Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Morning Ritual

Today's ritual is a little different than most Sunday's.  Rather than picking two or three out of 40 or so Sunday obits I am thinking about 14,000 people that went into a place called S-21 and never came back out, never had anyone write an obit for them, say nice things, talk about their lives, list the people that were going to miss them.  

In October of 2005 I met up with Travel Chick and we went to Cambodia, we spent four days exploring Ankor Wat fulfilling a dream of mine.  Then we went to Phenom Phen.  I had planned the trip so that we would explore the city for two days and on the third day, I would leave and Travel Chick would see the Killing Fields and visit S-21.    

I know that some things are very important and we all need to see them and do our best to help them not happen again.  But, I can be quite shallow (yeah, I know you are surprised) and have skipped the Anne Frank house everytime I am in Amsterdam, not cause I don't think it is important, but because I am afraid of how I will feel.  So imagine my surprise when our guide in Phenom Phen decided he was going to shake up our plans.  We were going to the Killing Fields and S-21 that afternoon.  His reasoning was that these two places are very important to his country's history and we had to see them, but he did not want our last memories of his country to be these things.  He wanted to show us the worst first and then show us the best.  My mind was screaming nooooooooooooooooo, but I bucked up and went.  I can honestly say now that I am so glad I did and that I won't be skipping Anne's house in the future.

So, off we went to the Killing Fields and S-21.  S-21 was an old school a u-shaped bulding with green and black tile floors (I think) we walked thru the rooms an old iron single bed in each room, no mattesses, just iron frames with chains hooked to the legs, blood stains still on the floor.  It was quiet, so quiet I could hear my own heart beating, my own breath slow and shallow and my thoughts wondering how people can be so awful to each other.  But these little rooms where people were tortured and killed was not the worst.   The room with the tiny little cells where people were chained in little tiny spaces, they could not lie down, they could not stand up, they could not put their legs together, even this was not the worst.  

The worst was the room with the pictures.  The Khumer Rouge was really big on records, they took pictures of every single person that came into S-21 and they were on big boards in a room.  I walked thru and looked at them.  They had no names, they had numbers and they had faces.  The people behind the faces knew, they knew what was going to happen to them.  Some of them looked scared, some of them looked sad and resigned, some dazed.  As I looked from face to face I wondered who they were, what happened to the rest of their families.  Tears started slowly at first, I blinked to keep them from escaping, but they had a mind of their own.  They ran down my face and dripped onto the floor, I cried for all of them and for the millions of other Cambodians that never came home.

Today's Chron had a story about U.N. trials starting this month for the Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia and maybe now they will finally get their obits, I sure hope so.

1 comment:

D.D. said...

I read about the UN trials and thought of you.
I think seeing the shadows left by these atrocities can leave an impression that will last forever. And that's a good thing.