The first time it rained we were walking around the lake. Our audio guide piped in the stories of those who survived the era. The headphones had long since lost their padding and hurt my ears. I heard tales of death, rape, hope, torture, survival, pain. We sat in a small pagoda to seek shelter as the audio tour switched to a requiem written in honor of the Killing Fields.
As we were waiting out the storm, a young girl rode up on her bike; her father (or some older man) was with her. They pulled in and he began to do some small repairs on her bike as she sat across from us and looked out onto the water, first shyly smiling our way. I listened to the music, and then to more firsthand accounts of the genocide that was responsible for the lives of one in four Cambodians during the 1970s. I looked at the girl. I would have been her age – between 7 and 11 years old – when Khmer Rouge kidnapped its people and brought them here for their final moments of life.
How much did she know about her history, where she was? I looked at her father – what did he survive? How many family members did he lose? What does he remember? What brings them both to this place, which houses the memories of an error of complete terror for their entire nation? It’s possible they live on the grounds; I had seen primitive shelters around – home to those who serve beverages to tourists and otherwise work onsite.
The rain stops and we continue on the tour, stopping dutifully at the designated stations to listen to more history. I see bones sticking out of the ground as the audio describes how the mass graves have yet to be completely dug up. I cynically wonder whether those were placed there on purpose, then I decide it doesn’t matter. Chickens run across the mass graves despite signs instructing otherwise.
The tour ends at the monument where 17 levels of skulls and bones are on display. Each human remain has a color code on it to describe how the person died – axe, bamboo, having their throat cut with a palm frond. Bullets were rarely used because they were a precious resource not to be wasted on the death of these men, women, and children. Dave and I take off our shoes and buy some flowers from a vendor to place near the monument/resting place. The audio says tourists are allowed to take pictures inside, but it doesn’t feel right to me. Not that anything does. I settle for taking a couple of pictures when I leave the temple.
The second time it rained was when we were inside the museum, watching a documentary about Khmer Rouge, Pul Pot, and the decimation of an entire nation. I wanted to see this second storm as a form of cleansing for my soul so I could be freed of the heaviness of what I learned. I sort of tricked myself into thinking this way for a little while.