Written while on location in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:
I have spent quite a few weeks studying to be in Cambodia – being as aware as I can be of the current situations in this country – while remaining aware of the social/political factors that have shaped its history.
In particular, I have been reflecting on the issues of Genocide that characterized the regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, particularly between 1975 to 1979. As part of our plans for shared time of peace and conflict resolution engagement in the land, we will be visiting the “museum” that commemorates the killing fields, as well as the “S-21” prison, now a museum. In these ways alone I have been prepared for the reality of death, gruesome genocide and terrible torture that has taken place in this land.
Our first day in Cambodia, having landed in Phnom Penh, we went straight to a tourist event – visiting the King’s home at the Grand Palace. Our guide told us his name was “Ritz,” and I thought as we walked through the Palace how this place looked like “the Ritz.”
From there, we headed out to a great buffet lunch, “all-u-can-eat” - noodles, meats, rice, potatoes, fruits. Our group ate and went off for another touring event – visiting the “Russian Market” – a series of interconnected booths with various wares for sale.
Not being much of a shopper, I stayed back at the lunch buffet.
I ordered a cold coke and placed my earbuds in my ear and powered my iPod.
As the sounds of soft piano played in my ears, I watched drips of water condense on my cold beverage, Phnom Penh was humid.
I looked across the room to the flat-screen TV and read the headlines listed in English, as the newsreporter shared.
“Libya’s Civil War”
“Somali Food Fight” leaving people dead.
“Syrian Siege” with a report of some 300 dead today.
As the chilled, carbonated, syrupy drink delighted my taste-buds, I realized I was listening to an album entitled “Escape.” Here I was – a rich, educated, privileged white-man – sitting in my isolated, Westernized, “escapist” head-phone reality – a cold coke to chill my body and quench my thirst,quiet music relaxing my spirit. And I was immediately existentially aware that in this same moment, in so many places in the world, people live now in the midst of trial, trouble, and tribulation.
I knew the S-21 prison was nearby – it is, after all, located in the heart of Phnom Penh. More than 17,000 persons, average persons who committed no crime and who had no secret allegiances – these people were stripped, shackled, incarcerated, and tortured for months – to death.
Just blocks from where I sat, only a few short decades ago – in my lifetime!
And in the same period of years, in my life, my country and my life has not experienced torture, genocide, civil war, food shortages, nor intrusions of conflict.
I wonder, “Do I live faithfully enough into the privilege I have been extended, to extend that privilege to other people?”
I will try to live my life in ways that are faithful and honest, kind and true, gracious and generous – in all ways extending peace.
Toward eupan ~
~ marty alan michelson, ph.d.