The Cambodian Temples located in/around Siem Reap are magnificent ruins with extraordinary detail. It is the Cambodian people however that inspire me most.
As part of Oakley’s homeschooling, we read a book on the Khmer Rouge, a Communist organization founded by educated idealists and Cambodian Nationalists that assumed control of the country in the 1970s. For 4 years, the Khmer Rouge conducted a country-wide “cleansing campaign” that resulted in the genocide of more than 2 million (roughly one in four) innocent Cambodian citizens.
In efforts to rid the country from Chinese, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese influences, families were lied to, separated, and in many cases killed. Education and religion were outlawed. If people weren’t savagely murdered for being too scholarly (doctors, engineers, teachers, students, etc.), or too spiritual (some 25,000+ monks were executed), or too social (gatherings were forbidden), they were forced to work 15+ hour days in agricultural labor camps. With meager daily-distributed food rations, those who weren’t tortured and murdered died from famine and malnutrition.
This happened less than 50 years ago. The generations who suffered and survived are still alive. And yet, the people today don’t like to discuss what happened. There is confusion as to why it was allowed to happen and why Pol Pot, the founder of the Khmer Rouge, was never held responsible for his crimes. Pol Pot, the very known individual responsible for genocide and the murder of millions, was, most bizarrely, allowed to serve as a Cambodian delegate to the United Nations, no less with the United States’ support AFTER (yes the world knew what he did) the Khmer Rouge lost power. Mind-blowing!!!
And yet Cambodian people thrive.
Overcoming that great atrocity is not part of their identity. It’s not part of their culture. It’s not part of their conversations. It happened and they moved on.
I think if my dad nearly died of famine, if my mom were brutally beaten, and if my two uncles were mercilessly murdered (as in the case of our tour guide with whom we spent two days discussing the topic), I’d be a little bitter. But yet he was full of grace and compassion, just like the others we met.
Perhaps it’s because 96% of Cambodia is Buddhist, and the founding principles of Buddhism are lovingkindness and compassion. With mindfulness, in place of suffering (the desire for things to be different than they are), there is acceptance. Remaking history is impossible. What happened is in the past. What happens today, what is happening now, it is that which is most deserving of our attention.
Thank you Cambodia for this gentle but giant reminder. Ant thank you for your gracious hospitality.