It’s been almost 15 years to the day I visited one of Cambodia’s notorious killing fields where the Khmer Rouge regime carried out its most brutal acts of murder and genocide. I remember entering the Choeung Ek killing fields which today serve as a reminder of the unthinkable cruelty of one of the most despotic regimes ever. What Cambodians have suffered in the past is heartbreaking. Every family has had someone who went missing or dead during Pol Pot’s rule in the country.
As I stepped in with my father, mother, grandmother (who had come to visit Cambodia) and sister, I felt an absolute uneasiness. In front of us was this magnificent stupa which disturbingly housed thousands of skulls and clothes belonging to those who had been murdered and then found in the mass graves.
The sight of the stupa is something I will never forget. Countless skulls facing a visitor soullessly, yet in a helpless melancholy manner not only made you think about the cruelty of man and how some people could murder so ruthlessly, but also made you pause for a while, and be thankful for the life you have.
There are no words that can describe the sadness of being there and seeing the horrors that the Cambodians had to face. It is quite unfortunate that Cambodia has been painted in a very negative light, particularly because of what happened during Pol Pot’s rule.
However, the truth is that in spite of the horrors the Cambodians have faced, they are very friendly people who are particularly inquisitive when they see foreigners. The Cambodian people love peace and harmony and love the little joys in life, such as the first rains, or even the subsequent ones. Cambodia is a very beautiful country, full of culture and historically important sites, which no serious traveller should miss.
I was fortunate to have spent close to 3 years of my life in Cambodia. My dad had shifted to Cambodia to work with Save the Children Fund, and obviously we (mum, my sister, and I) had shifted along with him. My sister and I started school in Phnom Penh.
Our journey to Choeung Ek may have been disturbing, but it was definitely inevitable.
A little further away from the stupa were large signs which explained what had happened in the pits they towered over. In one pit, women and children were thrown in and massacred, in the others, men had been killed. There were so many signs, and so many methods of killing that had been clearly mentioned, that I would definitely have stopped reading. I was more disturbed by looking at the ground I was walking upon.
Deeply embedded in the soil were fragments of clothes and pieces of bones. I remember thinking that I was stepping on what once were living human beings, and I cannot forget the uneasiness I felt then. When I went back home that day, I had this urge to dispose of my shoes. I could not bear the thought of walking on human remains.
I could not sleep peacefully that night. It was to be one of my early insights into what despotism and absolute thirst for power could lead to. And I will never forget that particular experience when I stepped into Choeung Ek and noticed bones under my shoes.
I was only 9.