Today we met a man whose life story will stay with us forever. Our guide in Phnom Penh , Bourtha, is 48 years old and lived through the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. When he was 7, both his parents were murdered by the regime and he was taken to a brainwashing centre (all children between 7-10 were taken there; younger and older were murdered if they were the children of ‘traitors’). At aged 10 he was given an AK47 gun and had to stand at the edge of a field and shoot prisoners who were told to run for their lives. Kill or be killed. He thinks he killed about 30 people and still suffers from nightmares today. In fact he has to sleep separately from his wife after accidentally beating her during a nightmare. He was so brainwashed he forgot his date of birth and it was his 14-year old son that was finally able to look it up at school and find out. I know I wasn’t the only one on the tour with a tear in my eye
He is a small man due to malnutrition suffers from diabetes and the effects of malaria and told us he still has no idea where his parents' bodies rest. He hopes the technology will be available to his son to trace them when he’s an adult.
The killing field we visited was one of 389 sites. 2.5 million people were murdered by the Khmer Rouge, 90% of whom were intellectuals. There’s no need for me to go into the horrific detail of what happened to them. What is always so shocking is the depths of depravity to which some humans will stoop.
This afternoon we tried to lighten our mood! We upped our carbon dioxide levels by taking a tuk tuk to the Royal Palace which is an architectural wonder. It is a bit galling to have to dress respectfully to enter, as the former king buttered his bread both sides during Pol Pot's reign of terror, did nothing to protect his people and yet they welcomed him back at the end of it all. His son is now king. The mind boggles.
As Bourtha said, there are 2 seasons in Cambodia “hot and bloody hot”. Today it was definitely the latter. A very sweaty day! We have just watched a lovely dance show by local children.
Sorry, not much to entertain you from today's stories but as Bourtha said, “Come, visit and learn but don’t let it ruin your day”. Such a wonderful guy. We we humbled to meet him.