Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Caution: Heavy Posting Ahead

October 6, 2009
We left Cambodia 4 days ago, and I can't reconcile the disparity between the different things that happened to me. Was Cambodia good? Sure. The people were lovely: friendly, soft spoken, and "hello" or "thanks" got me a beaming smile every time. The Angkor ruins are grand. I felt like I was in a jungle-adventure movie when I was staring at the gigantic stone faces of Angkor Thom. And I had the best time cycling from temple to temple with Geoff on our rickety rented bikes. But Cambodia was also devastating. The proximity to brutality. The civil war ended just 10 years ago. The evidence is still fresh. I got so close to terror, so close to barbarism. Ya. I just can't get my head around it. I walked into a big room, empty except for the rusty wire frame of a bed and one photo on the wall. The picture was of a person found dead, on a bed, after having been tortured. Then I realized that I was standing 6 inches away from the very bed in the photo. Then there were rooms filled with hundreds upon hundreds of photos. The Khmer Rouge had the bureaucratic habit of taking a photo of every person they put in prison before they were tortured and executed by bludgeoning. At first when I was looking at the photos the feeling was familiar: the sadness and remorse of looking at yet another scene of human tragedy. Then I noticed one woman was smiling, defiant. What? Could I be that brave? So then I started to look at the pictures individually, and it got very personal, very close, very fast. Each and every single one of these people was murdered, brutally. Each with a different emotion frozen on their face. Despair was noticeably the most common. And it's all just so recent. Photos of Auschwitz are grainy and tattered. It puts space in the form of time between me and the violence, but these pictures are of the same quality as the ones of me as a little girl. The t-shits, golf shirts, and collared shirt aren't very different from what people wear today. When we were at a mass grave Geoff mindlessly kicked over a small white rock which turned out to be the tooth of one of the approximately 20,000 people murdered and left to rot.