I actually didn’t think I would be writing this post because up until this morning, Al and I had decided that we weren’t going to bring our kids here. We would talk about what happened, but we thought it might be too much to see in person. As it was, the Royal Palace was closed when we arrived and our tuk tuk driver convinced us to go.
My closest friends know my parenting style involves being open with my kids. I never shy away from questions, and the kids know that Mommy will always tell them the truth (although Daddy may tell them something different). Knowledge is power, especially for girls in today’s world, and I’m making sure my daughters have the information they need to grow into strong young women.
When it came to the Killing Fields, Al and I agonized over whether we should go. We read that bone fragments are still resurfacing, and we thought that maybe we should skip the graphic part of Cambodia’s history.
The girls had heard about the impact of the Khmer Rouge on Cambodian society the night before through the folk dancing, and we felt that this was enough to realize that something really bad had happened here not too long ago. But fate had something different in mind.
The Killing Fields are located in various sites around Cambodia where approximately one million people were executed and buried by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. About 20,000 mass graves exist, but we visited the most famous one located at Choeung Ek just outside of Phnom Pehn.
Today Choeung Ek is a memorial to the tragedy and a place of remembrance for Cambodians. The site includes a Buddhist stupa in which human remains are interred. The stupa contains 5,000 human skulls that bear the evidence of the violent end of 17,000 men, women, children and babies.
When we arrived it was strangely quiet. Visitors receive an audio tour of the site, so everyone was wearing a headset and listening intently to the information.
It was sad to learn what had happened and to see the evidence of the mass graves. The stupa containing the skulls was horrifying knowing that these people were murdered, but it wasn’t any more scary than the catacombs in Paris or the weird arrangements of bones that priests did in South America.
Offerings left at different grave sites give a feeling of remembrance. My cover photo shows bracelets attached to a fence surrounding one particular grave, silently communicating that the victims will never be forgotten.
A spirit house is located near the back of the site. Stemming from animistic traditions, the house is intended to provide shelter for spirits that might cause problems if not appeased. Offerings left at the house are to quiet the spirits, and contribute to the overall feeling of remembrance.
I’m glad we took the kids to the site. We asked them how they were feeling afterwards, and they said they had learned a lot. Claire pointed to the elephant on her hippie parachute pants and said, “Look Mommy, he’s still happy after all of that!”