Our driver, Vita, showed up after breakfast today. Vita doesn't speak a lot of English and his tuk tuk is pretty old, but we liked having him as a driver. The drive out to the Killing Fields took close to an hour, wandering through Capitol traffic. He drove us through the government section of town; many of the ministries were housed in buildings on one side of the road and a number of embassies (Thai, Japan) were on the other side. The streets are a cacophany of bicyles, scooters, Japanese economy cars, and Lexus SUVs. Oh, and lots of tuk tuks. Despite the crazy traffic patterns, Vita navigated it all and got us to the site.
The location typically referred to as the Killing Fields by tourists is actually only one of 100s of sites that housed mass murders and mass graves for Pho Pot and the Khmer Rouge. His desire to remake Cambodia "for the people" involved killing anyone with an education or any money or any knowledge of what else he was doing. One quarter of the population of Cambodia is supposed to have died either through murder, over-work, poor conditions, or preventable disease during the years of the Khmer Rouge.
The site is not quite what I expected. It has shallow depressions everywhere which we found out were the remnants of mass graves. Most of the bodies have been removed, but they still often have bone fragments, teeth, or clothing work their way to the surface during the rain. The care-takers are diligent to take the artifacts and save them, the only tiny way they can honor their lives.
We were provided an audio guide to use to find our way around the site. We listened to story after story of how people were grabbed and torchured. Young men were coopted into the army with promises that they would get revenge on those horrible city dwellers and they would become wealthy. When many tried to escape back to their farms, they were killed as ruthlessly as the teachers, actors, writers, and politicians. Bullets were too expensive, so mostly people were bludgeoned or hacked to death. Babies were bashed against a tree before being hurled into open graves with their mothers.
My eyes were not far from tears during the entire time. Tyler and I both felt like we needed to see this, but neither of us had much to say afterward. How can people be treated so heinously?
We saw museum, a school that Pho Pot concerted into his own interrogation and torture center in Phnom Penh. The rooms that had been built for education had been bricked in as tiny cells. We read the stories and saw the pictures of hundreds of men, women, and children who had suffered and died there. Most were Cambodian, though a few foreigners including 3 Americans were killed there as well.
Needless to say, today has been a harder day of the trip for us. Perhaps we will remember this one longer, but not because of the positive experiences.