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Those who know me best would probably agree when I say I don’t often get emotional about things that don’t directly affect me or those closest to me. This isn’t because I don’t care about what goes on in the world, it’s just that I’m very aware of the horrific things human beings can inflict on each other and dwelling on that is just going to bring me down.
So, a trip to the killing fields in Phnom Penh Cambodia was little more than something to do in the morning before going for a nice lunch. I don’t mean that to sound heartless but that’s about the amount of importance I had placed upon it. I also employed my usual method of hiding any discomfort I feel with a situation by making stupid jokes about it.
A soon as we arrived, I felt that this was going to have more of an affect on me than I’d initially thought. There was a stillness and a quiet calm that seemed to permeate the air and I instantly knew that this place was going to affect me. Just walking through the entrance was enough to bring a lump to my throat and I could see I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. People seemed to be in their own worlds, trying to take in what they were seeing and hearing.
The “tour” for want of a better word includes a headset that gives you information about each point as well as some well thought out music and plenty of interviews with survivors and other people who have been affected by the atrocities that occurred here.
For those that don’t know, The Killing Fields are a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979. More information here
We we’re visiting the main site Choeung Ek where approximately 17,000 people were killed during this period. The tour takes you past areas where the killings took place, where prisoners were held, and the actual gravesites themselves.
As you walk around the site, you are reminded of just how recent these events were. Each time it rains, more reminders are brought to the surface; clothing, glasses as well as human teeth and bones. Looking at some of the clothing, you could imagine these people lives and the horror of their deaths.
The actual gravesites are now just grass and are roped off. A lot of the bodies have been removed for proper burial but there are 100’s still left here in underwater graves. For some reason, one of the graves sites had loads of butterflies on it. Make of that what you will but it did seem to be symbolic in some way.
As you walk around, you come to the back of the killing fields where this is a very peaceful lake. There seems to be a family living on the edge of it in a shack with a young child. Must be a strange place to be brought up.
The tour ends at the Stupa monument. This tall tower houses over 8000 human skulls and is perhaps the most moving reminder of what happened here on the whole tour. It’s kind of beautiful and draws you into it for quiet contemplation. I found it hard to walk away from.
Today, the killing fields strangely beautiful. They are a reminder of what happened, a memorial to those who were brutally killed and perhaps most importantly, a place for future generations to visit and educate themselves about how to ensure this never happens again.