Along the river Tonle Sap in Cambodia still stands the Tuol Sleng prison, transformed into a genocide museum. In the 1970s the Khmer Rouge regime, headed by Pol Pot, executed about one million people. Thousands of the victims’ skulls are piled in tiers in a memorial tower. Black and white photographs of the atrocities line the interior walls of the museum. This place is a window into the darkest soul of humanity.
Kathleen and I visited Southeast Asia for a few weeks in early 2002. It was election season in Cambodia, and there were several political assassinations during our stay. The nation had not fully recovered from its violent past. Areas were still roped off with warnings of land mines left over from the civil strife and the war with Vietnam.
But it was more than stable enough for a visit. Life was not only continuing, but flourishing with the smiles and open friendliness of the people. The children running about had no memory of the horrors of the 1970s. The river life along the Tonle Sap was vibrant and bustling. People and goods flowed up and down this watery highway. People lived in riverhouses along the banks, children were rowed to school, boats plied trade. Buddhist monks visited the marketplace for new saffron robes and begged money for the temple.
Our band of western visitors crowded the deck of a boat hauling crates of produce and cooking supplies. The sun was warm and the air humid; but the breeze was cool and the scents of vegetation and fuel and fish mingled. It was a perfect moving platform to observe all the river activity.
Cambodia was reawakening at that time. It still is, and I read about their progress. The smiles and kindness there represent the humanity’s great hope