Saturday, 5 March 2011

I-to-I day fifteen: The forgotten genocide

Saturday 5th March 2011 (I've now been traveling for 6 months)

MP3 track of the day: Tania – Enemy of the Gates

Weather: Hot, need I say more?

Last night Albert, for the third time, had reared his ugly head. I was too tired to catch him and I wished he, and his family (actually I hoped he was single) would just head off for a weeks holiday somewhere … anywhere. I fell to sleep watching the news.


I was downstairs, on time, awaiting the arrival of Sandy, and the Australian girl, for our visit to the Killing fields. Actually that wasn't true, I was early. I checked my emails before awaiting the girls arrival. Just like women all over the world they were late. We were suppose to meet at 8:30am and Sandy appeared at 9:00am. Guess what, this week the Australian girl was ill. She had swollen glands and hadn't slept that well the previous night. She didn't have to go to hospital and just wanted to sleep it off, therefore Sandy and I went to the killing fields. We found a tuk-tuk driver, bartered him down to $4 each, and off we went.

Choeung Ek, the name of the killing field, was 12km (just over seven miles) to the south-west of Phnom Penh. Due to horrendous traffic it took us quite a while to get to the killing field. Our driver, Nark, dropped us off at this huge gate and said that he would pick us up from there once we were done. We went through the gate and paid our $2.00 entrance fee. It was now 10am and it was getting hot. Fortunately there was quite a bit of shade within the field, due to the fact that it used to be an orchard. We walked towards this tall, white, building called the 'stupa' which, on closer inspection, housed thousands and thousands of bones. 8,985 people in total are thought to have died at this killing field and not all have been found. We decided to investigate the 'stupa' at the end of our trip; we turned right and followed the marked path.

We first came across five signs, written in English, telling us where the trucks full of victims would pull up, where the killing weapons were kept and where the poisonous liquids were stored (which were used to try to destroy the bodies to leave no evidence). We then walked around the field identifying pits where hundreds of people were massacred. There were glass boxes of clothes, glass boxes of bones, and trees (one of which was used to kill children buy bashing their heads against it and another was used to hang speakers to hide the sounds of the victims screaming) located around the field; all the time the 'stupa' was in full view.

As I walked around the field the impact of it, plus my reading on the subject, did make me angry. The 1975-1979 Cambodian genocide has really been forgotten by the international community. No scratch that, I wouldn't say forgotten but swept under the carpet. For example lets compare the persecution of Jews within WW2 and the Khmer Rouge regime. How many programmes are on TV about the Nazi holocaust, even now? The holocaust is forever pushed into the public eye through TV history programmes, never to be forgotten. And neither should it. However how many programmes are there on the Khmer Rouge regime? How many programmes on the 1.7 / 2 million Cambodians killed within a four year period? Not that many. What's more it has taken the international community thirty-two years to produce a criminal court to prosecute the main members of the Khmer Rouge, most of which have already died. If we apply the same length of time to the Nazi's, their trials wouldn't have happened until 1977. Now you may say that more people were killed within the holocaust than within the Khmer Rouge regime, and in one sense you have a point. However Pol Pot was responsible for killing 1.7 / 2 million Cambodians out of a population of just under 8 million, over an area of 181,000 sq km … that's around 25% (one in four) of the population. I wonder if the Nazi's killed that percentage of civilians living within occupied Europe. Now I'm not saying that the holocaust shouldn't be taught and shown on TV, what I'm saying is that there needs to be a balance with other atrocities within the world (including the tribal massacre within Rwanda).

We finished our walk and went up to the 'stupa' to have a closer look at the bones, clothes and skulls on display. Should they be on display? A difficult question to answer. After a quick look we headed over to the 'Killing Fields' museum which consisted of three rooms. The first room held the history of Pol Pot's regime and the parties structure. It also held weapons, clothes, photos and peoples remains from the site. The second room showed a film which was very thought provoking and well done. The final room concentrated on the present court case and artwork of the period. The museum was probably the best museum that I've visited within South East Asia; the content was just enough not to get bored and there was a good mix between photos, written and physical artifacts. Sandy finished viewing the museum well before me (I am a slow reader) and she waited for me. As I left the museum I apologized to her however Sandy said that was fine. As we walked back to our tuk-tuk I thought about all I had read, and seen, and I was content that the information supported the information present within the book that I was reading.

On the way back to Phnom Penh our tuk-tuk went a very strange way. When we pulled up we weren't outside our guesthouse. Nak turned around to us, a big grin on his face, and said if we minded waiting fifteen minutes for his dad to arrive to give Nak something. Sure we said, as we didn't have anything else planned for the day and honesty, I couldn't see that we had a choice. Nak's dad didn't take that long. Afterwards Nak said, as we had waited for him, that if we wanted to go to the riverfront … no extra charge. At first Sandy and I decided on the riverfront (to the 'Blue Pumpkin') however Sandy wanted to check on the Australian girl, as she had looked after Sandy last week. We told Nak to take us back to our guesthouse.

Once back I dropped off my bag and headed out to get lunch plus my treat. At the 'Blue Pumpkin' I decided to try the 'Death by Chocolate cake' again (as you can never truly judge the quality of a chocolate cake after only devouring one piece) and I was still disappointed. After lunch I headed back to my guesthouse to relax, read more of my book and chat to more volunteers who had just arrived today. I also booked my coach to Ho Chi Minh City for next week plus accommodation. I ate and just chilled for the rest of the evening.

Tomorrow the plan is to get up early and head to my favorite restaurant for lunch. I need to blitz my book and try to get most of it read. I'm still on target for getting it completed before leaving Cambodia.

Toodle Pip!

No comments:

Post a Comment