History teaches us that history teaches us nothing. I’ve long been aware of this but still firmly believe that if you find yourself in a place where unspeakable horrors took place, you should visit and tell your children and your friends, who should tell theirs. In the grand scheme of world politics this may achieve nothing, but it will at least keep the memory alive of those who suffered before you.
The day broke for my trip to Choeung Ek, perhaps it was apt that it was the only unpleasant weather day of the trip. The tuktuk arrived at the hotel as planned, an hours ride from central Phnom Penh and I was at the gates of a place I knew a lot about but was about to discover with my own eyes.
There is little in life more peaceful than an orchard, yet this place of mass execution and pits of dead bodies was once just that. Almost 9000 bodies were exhumed from this site, now a memorial to all of the dead of this period of Cambodian history.
Almost nothing remains to speak directly of what happened here, as soon as the Khmer Rouge were defeated and slinked away into the jungle, the locals entered and ransacked the place, taking anything and everything to rebuild their homes and their lives. You are accompanied by a small voice in your ear which you collect on arrival. You follow the numbered posts as the voice explains to you what took place here, or there. Your imagination is left to work, trying to piece together what the voice is telling you and what your eyes see.
The Tree. That will stay with me till my dying day. Its a well established fact that the acts of people in these times do not resemble the acts of the same people taken out of that situation. But, The Tree. a more base act I struggle to think of.
Walking quietly through the rain, I became aware of small pieces of coloured cloth, and fragments of bone sticking up through the ground.
These were living people not so long ago, and pieces of them and scraps of what they wore are still interred in the light brown soil. Rain and sunshine create movement in the earth, and remains come to the surface on a regular basis.
If you ever go to Cambodia, please, go to Phnom Penh and go to Choeung Ek. Then, when you return home, tell your children and your friends and encourage them to tell theirs.
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