmer Rouge, a regime that attempted to create an agrarian-based, self-reliant and Communist society. "Enemies" of the Party (professionals, intellectuals and even people who wore glasses as this indicated that they were literate) were tortured and/or killed in the most horrific ways imaginable. One of the regime's main mottos was "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss." An estimated 2 million Cambodian people died under the Khmer Rouge, and it is generally considered to be a genocide.

One of the mass graves at The Killing Fields

While I was in Phnom Penh I was able to visit two sites that are linked to this dark era: The Tuol Sleng Prison (also known as S21) which is an old high school that served as a torture center, and The Killing Fields, where trucks full of people would be dropped off and executed shortly thereafter.

Remnants of the victims

Both places were incredibly haunting: I saw mass graves of children, farming tools used as murder weapons, articles of victim's clothing and more skulls, bones and teeth than almost seemed possible.

Rows and rows of tiny cells at the Tuol Sleng Prison

 Considering the terrible events this country suffered through not even 40 years ago, I'm constantly amazed by the kindness of its people. Kids constantly greet me with an enthusiastic "hello!", adults have welcomed me to wander around the pagodas where they worship... tonight an old lady actually cupped my chin and just smiled for a moment, as if to pay me some kind of compliment. Their history is stained with horrors I can't even fully wrap my head around and yet, somehow, they manage to smile.


Susan Zwick said...

Thanks for sharing . Another amazing example of humans' will to survive and the natural leaning toward healing and happiness.

amoureuse said...

You're welcome, and yes absolutely.