It was a great challenge to walk up and down the halls of what was once a school. As a teacher, and as someone who believes in the goodness that can come from knowledge, to think that the sanctity of the institution of school was violated by the heartless leaders of the Pol Pot Regime, I felt violated. The silence of the halls, the remnants of a time not that long ago, the images, the stories, the tangible reminders of brutality, struggle and death cannot be denied. This episode in history has shaped the Cambodian people and their resolve, while this institution, as well as the Choeung Ek Killing Fields serve as haunting reminders of the almost 2 million people killed in just a little more than three years. As I was leaving Toul Sleng I had the fortune of being able to talk briefly with Chum Mey, a survivor of the genocide. A gentle, happy man, he made me smile. He gave me hope, because if a man can endure the horror he did and still be gracious and humble and smiling, then perhaps future generations can do better.
I visited the killing fields after visiting Toul Sleng, and there are no words that capture my emotions. I did not take pictures there because just as no words can capture the gravity of that site, neither can pictures. It is the kind of place that even on a hot, humid, July day still gives you a chill. As I toured the site and learned the stories behind it a knot settled in my stomach. An unexplainable pit of sadness, fear, disgust, horror, and anguish stayed with me for must of the rest of the day.