Armed with our face masks we sat in a tuk tuk caught up in a simple exchange. We weren’t quite sure how to feel about the sights that lay ahead. How do you confront evil when it’s starring right at you? How long does it take for the deepest wounds caused by genocide to heal? The Killing Fields. Exploring them and finding out more about the atrocities that happened there left me exhausted, with a weight in my chest and a lump in my throat. In the center of it all lies the memorial stupa filled with crusty decaying bones. Floors of bones, bones and still more bones. These images are an obvious reminder of those that suffered and lost their life, but also with some hope, are about something like this never happening again. Will it? An informative and well-made audio recording filled my ears with the facts. I could not digest the energy all around me. The pain I sensed smelled stronger than any decaying flesh ever could. The killing tree, the pits that were once filled with mounds and mounds of bodies. Just can’t wrap my head around the reason why? Large numbers of butterflies cheerfully dance in the greenery, masking the sorrow that rests in this ground. Would they still dance if they knew? Rainfall reveals more bones, more shreds of clothing, and more teeth that have been knocked out of screaming mouths. If these trees could talk, what tales would they weep to us? The dead want to keep us thinking, the dead won’t let us forget. A loud generator was the source of electricity that fueled the sound recordings used to muffle their cries and moans. Today they want to be heard and hope you are listening.
I almost stepped on someone’s teeth today. The jawbone jutting out a few feet away in the sandy soil. They lay there as if they had just fallen out of somebody’s pocket. By chance. Truth is, they belonged to someone’s brother, lover, friend, foe. A lost soul, swallowed in a pit of madness, forced to die among thousands of others buried there. Intentionally. Brutally. For over thirty years those teeth have haunted the dreams of an entire nation, now they will forever haunt me.
The tuk-tuk dropped us off at the Killing Fields just as the sun started to drop from its worshipped rise. The wind was blowing its cooling breeze in the 30 degree heat, and a mini tornado spun dust and bits of garbage off in the hazy distance. Children played barefoot with sticks, spitting distance from the entrance, their dirty faces silhouetting their big brave smiles as we walked by. “Hello,” they said, as they often do. Reflecting the smile back to them, “Hello.” Their game continued, and they chased each other off into the setting sun. I on the other hand was feeling uneasy. We were stepping into the dragon’s lair. One of the most evil places on Earth.
The site itself was haunting. A bone chilling reminder of the horrendous choices human beings can make. A place where thousands of innocent people were viciously executed one screaming soul at a time. The guided audio tour was excellent and offered deeper insight into the lives that were taken there. Bits of cloth protruded from the ground all around the site, matted into the grass and tangled in tree roots. This was not garbage as the audio tour mentioned, but pieces of actual clothing from the victims who rested there. The earth not willing to digest it, preferring instead to churn it back up, lest we never forget. It’s a place that could make you want to give up and then inspire you to take on the world all in the same breath. The stupa in the centre of the site filled with bones and hundreds of skulls provides hope and inspiration to the Cambodian people to keep moving forward, and live their lives to the fullest. This couldn’t be more apparent in the million smiles you see as you walk down the street, or drive past on the highway.
I saw them from the bottom of my eye. They stopped me dead in my tracks. I didn’t know what else to do but stare. They were human teeth. In that moment of a thousand thoughts, I realized how lucky I was to be there, how lucky I was to be me. Just plain lucky. After all of the hardship, the Cambodian people have regained their identity and a collective smile fuels the country. They have slowly risen from the ashes to become some of the most amazing people I have had the opportunity to encounter. I am humbled. I have nothing to complain about. Ever. I need to be happier. Always. I need to love with all of me. Truthfully. The Killing Fields stole my heart, but the Cambodian people filled me back with love.
P.S. I find it curious however that the Cambodian Government has rented the area to a Japanese company to run and maintain for the next 20 plus years. Somehow I can’t help but think that any profits raised should go back to the Cambodian people, many in desperate need of basic supplies. Puzzling.