Cambodia: S-21, The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

“It is better to arrest ten people by mistake than to let one guilty person go free.”

Some things just stick with you. First the guy outside the front door missing a limb. This is Cambodia so my first thought is: landmine. The shock of him appearing right in front of me as I step from the taxi sends my hand to my pocket for a dollar which he quickly grabs. Immediately comes the banging of aluminum on the pavement from off to my right and with unnerving speed another maimed man, this one missing a leg, is upon me with his homemade crutch. And he’s pissed because I gave to someone else. He is aggressive and frankly, intimidating. I blow past him, feeling at once angry, nervous and guilty. A fellow traveler once told me long ago that she made a decision to just try giving a bit of change to anyone who asked while she was seated at breakfast at a sidewalk café in Mexico. It was like a feeding frenzy and she had to stop before she even finished her coffee.

As troubling as it can be sometimes, especially when faced with sweet children or deformed children, it is far better in Cambodia to slip some cash to one of the myriad NGOs working to run orphanages, train orphans for work skills, find suitable prosthetics for amputees, help street children or AIDS/HIV victims, and locate and eliminate the landmines that kill or maim hundreds of people each year (many of them children) long after the wars have been fought. Often these NGOs are operating shops, restaurants or hostels and a portion of the money you already planned to spend anyway goes to somewhere useful.

Anyway, the maimed man experience was troubling, but not nearly as much as the place I had come to visit. Something about “genocide” is always a little dark, don’tcha think? Take a school – typical concrete wall and tile floor, playground in the courtyard – and then turn it into a prison and torture facility. If you don’t know who the Khmer Rouge or Pol Pot were, you should. Rent The Killing Fields for cryin’ out loud (and you will be).

Inside the school/prison/museum are rooms full of photos of the people sent here, tortured and sent off to be bludgeoned or hacked or shot to death. It is a powerful museum filled with evidence of the crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge against fellow Cambodians. Much more than a blog entry; I will post photos and a bit more about the experience on The Mad Traveler website at: Phnom Penh’s Genocide Museum – S 21

It left me reeling amid anger, sadness, despair and disbelief.

Apparently the Khmer Rouge had this on their menu list of tortures. How interesting.

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