It’s a happy week, this lead up to No.1 son’s nuptials on Saturday. There’s lots to do, what with the reception happening at home. I’ve a lot of jobs to do and while I do them I listen to the radio. It’s full of the constantly moving story that is Afghanistan. The BBC interviewed one Afghan who twice since 14th August has been told he and his family can join one of the escape flights and twice told his application has been rejected. WTF. These stories are heart wrenching because we all can’t really believe the Taliban will be any better than before. As I listened my mind drifted back 4 years to a holiday in Cambodia. On our last day we visited one of the notorious Killing Fields. This is what I wrote then…
We travelled to Cheong Ek, the Genocidal Centre based at one of the Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields that is a memorial to the thousands killed there. It is a peaceful place, full of shading trees, blossom, butterflies, hens and silent people. So silent. Everyone is alone in themselves. Children and teens take their time, they are beyond fidgeting, understanding perhaps this is a special place, through the body language of their carers. It hollows you out, this place, in the functionality of what transpired every night under cover of darkness and loud revolutionary music.
Bullets weren’t used as too expensive so any instrument was pressed into service. Even a stout tree. The Killing Tree. But for the fact every piece of bark has a hair band hanging from it giving it a jolly rainbow appearance it would be unremarkable. Yet it was here that children, small enough to be picked up and swung were killed, brutally often in front of their mother’s before they too were killed. Pol Pot killed families to stop any familial revenge. ‘To kill a tree, first you must dig up the roots’. One of many sick slogans we heard. Truly it beggars belief.
I wandered back to the Stupa monument. It is a simple shrine of classical proportions with Hindu and Buddhist iconography built into the decorations. But then your eyes adjust.
You see the metres high glass sides filled with skulls. When you see them you cannot look away. Hundreds of them, catalogued by age and sex. There are other bones there, clothes too, not that you see them. How can you move beyond those staring, deep sad empty eye sockets, still asking why.
If not now, when? If not me, who?
I admit to a tear. Several. So many questions but mostly why do we still do this to each other? We need to teach how this terrible event came about, alongside the Holocaust and Rwanda and Srebrenica and the other genocides. It is the creation of the conditions that is so appalling, just as much as the killing itself. Unless our young people can see the path their leaders might be on, how can they stop them? It is already too late when the terror has taken hold; frankly most people would find it hard to resist the basic kill or be killed requirement of these regimes, when they have become established.
Do not let governments, in our name, align themselves with killers, for ‘strategic’ reasons or any spurious justifications of short term political expediency. It never leads to good. The reasons are rarely, if ever, sufficiently compelling. And stop selling arms, period. Because others do, why should we?
Have we just abandoned the Afghanistanis to this fate? History suggests it could well be some version of it. But then I wrote…
I remain amazed at how Cambodia is dealing with its past. The world should revere the tough determination of this harshly treated yet hardy people to be themselves and achieve reconciliation and acceptance on a personal level despite what every family hereabouts suffered.
It’s sometimes bloody difficult to be an optimist but if there’s a nation of optimists on this planet Cambodia is in the top three. I think at heart I’m one third Cambodian (the rest being one third loon and one third Labrador). It’s all that keeps me plodding on.
Today I feel sad, sad for so many people now terrified about the knock at the door the hope of some sort of free future disappearing in a military transport plane. We need to do better. I don’t have any answers but we need to. If our cherished freedoms are meant to mean anything we can’t just ignore what happens elsewhere. Especially when we’ve managed to help create the conditions. I’m also hopeful, ever hopeful. Sometimes that’s all we have, too.
In my case I also have Dog…