Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cry, the beloved country

Today I saw the scars of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, and unleashed a campaign of genocide against their nation. When Phnom Penh fell, they rounded up all the teachers, professors, doctors, laywers, students, monks, anyone with any education. The city was literally emptied, as people were forced to march out into the countryside to perform labor. Meanwhile, the Khmer Rouge went about executing everyone. From 1975 until 1979, when the Vietnamese Army invaded to take down the regime, an estimated 3 million people were killed. This consitituted a quarter of the population. Horrific torture and rape abound, mass executions. They killed people simply for wearing glasses, as this was a sign of education. The Khmere Rouge destroyed everything in its path, monastaries, schools, whole cities.

I first visited the Toul Sieng Genocide Museum, also known as S21. S21 was previously a high school, and was turned into a torture facility and interogation center. The classrooms became jails and rooms of unspeakable torture. Rows of prisoners were shackled, beaten and killed. The Khmer Rouge used axes, hoes and sadistic devices on the people. The walls are still stained with blood. Over twenty thousand were imprisoned in S21, behind barbed wire and corrugated iron walls.

Then I visited Choeung Ek, the Killing Fields. Those who weren't killed at S21 were sent there. Over 86 mass graves litter Choeung Ek, with another 43 that are still untouched. Men, women and children were beaten to death, beheaded, drowned or buried alive. The Khmer Rouge didn't often shoot people, because they wanted to "conserve bullets."

It is a place of unspeakable evil. Choeung Ek is the most notorious, but Cambodia is littered with scores of places like it. Meanwhile, the mass graves are littered with pieces of clothing of the victims. In the middle of Choeung Ek is a stupa, a buddhist monolith that has rows and rows of skulls that goes seventeen levels high.

The South African writer Alan Paten wrote "Cry, the beloved country" about South Africa, but I will borrow it.

Cry, the beloved country for the horrors that poor Cambodia witnessed. Cry, because we failed you. Cry, for the men, women and children who were brutally tortured and executed. Cry, for the rape. Cry, for the horrors and misery. Cry, for the pain and suffering. Cry, for innocence lost. Cry, for the wounds that will never heal. Cry, for humanity.

Cry for the trees of Choeung Ek, that babies were hurled against. Cry, for the lake that became a watery grave. Cry, for the butterflies that flutter around the mass graves not knowing where they are. Cry, for beauty found in a place so defiled by evil.

Cry, for the children soldiers who were brainwashed into perpetrating these crimes. Cry, for the leaders who promised support, then left them to die. Cry, for the fools who said the Khmer Rouge were simply "left bank marxists" and could be dealt with. Cry, for those who knew and did nothing. Cry, for those who said "never again," only to see it again and again. Cry, for that lie. Cry, because it continues today.

Cry, because my words fail me. Cry, with my heart and soul. Cry, because I feel hollow and empty. Cry, because I know this feeling too well, as I felt it at Auschwitz and Birkenau, and at the Boer concentration camps. Cry, because I can't stop crying. Cry, because tears fall like rain. Cry, because I can't cry anymore. Cry, because there is nothing else to do but cry. Cry, simply cry.

1 comment:

rebenaomi said...

So let me explain the funny way that I found your blog- My grandparents are patients of your dad, and I guess my grandparents were talking about my summer in Cambodia and your dad said you were in Cambodia now and then gave them your blog to give to me.
I thought I'd post because I had a blog for this summer -http://rebenaomi.blogspot.com, actually- and I found out later that lots of people were reading it and I didn't know it. At one point, I actually considered stopping my blog, but I'm glad that I didn't.
Anyway, I went to the killing fields and Chung Ek as well, and it is really tough to see. After going to Choung Ek, it is hard to see the killing fields- my friend and I almost decided not to go, actually. It's craziness, and I definitely slept with the lights on for a day or two.
Another thing is that if you are sketched out by the lake area, I might recommend that you stay in a place near the river, because some are still quite cheap, and it's a nicer neighborhood. And if you want American food, there's a place called California 2 that serves a decent serving of fries in case you feel the need for them. (Sometimes Asian food can give you strange cravings, I usually don't like hamburgers and stuff, but I liked them when I was in Cambodia.)
Also, you should definitely try the fried spiders that you can get on the way to Ankor Wat if you stop. (they probably sell them other places as well) It's just so classic Cambodian.
And you should go to Aki Ra's landmine museum when you visit the temples because I wished I'd done that. http://www.akiramineaction.com/
Anyway, enjoy your time on vacation!