Hundreds of scooters with families stacked on top, fluorescent lights lining the streets, street vendors lining the roads, moisture so thick you feel as though you’re swimming in the air, a complete lack of personal space.
Welcome to Cambodia!
After Cambodia’s warm welcome, we sleepily ventured through ornate royal palaces and ate traditional new flavors.
We woke up ready to start the day. But not quite ready for the history we were about to learn. After tumbling out of our bus to the S-21 prison, we were immediately struck by the somber atmosphere. We quickly learned that here, thousands of intellectuals and their families had been tortured and executed. They were sent here and forced to confess fabricated anti-revolutionist actions against the communist dictatorship, the Khmer Rouge. We ventured through the walls which used to be a school but what was in 1975 turned into a torture facility. The stark juxtaposition forced us to realize just how devastating, brutal, and all-encompassing this event was. We heard harsh recollections of families being torn apart, children being killed, and then mutilated. We were reminded that while we were able to leave this tragic site and remain relatively unchanged, the people who left here a mere 40 years ago will never be the same again. This left a haunting legacy that still affects every single Cambodian today.
We felt personally affected not only because of the powerful experience, but also because we learned that this regime was able to come to power because of American bombing here during the Vietnam War. We were surprised that this was the first time we learned about this tragic event. It left us so awestruck that our bus ride home was met with silent contemplation.
At the end of the exhibit, were quotes of survivors telling the lessons they want to pass to the younger generation. We thought about what we should do or what advice we would give after this experience. After some brainstorming we came up with some different ideas – respect everyone, learn as much as you can, be open-minded, think for yourself, and learn from the past. We realized that we are on this journey in Cambodia not just to act on these ideas but also to inspire and inform our actions and advise for the future. So we ask you: what advice do you give to the younger generation?
- The picture at the top of this post was from an exhibit at S21. It was written by a child who was detained there by the Khmer Rouge.