Friday, February 10, 2012

Pol Pot

       Before I came to Cambodia, I had heard of the Khmer Regime and their leader Pol Pot.  I knew that his leadership and goals resembled someone like Hitler, but I did not know the details of it.  I was only 5 months old when his reign started and was just over 4 years old when he was overtaken (April  1975-Jan 1979).  There were Cambodians who had miraculously snuck over the border to Vietnam where they received help from the Vietnamese Military and were able to run him out.  Amazingly enough, Pol Pot escaped to the middle of the jungle and surrounded himself with land mines--no one was able to get to him to arrest or execute him.  He died of a heart attack in 1998.   He was an incredibly hardened and evil person. 
             S-21 was the name of an interrogation prison as well as a torture chamber.  This is where people were sent if they had been in leadership positions in the military before his reign.  They were there if they had family members who had been in leadership positions.  They were there if they could read or if they wore glasses.  They were there if they were educated or if they felt that they were a threat to Pol Pot’s power. Over 20,000 people were sent to this prison for 3-6 months at a time to get information out of them. Only 7 survived to tell about it. (One of which was there and we got to meet him)

Botevy’s father was killed because of his ranking in the army.  Before he was killed he told his children to act stupid.  He told them to pretend they could not read.  Botevy’s mother acted crazy for the full 4 years to spare her life--  she should have been killed as well because of who her husband was.  Pol Pot spared no one.  He even killed members of his own family if he thought they were a threat to his power. 
         There were hundreds of other prisons spread out all over Cambodia, but S-21 was the worst of them all.  We left our younger 3 children home because we had heard that it was quite graphic.  Botevy decided to come with us.  I was so glad that she was coming, but also nervous for her as S-21 used to be her old high school.  This would only be her second time going back in over 30 years.  We went by Tuk Tuk and arrived at a typical school building right in the middle of Phnom Penh.  When Pol Pot took over he had the entire city of Phnom Penh evacuated.  Millions of people were forced out to the country to work in Pol Pots “work camps.”  Within 3 days Phnom Penh was a ghost town, with only prisons left.   The once bustling streets of street venders, children, mopeds, cows, water buffalo, cars, horns, and people were now silent and empty. 
         We walked through the doors to an open courtyard.  I felt my stomach drop.  You could just feel a sort of eeriness in the air.  I kept glancing over at Botevy making sure she was okay. 
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We hired a tour guide to take us through and walked into the first classroom that was turned into a single cell torture/interrogation room.  There was one rusty metal bed and a toilet box.  On the wall there was a picture of that exact room with a man on the bed dead after he had been starved and tortured.  It was not easy to look at.

             Your mind wonders instantly who could ever do such a thing to another person.  The hardest thing for these people is that this genocide of killing 3 million Cambodians was done by one of their own.  This was not done by an outsider.   Pol Pot was a fellow Cambodian killing his own people for no reason. 
            As the tour guide was speaking to us about how brutally they were treated I noticed that Botevy was not in the room anymore.  When we walked out I saw her standing there looking out at her school wiping her eyes.  I went over to her and put my arms around her and just held her as she sobbed in my arms.  Oh how my heart ached for her.  She whispered in my ear that 3 of her family members had died here.
            I just cried with her and told her how sorry I was.  It was a solemn experience to be in that moment with her.  I knew all that she had been through in her late teens during Pol Pot’s regime was coming back to her.  I am sure she was remembering how it felt to have her father killed and to be torn from her home and separated from her family.   I am sure her feelings of being woken up every single morning for almost 4 years at 3 am to work in the rice fields and labor camps under the hot sun until 8pm at night and given only 1 bowl of rice a day to eat was fresh on her mind.  The feelings of not having a change of clothes, being forbidden to talk to anyone, and wasting away to 88lbs was a memory she did not want to have in the forefront of her mind..  I thought to myself, “Bless her.  Bless her for being able to forgive and not have a bitter seed in her heart.  Bless her for sacrificing the rest of her life to help children in need.  Bless her for moving forward and not looking back.”   
        She took a minute to herself while we continued on looking at all of the different preserved rooms with horrid pictures on the walls. 
Babies were torn from their mothers and either hit against a tree or  thrown in the air  and shot

 Botevy soon joined us again and we walked into a “classroom.”  It was divided by brick walls that were no more than 3 feet by 6 feet.

 There were probably 8 cells per room.  There was still blood smeared all over the ground.  It was explained to us that they were beaten with hammers, hoes, picks, and shovels.  Alcohol was poured into their noses with a tube.  They were handcuffed to the sides of a wooden box with water in it.   They had to hold themselves up.  When they became too weak to hold themselves up anymore they would drown.  Their fingers were clipped off with pliers.  Their nails were pulled out with pliers.  They were starved.  
          They were handcuffed with their hands behind them and then hung from an old exercising bar until they lost consciousness.   They were then dipped into a large barrel filled with fertilizer and sewer water until they came to.  I just sat there with my mouth open wondering who on earth thought of these things and who on earth could do that to another human being.            
           We were then explained a little bit about who the people were who carried out these orders.  Pol Pot went out to the small provinces and countryside and recruited uneducated 14-15 year old boys to join him.  They were then brainwashed over and over again until they also became cold and disheartened.  So sad, and so unfair.  They were killed if they refused to follow, they killed others if they joined.  A no win situation for these confused boys.
This is how young the boys were carrying out these orders

            We walked into another classroom and Botevy told us that this used to be her classroom.  She had once run around these halls with her friends and now they were covered with barbed wire still left over from the regime.  I can’t even imagine that.  I tried to put myself in her position.  I imagined myself walking into good old PV High after it had been turned into a torture prison and remembering how three of my relatives had been killed there.
Unbelieveable.   I admired her courage, and after touring the whole facility I realized even more how hard coming here must have been for her.  I wish I could adequately describe all the pictures, the tools used to torture them, the inhumane way these people were treated.  This happened in our lifetime.  
The list of rules when they were brought here

Some of the remains that they found here when Pol Pot was taken over

  After we left there, I had a new respect and understanding of the Cambodian people.  Their sweetness, their hospitality, their genuine love for others took on a whole new meaning for me.  My admiration raised 100%.  How could people who had been through such a horrific experience still be so good?  Everybody lost family members.  Everybody lost friends.  Everybody had been affected.  Botevy said that may times to us.  "We all went through the same thing."  No one escaped Pol Pot.
            I hope this post was not too graphic.  I actually censored a lot of what was there.  But, there is another piece to the story.  It is that of the "killing fields."  We went there after visiting S-21 and I will write about it in my next post.   As horrible as it was to go to S-21 and learn about this genocide, I am grateful for the experience I had there.  A new respect and love formed and I walked away filled with a new reverence for the Cambodian people.       

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Life is all about people

       I am so behind on this blog.  There are at least 10 posts that I need to catch up on!  Between the power going out all the time, being gone helping the orphans, cooking for 15 people with no oven and a camping stove, doing laundry and hanging it all out to dry, homeschooling, doing seminary, teaching pre-school, and hand washing dishes--there's not a lot of free time! But, we are loving every minute of it.  I mean, really loving it.
       I want to take a minute and just share some of the feelings I have felt here in Cambodia.  It is hard to put into words how being here, surrounded by so much need, affects you as a person.  I have always had a soft spot for those in need.  I remember being very young traveling somewhere with my family and seeing beggars and not being able to eat the food in front of me because I felt so sad.  I remember sneeking away and buying a couple hot dogs and running it over to a man who was begging.  I remember being at In N Out Burger and seeing someone begging on the corner.  I said I had to go to the bathroom, but I took my food outside and gave it to the man on the corner.  My appetite would just disappear.  I still have to hand out money to people on the street whether the sign they are carrying is true or not.  I don't say that to have everyone think I am some Mother Theresa, because I am nothing close to that.  I say that because I think that feeling of concern, a yearning to help, and a desire to make a small difference in someone's life is innate.  We all have it.
     One of the most endearing traits of the Savior to me is how he ministered to the people.  He lifted up the downtrodden.  He spend so much time with those who had no hope but in Him.  He taught so perfectly by the way He lived His life that the purpose of life is to help others.  It is about being present in the life of someone in need.  It is about forgetting our own needs and focusing on others.  Life is all about relationships.  Relationships with family, neighbors, friends, strangers, teachers, grandparents, acquaintances, co-workers, and little ones.  For the Savior it has always been about "the one."
      Being here it can be overwhelming because everywhere you turn someone is in need.  It is easy to get discouraged and say, forget it. I'm not going to do anything because it won't make a difference.  The other day we were driving home from the market after getting food to feed our hungry kiddos at home.  They were all hungry, but they would get food that night.  We stopped at a red light and there were cars and mopeds speeding all around us with not much order.  About 3 children came up to our car and were begging for food.  They were barely dressed and dirty and were so incredibly cute.  I got out some baguettes we had just bought.  I handed each of them one, and before I knew it there were 15 kids all with their arms in my window saying "Please sister, please sister."  We had bought 15 of them so I was handing them out as quickly as I could but then the light turned green and the driver started moving.  The children were running next to our car still wanting something, anything to eat.  I kept handing them out until they could not keep up with the car, almost getting run over.  My heart broke as some went away empty handed.  But, we did help some and I knew I would help again.  I just have to keep telling myself that so my heart will recoup after an experience like that.
       It makes me want to really do something to help the many children here.  I found out that there is a man here who everyday serves breakfast and lunch to 350 homeless or needy children.  Those children most likely do not go to school because they can not buy a uniform or the needed school supplies.  That is what is stopping them from going to school and being able to change their life.  When I think about putting a foundation together to provide such basic things to help these children, I say to myself, "Why not?"  Maybe that is why we were led to Cambodia in the first place.  (I'll write the story of that when I get a minute.)  I feel like in America we have so many resources to be able to  make it happen.  We can combine forces, share contacts, and find philanthropists who want to help, but don't know where or how.  America has been hit by the economy, especially where I live in Idaho, but when you contrast it to what you see here there is absolutely no comparison.  There would never be children wondering the streets begging for food.
       We met a boy yesterday named Kavich who came to the orphanage.  Matt spent some time talking with him and assumed that he had come from a wealthy home because he was attending the University here and knew English.  Matt asked why he was at the orphanage and he said that he likes to volunteer there because he had been so blessed by others in his life--he wanted to give back.  He came from poverty and a lady from Vermont sponsored him and sent him to school.  Her gift of sponsorship to him changed Kavich's life forever.  One person blessing the life of another person.  Who knows how far reaching it will go, because he is now an educated Cambodian giving back.  I love it.  Couldn't we all do something like that?  Botevy said that it costs about $150 to sponsor one of her orphans for a month.  She only has 2 sponsored, there are 28 more.
 Look at those faces!!  Chenny, Monte, (Olivia), Sarong, and Selena.  I'll keep you posted on the sponsorship opportunities :)