Phnom Penh – Part Deux. The Killing Fields…this is what most people think of when you mention the country, all the evil that was committed by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. These people have had it far from easy.
The tour started at S-21, a school that was converted in to a detention centre/torture factory. *do not read further if you are sensitive – skip 2 paragraphs** If you were sent here, and they barely needed a reason, you would be killed eventually – they had the gallows in the yard where people were hanged/drowned as they were suspended upside down above a pot of water and beaten. 5 rooms where the last torture victims were found – they had been handcuffed to iron beds and cut and beaten, sometimes shot or electrocuted to death - the floors were stained still. We saw photo’s of prisoners due to die, some smiling because they didn’t understand what was happening, most petrified, all the women with chopped off hair, right through to old men and little kids – all this was well documented. Phew. One of the oddest aspects I found was that this building was in the centre of the city and an ex-school!
We then made it past the beggars outside, possible victims from these dark times, land mine blasts or crippled men, to be driven to one of the killing fields about 30mins out of the city (there were multiple sites used) and we were given a tour. All around the place you could hear the distant laughter of school kids playing from up the road whilst we stepped between open shallow graves. A sign advised to look out for human bones as not all of them have been recovered. Bits of clothing poked out of the ground and we past a tree where babies were swung against to break their skulls before being tossed away, sometimes alive. Most of the time the adults had their heads caved in, sometimes they had their throats slit – our guide demonstrated that sharp coconut leaves can slice through plastic bottles, this is what they did. It was basically a factory line of death. The centre of the place was dominated by a solitary tall structure, filled with stacked skulls, where you could pay tribute to the dead. Our group were totally worn out emotionally, some needing time alone – the place was surprisingly serene at the same time.
**Back on the bus, the group were largely quiet when we pulled up to a small series of buildings about 10mins later – Kakada, our gude, had brought us to his home. He and his family run a school on a largely voluntary basis and he had arranged for us to come and ‘teach’ for an hour. We first waited for all the kids to turn up, they divided out in to various open classrooms (they all faced on to the one courtyard – quite noisy). One particular girl, full of confidence, came over and chatted to the group, even singing some of her favourite songs – I hear later, this was reciprocated in another class. The whole visit here was great, such a rewarding experience and the perfect antidote to earlier. These kids, some as old as 20, brought themselves here after their ‘normal’ school time to improve their knowledge, especially their English. They were positive, cheeky, playful, curious and full of energy which reflected back on to me and everyone who took part. We were split up to do this and some were quite nervous to be at the front of a class for so long – Sharan was back in here element! Great fun and a great way to finish such a day.