20. loka, 2016

Sadness in Cambodia

I'm sitting on a worn backseat of a tuk-tuk, with my partner practically glued to my side, watching the surrounding traffic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Taxi's torn tarpaulin is flapping in the breeze, bringing much needed relief from the humidity. The driver knows his city well and confidently makes his way through all the bikes and cars.
Despite its few glass skyscrapers, the overall image of Phnom Penh is still pretty grubby. The huge rubbish piles next to the houses, the loose tiles on pavements and the cracks and potholes on the roads, tell us, that we're still pretty far off the worlds top cities.

The tuk-tuk’s engine begins to cough, and suddenly it seems to loose power all together. Its usual hum turns into metallic clanging and banging. For the next few dozen meters our driver pushes the tuk-tuk along, until we get to a garage, of which there are plenty around here, thank goodness! After about five minutes worth of repair time we're safely back on the road again.

We arrive about 15km off the city centre, in a place of deep sorrow, that carries the name Choeung Ek; the death fields. We take a moment of silence to reflect on the endless cruelty of man. During the era of the red Khmer, in 1975-79, on this very field, thousands of people were executed in the most horrific of ways, including a huge number of women and children. The bones and skulls excavated from mass burial sites, scream soundlessly from behind the glass, beckoning us travellers to pause at the face of their fate. They remind Cambodia of the recent genocide, that saw the massacre of two million people, roughly a third of the population.

We walk around the area in silence, thinking about the horrifying stories of victims we heard about earlier today. We got to know a bit about the sad history of Cambodias recent years when we visited Tuol Sleng, a torture base located in the city centre, once used by the red Khmer, and also known by the code name S21. Cramped prison cells, cruel torture equipment and photographs of the victims faces were engraved on our minds, and I doubt we’ll be able to shake them anytime soon. We were moved the most by our personal encounter with Chum Mey, one of only seven people who survived, out of the 17,000 imprisoned there. Some of the prisoners died in Tuol Sleng, while being tortured, and others ended up on the backs of trucks, being brought here for execution.

On our return to the city we find ourselves paying attention to the people we meet in a very different way. As we chat with the locals it becomes apparent, that in the civil war, every family lost a loved one. What kinds of memories and feelings must there be, hidden behind the smiles we so often see on the faces of Cambodian people. Where does one find the strength from, to forgive and move on with life, when a recent enemy could now be one’s closest neighbour?!

In my heart I join the deepest wish of these people: “Never, again!”