Sunday reflections from Toul Sleng, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Two hours should be enough. Almost four hours later we realize that they are closing and that we have been so lost in the pictures and stories around them that we lost track of time. It’s amazing how many feelings passes through your head and whole body when walking through a prison. I’ve always found prisons fascinating but this time I just feel empty.. and lost. I’m so terribly lost in the feeling of researching someone’s loss and how they moved on.

Welcome to Tuol Sleng genocide museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 

So many pictures. There are pictures everywhere of the prisoners. The Khmer Rouge systematically organized the imprisonment of people and had them pose with a number in front of the camera before torturing and killing them. It was not until having had these pictures in my face for a few hours that I realized how real this was – and still is around the world. Killing for political power.

It breaks my heart to see the two out of seven survivors from the prison sitting in the shade and selling their stories in the form of a printed book – and smiling. They tell us that they come as often as they can to the prison (now museum) to tell the people passing through, and especially young people about their time here. For them this seem to be the best way of preventing it from happening again. They take our hands and look us so kindly and deep in the eyes that it hurts. Is it possible to take the pain away from these people? Is it even my business to come and research their misery and survival? What is reconciliation when moving on seem to be about retelling the stories over and over again to everyone passing by?

This marks the beginning of my research of the incentives behind taking part in reconciliation processes in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge insurgency.

The wire was put up to prevent prisoner from committing suicide. Your decision to live or die was in the hands of someone else.


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