As my double-decker bus steadily steams through the streets of Phnom Penh, taking me north to Siem Reap, I gaze out my window, absorbing the sights of Khmer life. Women, wearing colourful but non-matching skirts and shirts selling fruit on the side of the road, some holding young babies or toddlers playing around their feet; families gathered together eating lunch of rice and curry; motorbikes carrying one or two or three or more passengers whizzing past in the opposite direction; contrasts of golden temples, drab coloured low-rise buildings and french colonial architecture which, once across the murky Tonle Sap, quickly give way to simple thatched and wooden stilt houses amidst watery plains of green.
I try to imagine the passing landscape during the Vietnam War and under Khmer Rouge rule but my mind won’t let me go there, for the realities of that time are too horrific for me to fathom fully or even begin to visualise in a real way.
As I walked through the rooms of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was Security Prison 21 (S21) under the Khmer Rouge regime, my heart wept silent tears: looking at rows and rows of photographs of the faces of innocent victims taken when they first arrived there; looking at the metal framed beds that they were tied to and tortured in the most horrendous ways during interrogation; looking at rows of photos of lifeless faces staring at me; looking at cabinets full of skulls who were the fortunate ones to be shot through the head rather than being bludgeoned before having their throats slashed by a machete to save bullets.
Now as I write this, I fight back great big aching sobs, for the senseless pain these people endured and the loss of life for nonsensical reasons. I simply cannot understand how one human can intentionally inflict pain and torture on another for any reason. Worse still, in this time, where the Khmer Rouge atrocities are abhorred, how some of those responsible do not appear to feel any remorse.
I stared at a photo of a young Cambodian girl held at S21. In her young face, I saw mine reflected. In her eyes, lost hope of surviving yet alone realising all her dreams in life. In her down-turned lips, I saw and felt immense sadness. My heart weeps for her as it weeps for myself if my life were to end now without the opportunity to fulfil my potential.
As I travel around Asia, and see with my own eyes, poverty and the impacts of war, I become more and more grateful for being born in my body, to a loving family, in fortunate circumstances, in a peaceful country. Lest we ever forget past wars, conflict and genocides. May we all be beacons of love, peace, compassion and acceptance. May all that divides us dissipate so we can live the oneness that we are.