Cambodia, so poverty stricken, such a devastating past, and yet stands so strong…
Before arriving in Cambodia I made sure I read up on the war that took place. It was such a significant and sad part of their history and going to see what the war left behind without understanding the full extent of the event seemed ignorant and wasteful of the trip.
I made sure I understood it fully by buying two books, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung and Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors. I bought them from the fake book vendors who sell photocopied books in Vietnam, for £2.50 each. They both gave me a deep insight into what took place.
The biography by Loung Ung helped me to understand the destruction that took place particularly in Phnom Penh capital and how the educated were effected by the war. Loung’s father was a political figure and educated man, and therefore was one of many to be taken from his home. When the Khmer Rouge came to power, they wanted to make sure Cambodia turned into their political regime, and every educated person (teacher, doctor, political member..) was a threat to their plans. In an attempt to erase anyone who could come up against their plans they killed them. Loung’s father was one of these people. Her and her siblings had no choice but to leave home, and dress like the poor, changing their identities in an attempt to save their lives. Phnom Penh was also their home, and like all other Cambodians, they were removed from their homes in the city and sent to the country, where they would work as slaves in camps, working in the fields of the country, farming crops that would later be sold for weaponry to kill their own people. The only positive point of the book was knowing that she managed to live through all of this and escape in one piece because she found a route to be smuggled of the country. It is a shame that many did not have the same opportunity to escape their death.
Stories were told in both books, of killings, rape, and hunger as Cambodians were farming food but unable to eat it in the fear of loosing their lives. The stories were so distressing and unsettling that one wonders how a country recovered from such a mess.
How could such a group take power and destroy their country? The Khmer Rouge were a extremist Communist group who sought to destroy everything impure to their regime. Pol Pot, the main leader of this party was the reason for the genocide of half of the country. The scariest part of the event is that their reign only ended in 1979, only 32 years ago. It may still be taking place if it weren’t for the Vietnamese fighting against Khmer and saving the country.
When you think about it occurring not so long ago, one cannot help but see the country in a different light. The capital is now so well built, so modern. You can see that its all quite knew, probably due to most of it being destroyed in their reign, but you still cannot help but be fascinated by how quickly they managed to put it all back together. You walk down the streets and see the older ladies dinning together. Knowing that these elderly women and men lived through this period, may have been sent away from their homes, or even working in these camps, makes you have a new found respect for the people of that age living there. I don’t know their language so we won’t ever be able to talk with them and fully understand the extent of what these wise people lived through but I know that to see so many smiling people~ I felt very impressed with their strength.
Country Pride on the Streets of the Capital
The most heart-wrenching destination I visited whilst in Cambodia were The Killing Fields …
Visiting the place I read in the books really spooked me and there was a real sadness to the air. The atmosphere was so desolate and peaceful and if it wasn’t for the signs, museum, and pinpointed spaces it could have resembled a green field. It was peaceful and a smell of spring came from the grass. The stories unsettled me though so I felt like ghosts were moving and the wind may the feeling of them against our bodies. There were signs where graves were places, a building with skulls of the dead and the museum showed images and details of what took place.
The strangest fact I found in the museum was that the Leader of the disgusting killing ground was buried in Cambodia. I did not understand why he was graced with a grave whilst he threw thousands into a pit in a mass grave to rot. It said his grave did not bear flowers and seemed unloved but I still couldnt understand it. I also was angry that he lived until 1995, and managed to reside in Thailand for the remains of his life. I don’t condone the death penalty but in this case I felt he shouldn’t have led a life after what he did.
After leaving the capital and returning home, I heard the news talking of the Khmer Rouge Trial. 2012 and the culprits of this mass murder had only just been put to trial. It was interesting to be able to watch it on the news but yet again I wondered why they managed to live a relatively full some life. It is sad that such things occur in the world.
These are cloth pieces from the clothing of the victims of the massacre. Most was collected from the grounds but still remains lie underneath the earth. It is said that when the rain falls the soil is removed and the old clothing comes up onto the surface.
What a sad tale, what a courageous community to survive and still smile..