Saturday, July 12, 2008

Picnic and Tuol Sleng

I must say, I’m loving this team of mine. Every one of these guys is energetic, positive and adventure-ready. No whining, no kvetching, no moaning.

Not yet, that is.

If I keep up this pace, they might just rebel against me and kill me in my sleep. For Toby, Teddy and I, the day started at a jetlaggy 5am. None of us could sleep, so we decided to hop in the truck, head into the city and forage for food. We hit a bakery and a alleyway market and came back with pastries (croissants, flossy pork buns, pot pies, danishes) and fruit (rambutans, lychee, dragonfruit and a couple of things I couldn’t identify).

We brought the stuff back to the guesthouse, woke up the rest of the crew, had breakfast and headed off to Central Vineyard’s orphan home to play with the kids before the picnic,

Our trip out of the city, over the bridge, into the countryside, past the temple and to our orphan home was aided greatly by my wonderful GPS unit (which had not worked for the first day or so, but sprung to life immediately after Teddy and I laid hands on it and prayed for its recovery) and by the spirit of the living God who protected the Cambodians from my less-than-perfect driving.

Okay, I’ve learned to drive Khmer-style, but I’m a bit rusty, and this morning I borrowed the school’s minibus which, in addition to be huge, has a transmission that feels something like a toilet plunger in a box of mashed potatoes. Really not the easiest thing in the world, thanks to the nutty traffic which must be experienced to be believed.

We played and hugged and chased and sang for a couple of hours, and then we ate. Actually, we watched the staff prepare the food and then we ate. It was truly a feast – beefsteak, grilled chicken, shrimp, fruits, veggies, stir fries, rice – a sight and a taste to behold, made all the better by the wonderful company and the shade of our orphan home’s front porch.

We returned to the city after another couple hours of playing. We visited the horrific yet essential Tuol Sleng prison, where 20,000 political prisoners were tortured and interrogated before being executed at the nearby Cheoung Ek killing fields.

(insert full night of sleep here – I would finish the description, but I’m about to fall off the bed I’m so tired…)

Okay. Not sleepy any more. It’s 5:30am, and we have no power. The a/c is off, so it’s warm and muggy in here, and my laptop battery is where I was when I left off writing last night – about to die.

More about Tuol Sleng: the place is really awful, but seems somehow sacred.A sign at the entrance warning against laughing and roughhousing reads, “Prepare yourselves physically and spiritually to honor the souls of those who died unjustly.” Good advice.

The high school campus, which the Khmer Rouge turned into a torture center, now stands as a museum and a memorial to those who died after being forced to give false confessions to fuel the ‘moral authority’ of the regime as it cleared the country of its undesirables and dangerous counterrevolutionaries. And their elderly parents. And their children. Even babies.

The Khmer Rouge starved their prisoners. They beat them. They pulled out their nails, tore off their nipples, chained their ankles, burned their skin, broke their jaws, shocked them with electrical wires and forced them to confess to imaginary crimes. Oh, and they waterboarded them as well. And then they killed them. One after another. They even killed the babies. They crushed their skulls with rocks, swung them by their ankles and smashed them against trees, threw them up in the air and caught them on bayonets; it really wasn’t too difficult; by the time they left Tuol Sleng, they were mostly dead anyway.

Sobered, we retired to a restaurant across the street, sunk into our seats and just sat. As Toby said, “It’s not that I’m never going to process this, it’s just that I don’t have anything to say right now.”

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I'm so glad you're all getting along and keeping busy. We miss you! I'll keep praying for everyone's health and safety :).

Love you guys!!

Amanda