Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuol Sleng

While in Cambodia, my sister and the team visited Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh. 

Tuol Sleng is a former high school that was used as a concentration camp by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. Today, Tuol Sleng is a genocide museum. 

Out of the estimated 17,000 prisoners, there were only 12 known survivors. Only four are alive today. It just so happens that Morgan and Team Cambodia met one of those survivors. His name is Chum Mey. He was at the museum the same day that Morgan was, and thanks to an interpreter, they were able to hear his story.

While imprisoned, Chum Mey was beaten with bars, his toenails were ripped out with pliers, and he was given electric shocks until he lost consciousness. His life was eventually spared because of his skills in repairing machines.

Both his wife and child were killed at Tuol Sleng. I found this quote on wikipedia:
"First they shot my wife, who was marching in front with the other women. She screamed to me, 'Please run, they are killing me now'. I heard my son crying and then they fired again, killing him. When I sleep, I still see their faces, and every day I still think of them".

Can you even imagine? I cannot. 

My sister said that this encounter was one of the most moving experiences of her life.

Look at the picture of Morgan and Chum Mey. I know what you might be thinking, what's wrong with her? But put yourself in her shoes for a moment. 

You are in a third-world country, walking through a run-down and dingy building that was used to torture and kill innocent people. The torture included pulling out fingernails, searing with hot metal, suffocation with plastic bags, forcing victims to eat feces and drink urine, waterboarding, and rape. Prisoners were held to rules such as: While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all; Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting; If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many many lashes of electric wire; If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge. 

Then you meet one of the only four survivors alive today. A gentle spirit who experienced torture beyond belief and witnessed the horrific murder of his wife and tiny baby. 

You hear his story. Though in a different language, his pain is as evident as if it were in your own heart.

How would you respond? How would your heart feel?

Morgan's face tells exactly what she was experiencing. Tears and sobs underneath an attempted smile. 

Thank you, Morgan, for bringing back this incredible story. Thank you for taking the time to listen to him. Thank you, Chum Mey, for pressing on.