The power just went out at the house where I’m staying in Kien Svay. It switched off in an instant, kind of like today’s weather. It was scorching hot and sunny until late afternoon, and then we tuk-tukked into a sudden raging downpour. Our driver stopped to tent us in like we were in a little carriage, then continued on, only protected by a torn up trash bag-ish poncho. Our tuk-tuk got stuck-stuck (see what I did there?) in a giant muddy pothole, and Barry jumped out in the rain to help push it out. I sat inside like the delicate flower that I am. But the important part is, the power is back on, which means the fan is blowing, and it’s possible that I won’t melt tonight.
The rainy Tuk-Tuk ride:
My first day in Phnom Penh was quite the introduction to Cambodia. I went to two genocide memorials, The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and S-21 (Tuol Sleng). At The Killing Fields, and audio tour guided me through the history of the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power and the ways they destroyed Cambodian society in the mid-70s. The Khmer Rouge’s leader, Pol Pot, had a vision for a completely self-sufficient communist society. Educated people, city dwellers, and anyone who questioned his authority were imprisoned (Many at S-21), tortured, and eventually killed and buried in mass graves. Over three million Cambodians died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, including women and children. The Killing Fields preserve this history. The mass graves are there. The trees where babies’ heads were smashed in are there. The sheds with weapons are there. And now there is a 17-tier Memorial Stupa full of victims’ clothing, skulls, and bones, serving as a reminder of what happened.
S-21 used to be a school. Pol Pot and his circle of leaders turned it into a torture prison. The rooms have been preserved as they were, many with small cells, enclosing prisoners in brick structures. There is a room full of the torture devices the Khmer Rouge used. There are rooms and rooms full of photos of every single prisoner who ever entered S-21. Of all who entered, seven survived. It seems unreal, but it happened. I wonder how many people back home are even familiar with this tragedy. I didn’t fully understand the scope of it until I saw it with my own eyes.
Cambodia is free now. It’s come a long way. Acknowledging and embracing the genocide as a part of its history doesn’t mean Cambodia is living in the past. It means that Cambodia is looking toward a brighter future. It’s the bright future I pray the women and girls here will someday be able to fully live out. One that is free of sex slavery, brothels, and oppression. (More on the girls in a bit!)
Tonight I was “Monsooned.” Mom-sung (Monsoon), the keeper of the Daughters House, swept in to take care of me as soon as I arrived in the rainstorm. She patted me down with a towel and gestured for me to empty my backpack. She offered me her flip flops, dried off a chair, and bent down to hug my torso, which made me feel like a giant. When I wanted to cross the flooded road to get to the outdoor kitchen area, she wouldn’t let me go anywhere unless I was holding onto her. She jokingly pretended she was going to give me a piggy-back ride, to which I responded, “I would crush you.” She doesn’t speak any English, but I’m positive we were on the same wavelength because she just laughed. She never sat down, never stopped. Mom-sung is the embodiment of a servant. She lives to serve the girls and guests. I wish you could all see her in her straw hat and basketball shorts glory.
I ate pork tonight for the first time in 16 years. I’ve limited my meat consumption to chicken and turkey since age 13, but I told myself I would do as the Cambodians do while on this adventure. So far, so good. No tummy rumbles yet! While I sat and ate with Barry, Sarah, Brooke, and Jeff, three of the girls came home to the Daughters House. They are so smiley and cute, and they all hugged and hello-ed me. Some of them speak a few words of English, so communicating with them is hard. I wish Google Translator included Khmer translations. (Are you reading this, Google? Get it together.) I saw their rooms and even caught a glimpse of a Cambodian horror/soap opera.
I left soon after with Sarah, a WND intern, to stay with her host family. Srey Leak, Sarah’s host sister, picked us up. Srey Leak is currently studying English, so she speaks very well! She is so sweet to Sarah and was very hospitable to us! When I arrived, various family members were around, including some adorable kids, but I’m not sure who was who. (Sarah’s not sure how they’re all related, either!) The tour began with Sarah’s room upstairs and then continued with the outhouse downstairs. Outhouse! It’s an all-in-one toilet and shower which involves a basin on the floor that looks like a urinal/sink combo and a faucet that pours into a bucket for showers and flushing. Also, the toilet paper in there was pink. I peed with some geckos, next to the chicken coops and a little frog outside. Pretty sure we bonded. (The following photos are Sarah’s.)
That brings me to the power outage. And now jet lag is coming to get me, so this is the end. Goodnight from a shared bed with Winnie the Pooh sheets and very sleepy Bender.