Tuesday, November 25, 2014

the killing fields

At the time of the war, there were 15 million people in Cambodia. 85% were farmers, 10% office workers and 5% other.  The Khmer Rouge, the governmental leaders, were well educated teachers, most receiving their degree in Paris. When they took charge they condemned education, and then annihilated the educated. Poetically, they used a school to house their prisoners. 

They wanted to start the country afresh. Year zero. The educated, the prominent community figures, those who disobeyed rules were nothing but a hinderance to thwart their new ideals. So they got rid  of them. 

1 in 4 individuals ended up being killed. By their own people.  

“Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake,” said Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge. 

Many were brought to the killing fields. 

Large speakers tied to trees blared propaganda music to cover the noise of death. But it could still be heard. 

Various methods were used to kill. Stems of sugar plan trees were used to slice necks, due to their teeth like jagged edges. 

Adults were hit in the back of the head, whether dead or knocked unconscious, it didn’t really matter. They’d be thrown into the pit in the ground anyway. Chemicals that were thrown on top of them would finish the job… and stop the stench. 

A giant tree stands tall in the middle of one of the fields, rope bracelets are tacked all over it. A sign of respect and remembrance. Infants were killed there. Soldiers would grab them by the legs, dangling the little one upside down.  They smashed their head against the tree and then threw them the opposite direction into the mass grave that lays beside it. 

When one member of a family was killed, the rest would be killed too - no matter their age - so on one would be left to seek revenge. 

“You feel so isolated - among your own people, even though you speak the same language. It’s the most frightening feeling of your life,” a survivor states. 

9000 remains were collected in 1980 alone. There are still fragments remaining in the ground. Bones continue to resurface even today. Every few months caretakers collect them and place them in a glass box - “it’s as if the spirits of those who died here do not lie still”. 

A woman survivor stated, “I’m almost 70 years old, and I understand many things. I understand about love. Love between a husband and a wife. Love between a mother and her child. Love of your neighbors. But I don't understand this. That is why I cannot talk about it." 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Promotor of Peace

At 12 years of age, Suon's parents were killed in front of his eyes. The soldiers who had done so recruited him as one of their own. He cried for three weeks until he was thoroughly brainwashed and numbed from the memory. He was then ready to fight.

A few years later he escaped the Cambodian army by serving with the Vietnamese. It was only when he discovered he was killing his own people that he cry again. The first time since his parent's death.

"And when I got out of the Vietnamese army I started working here," he explained.

"How did you get out of that?" I asked.

He rolled up his pant leg. A prosthetic leg leads all the way to his hip. "I stepped on a land mine."

His leg is the most important part of him.

"One day I woke up and my prosthetic leg was gone. I couldn't find it. I was in a panic. I cried and cried. My friends walked in and laughed, saying they hid it in the closet as a joke. I told them to never do that again. My leg is my life. Every night since then I've held onto it as I sleep."

He now tells his story at the Land Mine Museum in Siem Reap.

2.5 million mines are still hidden in Cambodia. About 12 people (primarily farmers) die every month from hidden bombs that have not yet been found.

Suon led us to a display of land mines, varying in shapes, complexity and material.

"And this one is the most dangerous of all," he said as he held up bomb in the shape of a wooden rectangular shaped box.

The wooden bombs killed thousands of children, in the early 2000's, who thought they were pencil boxes laying in the fields where they play.

"But I am not here to talk about war.  I spent my entire life growing up in the war.  I am very tired. We need peace in the world. That's what we must try to have. Peace." 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

History, in brief

I may have once mentioned I paid less than no attention in history class.  My eyes glazed over when trying to read textbooks filled with ancient dates of boring facts that happened in far away lands.  History was not my thing. I had no interest in learning about events that were not at all relatable. And I had the grades to prove it, much to my parents' dismay.

It's amazing what age and travel can do to broaden the mind and create a yearning desire to see, smell, touch and learn more about the places and events that are mentioned in those dry history books of my youth.

Angkor being a prime example.

So let's let the dry words of Wikipedia (my now go-to history book, regardless of its potential inaccuracies... because, let's face it, not being in grade school anymore means using whatever resource you'd like) lay out the brief history:
Angkor (Khmerអង្គរ or នគរ, "Capital City")[1][2] is a region of Cambodia that served as the seat of the Khmer Empire, which flourished from approximately the 9th to 15th centuries. Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world, with an elaborate infrastructure system connecting an urban sprawl of at least 1,000 square kilometres (390 sq mi) to the well-known temples at its core. 
In Angkorian times, all non-religious buildings, including the residence of the king himself, were constructed of perishable materials, such as wood, "because only the gods had a right to residences made of stone." 
The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the magnificent Angkor Wat, said to be the world's largest single religious monument. Angkor Wat [being] first a Hindu, then subsequently a Buddhist, temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world.