(Saturday) We woke up and packed our bags to head for Phnom Penh. I was sad to leave Mach and Siphen's. They are two incredible people with so many admirable qualities. I have felt like a part of their family while staying with them. We were all sad to go. On our way to the city we stopped at a silk shop. There are former sex trafficked girls that work here. They are taught how to weave beautiful materials and given a better life. It's amazing to see organizations like this. Not only are they helping to rescue these girls, but they are also helping to teach them life skills.
After checking into our guest house, a few of us decide to walk by the river for lunch. We then meet up with the group to go to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The museum used to be a high school building. During the Khmer Rouge it was turned into the Security Prison 21 (S-21). The name translates to "Hill of the Poisonous Trees" and was used by the communist party from 1975-79 when more than 20% of the Khmer population was brutally tortured and killed. Walking up to the building is saddening. There are four separate buildings that display pictures, cells, facts and weapons. Several rooms have beds that were used and dried blood creates a carpet beneath them. Another floor of the building displays cells that were not wide enough for my shoulders to go through. There were endless amounts of cells, and I felt a chill as I walked from one room to the next. I went inside one of the wooden cells and immediately felt claustrophobic. My stomach became knotted.One building was completely covered in barbed wire in order to prevent suicides.
There were photographs of prisoners in one building. The black and white photographs display men, women and children. The Khmer Rouge killed entire families to prevent the children from seeking revenge. They also murdered doctors, politicians, teachers, etc. They forced people out of the cities and their homes into the country. Here they spent long hours working with no more than a spoonful of rice to eat. Those who were sent to S-21 faced the cruelest punishments and torture. They were beaten, stabbed, drowned, hanged, etc. until nearly dead and then interrogated again. Many of them met their fate at the Killing Fields just outside the city. My heart got angry as I went through the museum. I cannot comprehend how one human can do this to another. In this case, Khmer people were doing it to Khmer people. I highly recommended reading about the genocide if interested. I really enjoyed First They Killed My Father which is a memoir about a little girl growing up during the Khmer Rouge.
We only had about an hour to walk around the buildings, but I could have spent the whole day there. I wanted to read more stories and see more pictures. Even though I wanted to close my eyes I could not pretend the images were not real. I had a massive headache that got worse as I walked. Sometimes I had to stop, but I would not have missed the opportunity to learn more about S-21. Our group was leaving and then headed to the Russian Market.
I was a bit thrown off when we were given one hour at the Russian Market. Just before this we were given one hour for the genocide museum. I could not figure out how the two sites had been given the same amount of importance. The museum deserved more than an hour of recognition. While it was easy to spend an hour at the Russian market, I just found it to be a bit offensive. Isabel and I walked around a bit. I got some black coffee to help with my headache. I did buy one thing at the market. There's real silver here, and I wanted to get my niece something for her baptism. Since I bought a handmade wooden jewelry box in Viet Nam, I thought I could fill it with a silver bracelet. I found a pretty silver bracelet with elephants. Their trunks were raised which is a sign of strength and something I will always wish for my niece. I hope she likes it :)
We left the market and went back to our guest house. The guest house is pretty, and Isabel and I have a perfect view of the palace from our window. When I reached into my bag to pull something out, a scorpion fell onto the floor. I sat on my bed staring at it for a while. I was scared, but I did not lose control. After staring at it for some time, we decided to get someone to come kill it. It was the only scorpion that made it into my bag. That was a bit too close for comfort.
For dinner we went to another NGO restaurant called FRIENDS. The food was incredible! I ordered a beat and goat cheese salad, honey glazed meatballs and springrolls with a garlic mayonaise. Everything melted in my mouth. The service was so friendly and attentive. Both back-of-house and front-of-house are operated by the students. It was a chatterful environment with a good vibe. Next door is a gift shop with handmade items that were made of recycled items. There was also a mini spa for manicures and pedicures. I am absolutely obsessed with this concept!