Briefly, “Blood, brains and bit of hair”, was to be the opening line of this post, but I baulked at what seemed obscene in its deliberate intent to shock. The truth unvarnished should be enough. Staring at thousands of rictus grins and collapsed skulls I began to ask myself what I was doing here, what had I hoped for in coming here and what had I expected to learn? Was it not enough to know that many people had been murdered horribly in the Killings Fields of Choeung Ek. Perhaps to stand in the same place is to make it more visceral, more real, to feel something of what these people may have felt. The truth of the matter is that Choeung Ek appears as a pleasant countryside meadow cleared out of the surrounding brush. There are no ghosts here, it is the country of Cambodia itself that remains haunted and the horror is a living one. Children wander about at play in the fields but on approach can be heard muttering their quite under-breath mantra of “please give me moooney, please give me moooney, please …….. ” to the rubberneckers and various other assorted western gawkers, an unusually large number of butterflies flutter about in silence on the breeze. Pits, which are the sites of excavated mass graves seem to punctuate the area and small bits of bone litter the grass in places. On the surface it could almost be mistaken for a picnic zone.
“Brain, brains and bit of hair……” this was written on a sign next to a large solitary tree in reference to what was discovered on the trunk after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. It was against this tree that the executioners would hold infants and young children by the ankles and beat the life out of them. Maybe people need a visceral shock to imagine something so unfathomable. What we as a species are capable of is certainly worth being reminded of.
Over everything an elegant Buddhist stupa rises, its centre is hollow and stacked full of the shattered and fractured skulls of those executed here by shovel and hoe. The glass door at the base is slightly ajar as if to allow the skulls to breath in the heat of the day. Fatigued and dehydrated, in its shadow, dazed, I sheltered from the midday sun.