The Killing Fields

March 5, 2007 - Phnum Pénh, Cambodia

From Seim Reap we flew to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Our tour guide arranged dinner at a fellow tour guide’s house. Rarn’s family is one of seven families living together. He started a school to teach children English for free at his house 1 hour per day since they do not learn it in school. So for 5 US$ each, his wife prepared a buffet-style feast for us. First we talked with the children learning English. They were all very friendly and excited to practice what they had learned. A student learning for 5 months went through the basic drills of telling me his name, age, etc. Another boy pointed at pictures and informed me they were a rabbit and a fish. A boy studying only 1 year read an entire English passage from his book. These children started school without knowing a single word of English. We were very impressed.

Then we sat on the floor in front of our place settings and the father introduced us to him family of five and his wife brought out the food. Spring rolls, fried banana, rice and curry, fish soup, beef and noodles, and stir fried vegetables. She even made 4 vegetarian dishes because there was a vegetarian in the group. After dinner he told us about the Cambodian people, their hardships, how corrupt the government is, and about his story. It was quite an eye opener. He talked for about 45 minutes and with a lot of passion. I doubt I can do his story justice, but I will try to convey what we were told and share it with you at the end of this journal entry.

The next day we visited S21 and the Killing Fields. S21, or Security Office 21, was a schools turned into a jail during the genocide in Cambodia from 1975-1979. This is where the prisoners were kept and tortured before being talking to the killing fields to be murdered. At the killing fields infants and children were smashed against trees or tossed onto bayonets as to avoid wasting bullets. Bodies were separated into different ditches: women, men, children, bodies without heads, bodies without clothes. Precise counts needed to be sent to Pol Pot to report progress. That night we met the group for a few drinks. I guess Terry and I had not had enough history yet because we left early to see a documentry Pol Pot: The history of genocide at a bar named "Mekong River". The bar had a really cool mini theater upstairs with stadium seating for about 20 people.

[Terry]
I always assumed people begged for money to buy drugs; at least to buy something other than food. I bought a bag of biscuits walking to the bus with Bo, our tour guide. As usual, many vendors selling gum or postcards for a dollar circle your path to the bus. One the way back to the bus, this one guy missing an arm, kept repeating something in Cambodian. I asked Bo if he is asking for money. Bo said that if I want I can give him money, but the guy was asking for something to eat. I think the only time I was hungry was when I was too busy to grab something between my schedule or when I was eating small salads during bikini season in order to lose weight. I am not sure why but I couldn’t really look at the guy; maybe I am trying not to stare at people without limbs but I think I am avoiding situations that make me feel uncomfortable. Like just changing the channel on TV when you don’t want to see something. So I gave him the bag of biscuits. The guy thanked me profusely and while he was holding the snack and I realized he was also missing a leg. I wish I could have made an eye contact even though that would have made me cry...

[Rarn’s Story: Corruption in Cambodia]
Rarn, being a tour guide for Intrepid, the company we are touring with, said we have probably seen a lot of pretty sites in Cambodia like the temples, and seen the friendly Cambodians smile at us as if they were happy inside. He said inside Cambodians are actually very sad, they have many hardships, and their government is very corrupt. Then he told us his story. He always wanted to be an Engineer but diddn’t have enough money for school. He left his home town and couldn’t return until he was self-sufficient. If he had 500 US$ he could have become a policema. Without any training. His salary would be about 50 US$ per month. Rarn did not have the money, and so he became a moto driver (local taxi driver) for Cambodians and saved as much as he could school. One day he picked up a passenger, a tourist, who noticed his English was very good. He suggested that Rarn write, ‘I speak English’ in big letters on his hat and drive exclusively for tourists. He did just this and was able to make a lot more money and was grateful. Another day he picked up a passenger that worked for Intrepid. They ask him if he wanted to be a guide, and so he was able to make even a better salary. In the mean time he was marriage and supporting a family. One day while driving with his little girl, another motor bike driver hit a car and careened off into him. He and his daughter were hurt, his daughter with blood coming from her ears. The hospital asked how much money he had. He said his wife would bring money, and pleaded to just please take care of his little girl. He was told to call his wife and get the money and was left waiting in the lobby for 30 minutes. In the mean time, his Intrepid tour group had heard about his accident and gathered some money to help him out, 100 US$. When his wife arrived the nurse took all the money they had, 120 US$ total, and after cleaning the cuts and scrapes on his face, she looked at his daughters ears and said she needed to go to a better hospital because her injuries were too serious. Of course, he didn’t care about his own injuries, just his daughters treatment. So he had to bring his daughter to another hospital for treatment. He had no more money. He said, Intrepid helped him out, and in the end he paid 800 US$ for extremely poor treatment. He went back several times because his dislocated shoulder had not healed. He was told he needed an operation which would cost 250 US$. Not being able to afford more treatment his dislocated shoulder is now somewhat deformed. He says he still picks sand out of face from the site of his wounds. The man the caused the accident was caught and a police man told Rarn to come down to the station. The man appologized for the accident and the injuries and pain it had cause. He said he was poor and had little money. He was able to scrape up 100 US$ and offered it to Rarn. Rarn explained that his bills totaled 1000 US$ and the man simply said I have no more money, so please ask the policeman to arrest me and take this $100 and that he was truly sorry. Realizing that arresting the man would not help, Rarn took the money and let the man go. The policeman brought Rarn’s bike to him which had been stripped by the police of the petals and other parts that could be sold. Then the policeman demanded 20 US$ and a thank you for his services. Rarn having no choice paid the money, and worse, he said, having no choice thanked the policeman. The remaining 80 US$ didn’t even cover the cost of restoring his bike.

Pictures

Children learn English
Torture cell
Photos of prisoners
Survivors of genocide
 
 

2 Comments

Wendy and Michael:
March 6, 2007
Hey guys! We are really enjoying your pics and videos! The spider video was a little freaky... yuk. We miss you. Take care. XOX's Wendy and Michael
dan:
March 8, 2007
the reason the viet namese are aggressive is because when Americans were there the army would never say no--an american soldier is highly paid so he would spend $ freely so they are used to that.
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