June 3, 2010

to Choeung Elk or not?

while in Thailand i found a copy of First they Killed my Father a first person account by Louang Ung of the Khmer Rouge rule and her family's experience. it is not a pleasant read but it is very well written.

the killing fields of Cambodia are well documented and Choeung Elk is the most well known. it is a living graveyard where bones and teeth and clothes sprout up from the ground like grass would in other places. visiting the site is controversial with one side saying you must bear witness to the horror and the families saying this place holds the bodies of victims and is sacred.

for myself, i visit but i don't linger. i don't feel the need to walk on bones, see the 9,000+ skulls that have been collected or the tree marked 'against this tree the soldiers beat children to death to economize bullets' to bear witness to the horror of the Khmer Rouge. and it is horrific. i was prepared for most of what i would see but the sight of 89 huge craters that were the mass graves is a third dimension that has a big impact on me.

next i visit the school turned prison and torture camp inside the city. the horrors here were well documented by the Khmer Rouge and speaking from the dead there are rooms and rooms filled with pictures of the victims that stare at the camera with a full range of emotion.

these are leg cuff that immobilize the legs.  one set with a stake weighed about 10 pounds.  when the Vietnamese liberated Cambodia the Khmer Rouge killed as many prisoners as possible before fleeing but there were 7 people who were found alive. only three of them are still alive today and one of them was here the day i visit. he does not speak English and i was lucky to have met a Cambodian who was also visiting. she translated questions from several of us and he answers questions but after what he's been through the questions seem trite.  of course 24 hours later as i am sitting on a bus to Siem Reap i think of a few things i should have asked.

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