By Eliza Duquette
Cambodia takes time to sink into your skin.
I have never been somewhere so complicated. Cambodia is beautiful but in pain, peaceful but broken.
The surface of the culture hides the pain still bubbling hot beneath, residue from the much too recent genocidal Khmer Rouge regime that took the country to its knees.
Coming to Cambodia as an anthropology department alumna, and now a full-fledged adult without the cushion of declining balance or Campus Safety, I’ve found Cambodia—it’s people and the culture they practice—to be absolutely fascinating, for reasons that have a tragic and broken beginning.
With 250 words as a limit, now’s not the time to lecture about the Khmer Rouge.
But to put it simply: it was a movement, much like Nazism in Europe during the Second World War, that worked to flatten it’s people back to one “pure” Khmer race, extracting all forms of Western influence (including the execution of all the Khmer intellectuals, doctors, artists, writers, etc.) and sending the left-over citizens into labor camps, to return to the “Year Zero” of Cambodia without the spoils of industrialization.
In doing so, the regime killed off over one third of Cambodia’s population, and tortured the souls of many more.
And it is still alive today: Hun Sen, the country’s prime minister, was involved in the regime, and is still in power.
Cambodia is bountiful with big smiles, night-blooming jasmine, gracious people and a beautiful landscape. But what they do not have is something that we, as Americans, often take for granted: the power to question and to fight for what they believe in. Caught between a rock and a hard place, neither position is easy.
So before I run out of space, I beg you: with the upcoming presidential election, get involved, have opinions, make some noise. Whatever position you take, fight for it. Last election, 64.1 percent showed up to vote. There are so many people around the world who would—and do— fight and die for what we have.
This year, we will do better. Are you in?