A Juxtaposed Christmas at the Genocide Museum

For those of you who celebrated Christmas, I hope it was extremely merry, and for those of you who didn’t, well, I hope you had a great week.

Over the holiday, I took an actual holiday from training. Some time completely off to recover from a couple of intense months of swim, bike and running. I was fortunate enough to explore a different country in South East Asia with my family: Cambodia. It is a truly fascinating country, with an incredibly rich history and just as interesting present.

Their civil war ended less than 40 years ago, within my parents lifetime which really put it into perspective.

To ensure we had a merry Christmas, we decided to spend the 25th at the S 21 Genocide museum in Phnom Penh, visiting and learning about what happened at one of the Khmer Rouge torture camps.

Perhaps merry is not the right word.

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Rules to live by in S 21

Room after room walls of black and white photos of the prisoners stared at us, the majority of whom had been tortured to death at the school turned prison facility. Many in such an emaciated and tortured state that they couldn’t open their eyes, let alone move.

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An interrogation room – or an old classroom

The most haunting room to me was the torture room, where the various methods used were described and in some cases depicted. These involved various insects in eyes, waterboarding, asphyxiation, drowning in buckets of faeces, to name but a few.

All five of us came out of the museum pretty shocked, and it’s fair to say that Christmas lunch was perhaps not the most cheery of occasions.

But what shocks me more than the gruesome truths of this historical event, is how little we have taken away from it. How today, many still believe that their life is superior to that of another human being. That they believe they have the right, nay responsibility, to ‘educate’ another individual through torture.

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Bringing a new meaning to a kitchen – or vice versa

I didn’t take history class beyond the age of 13, something I sometimes regret, but also think was the right choice for me. Rote-learning the various dates of various battles and events was just not very appealing.

To me, the syllabus also seemed to circumvent the fundamental point of learning about our history: what we did wrong, what we did right, and what we should endeavour to never do again.

It seems that many people may have taken history lessons, but did not take away the value of life, or are so miserable in theirs that they have no respect for another persons. After all, this barbaric behaviour is still happening today.

I guess what I’m saying is that as consumerist and commercialised this holiday season has become, we should use the time off wisely. Reflect on our actions, what we’ve learned over the past year, decade, lifetime.

What we regret most, what we fear most.

But also what we enjoy most, what and who we love most, what we could never give up and what we could never do.

Gain some perspective on life.

Put some meaning into our 2016 New Years’ resolutions, and not just what’s expected of us. But most of all don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself.

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Classic temple tourist photo in Angkor, Siem Reap

“Love your neighbour as thyself” – Mark 12:31

Over and out,

Imo xx

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Views over the Mekong from a pagoda near Kampong Cham

2 Replies to “A Juxtaposed Christmas at the Genocide Museum”

  1. Great piece of reflective writing, Imo. We recently visited a (former) Workhouse in Ireland. It served as a similar reminder that those who have ‘power’ – whether political, physical or financial – can use it to benefit the dispossessed of humanity. Sadly history shows again and again that these people use it to extend their power over and at the expense of those that don’t.
    This is why history is vital and is neglected at our peril. I’m with you: let’s remember the disgraces and hypo cracked of the past and try to avoid repeating them in 2016

    Like

    1. Thanks Andy, really appreciate your comments. As you say, evidence of such behaviour is all over the world and yet it’s still happening today – I think a dramatic change in human nature is needed to really overcome this behaviour, and this will only happen by a dramatic event. Maybe 2016 is the year…

      Like

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