By Chris Denning
The past few days our Sabai group has traveled to Cambodia! We arrived for our first few days in the bustling city of Phnom Penh. The city that holds just about 1.5 million, felt no bigger than a small town. We spent our first few days throughout the city, exploring the beautiful temples and the royal palace. We saw the extravagant Central market and walked along the beautiful Mekong river with all of its busy boats and all. Our last day, however, was a bit heavier on all of us. We visited Tuong Sleng (informally known as S-21) which served as a detention center for prisoners during the Khmer Rouge and to one of the 373 killing fields by the name of Chung Ek. A very trying day for our group emotionally, seeing the atrocities of the Cambodian genocide first hand. Below are some accounts from every group member, stating what stuck with them the most after processing what they had seen.
“Our guide was telling us that he was just waiting to die…he talked to his family every day saying ‘I do not know why I have not died yet’ He thinks everyday how lucky he is just to be alive.” Dominique
“When we went to Chung Ek, (killing fields) I was so annoyed hearing when Vietnam invaded, pushing out Khmer and Chinese regimes… and even the citizens were freed of Khmer rule, the UN still considered the Khmer Rouge as the as primary source of government. The Rouge was still able to send representatives to the UN and represent the citizens they continually oppressed. I found it very disrespectful.” Jeremy
“The tree that was used to beat babies against held from their ankles.” Ashley
“The fact that (S-21) was a school originally. It turned into a place of re-education and suffering.
Also, Seeing the pictures of just faces (of the prisoners)…because you know how they were treated and they were just thrown into the picture without really knowing what was going on and before they were tortured” Jon
“It was shocking the treatment of the women. I know how the men were treated horribly as well, but the women had to endure so much with terrible treatment.” Nitznee
“The fact that this place of torture and killing (S-21) was in the middle of the city…the tiles were scrubbed clean you could tell but there was stained blood underneath.” Alejandra
“Pol Pot was just…stupid. He had no plan for the future. It was just a diluted thought to help the nation when really there was no plan to fix it.” Ahmad
“We got the chance to talk to one of the survivors at the end and seeing his scars from being beaten. Although I could not understand the language (because it was being translated) I could see in his eyes the emotion and pain he bore in those words. It was very impactful being in the place of torture, but for me it was so much more emotional to see one of the survivors and talk with him” Carold
“What touched me most was seeing the detainment rooms for prisoners who were being tortured. They had a metal bed with shackles on it and continually tortured people in there to try to get answers out of them. You could just feel the bad energy in the room and the dark sorrow.” Chris
It was clearly a taxing day for the group as we saw many things that were difficult to witness. However, as a group we were able to understand how these atrocities happen throughout history and how important it is that they never happen again.
Next our group will travel to the river town of Kratie to be with CRD tours and see the Mekong dolphins!
After Phnom Penh, our group took an eight-hour bus ride to a small city called Kratie. Here our group spent our first afternoon relaxing in the tiny town and meeting with our guide for the upcoming days, Piyah. We embarked the following morning to head to a small island by the name of Koh Pdao. On our way to the island, we stopped to see how bamboo sticky rice is made. It was such a delicious snack and easily accessible. We then took a little boat over to the island and met with our new homestay families. This little island was home to about 200 people and they welcomed us into their homes with beds and bug nets (a necessity in South East Asia). In the afternoon, the group headed to the spirit house of the island and prayed for safety in our time there. After our blessing, we headed around a tour around the island to see what the beautiful island had to offer. The following day, we started by creating a planting bed for the chief of the village. Our group worked diligently to create a few rows of morning glory plants. After our time planting, our group had a relaxed afternoon before heading out on a boat to swim around in the Mekong river. We played in a part of the river with a slower current for a while and it counted for more than half of our group’s shower for those few days. On our way back from the river bank in which we swam, we stopped and watched the Mekong dolphins for a little while. These critically endangered creatures have two “pools” in which they are able to swim freely around and prohibit fishing within those borders. It was an unbelievable site to see a species with only 33 animals left of its kind in the wild. The experience was powerful to say the least. We got back to the island to watch a beautiful sunset across the river and have an amazing last dinner. We rode home on our bikes and had our last night with our homestay families. The following morning we departed the island to head back to our little hotel in Kratie. The group enjoyed a free afternoon and a group meditation in the evening. Next our group will head to the city of Siem Reap to see the amazing Angkor Wat!