Friday, September 7, 2007

Killing Fields

If you ever get a chance to visit the killing fields of Cambodia, do. But know that the name is quite literal, and the experience is quite nauseating. I can’t write out the violence. I’m fairly certain that I couldn’t do justice to the graphic nature of the thousands of deaths, and it seems disrespectful somehow to try. Whole families were killed, mothers, babies, everyone. Few bullets were used. Gardening tools were less expensive.

In America, the whole site would be excavated. The remains would be tagged and stored away except for the few used in a memorial display. But this is Cambodia. Clothes, bones, and teeth still surface in the mud every rainy season. “That is bone,” said our guide matter-of-factly. Oh, that white hard stuff I’m stepping on. Of course it is.

It was a simple display, thousands of skulls piled up in a glass case. Life goes on all around. The sickening fields of bone and rubble are just a big stretch of land in the middle of rice patties that feed the still struggling country. It’s the same with the high school that the Khmer Rouge converted into a sinister prison where everyone was guilty on arrival and the punishment was always death. Now there are shops and houses and life happening next to this place where visitors struggle to understand the darkness.

To me, Cambodia is the place where dads rock little babies in hammocks. Where bus drivers play WWF videos to entertain their passengers. Where tourists from five star hotels roam through shops that sell Kate Spade purses. Where monkeys swing from trees in city parks. Where people smile and help and behave with the kind of grace that hides deep scars.

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