Overnight bus rides. Oh, joy. We left Siem Reap around midnight to take a bus ride to Pnohm Penh at 5:30 am. A bumpy road, a hard mat, and some picked up hitchhikers led the way. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. It wasn’t a blast but everything is an experience and that was a first. Melatonin and some earplugs managed to rock me in a constant lullaby, so sleeping wasn’t too much of an issue. I suppose if it were, then maybe I’d sing to a different tune.
We arrive in Pnohm Penh as scheduled, just not where scheduled. You see, the bus was supposed to arrange to take us to our hotel. The bus driver was clearly swangry (a word we made up to describe being swampy hot, hungry, and angry) and didn’t care where we needed to be or when. He wanted us off of that bus right then and there.
Eventually, two tut-tut’s (taxi), a hotel, and an hour later, we made it to where we needed to be. Sleepy, moody, and swangry. We have breakfast at GReen Pasture Inn, a story to come later, and then travel to S-21.
To little surprise, I’m sure many of you reading this would not know who or what the Khmer Rouge was. Unfortunately it’s so because of the limited and biased history education we receive. However, sadly, the events expelled by the Khmer Rouge are not too far in our past. From 1975-1979 the Khmer Rogue operated as the ruling Cambodian party. Communists by definition, the Khmer aimed to establish an agrarian society by executing forced labor, malnutrition, executions, mass killings, and torture. What began as an attack on the educated and artistic class turned into a mass genocide harming at least 25% of the population.
S-21 was formerly an old high school and turned into a torture house and prison. In the four years of horrific operation, some 17,000 people were killed. At any one time, there were 1,000-2,000 people held captive. Prisoners were tortured, threatened, and had to witness atrocities of family members being killed and tortured in front of them. Methods of torture including retelling your autobiography and any time you mentioned a family member, someone recorded their name to go find them and bring them in as a prisoner.
Of the 17,000 victims, three survivors are alive to retell their story today, two of which we had the honor of meeting. Chum Mey and Bou Meng both have written autobiographies attempting to capture the horrors they faced. Bou Meng was kept alive because his captors felt his artistic abilities were something to restore. In his biography he tells storied of a method of torture. Prisoners were asked to defecate into a small hole, if they missed, they had to lick up the residue. Bou Meng also tells the story of his wife being killed and him hearing her yell for mercy. Graphic details are far and in-between what I’m able to articulate, however, I highly recommend doing some research on this topic.
After S-21, we went back to Green Pastuer Inn to learn about Kone Kmeng, ground partners that we would be working with while in the Svay Rien province. Without getting into too much detail, because I know it will be far more interesting to see the company in action on the field, Kone Kmeng began with a few strong visionaries sparked by a single dream in the middle of the night. Kone Kmeng’s original goal and dream was to help the children of Cambodia. With missions to help children at risk, they’ve also managed to help relief and development assistance, children’s prayer movements, and a dorm ministry program. We would be learning about the relief and development assistance.
Overwhelmed with all that was soon in store, we head to The Killing Fields. An emotionally riveting, disturbing, and powerfully rich preservation of the atrocities imposed by the Khmer Rogue. The Killing Fields hosts a number of mass grave sites where over 1,000,000 people were killed. We decided to tour the fields at our own pace without a guide. Reading the signs you learned the ways that the victims were killed. One of the most chilling scenes is “The Killing Tree”. It was here that executioner would pick up children by their ankles and impail them against the trees until they were dead. The silence in the air was filled with so many thoughts and voices of the victims that passed. Innocent deaths flooded the fields. As we walked around I soon noticed that we were walking amongst the bones of the victims. Being such a large site of a mass killing, not all of the bones were excavated.
As tears rushed down my face, I questioned humanity and became disgusted with evil that can preside within anyone. With even the smallest ounce of power, that evil can manifest and wipe out a population. Members of their own nationally wanted, and felt absolutely no remorse, with wiping out their own race, their own brothers and sisters. How deep can the seeds of evil plant themselves within an army of sick minded individuals? I also began to question why the U.S. felt on one end, no need to intervene, and on the other end, no end to educate about this atrocious event. I muddled the thought over and over and came to a conclusion, it did not involve us so why should we involve ourselves? However, it’s completely okay to involve ourselves in an attempt to end communism in Vietnam and have a similar effect on the destruction of a population at the Khmer Rouge had. *Sigh*