soo uh suh dei!
We met Sareth our new leader and went through some safety issues and stuff then the next morning left for the Cambodian border. This was a joke. We gave our coach driver our passports and 25 dollars for our visa then had to stand for over an hour waiting for our name to be called out for our passports back. The trip took about 7.5 hours to Phnom Penh. That night we ate at a restaurant that fundraises for a local orphanage. There is a real problem with homeless kids who get abused here (An estimated 20, 000 in Phnom Penh alone!) They try to sell you things, (anything from 5yrs old if that). One asked for my leftovers at dinner the other day as he was starving. It’s so upsetting. The poor families are very poor generally and have lots of children (-about 12. One family has 24!)
The following day we visited S-21 (Tuol Sleng) This was a high school which was then used as a prison during the Khmer Rouge years (1975-79). In power they carried out a radical program that included isolating the country from foreign influence, closed schools factories and hospitals, abolished banking and outlawed all religions. This resulted in massive deaths through executions, work exhaustion, illness and starvation. All doctors and any upper class were killed first (even famous singers and dancers). Cambodia had hundreds of these places, this one being the biggest, to torture and mistreat people suspected of not participating with Pol Pot’s regime. The prison has barbaric graphic photographs of the cruelty commited here as well as tools used for torture. They (like the Nazi’s) took photos before and after of their victims . There are rooms and rooms full of these black and white photos. Over 17, 000 people were held here and when the Vietnamese army liberated Phnom Penh (some Cambodians believe invaded) there were only 7 people alive here (3 who are still alive today). This was altogether a profoundly depressing experience and because it feels like a normal everyday school it makes it more horrific.
We then visited the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. This was once an orchard where about 17,000 men, women, children and infants who had been detained and tortured at S-21 were transported to be murdered. They were often bludgeoned to death to save bullets. (There is a “magic tree” which hung a loudspeaker to muffle screams and a “killing tree” where children were beaten against to kill them. They used to throw babies in the air so they could land on their bayonet.). They also used the branches of the palm tree there to cut peoples necks. The remains of 8985 people many bound and blindfolded were exhumed in 1980 from mass graves. The clothes are on display under the skulls and some scattered around the place still. 43 of the 129 communal graves here have been left untouched. There are hundreds of these sites in Cambodia and like S-21 which makes this all the more disturbing.It was called “year zero” when the regime took power and it is estimated that over 2.3 million out of its 7 million population was killed! Small children as young as 8 were made soldiers and were sometimes forced to kill their own parents. Our guide was taken from his parents at 6 and his parents had to work on a pig farm and were not killed so were lucky but his uncle, aunts and cousins were. He used to teach history but they don’t allow this period into the schooling so he now tells people about it by being a guide. Approx 50 % of the population is under 18 and although it’s not dirt cheap for westeners here it is estimated that 1/3 of the pop lives on less than 1 dollar a day.(The currency is riel but dollars are the unofficial currency and is issued in all ATMs)
That evening we travelled about 3 hours to Chambok to our homestay. The community was in the middle of no-where with no electric or running water. The family were nice and we all slept in one room (8) on a wooden bed with no mattress and didn’t sleep much (especially after our guide told us the families are ex Khmer Rouge soldiers brought from the jungle!) The next morning the locals were chopping up a cow and the head was just on the table. Locals would comes on bikes, grab a bit and drive off.These people seemed very poor (the kids were riffy). We had to walk down a pitch black track with a torch after meeting the others so was glad to be on the bus the next day. The food is ok (Unlike Ste i have been veggie since leaving England)…………………