Thursday, February 19, 2009

Empathy and Peace

Goodbye Cambodia, Hello Vietnam - By Faith Savoie

As the day came to an end the phrase, “the time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things…” kept coming to mind. This was our last night in Cambodia together and the time had come for us to have our last outing and dinner together, and then “talk of many things” in the morning before we went our separate ways.
After meeting with the last NGOs of our trip, we made our way back to the hotel and had some time to get what we needed for the boat trip on the Mekong river and dinner. Ending the trip by taking a ferry to watch the sunset form the river was a wonderful idea and I really enjoyed that. All of us sat on the top deck of the boat and talked about what we were going to do after our debriefing tomorrow. Some of us were heading home, others were going back to Thailand, a few of us were going to go to Vietnam and others were staying in Cambodia until the 31st. Even as the sun went down, the air was still warm. The sun hit the growing skyline of Phnom Penh and reflected brightly off of the royal palace. Small fishing boats passed us and we exchanged waves and hellos. We passed a small village that looked like it was floating and we could see the kids running to the back of their houses to see ferry boats like ours pass by. After the sun set, we made our way back to the place where we had started from and made our way to the restaurant for dinner.
Dinner was also outside and there was Khmer music playing. Many of us decided to go out on our last night and say our finale goodbyes to Phnom Penh, and the Heart of Darkness. I was more than satisfied with the end of the night because I was able to jam out to Britney Spears, it was nice.

The next morning we all went across the street to the center for debriefing and finalize some details about weekend workshop we would have when we came back. Nam also came and talked with us and we were able to ask any lingering question that we may have had. The end of the debrief came quickly and everyone from the office came into the conference room so we could all say our goodbyes. We gave the center a gift for them to remember us visiting them and thanking them for working with Pushpa to make this trip possible. They presented us with Khmer scarfs to remember them by and next thing I knew, the trip was over.

Ashley, Stephanie, Christine, Adam and I were catching a bus at 1 pm and were going to cross the Cambodia/Vietnam border and then go to Ho Chi Minh City. When I woke up, we were crossing into Vietnam. I have a tendency to pass out on long trips and luckily I missed the Khmer Karaoke. The plus side of traveling by bus is that neither of us had to pay a departure tax. If you come across the border by bus, you have to go to a large area inside where the bus driver gives your passport to the boarder authority. It took a really long time because there is only one person checking and calling out names. Stephanie was the first one to be called and then I was called. They have you take your bags and out them through a scanner, I think that was their customs process. Christine, Adam and Ashley come over shortly after Stephanie and I had finished and put their bags through. However, Ashley was told to take several bowls that she had purchased in Cambodia out so they could inspect them. They were really interested in the jade-color bowl and asked her where she got them from. She told them she got them in Cambodia and paid only a few dollars for them. After what seemed like a half an hour, they let her take the bowl and we were on our way. That was actually a really nerve racking time, I was glad that was over.

The next several days were spent in Ho Chi Minh City and we all did similar or different things. I was really glad that Rachel had told me about the traffic situation in Cambodia. There were motor-bikes everywhere! There were cross-walks but no one stopped for them so you had to walk into the middle of the road and wait until there was a break in the traffic and then run to the other side. That was fun and usually kept me on my toes. The day before I left, Ashley and I were sitting outside a small restaurant having lunch. All of a sudden I see something fall from the trees onto Ashley but she made nothing of it. A few seconds later she is talking to me and her face went white. She goes to swipe something off of her back and a huge cockroach flies off. She jumped right out of her seat and screamed and I couldn’t help but laugh. Since then, she feels like bugs are crawling on her back. Also, on our quest to find the botanical gardens, we wandered through the zoo. The condition of the zoo wasn’t as horrible as lonely planet cautioned, but there were some noticeable differences. The alligators are behind a chain-link fence and that is it. I watched some kids try to grab it or poke at it and couldn’t believe it. In the US, there would be a fence, another fence and then a guard rail. We were not able to find the gardens so on our way out, we passed some Rhinos. They were really cool and they came over to us. It was awesome to get that close to a Rhino because that would also never happen at a zoo in the US.

There were many noticeable differences between Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. While I was there, I noticed that there is still a rift between Vietnamese and Americans left over from the Vietnam War. On the surface, Thailand and Vietnam appeared to have stronger infrastructure and were developing faster than Cambodia. For me, it looked as if the standard of living is higher in Vietnam and that there is a larger middle class than in Thailand or Cambodia. Also from my observations, It appeared to me that Vietnam had a stronger economy and government then Thailand and Cambodia.

I left early in the morning on the 30th and made my way to Beijing and then made my back to San Francisco. I remember stepping off the plane the other day and thinking how amazing the trip was. I never thought I would go to Asia and have it leave such a positive, lasting impression. I was only there for a limited time, and didn’t physically see most of the bad, but understand it exists there. I was amazed by the history of Cambodia and the beauty of Angkor Wat. I absolutely fell in love with the island, Rah Lei, that Stephanie, Ashley and I spent several days before meeting up with the group in Bangkok. The work in the field taught me that I still have so much to learn and understand about conflict resolution. However, the work in the field showed me things that I could never learn in a classroom. I can’t wait to do it for J-term again!

Sympathizing With The Enemy - By Faith Savoie

It’s pitch black, but you can feel that your moving. Where are you? Are there other people in there with you? You try to remember what you were doing before and your head immediately fills with pain. When you put your hand to your forehead, you feel something wet, or slimy. You can’t tell what it is, but you can feel that it is all over you.
You remember that you were out looking for food. You hadn’t eaten in several days, but you knew that soldiers were looking for people trying to gather food. You went anyway and found food, but before you could eat you heard shouting, and by the time you turned around, you awoke in the darkness. The moving stops and the yelling begins. The door opens and the light is blinding, you can’t see. You realized that you don’t need to see to know where you are. You arrived at Tuol Sleng and you have heard enough stories to know your not going home ever again.
The high school turned torture compound imprisoned thousands of Khmer during 1975 and 1979. All of the people that had been imprisoned at Tuol Sleng were interrogated. They were routinely beaten and tortured in various ways. Some were shocked several times a day, while others were chained to bed frames and seared with hot metal. Every detail about the person was recorded, photographed and the prisoner would have to sign at the end of the confession. After, the prisoners were taken to Choeung Ek, (Killing Fields) and were executed and thrown into other mass graves with hundreds of thousands of people.
The chief of S-21 was Khang Khek lue, widely known as Comrade Dutch. Today we visited the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia where he and several other former Khmer Rouge leaders await trial.
Knowing what he did, could you imagine ever feeling remorse for him? How do you mentally digest a thought like that? How do you justify his actions for torture and killing of innocent people? How would you talk to someone about this? These were many questions that I had to ask myself. Towards the end of our trip, after our visit to the ECCC, I felt sincere remorse for Duch and actually admitted it to our group during a routine meeting.
Earlier in the trip we had learned about more about the leaders and what they did during the Khmer Rouge and what they did after it fell. It was interesting to learn that some leaders from the Khmer Rouge lived completely opposite lives after the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979. One leader in particular, Khang Khek lue caught my attention. He became a Director of Education and converted to Christianity. In 1996 he fled to Thailand with his family due to the fighting that broke out. In the refugee camp, Duch assumed the role as the Community Health Supervisor. Once the fighting stopped, he returned to Cambodia and worked closely with the international Christian relief and development organization, World Vision. He continued to promote human rights and assist in the development of rural Cambodia until he was tracked down in 1999. Soon after, he surrendered to the authorities and remains in prison.
Duch was the first suspect indicted in the tribunal. Duch will be the first to be tried at the tribunal because he admitted full guilt for what he did during the late 1970s. Should this change anything? Does it change anything? He still assisted in the torture and killing of Khmer people by receiving and giving the orders to do so. Most people will say no. However, I personally feel that he should not be tried the same as the other leaders awaiting trial. Many people in our group commented and hit it home that justice is imperfect. I know this, I understand this but that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with it. I can understand people not fully understanding how I can feel remorse for someone like Duch. I am not Khmer and never experienced what millions of people went through. However, I am a human being and I believe that feeling remorse is natural and can be felt or anything or anyone.
Ashley and I grappled with this thought for a long time. I remembering when we were getting ready for bed I looked at her and told that what I was about to say may sound crazy and I that make no sense, but I feel bad for Duch. I tried to read her face and was ready to respond and defend my statement. She looked at me and told me she felt the same way. We really couldn’t explain what we felt for him. What he did was wrong and anyone else who did/does that is/was wrong. We discussed that topic for a while and we both came to a similar conclusion. It’s human nature to feel remorse and anyone can feel remorse about anyone, or anything.
I don’t believe or think what he did was right. I do not feel the same way about any of the other former leaders awaiting trial. I just know that feeling something this deep and believing in it is going with my gut feeling, and I can live with that.