We live across the street from a famous place. it has even made international news these past 48 hours. (the BBC, the Economist, and the Wall Street Journal just to name a few). because, you see, we live across the street from S-21. A former torture centre. and the international community just issued comrade duch, the man who oversaw the running of the centre and the killing of 14,000 people, his sentence yesterday.
it’s interesting. S-21 isn’t so gruesome to me anymore. every morning i see a plume of smoke rising from the banana grove. the guards are cooking something over an open fire. and if i look carefully on saturdays and sundays, i can see tourists roaming the second floor of the building. they stop to look at pictures that are on the wall. i am sure they are trying to make sense of the horror that took place inside that high school between 1975 and 1978. they are trying to understand things i’ve stopped trying to make sense of.
because i realize that i just don’t get it. i don’t understand how a regime like the khmer rouge could take power. i don’t understand how so many thousands of people killed. in cold blood. i don’t understand why only 5 top khmer rouge leaders are being brought to trial. and i don’t understand why comrade duch, the one man we all placed our hope in for the reconcilation of Cambodia, pulled back at the last second and begged to be let off the hook.
i don’t understand why the khmer rouge criminals are housed in aircon suites awaiting their trials while women languish in prison for petty crimes. they have their babies there. they don’t have medicine. they don’t have food.
i don’t understand why there is corruption in cambodia today. how there are lexuses. mercedes. ferarris. lamborginis. hummers. parading down the streets of phnom penh. i don’t understand why millions of people in cambodia live in extreme and abject poverty – not to mention the rest of the billions throughout the rest of the world – and why the West [and the elites in every country] really doesn’t give a damn. i don’t understand why young girls are sold into sexual slavery. broken. abused. and only the luckiest are rescued.
there are so many things that are too complicated. to foggy. to confusing.
I think that’s why i love living across from tuol sleng. because i am learning to see the beauty even in the ugliness. we have to trust it. that just like the littlest mustard seed, God is moving in the tiniest acts of love we do every day.
living across from tuol sleng i am reminded that life goes on. and i get glimpses of it from my balcony. my landlords going to the market. watching tv. interacting with neighbours. they laugh us for the strange foreigner things we do [like ride bicycles everywhere and go on adventures]. the kids in our neighbourhood play soccer every night. people go to work. have babies. celebrate.
and so i am reminded that even when the system collapses. even when we don’t see justice being served through the courts of law. that still God is reconciling all things to himself. even in the aftermath of genocide. even in a corrupt country.
even life in and around Tuol Sleng.
even in my heart.