The Killing Fields – a sobering but necessary experience
I have been sitting here thinking long and hard about this post. Part of me didn’t want to write it or have to look at my photos again and I questioned even if I should have taken photos of such horror. But in the end I have come to the conclusion that it is a very necessary thing to remember atrocities and hold those human beings (just like me) in great honour for what they had to bare.
So this post comes with a warning that it will upset you and some of the images are disturbing but it is important to face the bad stuff, learn lessons and never forget but find a way to move forward.
This was another one of those days that took me back to being a teenager in the 1980’s and listening to my dad telling me about (and showing me disturbing images) of the killing fields as they were being discovered. I also vividly remember John Craven on Newsround (a British news program for kids) very carefully sharing the story in a way that children could grasp. I remember being speechless and deeply upset as the stories unfolded of what had been going on in secret and how ordinary people like me on the other side of the world had suffered so much. Again I have to say how grateful I am to my parents for not hiding truths from me and helping me to understand some very hard things I think it has made me stronger for it in the long run.
The Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre is not very far from Phnom Pen, surprisingly close really. Originally the area was a Chinese cemetery and this was the reason that Poll Pot (who became the leader of Cambodia in 1975) chose the site for the genocide that ensued. It would seem to me that he was essentially a mad man who had too much power that went to his head, and he was surrounded by yes men and women hungry for power and status too, I can’t think of another reason why someone would orchestrate such misery.
The image above is the memorial stupa built to house the remains of over eight thousand victims that were discovered buried in 129 mass graves all over this site. It is a haunting experience walking round the towering inside of the stupa and coming face to face with the skulls of those who died. It almost doesn’t seem real it takes some time to sink in, and kind of took my breath away.
The site has been very well developed giving a real sense of peace, respect and honour to those who died at the same time as sharing the awful facts. The site has the feel of a peace garden or well cared for cemetery which essentially is what it is. There are wooden walk ways to follow around the area to avoid walking on the undiscovered remains of anyone which gives quite a reverence to the place. There are examples of areas that were mass graves which are fenced off and the fences have many many bracelets hanging on them from visitors needing to do something in response to what they are seeing. I added my own that had been a buddhist blessing to me it seemed the right thing to do.
This tree is covered with bracelets in memory of the children that died against it. There is something even more sobering when children are involved. There are glass vitrines dotted around the grounds with fragments of clothes or bones that were found when excavations took place in the 1980’s. Looking at the clothes in particular is unnerving as they are contemporary to my life and I can imagine having worn some of them, which directly forms links in your head to the people who died.
Below is the tree that had a loud speaker hung from it that played music to cover up the sounds from the victims so that even the near by villages had no idea what was happening on their doorstep.
I will end with an image from the farthest part of the site that has been given over to a pond and lotus flowers are happily growing. A covered seat has been placed at the end so you can sit and ponder and take in the beautiful new life that has sprung up out of such devastation. I think that is the thought I should end on. There is always hope in the darkest of times and the human spirit is an incredible thing that will always rise again.