Sweltering Cambodian Nights & The Wise Women


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As we arrived in Cambodia the sweltering hot air clung to our skin. The air felt like a river. Filling our lungs with water, making it hard to breathe. We traveled to a small, rural town where we stayed with Cambodian families. The village was quaint and full of life.

We heard stories of the Khmer Rouge before traveling to Cambodia. We could have never imagined how a person could overcome the atrocities that occurred, until we met four, resilient, Cambodian women.

Cambodia is a beautiful country filled with the friendliest people I have ever met. It seems otherworldly to think that one of the largest genocides has happened within our lifetime and is still happening in China, Canada, and the United States.

We stayed in a village outside of Siem Reap. We were only there for three nights. In that time, we learned more about the Khmer Rouge and the people who were affected than anything we could have read from a textbook.

The last night we were in the village, one of the elders held a gathering for us foreigners. Four wise women came to meet us. The women knew we were a group of students travelling from a Canadian university.

Our Cambodian tour guide explained to the wise women that we were in the country, learning about Cambodia’s culture and history. Our guide spoke to the women before meeting us. He asked if they would be willing to share their stories of the Khmer Rouge with us.

Our group gathered around wooden platforms in an open field. The night was heavy, the air was thick and stuck to our bodies like mud. The wise women gathered before us and began to tell stories of Pol Pot.

These women wanted to share their stories to help educate us about the atrocities their country faced. We did not expect these women to share their stories with us. However, it was clear that these women wanted us to know about what happened to them.

These women were survivors. They told us about how the Khmer Rouge starved them, tortured them, and tore their families apart. The Khmer Rouge wanted to kill love and any form of humanity that stood in the way of their war. One woman spoke up and told us about how she met her husband in the prison camps. He was also taken by the Khmer Rouge and forced to work in the camps.

The wise woman told us how she met her husband. The two were forced to stand in long rows with other strangers at the camp. The Khmer Rouge choose people at random and forced them to marry. They did this to destroy love and any chance of hope for the future. Unable to refuse this fate, the two were forced together.

The wise woman said she was only 20 years old when she was taken by the Khmer Rouge and was forced to marry a stranger. This is a tragic fate for any person to endure.

I cannot begin to imagine how isolating and traumatic their time was at these camps. Somehow the wise woman found authentic love in something so dark. She proudly shared with us that the two of them remained married after the war.

This story hit me hard. The abuse these women faced was beyond anything most of us face in our lives. Not only did these women persevere but they went on to live a fulfilling life.

These women spent years suffering at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. They fought for their freedom and did everything they could to revolt against the soldiers and protect their lives. These women faced true adversity. They were taken from their homes. Their families were destroyed and murdered. They suffered a great loss.

The wise women showed us that once we overcome our struggles there is always a way for us to rise up. They taught us what it meant to be a good person. These women showed us through all suffering there is light. This memory and story is something we can carry with us in hopes that one day we can be as resilient as them.

I hope I can take a lesson from these women and learn to embrace suffering and trauma the same way they did. If I learn to do this, perhaps one day I will be as resilient and powerful as these wise women.
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