"It's up to history to judge."
- Pol Pot
In the summer going into my senior year of high school, I visited Cambodia, Le Royaume du Combodge or the republic of Kampuchea, where I discovered a rich history and witnessed, first hand, the aftermath of years of genocide.
A period in history known as the Khmer Rouge.
(TOP Left): tuk tuk taxi driver
(top): Portrait of our driver
Cambodia, officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochine peninsula bordering Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Once the site of the Angkor Empire, which dominated in the 11th to 13th century, Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1863 and would remain under French rule for nearly a century.
After years of oppression, the Kingdom of Cambodia claimed its independence in 1953 and became self-governing for the first time in 90 years. However, even after defeating the French, Cambodians still had a lot of trouble lying ahead and history would soon turn for the worst.
(TOP): Floating villages along the Mekong River
A BRIEF HISTORY:
In 1975, after the Vietnam War, a new regime emerged from the ashes and dominated in the fight against the free world, a force known as the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge otherwise known as the Communist Party of Kampuchea, was the communist movement in Cambodia and emerged towards the end of the Vietnam War. Led by political leader, Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge overthrew Cambodia's republic and military in 1975 and relocated thousands of its citizens to the countryside. Much like Chairman Mao's Great Leap forward, men, women, and children of Cambodia were forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods and move into labor camps where they would be put to work to form an agrarian society.
Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge did not tolerate resistance. Anyone who opposed the new Democratic Kampuchea would be deemed as an enemy, and anyone who was deemed as an enemy would quickly be eliminated. Over the 4 long years which marked the Cambodia Genocide, an estimated 1.5 to 3 million people died. Out of those 3 million, many died from starvation, exhaustion, and disease. Servicemen of the old military were tortured, educated youth were beaten, resistance group members would be put into prison camps, and millions of families would be torn apart.
Its odd to think that this part of history is not well known outside of Cambodia; but picture this, during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia's population was approximately 7 million people. After the genocide, the population decreased by one quarter of its original size. Today, the population of Cambodia is predominantly under the age of 30 due to ravages of the Khmer Rouge which wiped out an entire generation of ancestors.
"Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake." - Pol Pot
(TOP): 17 story genocide memorial
(each story is contained with the skulls of the deceased)
(TOP) Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
Counting from today, it has been 38 years since the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge but its after-effects are still apparent. For example, 70 percent of the present Cambodian population consists of people under of the age of 30 years-old, a figure that makes much more sense when we consider all of those that were eliminated during the Khmer Rouge.
However, even after years of aggression and violence led by the Khmer Rouge, you can't help to notice how people behave. You would think that a country so torn from oppression and violence would be extremely resentful but this is not the case. People in Cambodia are happy. They are proud of their country's journey as a nation and have extremely positive aspirations for the future.
Moreover, Cambodia is the home country to most of the N.G.Os in the world. More and more college graduates in Cambodia are getting social work degrees and young people are joining the cause to rebuild their country. Progress is being made. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it is an exciting time for the people of Cambodia. If you ever get the chance to visit this beautiful country, please take a chance to remember its history and value the progress it has made since its dark past.
(TOP): Man perched asleep next to King's peacock.
In Cambodia, we got to meet with multiple N.G.Os and learned about what they do to improve their communities. Today we met with the players at a soccer N.G.O where youth get to play on football teams and participate in tournaments. The goal is to help kids stay off the streets. Luckily for us, we got a chance to play with the players.
(BOTTOM: THE M.V.P of my team
(TOP) SILK WEAVING
Another N.G.O called Tiny Toones. As you can see, it's a breakdance organization aimed to help children stay out of trouble. Tiny Toones also provides grammar and math classes to students to help prevent them from falling behind in school.
Had some tasty adventures today. I tried tarantula, crickets, and fruit. Called me Andrew Zimmern ou nah?
(top): Sautéed garlic crickets
KAM PONG CHAM
Starting today for the next week, I am living in a small village hours outside any major city, in a province called Kam Pong Cham. Here like most places in Cambodia, life is simple. People awake when the sun rises and sleep when it sets. There are many animals here: chicken, ox, dogs, rats, to name a few, and they all make many noises throughout the night. I sleep on the ground, and I bathe with a bucket 4 times a day.
I'm not even going to mention my other restroom routines here, let's just say one bucket can become a man's best friend.
(Bottom): Boys n the hood
(TOP): ages from Left to Right: 5, 6, 12.
(LEFT): GrandMA (RIGHT): GRANDMAS BERRIES
Woke up and saw the sun today.
(BOTTOM): My friend walking to school
(BOTTOM): Entrance to village
(BOTTOM): Her Name: TAV Buoi
(bottom): School recess
(BOTTOM): Infamous mgamblers.
(TOP): He lines up to first base
(TOP & BOTTOM): girls playing with knives.
(Bottom): cleaning his cow
(TOP): RICE FIELDs
Last few days, happy to see Angkor Wat and ancient ruins.
faces built into the architecture dating back to the 13th century.
Unfortunately my camera broke halfway through the trip so I can't share everything I'd like to in this journal. Although, I want to thank you for the support and for your eyes if you made it this far down the page. THANK U.