To begin with, I’d like to apologize for my last post if it seemed like I was condemning Lauren and Josh for choosing to go be with their family instead of come to Cambodia. I was not undermining the severity of Josh’s (Lauren’s brother) illness in anyway, shape or form. If nothing else, I’m applauding Lauren and Josh for making the decision to be with family. I would have chosen the same thing. With that said, the team and I are still in constant prayer for their family and that Josh would be healed completely.
Today after we landed in Phnom Penh we had about 30-45minutes of downtime before we headed out into the city. Theara, our guide, took us to Bloom, the western market, S.21 (Tuol Sleng), and to a really cool place for dinner. I wish I could remember the name of it.
While I’d like to say something about everything from today, my mind really won’t stop focusing on Tuol Sleng.
As we pulled up to the school turned prison/death camp a lot of team members commented on the barbed wire still on top of the wall surrounding the compound.
I was looking at the building and thinking about how it looks exactly like the pictures I showed all summer at camp.
To go from talking about a place of mass death to walking around in it is apparently quite the shocker. But I can’t even get into that before I tell you about the children at the gate.
One boy. One girl. Both holding plastic bins with books and bracelets in them. They marched right up to us and gave us their very best sales pitch, certain that we would buy. They were wrong, and when we all declined they started to really push for us to hand over some cash for some goods. The little boy went straight for Jordan and said, “buy a book!” Jordan is great, if you don’t know him, and this was his reply: “I can’t read.” That little boy didn’t miss a beat when Jordan said that, and said back to him immediately “you lie. buy a book.” We laughed. The boy asked us if we knew Barack Obama. He may have also said something about Justin Beiber, but I’m not sure.
So we walk in. We disperse into groups. We roam the grounds. We read the signs in english, soaking up testimonies and personal histories and horror stories. They’re all similar — this woman was a prison, that man was a Khmer Rouge soldier; this man was a prison who found favor in the eyes of Comrade Duch, that woman escaped by a miracle. The same stories, over and over, and yet each story remarkably different and just as important as the last was and as the next will be. Individual lives, sadly woven together by one man’s thirst for power and perfection.
It was rough, walking around. I can’t imagine what it would be like to actually have been there between ’75 and ’79. It’s unbelievable the amount of pain and suffering that occurred in the rooms we just walked through. We walked. Took photos. Took videos. Journaled. Whispered to each other. Asked Theara questions, to translate some Khmer that wasn’t translated.
I can only speak for myself, I think. We all have different thoughts about what we read and the walls we touched and the blood we saw on the floor. Murder weapons sat on beds, torture devices on display. Photos of prisoners who died upon entry. Photos of tortured men and women. Photos of skulls stacked upon skulls stacked upon skulls. Photos of people being murdered.
I can’t begin to process this.
And then there are the children who play on the sidewalks of the city. I don’t know who they are, or where they come from, or if they have a home to go home to; but every time I saw a kid walking around or playing or sitting there on a step, I couldn’t help but wonder if they’ve been exploited or abused. I couldn’t help but wonder if they’re safe. Seeing them breaks my heart.
I hope Jesus comes back soon. There’s too much pain in the world.