My throat filled with lumps as I fought to hold back the tears. Skulls and bones of children beaten and tortured lay on the ground. “When they are found, just pick them up and put them into one of the boxes designated to hold the human remains of the victims of the Khmer Rouge,” said our guide. These were the only words that kept replaying in my mind after the introduction of our tour. These boxes were randomly set up through the killing fields. Our tour guide told us if we found any clothing or bones, we are allowed to pick them up and put them in the designated box. Each one of these boxes read something different. The bones box, four example, read “Pieces of bones remaining after excavation in 1980.”
Were they being serious, I wondered? Did they actually want me to pick up the remains of innocent people that were killed in the Killing Fields? Have these people no respect? I have never felt so disrespectful in my life. I am not saying they are bad people. I just did not feel like I was being respectful. With each step I took, I knew I was stepping on the remains of someone. We walked through cemeteries where people who died in the killing field are buried beneath the earth. This was different because it was not the normal cemetery where a person walks on a designated pathway to visit their love one, veering off the path to kneel down in front of their families grave. I felt as if I was walking through the Killings Fields not caring if I stepped on someone’s loved one. I felt like I was being extremely rude but I was really showing respect in the Vietnamese eyes.
The mass murders that took place in the Killing Fields and the children slammed against the Killing Tree had turned into an everyday remembrance to the Vietnamese people, and in my opinion they seemed to have become numb to any feelings they might have had.
The images that were explained to us made me imagine vividly exactly what had happened, right where I was standing:.holding a child by the feet and slamming their heads against a tree, in front of their parent, only to possibly get information out of a parent. The idea was horrifying to me. Even though there is a memorial building, we were still out walking on top of unmarked graves. The more I tried to swallow, the bigger the lump became.
I have never been surrounded by death that had such a powerful sense of horror. As intense and emotional as the story made me feel, I could not imagine the horrifying feeling the people beneath me felt during those times.
From head to toe, I washed my skin with wet wipes as I quietly sobbed on the bus. I knew I was not wiping off the feeling of death. I was trying to rid myself of the horrific feeling of what those people experienced. The images have been permanently burned inside my brain, and I am not sure if I want them there or not.
“Please Lord, watch over the innocent people whose lives were taken by a monstrous group of men and bless the families they have left behind.” I prayed, as the bus pulled away, “May the world never know this sort of atrocity again, the atrocity of the Killing Fields.”
– Mackenzie Walsh