travel changes you

Last month on our trip, we spent over half our time in Cambodia.  Once there, we resolved to learn what had actually happened with the Khmer Rouge.  We knew it would be grim, but it seemed irresponsible and disrespectful to just sort of know that some kind of genocide had happened.

So we bought and read a few history books.  We went to the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh to pay our respects.  We hired a private guide.  She was in her early 40s, a survivor of the regime.  She broke down in tears by the end of our tour.

Here's an awkward situation:
"I'm so sorry.  I see that I should leave you alone.  ...Should I pay you now?"

Here's what feels tacky:
Handing four dollars to a woman who is sobbing over the death of her father, brother, and 1/4 of her country.

Okay, here's the point:
that was horrible.
Learning about the regime. Seeing its immediate effects. Standing in the rooms, walking past the graves, seeing the bones.  Seeing the victims.  Their faces in their mugshots after they'd been hauled in and they knew it was just a matter of how much pain before they died.
Hanging out with girls my age, then learning they grew up on the streets because their parents were murdered.  I could go on. There are things we saw that neither of us has been able to mention again, to each other, certainly not to other people.
It was horrible.

Here is my point:

I don't know how to deal with this. 

The play I'm in is set against the Lebanese civil war, and we're doing a lot of research on it. One actor brought in this image:

No one reacted very strongly.  A girl next to me said she loved his pants.
I wanted to puke, the violence and the reality of it upset me so much. I hate looking at it.
I do think that two months ago I would have known, in-my-brain known that it was real, but I still would have processed it as a scene from a movie.

The artistic director of this theater company I'm working with spent time working in refugee camps in the Middle East. I know I could never stop any of the suffering that's out there, but at least I could push back against it somehow.
or am I just trying to figure out how to deal with this in my brain?


DinaBear said...

A sad, beautiful post. People should know. Thanks for sharing Lacy.

Mary said...

This post really got me. Cambodia completely overwhelmed me. I did the same thing- I read a bunch of books and tried to make some sense of everything and I'm not sure how much it worked. I think what really effected me was that the Khmer Rouge was, in the grand scheme of things, so recent and in many ways Cambodia hasn't recovered from it all.

I remember walking around and thinking- I rarely see elderly people. Oh right- most of them were killed in a mass genocide. Then I wanted to throw up.

Yeah, I definitely haven't made sense of it. But thanks for writing this post.