MY THANKS TO CHRIS D AND CHRIS S FOR THEIR THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS WHICH HAVE GREATLY ASSISTED IN THE COMPILATION OF THIS BLOG, FOLLOWING A DAY WE WILL ALL NEVER EVER FORGET.
MARK: Daddy Longlegs – they give me the creeps!
They invade the shower at home and walk around the bathroom as if they own the place. I know they can’t hurt me, but I always have to ask Sarah, to “shoo” the thing outside, or down the plug hole. Joe’s the same – it must be something in the Bailey male genes.
You’d have thought then, that if somebody was to put a big, black hairy spider on my hand or worse still, on my head, I’d be bound to run a mile right?
This trip of ours is about discovery, understanding people from other countries, learning about their history and overcoming personal fears. So when Mr Ran said “fancy holding Lulu”, I initially thought he was talking about his dog, not a six inch, fully grown Tarantula! Another fear to banish, I had to do it.
This “opportunity” came at the end of another emotion charged day. Mr Ran and his family had just finished serving us a Cambodian “family” dinner. Our table of 16 (sadly Sarah stayed in bed at the hotel, still ill after five days), enjoyed beautifully cooked spring rolls, a delicious squid salad, freshly caught fish curry and flavoursome vegetable noodles. And for desert, the freshest juiciest pineapple you have ever tasted!
Cham, our Cambodian Guide, who has been with us for nearly four weeks, had recommended we visit Mr Ran’s house. So as a group, we piled on to four local tuk-tuks which can be best described as an articulated motor bike pulling a two wheeled chariot akin to Ben-Hur. Bizarre, but it worked, except when going uphill…
Our $10 (USD) night out included the return Tuk-Tuk journey, dinner and a couple of drinks. But as we learnt, Mr Ran did not pocket the profit. This wonderful man, born in 1970 had lost both his parents and two brothers to the Khmer Rouge in the dark days between 1976 and 1979. He now lives in five rooms, with his wife’s extended family of 30, having taught himself English from listening to overseas tourists as he drove them on his motorbike around the streets of Phnom Penh.
After dinner, he recounted his sad story. How he had survived with very little food during the Civil War – fried Tarantula’s providing a rare source of protein. Now as a Tour Guide, he was giving something back using the profits from the Group Dinner to fund the hiring of two teachers twice a week, to teach the local children English. The food we left (there was too much) was given by him to the local community, many of whom worked in the local “clothing sweat shops” where the Chinese factory owners pay around $2 for an eight hour shift. Made in China is now made in Cambodia… Don’t get me started on this particular subject.
This saintly man had us all enthralled as he talked quietly and calmly about his neighbours a couple of doors away who were active members of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot (his name means Political Potential)! He told us he knew they were murderers and were directly responsible for some of the terrible crimes against humanity.
I felt sick! Sick with anger. These people were still walking the streets. They were never brought to justice. They were barbaric killers, who simply went back to “their day jobs” once Pol Pot’s regime was finally over-thrown. They were living next door for God sake.
One of our Group, Chris D asked if he could “forgive” the murderers. Mr Ran answered with great honesty. I paraphrase. “Forgiveness is the wrong word. I accept what happened. If I kill him, then his children will kill my children. What is the point? What would it achieve, there is no point….” Asked if he would invite his “neighbours” round for dinner, Mr Ran firmly said no, “but I would do business with them as we are stronger working together for the country”.
Mr Ran had the heart and the bravery to break the circle of revenge. We toasted him with Tarantula Whiskey poured from what looked like an old Robinson Barley Water bottle, spiders floating in a grey murky liquid.
How Mr Ran could in effect turn the other cheek, I don’t know…
Earlier in the day we had visited two of the main crime scenes of the Khmer Rouge. Firstly Cheung Ek, known as the Killing Fields, some 15km from the centre of Phnom Penh and then on to the torture prison called locally S-21. We heard how Cheung Ek was just one of 387 similar sites found in Cambodia – SO FAR. Three million innocent babies, children, women, men brutally wiped from the face of the earth.
We were fortunate to have an excellent local guide in Mr “Lucky”, whose family had also been affected by the Genocide. He showed us the tree where babies skulls were crushed whilst their mother’s looked on. They were then raped and clubbed to death. We saw clothes from dead people on the ground, which Mr Lucky said “kept coming to the surface along with human bone every time it rained.”
Perhaps I should just let the photographs speak for themselves…
The Killing Fields Memorial, complete with thousands of human skulls was one thing. But in some respects worse was to follow, when we drove back to Phnom Penn to visit Tuol Sleng/S-21, the torture house and prison where many victims found themselves before being transported by truck to the Killing Fields. Sixteen thousand were housed there, tortured and murdered by “brain washed” guards who were typically aged between 15-21! Yes, you read right, just 15 to 21.
Amazingly I met Mr Bou Meng, one of two S-21 inmates still alive today, two of seven survivors from over 20,000 victims.
Mr Meng lost his wife, but survived because he was a wonderful artist. In the book – Justice for the Future – Not Just for the Victims by Huy Vannak – Mr Meng is quoted as saying “I am a victim of Pol Pot and I was able to survive because of pictures of Pol Pot…”
I bought his book and show shots below of his torture that he subsequently painted. But look closely at the photograph of Pol Pot. This is NOT a photograph of a photograph, but Mr Meng’s pen and ink painting. His great skill kept him alive….
Today Cambodia is a country in transition, but speak to people off the record and they are highly critical of their “elected” Government. From my understanding the last election was far from free.
In closing this post may I leave you with a little bit more food for thought as you eat your beans on toast or spider with chips this evening. Would you be happy if the man who was your current Prime Minister and who had been in power for over 25 years just happened to be a former Khmer Rouge Commander?